The United Arab Emirates has signed a contract to launch its Mars orbiter on a Japanese rocket. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced Tuesday it won the contract to launch the Hope spacecraft on an H-2A rocket in 2020.

MHI previously won a contract to launch the KhalifaSat remote sensing satellite for the UAE.

The contract coincides with the signing of a cooperative agreement between JAXA and the UAE Space Agency that includes the possibility of flying UAE experiments on the Japanese Kibo lab mobule. [MHI / JAXA]

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An Atlas 5 is set to launch a Cygnus cargo mission to the ISS tonight. Launch of the Cygnus on a mission designated OA-6 is scheduled for 11:05 p.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral. NASA and Orbital have reported no issues with countdown preparations, and forecasts call for a 90 percent chance of acceptable weather for tonight’s launch. The Cygnus is carrying more than three tons of equipment and supplies to the station, including a variety of experiments. [SpaceNews]

Intelsat’s credit rating has been downgraded on the belief that the satellite operator was moving closer to a partial default on its loans. Moody’s Investor Service downgraded the company Monday from Caa2-PD to Caa3-PD, after Intelsat announced it would raise the amount of senior secured debt it would issue from $1 billion to $1.25 billion. Moody’s said it interprets the move as a step towards a “more comprehensive debt restructuring” that may include “limited defaults” on existing debt. [SpaceNews]

Russia rolled out a Soyuz rocket at the Vostochny Cosmodrome Monday as part of tests of the new launch site. The so-called “dry rollout” involved a Soyuz-2 rocket moved to the launch pad and placed in the vertical position there, but without fueling. The tests have so far gone well, Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said. The first launch from the new site, in Russia’s Far East, is scheduled for late next month. [TASS]


China’s Tiangong-1 lab module has ended its mission, in advance of the launch of a new module. Chinese officials said Monday that the module, launched in 2011, has “terminated its data service” and that its functions have been disabled. The module hosted two crewed missions, most recently in 2013, but was left in orbit for an extended uncrewed mission. China plans to launch a new lab module, Tiangong-2, later this year as a prelude to the development of a full-fledged space station by the early 2020s. [Xinhua]

German satellite manufacturer OHB reported a shortfall in revenues in 2015 because of delays in two satellite programs. The company reported revenues of 730 million euros ($815 million) in 2015, short of its forecast of 800 million euros. Delays in the development of the Hispasat 36W-1 and EDRS-C/Hylas-3 satellites contributed to the shortfall. Those spacecraft are now scheduled for delivery in late 2016 and 2017, respectively. OHB, in cooperation with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., is also gearing up for another competition for Galileo satellites. [SpaceNews]

Blue Origin is hiring more lobbying firms as the debate about the replacement of the RD-180 engine continues in Congress. The company hired an Alabama law firm, Balch & Bingham, LLP, to do lobbying; that firm has hired another Alabama company, Maynard Cooper & Gale, to work on Blue Origin’s behalf. Blue Origin, using private funds, is developing the BE-4 engine for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan vehicle, while the Air Force funds engine development projects by other companies, including Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1. [Politico]

Pluto might once had have lakes and rivers of liquid nitrogen. Images from New Horizons revealed a feature that “for all the world looks to a lot of our team like a former lake,” said principal investigator Alan Stern at a press conference Monday during the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference near Houston. As recently as 800,000 years ago, Pluto could have had a much thicker atmosphere that would have allowed liquid nitrogen to exist on the surface. Liquid nitrogen could exist today below the surface at the base of nitrogen ice glaciers, scientists believe. [New Scientist]

An engineer who only recently found peace with his role on the Challenger accident has passed away. Bob Ebeling, who as a Morton Thiokol engineer warned against launching Challenger in cold weather, said in an interview for the 30th anniversary of the accident that he felt like a “loser” for failing to stop the launch. An outpouring of responses from listeners, including from NASA and others involved in the launch, helped ease his guilt. “You helped bring my worrisome mind to ease,” he said in a recent followup interview. Ebeling, who passed way Monday after a long illness, was 89. [NPR]

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...