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A naval explanation for Russian satellite’s movements — Canadian election portends space policy changes — Marshall director retiring

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The director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center plans to retire next month. In an email to center employees Monday, Patrick Scheuermann said he would leave the agency Nov. 13 after three years as center director. Scheuermann did not disclose his future plans, but indicated he planned to remain in the Huntsville area after leaving the agency. [SpaceNews]

The U.S. government plans to invest $6 billion in space situational awareness capabilities through 2020. About 90 percent of that spending, outlined in a GAO report, will be spent by the Defense Department, with NASA accounting for most of the rest. Included in that spending estimate are upgrades to the Joint Space Operations Center that tracks objects, the Space Fence radar, the Space Based Space Surveillance follow-on satellite system, and the ORS-5 satellite. [SpaceNews]

A sweeping victory for Canada’s Liberal party could usher in changes in space policy. The Liberals won a majority in parliament in Monday’s elections, making Justin Trudeau the nation’s next prime minister. During the campaign, the party backed the development of a long-term space plan that had been recommended by an earlier committee but never implemented by the Conservative-led government. Former Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau, a Liberal member of parliament, won reelection to his Montreal-area seat, and may be in line for a cabinet position in the new government. [CBC/ CTV]

A maneuvering Russian satellite may be linked to naval activities. An analysis of the activity of the Luch satellite, also known as Olymp, shows that its movements in the GEO belt matched up with maneuvers by the Russian Navy in the Indian Ocean and, later, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The movements of the satellite, including taking positions near Intelsat spacecraft, have raised concerns both at Intelsat and within the Defense Department. [Russian Space Web]

Unspecified development problems have pushed back the launch of a new weather satellite six months. The GOES-R satellite is now scheduled to launch next October, six months later than previously planned and a year beyond its original launch date. NOAA said “schedule risks” in the development of the spacecraft by Lockheed Martin led the agency to move the launch to next October, but did not specify what issues were creating those schedule risks. The delay means NOAA will have to rely longer on the aging GOES-13 satellite, which will reach its ten-year design life next March. [SpaceNews]


An EPIC Website

DSCOVR EPIC DAILYNASA announced Monday that it has set up a website for images of the Earth taken by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), an instrument on the DSCOVR satellite at the Earth-Sun L-1 point 1.5 million kilometers away. EPIC is a secondary instrument on DSCOVR, whose primary mission is to monitor solar weather. However, EPIC fulfills the original goal of DSCOVR, as envisioned by then-U.S. Vice President Al Gore in the late 1990s when the spacecraft was known as Triana, to provide a full-disk image of the Earth. [NASA]


Europe and the U.S. have signed an agreement to share Earth observation data. The agreement, signed Friday in Washington, will give U.S. agencies access to data collected by the European Union’s Copernicus family of Earth observation satellites, known as Sentinel. The agreement, according to a statement, “articulates a shared U.S.-EU vision to pursue full, free, and open data policies for government Earth observation satellites.” [U.S. State Dept.]

The White House used its “Astronomy Night” to unveil some space-related educational initiatives. NASA will work with students and “citizen scientists” to identify objects to observe with the James Webb Space Telescope after its 2018 launch. A separate competition will award $20,000 in prizes for videos promoting the Asteroid Grand Challenge of identifying potentially hazardous asteroids. NASA Space Grant universities will also support a competition for high school students to design cubesats, with the winning spacecraft given funds for development and launch opportunities through NASA’s Cubesat Launch Initiative. [White House]

The NRO is expected to release more details this week about a military human spaceflight program canceled decades ago. The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program planned to fly military astronauts in a space station to operate reconnaissance cameras. MOL was canceled in 1969 after the Air Force selected 17 astronauts, who initially did not known about MOL’s reconnaissance mission. Astronauts would have returned film from MOL’s cameras back to Earth with them in their cramped Gemini capsules. [The Space Review]

SETI astronomers are turning their radio telescopes towards an unusual star, just in case. The SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array is monitoring a star, KIC 8462852, that was previously seen to have unusual and dramatic dips in brightness that could not be explained by orbiting planets. Some have speculated the dips could be caused by “megastructures” built by an alien intelligence there, but a more widely accepted explanation is that the star has a large swarm of comets orbiting it. “So history suggests we’re going to find an explanation for this that doesn’t involve Klingons, if you will,” said SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak. [SPACE.com]