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SpaceX launch will be last to dispose of rocket’s first stage

SpaceX landed rocket

The next SpaceX launch will be one of the last missions to deliberately dispose of the rocket’s first stage.

The mass of the payload, the EchoStar-23 communications satellite, is large enough that all of the rocket’s performance will be needed to place the satellite into orbit, leaving no reserves to attempt a landing at sea.

Elon Musk says that an upgraded version of the Falcon 9, known as Block 5, would have increased performance to permit landing attempts for even large payloads.

The first Falcon 9 Block 5 launch is planned for the end of this year. [Ars Technica]


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Programming Note: First Up is providing special coverage this week of the 97th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) in Seattle. This year’s conference includes sessions on the next generation of weather satellites, the GOES-R series and JPSS-1, as well as space weather research, including implementation of a national space weather action plan. There will also be policy discussions linked to what the new Trump administration might do in these areas, such as a NASA Earth science town hall on Tuesday. For more details, read our preview article about the conference. To accommodate the special coverage, First Up may be published. a little later than normal this week.

An Atlas 5 successfully launched an Air Force missile-warning satellite Friday after a one-day delay. The Atlas 5 lifted off at 7:42 p.m. Eastern Friday night and placed the third Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO satellite into orbit. The launch was scheduled for Thursday but scrubbed because of technical and range problems. The satellite will use a new ground system that allows the Air Force to consolidate data from a range of sensors. [SpaceNews]

The new Trump administration has installed its first political appointees at NASA. In a memo to agency employees Friday, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said the new administration had assigned Greg Autry as White House liaison and Erik Noble as White House senior adviser at NASA. Autry served on the Trump landing team at NASA after the election, while Noble, a data analyst for the Trump campaign, spent seven years working at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. NASA Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski also left the agency on Friday, contrary to some earlier reports that said he would stay on temporarily after the inauguration. [SpaceNews]

Space made a cameo appearance in President Trump’s inauguration speech Friday. “We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space,” Trump said in the address, not elaborating on what that entailed in terms of administration policies and priorities. Space has been mentioned a few previous inaugural addresses, including those by Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. [Space.com]

NASA expects to decide next month whether to perform a delayed maneuver by the Juno spacecraft. Juno was scheduled to fire its main engine in October to reduce the period of its orbit around Jupiter from 53 to 14 days, but NASA postponed the maneuver to investigate an issue with the spacecraft’s propulsion system. Juno remains in that 53-day orbit, with its next close approach on Feb. 2. NASA said Friday it expects to decide next month whether to reschedule that maneuver or keep Juno in its current orbit. That orbit would allow Juno to achieve its science goals, but would take longer to do so. [SpaceNews]

China has set a late November launch date for its first lunar-sample-return mission. Chinese media reported Sunday that the launch of the Chang’e-5 spacecraft on a Long March 5 rocket is scheduled for late November from the new Wenchang Space Launch Center on the island of Hainan. The spacecraft will go into lunar orbit and send a lander to the surface, which will collect lunar samples and launch them back to the orbiter for return to Earth. [Xinhua]

Japan’s space industry is reviving thanks to a number of new companies. Several companies are working on new small launch vehicles or satellite systems, expanding a domestic industry dominated by a few large companies and the space agency JAXA. These new efforts are, in part, enabled by legislation passed last year that allows private companies to launch satellites provided they meet certain criteria. [Nikkei Asian Review]

A nearby exoplanet may not be as habitable as previously thought. In 2015, astronomers announced the discovery of three planets orbiting the nearby red dwarf star Wolf 1061, including one that appeared to be in the star’s habitable zone. Followup studies of the star suggest that the planet is on the inner edge of the habitable zone, making it susceptible to a runaway greenhouse effect like Venus. [Christian Science Monitor]

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Source: Space News

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SpaceX launch will be last to dispose of rocket’s first stage

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