Your Thursday Briefing

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Latin for ‘stupid’ — Em-Im vote on tap for Monday — Planetary Resources raises $12M — Arianespace seeks savings

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Arianespace is seeking to reduce the costs of its Ariane 5 rocket to remain profitable. Company CEO Stephane Israel told the French Senate Wednesday he seeks a 5-6 percent reduction in total Ariane costs by 2017. The company is on track for more than $1.5 billion in revenues in 2015, slightly ahead of 2014, despite having reduced prices for smaller satellites because of competition from SpaceX. [SpaceNews]

The European Space Agency has selected a landing site for its 2018 Mars rover. ESA announced Wednesday that it plans to land the ExoMars 2018 rover in Oxia Planum, an area rich in clays that may have once been the site of a river delta early in the planet’s history. The mission is scheduled for launch on a Russian Proton rocket in May 2018, although there are concerns that problems developing the rover could delay the mission to 2020. [BBC]

The House is expected to vote on, and likely pass, a bill to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank Monday. The vote was triggered after a majority of House members signed a “discharge petition” earlier this month to bring the bill to the House floor after being held up in the House Financial Services Committee. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) said Wednesday at a meeting of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) that he expects the bill to pass, although there will be procedural efforts to table it. Earlier at the COMSTAC meeting, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) said he expects the House and Senate to soon finish reconciling differences between their versions of commercial space bills passed earlier this year. [SpaceNews]

A follow-on to the Air Force’s Space Based Surveillance System (SBSS) could provide an opportunity for commercially hosted payloads. While the government’s current plans for SBSS call for the use of free-flying satellites, industry officials said they believe the Air Force would be open to alternative approaches using hosted payloads on commercial satellites. Industry officials have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities they have seen in hosted payloads, which a few years ago offered the promise of flying government missions more quickly and less expensively than dedicated satellites. [SpaceNews]

NASA’s commercial crew program is helping the bottom line of Boeing’s space division. The company reported Wednesday a 5 percent increase in revenues for its Network and Space Systems division in the fiscal third quarter, to $2.1 billion. Boeing said higher volume on its commercial crew contract to NASA was responsible for the increase. The company also reported a 30 percent increase in earnings for the division, which the company said was caused by a “favorable program mix.” [Boeing]

An Approximate Translation

“I had never heard of sequestration until I ran for Congress three years ago. I looked it up: it’s a Latin word for ‘stupid.'”

– Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, discussing the prospects for a 2016 omnibus spending bill at the FAA’s COMSTAC meeting in Washington Wednesday.

Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources has raised $12 million. The company reported the fundraising, part of a planned round of $20 million, in a filing Wednesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company did not disclose its plans for the additional funding. Planetary Resources, based near Seattle, is working on spacecraft designs to study and, eventually, extract resources from asteroids. [GeekWire]

The Univ. of Hawaii plans to close another observatory atop Mauna Kea. The university announced Wednesday it will close the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT), an observatory currently operated by the university in cooperation with the Univ. of Arizona and Lockheed Martin. No date has been set for decommissioning the telescope, which will be the third to close on the mountain after the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory and a small educational telescope. Hawaii’s governor announced plans earlier this year to close a quarter of the dozen observatories there in response to controversy over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope there. [Univ. of Hawaii]

The United Arab Emirates’ space agency has joined an international space exploration group. The UAE is the first nation from the Middle East to join the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, a loose coalition of 14 agencies that studies plans for human exploration of the solar system. The UAE announced plans earlier this year to build a Mars orbiter mission scheduled for launch in 2020. [The National]

Lockheed Martin has completed assembly of a NASA spacecraft to collect asteroid samples. The company said Wednesday that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is now fully assembled and ready for environmental testing that will take place over the next five months at the company’s facilities near Denver. OSIRIS-REx, part of NASA’s New Frontiers program of medium-class planetary science missions, is scheduled to launch next September on a mission to visit the asteroid Bennu and collect samples for return to Earth. [Denver Post]

An asteroid will pass near the Earth this Halloween, but poses no impact threat. Astronomers discovered asteroid 2015 TB145 earlier this month and found that it was on an orbit that will bring it within 480,000 kilometers of the Earth on Oct. 31. The asteroid, about 400 meters across, is not a threat to Earth, but the close flyby does provide astronomers a good opportunity to study it with radar. [Mashable]