Spaceflight books dedicated Falcon 9 — Compromise bill gives ULA nine more RD-180s — Congress extends FAA learning period

A defense authorization bill will give ULA access to only nine RD-180 engines for future national security launches. The compromise version of the fiscal year 2016 national defense authorization act, announced by the House and Senate Tuesday, follows language in the Senate version that adds four engines to the five previously approved. The House version allowed ULA to use a total of 14 engines for Atlas 5 launches of national security missions, the minimum the company said it needed. The bill also authorizes $184 million for engine development work, with the requirement that it not be used to develop new launch systems. [Breaking Defense]

The House and Senate are expected to approve a continuing resolution (CR) today as the fiscal year ends. The Senate plans to vote on a “clean” CR this morning, with the House to follow later today. The CR must be signed into law by midnight to avoid a government shutdown. The CR would fund the government at fiscal year 2015 levels to Dec. 11, giving Congress time to negotiate a long-term bill, including the possibility of a two-year budget deal that could lift existing spending caps. [Reuters]

China launched a Beidou navigation satellite Tuesday. The Long March 3B rocket carrying the Beidou spacecraft lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 7:13 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, and Chinese media declared the launch a success. The launch was the 20th to date for the Beidou system, which ultimately will provide global satellite navigation services similar to the American GPS network. [Xinhua]

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Congress passed a short-term extension of the regulatory “learning period” for commercial spaceflight. The six-month extension was included in an FAA bill that the House approved on a voice vote Monday and the Senate by unanimous consent Tuesday. The restriction, which was set to expire Thursday, limits the ability of the FAA to enact regulations to protect the safety of people flying in commercial spacecraft, except in the event of serious accidents or similar events. House and Senate commercial space bills currently being reconciled would extend the learning period by up to 10 years. [SpaceNews]

The commercial arm of India’s space agency owes a company $672 million, arbitrators ruled. The International Court of Arbitration found that Antrix improperly terminated a contract with Indian company Devas Multimedia to lease capacity on two Indian communications satellites. The value of the ruling includes damage and pre-award interest, with additional interest of 18 percent per year until Antrix pays the award. Devas has filed a motion with the Delhi High Court in India to enforce the ruling. [PTI]

NASA is considering cooperating on a Sino-European space science mission. NASA’s cooperation on the Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) mission, scheduled for launch in 2021, could be in the form of hardware or participating scientists, agency officials said Tuesday. Since U.S. law prevents bilateral cooperation between NASA and China without congressional approval, any NASA role in SMILE would likely be coordinated through ESA. [SpaceNews]

Alternatives to Space Camp

“When I met with Ridley [Scott], he asked me in our first meeting if I had any questions. I said, ‘Yes. If I do the movie, can I go to Space Camp?’ Because, as a kid, I remember hearing everyone was going to Space Camp.”

– Actress Jessica Chastain, one of the stars of the upcoming movie The Martian, recalling in a video interview her first meeting with the film’s director. She said she did not go to Space Camp, but did get to go to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Johnson Space Center to prepare for her role as an astronaut in the movie. [The Guardian]

An Ariane 5 is scheduled to launch later today carrying satellites for Argentina and Australia. The launch of the Arsat-2 and Sky Muster satellites is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Eastern today from Kourou, French Guiana. Arsat-2 will be used by Argentina’s national satellite telecommunications company, while Sky Muster will provide broadband Internet access as part of Australia’s National Broadband Network. [Spaceflight Now]

Spaceflight Industries is buying a dedicated Falcon 9 launch. The company, which arranges for launches of small satellites as secondary payloads on other launches, will fly more than 20 satellites on the dedicated Falcon 9 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2017. The company has already sold 80 percent of the capacity of the “2017 Sun Synch Express” mission to government and commercial customers. [SpaceNews]

A small island helps Britain lead the world in satellite frequency registrations. The British government has 16 active orbital slot and broadcast frequency registrations with international regulators, including five filed with the Isle of Man, whose government has worked to attract space businesses with favorable tax and regulatory policies. The United States is second to the U.K. with nine registrations. [SpaceNews]

Thales Alenia Space will build an instrument for a Franco-American ocean science mission. The French space agency CNES awarded Thales the $5.5-million contract for a radar altimeter that will fly on the Surface Water Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission. SWOT, a joint effort with NASA, is scheduled to launch in 2020. [SpaceNews]

Contract Extensions | NASA has extended a contract with Boeing to serve as primae contractor for the International Space Station. The five-year extension, through September 2020, is valued at $1.18 billion. The Air Force awarded ULA a contract valued at $882 million that supports Atlas and Delta launches in fiscal year 2016. [Boeing / Reuters]

NASA is wrapping up a long-delayed astrobiology strategy. NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan said at a House Science Committee hearing Tuesday that the roadmap document, which will guide agency decisions on funding missions and research proposals in the field, should be released soon. She said the report, originally scheduled to be released last year, was delayed to try and incorporate new developments in the rapidly-developing interdisciplinary field. [SpaceNews]


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...