The Falcon 9 first stage at Cape Canaveral's LZ1 following its successful Dec. 22 return to the launch site. Credit: SpaceX

Vandenberg Air Force Base plans to host a SpaceX rocket landing this year.

In a speech Wednesday, 30th Space Wing Commander Col. J Christopher Moss said he expects SpaceX to attempt a Falcon 9 first stage landing at a pad at the base later this year, but did not specify when, or for what launch.

Moss said Vandenberg will host at least 10 launches this year, even though the range will be shut down for six months to upgrade and relocate equipment. [Lompoc (Calif.) Record]

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SpaceX is planning to accelerate production and launch of Falcon 9 rockets this year. In a speech Wednesday, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company’s factory was undergoing a “transformation” that will allow it to produce up to 30 rocket cores a year. Although there have been concerns in the industry about SpaceX’s ability to carry out its manifest of missions, she said the company expected to perform its next launch, of the SES-9 satellite, in a couple of weeks, with launches to follow every two to three weeks thereafter. She also said the company was still planning the first launch of the Falcon Heavy this year, but did not give a more specific date for that launch. [SpaceNews]

Two cosmonauts completed up a spacewalk outside the International Space Station ahead of schedule Wednesday. Yuri Malenchenko and Sergey Volkov carried out the spacewalk, lasting 4 hours and 45 minutes, replacing experiments on the station’s exterior and installing handrails to support future spacewalks. Volkov also tossed away from the station a flash drive containing text messages honoring the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II last year. [CBS]
OneWeb’s CEO has confirmed rumors that the company will establish a satellite manufacturing plant in Florida. Matt O’Connell said in an interview that OneWeb-Airbus joint venture created to manufacture the company’s constellation of more than 640 satellites will build a factory in Florida, but did not disclose where in the state it will be located. O’Connell also said OneWeb plans to have its constellation in place “sometime in 2020,” later than previous reports of a 2019 start. [Wall Street Journal]

The weather forecast remains questionable for Friday’s Atlas 5 launch from Cape Canaveral. Forecasts project a 40 percent chance of acceptable weather for the Friday morning launch, improving to 80 percent if the launch slips to Saturday. High winds and thick clouds are the primary weather concerns. The launch, the first Atlas 5 mission of the year, will place the last GPS Block 2F satellite into orbit. [Florida Today]

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China plans to launch nearly 40 navigation satellites over the next five years. Officials said those plans include launching 18 satellites by the end of 2018 as China expands its Beidou system from regional to global coverage. China launched the 21st Beidou satellite on Monday. [Xinhua]
The head of Spaceport America warns that a bill pending in the New Mexico Legislature could force the facility to close. The bill would prevent the spaceport from using local taxes revenues left over after making bond payments to cover spaceport operations. “If we lost it this year, frankly we’d probably have to close the doors,” said spaceport CEO Christine Anderson. The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Lee Cotter, said he doesn’t believe the bill will pass, as was the case with a similar bill last year. [Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News]

A small asteroid may pass very close to the Earth next month, but doesn’t pose an impact risk. Uncertainties in the orbit of 2013 TX68, an asteroid about 30 meters across, mean that its March 5 approach could bring it as close as 17,000 kilometers to the Earth or as far as 14 million kilometers. NASA’s Center for NEO Studies at JPL said there is no chance, though, that it could hit the Earth during that flyby, although it does have a 1-in-250-million chance of an impact in 2017 based on current knowledge of its orbit. [NASA/JPL]


As the UK government makes plans for a spaceport, the first launch to outer space from British soil actually took place last year. The milestone was largely overlooked at the time since the launch was part of a military exercise: a Terrier-Orion rocket launched from Scotland in October as part of the At Sea Demonstration 15 exercise to test the ability of ships to defend against missile attacks. The report didn’t disclose the peak altitude of the rocket, which was intercepted by a missile fired from a U.S. Navy ship. [BBC]

Audi will shoot for the moon in an ad airing during the Super Bowl. The 90-second ad features a fictional retired Apollo-era astronaut who recaptures the thrill of a Saturn 5 launch when he gets behind the wheel of an Audi sports car. The commercial’s soundtrack is David Bowie’s “Starman.” Besides the space-themed commercial, Audi hosted Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan during a presentation at the North American Auto Show in Detroit last month and is supporting Part-Time Scientists, one of the teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize. [collectSPACE]

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...