January 10, 2010

Rohrabacher Suggests Partnership With Russia On Asteroid Interception Project (Source: Space Daily)
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has sent a letter to Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Space Agency, praising Russia's decision to set up a mission to alter the path of an asteroid on a potential collision course with Earth. The impetus for such a project stems from the current trajectory of Asteroid Apophis, scheduled to makes its first pass around Earth in the year 2029, close enough to travel beneath our communications satellites. However, the asteroid is reported to return in 2036 with a slight chance of actual impact. "I want to congratulate you for taking the initiative on a very important challenge to mankind," writes Rohrabacher. "I agree that a mission deflecting the Asteroid Apophis, which will come shockingly close to Earth in the coming decades, is critical for all people on the planet." (1/9)

Mojave-Based Interorbital Planning Launch Facility in Tonga (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Pursuing a dream to develop a private spaceport in Tonga, a couple of space entrepreneurs have the blessing of Tonga’s king to build a small rocket launch site on the king’s estate on the southern tip of ‘Eua this year, with the aim of launching a rocket before the end of 2010. Roderick Milliron, a US rocket engineer, said in Tonga recently that his company Interorbital Systems (IOS) expects to be ready to launch a first rocket from ‘Eua into a low-earth orbit “by November or December 2010", using a US Launch License.

They want to launch their own IOS NEPTUNE 30 rocket that can carry a 30kg payload into lower earth orbit at 315km. With four booster engines each giving 6,000lb thrust at sea level, it will be the largest rocket ever launched by Interorbital, whose project history includes development of pressure-fed rocket engines of up to 10,000 lbs thrust. The liquid rocket engines are designed and assembled at the IOS facility in Mojave, California. (1/10)

Florida County Will Survive a Final Touchdown (Source: Florida Today)
NASA has sent men to the moon, robots to Mars and rockets beyond the frontier of our solar system. Now it is set to do something it has only done once before in its 52 years: Wind down a human space program. The final space shuttle launch, which will come later this year or early 2011, will mark the end of a program that has encompassed more than half of NASA's history and carried more men and women into space than all other spacecraft combined. And it will be the end of what has been one of Brevard County's most potent economic engines for three decades.

Brevard has been there before. Following the last Apollo moon mission in 1972, unemployment soared to nearly 15 percent, home prices plunged, foreclosures rose and some 10,000 people -- and their families -- abandoned the county in search of work. The good news: The economic hit from the end of the shuttle won't be anywhere near as bad as the end of Apollo. The bad news: The local economy already is in terrible shape even before the coming layoffs.

Among the possible fallouts from the end of the shuttle program: a) Local unemployment in the range of 15 percent or more; b) Foreclosures continuing at record levels -- nearly 10,000 last year -- for the next several years; c) The county's population shrinking as thousands of space workers leave to find jobs. That would mean fewer customers for local businesses, especially in the central and north parts of the county; and d) Secondary repercussions including fewer public school students, a drop in charitable giving and lower tax rolls leading to cuts in public services. (1/10)

Diverse Tourism Will Help Fill Void (Source: Florida Today)
In many ways, the Apollo layoffs and housing glut of the early 1970s helped shape modern-day Brevard County, as retirees from around the country snapped up houses here at bargain prices. Owners of apartment buildings converted them to condominiums to take advantage of buyers being lured by an aggressive county-funded advertising push in the Northeast and Midwest as well as by numerous newspaper stories touting the low-price housing here. Throughout 1970 and 1971, FLORIDA TODAY sent free copies of its real estate classified ads to anyone who asked for them nationwide.

Meanwhile, the newly opened Walt Disney World in Orlando was drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to Central Florida. For the first time, the county began aggressively pushing itself as a tourist destination. That is unlikely to repeat itself in the post-shuttle era. First, there is a glut of vacant homes throughout Florida and other Sunbelt states, not just locally as in the early '70s. Tourism, already a mature industry here, is suffering because of the nationwide economic downturn. (1/10)

Three Martian Meteorites Triple Evidence for Mars Life (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The team that found evidence of Martian life in a meteorite that landed in Antarctica believes that during 2010, by using advanced instrumentation on now three Martian meteorites, it will be able to definitively prove whether such features are truly fossils of alien life on the Red Planet. This new information goes well beyond the updated findings released by NASA in November 2009 about signatures for magnetic type bacteria. (1/10)

A New Theory on Why the Sun Never Swallowed the Earth (Source: TIME)
When astronomers began spotting planets around distant stars in the mid-1990s, they were baffled. Many of these early discoveries involved worlds as big as Jupiter, or even bigger — but they orbit their stars so tightly that their "years" were just days long. Nobody could imagine how a Jupiter or anything like it could form in such a hostile location, where the radiation of the parent star would have pushed the light gas — which makes up most of such a planet's mass — out to the farthest reaches of the solar system before it could ever coalesce.

But a handful of theorists already had a better explanation at hand. The giant planets could have formed in a much more sensible location, like the actual Jupiter did, and then migrated inward, establishing a stable orbit there. It all made sense, except for one tiny problem: this same model also suggested that a little world like Earth shouldn't exist at all; it (or more precisely, the Moon-size proto-planets that eventually assembled into the Earth) should have spiraled into the Sun more than 4 billion years ago. A star might not gobble a Jupiter whole when it moved close enough, but it could surely swallow a canapé like the proto-Earth.

Early models didn't take into account the fact that compressed gas heats up, which limits how dense it can become, and in turn limits how hard its gravity can pull on the proto-planets. Beyond that, the planets' own gravity would fling gas around — the same sort of phenomenon NASA counts on when a spacecraft on its way to Saturn, say, gets a slingshot velocity boost from Jupiter on the way. By adding in both effects, researchers found that there are places where the net force pushes a planet inward, but other places where it pushes outward. And in between those are places where the net force is pretty much zero. "Once planets move into these regions, they stay." And that includes small planets like ours. (1/10)

Hawaii's PISCES to Hold Moon Mission Tests on Big Island (Source: Hawaii 24/7)
PISCES, a space research and technology center headquartered at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, is playing a significant role in the space program, providing a unique forum for international collaboration on future missions to the Moon. PISCES will bring together teams from NASA and the German and Canadian space agencies Jan. 15-Feb. 11 on Hawaii’s volcanic soil to test a variety of new technology that will help astronauts survive on the moon and live off the land. Commercial space organizations also will run tests at that time.

In addition, there will be training exercises in space medicine, lunar geology, and building a moon base. PISCES will hold these field tests on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea, at a site approved by the state and supported by a community-based Cultural Advisory Committee. Activities will include building a lunar landing pad and operating a 3D laser system for tracking rovers on the moon. PISCES will hold these field tests on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea, at a site approved by the state and supported by a community-based Cultural Advisory Committee. Activities will include building a lunar landing pad and operating a 3D laser system for tracking rovers on the moon. (1/10)

Grant Funds New Hawaii Telescope Instrumentation (Source: University of Hawaii)
Hilo received a National Science Foundation grant to fund major research instrumentation for the Hoku Kea Telescope atop Mauna Kea. Funded through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, the award totals $141,664 over a three-year period. “We’re delighted that NSF has awarded us this grant,” says Hilo Professor Principal Investigator David James. “This project is an important part of our plan to transform the physics and astronomy department from the traditional lecture-based community college model to a research-based, professional, modern academic teaching and research group.” The project involves the design, construction and commission of a new digital optical camera and a spectrograph which will be used to analyze the light from stars. (1/10)

Dark Matter and Dark Energy: New Results (Source: Sky & Telescope)
One of the greatest surprises in the history of astronomy was the discovery that all the things we see in space amount to less than 1% of the universe’s total matter and energy. Add the hard-to-detect thin gas between galaxies, and all other forms of ordinary matter, and the total still comes to only about 4.5% of everything that exists. A much larger 26% or so is "non-baryonic dark matter," consisting of some kind of exotic, invisible particles that don't form atoms. The dark matter's gravity dominates the universe, shaped its history, and provides the gravitational pools in which normal matter could accumulate to make galaxies, like scum patches on invisible ponds.

The remaining 70% or so is the so-called "dark energy" that's causing the expansion of the universe to speed up. The nature of this is an even bigger unknown. But more bits of evidence keep being uncovered. At a press conference last Wednesday at the American Astronomical Society meeting, four teams announced new results that improve our understanding of these phenomena. Click here to read the article. (1/10)

Southern California’s Aerospace Sector Still Has Lots of Lift (Source: LA Business Journal)
Look beyond Northrop Grumman Corp.’s move of its corporate flag from Century City to the Washington, D.C., area, and you won’t see much evidence of Los Angeles losing its position as a leading center for aerospace work and defense contracting. The local landscape is buzzing with aerospace companies, many of them fairly small, that contract with the government and commercial customers on satellite projects and weapon systems. Several engineering and project management companies are making a living off aerospace and defense.

“The reality is there’s probably more here than anybody knows about in terms of advanced aerospace research and development,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. The region serves as the headquarters for up-and-coming companies such as Monrovia drone maker AeroVironment Inc., which manufactures unmanned aircraft systems used by the U.S. military, and engineering firms such as downtown L.A.’s Aecom Technology Corp., which provides informational technology services for the armed forces. Click here to view the article. (1/10)

Sun May Soon Send Magnetic Storms Toward Earth (Source: Daily Camera)
The sun may finally be awakening from its longest quiet period in about a century and powering up to solar maximum, when it could fling disruptive electromagnetic storms toward Earth. But once the sun does ramp up, it could be a relatively quiet solar maximum, with a below-average number of eruptions, scientists say. Some researchers argue the sun has begun to enter solar maximum; others say it`s not there yet. They do agree the current quiet period, or solar minimum, is the longest since the early 1900s, but they don`t know why.

"For the average person or for a technological society like ours, a hundred years is a pretty long time," said Dan Baker, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado. A solar cycle usually lasts about 11 years, measured from one low point to the next. The most recent started about 13 years ago, in 1996. (1/10)

India Plans Special Launch Pad at Sriharikotta (Source: Express Buzz)
The third launch pad planned at ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota, is going to be something special. While it will meet the space agency’s needs for the 2015 Human Space Flight Mission, the launch pad is also being designed to accommodate the proposed Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), India’s dream space shuttle which is on the designing board, ISRO officials said. "The preliminary design for the third launch pad is complete. It will be able to take care of all future programmes of the ISRO, including the Human Space Flight Mission and the Reusable Launch Vehicle," officials said. (1/10)

NASA’s Flexible Path Evaluation of 2025 Human Mission to Visit an Asteroid (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
NASA managers have created an evaluation and roadmap for a potential human mission to visit the 1999 AO10 Near Earth Object (NEO) as early as 2025, as part of their options under the Flexible Path approach to the future of Human Space Flight. The mission would focus on using the International Space Station (ISS) as a testbed, with the ultimate focus on eventually heading to Mars. The journey to an asteroid was originally classed as a potential stop-gap option between the end of the ISS’ active role and the eventual return to the moon, homing NASA’s skills in relearning human space travel out of Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

However, the internal 65 page Flexible Path presentation presented several possible directions NASA may take under the Augustine Commission’s Flexible Path option, including the outlining of a NEO mission in the mid-2020s, a full five to six years after the original target date to return to the moon, as outlined in the Vision of Space Exploration (VSE) – which is no longer seen as achievable. Based on the NEOs of interest -– ones which are potential targets for a sending an expedition to visit -– NASA has estimated 39 are accessible “based on a flight system assumptions consistent with a single Ares V-class launch.” (1/10)

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