A Long March 2F rocket carrying China’s first space laboratory module Tiangong-1 before lifts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 29, 2011 in China.

A Long March 2F rocket carrying China’s first space laboratory module Tiangong-1 before lifts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 29, 2011 in China. Getty Images / Lintao Zhang

The Air & Space Brief: China rocket falls, F-16s go 3D, INDOPAC’s China concern, and more...

Hello and welcome to Defense One’s Air Force and Space Force newsletter, a weekly look at the events and headlines shaping military aviation and aerospace policy. 

Another free-falling Chinese rocket body hit Earth after the Long March-2F booster, which had carried Chinese astronauts to the international space station June 17, ran out of fuel and fell out of orbit. Unlike other space-launch countries and companies, China does not reserve fuel to be able to safely direct where the rocket will crash. This one fell into the Pacific Ocean. 

KC-46 tanker aircraft at Pease Air National Guard Base have begun refueling F-35s flown by the Vermont Air National Guard. The wing is the first National Guard unit to fly the KC-46, which is still only cleared to refuel F-35s under certain restrictions. 

Globalization fueling China’s AI: China is gaining access to new streams of data that could help the country better and more quickly engineer new artificial intelligence capabilities, according to the head of intelligence for Indo-Pacific Command. “The access that they have to data allows them to have a larger set of data that they can run, to be able to actually allow machine learning to learn faster,” Rear Adm. Michael Studeman said last week. 

F-16 design goes 3D digital: The Air Force is going to pull two F-16s from the boneyard to use them to build an exact 3D digital replica that should speed future maintenance, Defense News’ Valerie Insinna reported.

Branson’s first: Virgin Galactic billionaire Richard Branson beat Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos into space aboard the VSS Unity spaceship, which launched, entered space, and returned to Earth Sunday at its Spaceport America homeport in New Mexico, CNET reports.  "Welcome to the dawn of a new space age," Branson said after the crew finished their flight. Bezos’ Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft is scheduled to launch with him aboard on July 20. 

Sign up to get The Air & Space Brief every Monday from Tara Copp, Defense One’s Senior Pentagon Reporter. On July 12, 2001 Space Shuttle Atlantis launched carrying the Quest airlock to the International Space Station. 


From Defense One

Another Free-Falling Chinese Rocket Body Hit Earth Last Week // Tara Copp: China continues to burn all the fuel in its launches, allowing the used-up rockets to fall back to Earth uncontrolled.

KC-46 Tankers Expand Mission Workload, Start Refueling F-35s // Marcus Weisgerber: Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks was briefed about the new tankers at a New Hampshire base Wednesday.

China’s Aggressive Data Push Worries Military Intel Officials // Patrick Tucker: The AI future runs on data and the Chinese government is out for all it can get.

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