The age at which the first American to orbit the Earth passed away Dec. 8. Here’s another number for you: 73, the number of years John Glenn was married to his wife Annie. A private burial at Arlington National Cemetery is planned for the former astronaut and U.S. senator.


The amount of additional bandwidth the U.S. Air Force’s newest satellite, WGS-8, will provide thanks to upgraded onboard electronics. WGS-8 launched Dec. 7 on a Delta 4.


The drop in the price China’s Beijing Xinwei Technology Group is reportedly willing to pay for Israelis satellite fleet operator Spacecom. The original $285 million value of the deal assumed the successful launch of Amos-6, which was destroyed when its Falcon 9 launcher exploded on the pad Sept. 1. Spacecom said Dec. 5 that Israeli media reports of a new, $190 million deal were premature.



Credit: NASA

New Frontiers AO arrives early

NASA released an announcement of opportunity (AO) for the agency’s next New Frontiers planetary science mission Dec. 9, kicking off a multi-year competition at least a month earlier than widely expected. The AO, as planned, seeks proposals for missions to one of six destinations in the solar system, from Venus to Saturn. Missions have a cost cap of approximately $850 million, excluding launch and operations, and must be ready for launch by the end of 2025.

A mission to visit a comet and acquire a “macroscopic” sample of its nucleus for return to Earth.

Any of a variety of missions to study Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan, including searching for evidence of life in the subsurface liquid water ocean believed to exist on Enceladus.

A mission to the “Trojan” asteroids sharing the orbit of Jupiter.

A mission to deploy one or more probes into the atmosphere of Saturn to study its chemistry and structure.

A mission to study the atmosphere and surface of Venus, including a search for “evidence of past hydrological cycles, oceans, and life” that might have existed on the planet.

A mission to land in a deep basin near the south pole of the moon and collect samples for return to Earth.

“As a former regulator, I can say that the only thing worse than ambiguity is clarity. You’d think that when you get all this clarity, you’re going to love it and you’re going to know exactly what to do, until you find out you don’t want to do the thing they make you do.”

LAURA MONTGOMERY, a lawyer who formerly worked with the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, discussing the need, or lack thereof, of new regulations during a Dec. 7 panel session at the 11th Annual Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law in Washington.


An illustration of ESA’s AIM spacecraft observing the collision of NASA’s DART spacecraft with an asteroid. Credit: ESA/Arianespace

An illustration of ESA’s AIM spacecraft observing the collision of NASA’s DART spacecraft with an asteroid. Credit: ESA/Arianespace

Losing AIM won’t stop NASA from launching DART

A PROPOSED NASA MISSION to collide a spacecraft with a small asteroid remains on track despite Europe’s decision not to fund a companion mission.

Scientists involved with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, a NASA-funded concept in the middle of a Phase A study, said last week that their work is not affected by ESA’s decision at its Dec. 1-2 ministerial meeting to not fund the Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM).

DART would collide with a moonlet of a near Earth asteroid, Didymos, with the collision being observed by AIM. While ESA works to try and restore AIM, those involved with DART said their work is continuing, and that DART can still fly even if AIM does not.

Artist’s concept of one of eight CYGNSS microsatellites flying above the eye of a hurricane.

Artist’s concept of one of eight CYGNSS microsatellites flying above the eye of a hurricane.

Third time lucky

ORBITAL ATK’S AIR-LAUNCHED PEGASUS rocket successfully launched eight hurricane forecasting microsatellites for NASA Dec. 15. The Pegasus XL rocket was released from its L-1011 aircraft at 8:37 a.m. Eastern and placed the eight Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) satellites into low Earth orbit 13 minutes later.

The CYGNSS satellites will detect GPS signals scattered off the ocean surface to measure wind speeds, aiding hurricane forecasting efforts. The launch, twice postponed from Dec. 12 because of technical issues, was the first flight of a Pegasus XL since the launch of another NASA mission in June 2013.

Ariane 5 rocket on the launchpad. Credit: ESA/Arianespace

Ariane 5 rocket on the launchpad. Credit: ESA/Arianespace

Inmarsat jumps ship

Inmarsat said Dec. 8 that its S-band European Aviation Network satellite, previously planned to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, will instead fly on an Ariane 5 in mid-2017.

SpaceX, which once planned to debut Falcon Heavy in 2013, announced prior to losing a Falcon 9 and its satellite payload this September to a pre-launch explosion that Falcon Heavy’s first flight would slip into 2017.

Inmarsat is facing regulatory deadlines for launching the satellite and beginning service, and company CEO Rupert Pearce said In November that he was looking into alternative launch options.

Inmarsat is sticking with SpaceX for the Falcon 9 launch of Inmarsat 5-F4 in the first half of 2017.