United Launch Alliance plans to cut 375 jobs this year as part of the company’s transformation to be more competitive. ULA said most, if not all, the cuts will be done through “voluntary separations” as opposed to layoffs. The company currently employs 3,400 people, primarily at its Colorado headquarters and Alabama rocket factory. [Denver Post]
ULA has now indefinitely delayed the next Atlas 5 launch as the investigation into an engine anomaly on the previous launch continues. The launch of the MUOS-5 spacecraft on an Atlas 5 had already slipped a week from May 5 to May 12 because of an investigation into the premature shutdown of the first stage engine on the March 22 launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft. That launch delay is now “indefinite,” ULA said Friday, while analysis of the failure continues. [SpacePolicyOnline]
A top Pentagon official says the Defense Department needs to buy to up to 18 more RD-180 engines. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said in an interview Friday that the RD-180 engines are needed to cover the transition over the next several years to a new engine, which he believes will take at least six years to develop. Access to additional RD-180s have been a highly controversial topic in Congress as it alternates between restricting the number of available engines and lifting those restrictions. [Reuters]
SpaceX successfully launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft on Friday and landed the first stage on a ship at sea. The Falcon 9 lifted off at 4:43 p.m. Eastern Friday on SpaceX’s eighth cargo delivery mission to the ISS under its current contract with NASA. As the rocket’s second stage placed Dragon in orbit, the first stage landed on a ship in the Atlantic, the company’s first successful landing at sea in five attempts. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that the stage would be returned to Florida for test firings and could be reflown as soon as June. [SpaceNews]
That Dragon spacecraft, meanwhile, arrived at the ISS on Sunday. The station’s robotic arm grappled the spacecraft and berthed it to the Harmony module Sunday morning. The Dragon is carrying more than 3,000 kilograms of cargo for the station, including a range of science experiments and Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM module. The arrival of Dragon at the station marks only the second time six spacecraft have been docked to the station simultaneously, and the first time two commercial cargo vehicles (Cygnus arrived there last month) are there at the same time. [Spaceflight Now]
NASA’s Kepler astronomy spacecraft has gone into an emergency mode. Kepler’s manager said late Friday that controllers found the spacecraft had gone into this emergency mode on Thursday when they contacted the spacecraft on a scheduled communications session to prepare it for its next campaign of observations. The mission has declared a spacecraft emergency to get priority access to the Deep Space Network to try to restore control of the spacecraft. Kepler has been operating in an extended mission called K2 after the failure of two of its four reaction wheels in 2013 ended its primary mission to search for exoplanets. [SpaceNews]
JAXA is becoming less optimistic about the prospects of restoring control of the Hitomi astronomy satellite. Agency officials said Friday that while work to recover the spacecraft continues, “we may have to think about the worst-case scenario.” JAXA has not heard from the spacecraft since March 29, three days after a problem on board the satellite caused it to lose attitude control and shed several pieces of debris. [Kyodo]
Moon Express hopes an alternative approach to regulatory approval will allow it to launch its lunar lander next year. The company announced Friday it submitted a payload review request with the FAA as part of the launch licensing process for its 2017 lunar lander missions. The company had been cautioned that the State Department might not approve the review since it is unclear who would provide the “authorization and continuing supervision” of a commercial lunar mission required by the Outer Space Treaty. Moon Express hopes what it called a “mission approval” process, where it provides additional information about its plans, can resolve that concern. [SpaceNews]
Virgin Galactic is planning another price increase for suborbital flights. Richard Branson said in an interview that the company will soon raise prices for suborbital tickets on SpaceShipTwo to $300,000 from $250,000. Branson didn’t disclose the reason for the increase, but said prices would decrease later as the company built more vehicles and operated from more spaceports. Virgin increased ticket prices to $250,000 from $200,000 shortly after the first powered SpaceShipTwo flight in 2013. [The Observer]
The last space shuttle tank is beginning its journey from Louisiana to Los Angeles. The tank, which had been in storage at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, was trucked early Sunday to a barge to be shipped via the Panama Canal to Los Angeles. The tank will then be moved to the California Science Center, to become part of a display with the shuttle Endeavour there. [collectSPACE]
The Week Ahead
- Colorado Springs, Colo.: The 32nd Space Symposium features sessions on civil, military and commercial space with senior officials and executives.
- Orlando: The ASCE Earth and Space Conference discusses engineering in extreme environments and the role of civil engineering. The conference also include a short course on space mining and planetary surface construction.
- Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands: The ESA Space Technology Workshop will discuss technologies under development to fulfill the needs of European space missions.