January 22, 2010

Research Council Considers Options to Accelerate Asteroid Detection (Source: Space News)
The National Research Council examined two existing mission concepts that could dramatically accelerate NASA’s NEO (asteroid) survey. Both involved half-meter infrared telescopes. One entails positioning a roughly $500 million space telescope in orbit at the so-called Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point. Such a spacecraft, drawing its heritage from the Spitzer Space Telescope and newly launched Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, telescope, could discover 75 percent of all NEOs 140 meters across or larger within five years and 90 percent within 10 years, according to the report.

The other concept calls for placing a $600 million space telescope in a Venus-trailing orbit, where it could detect 90 percent of the specified NEOs in slightly less than eight years. With help from a suitable ground-based telescope, the survey could be completed in fewer than five years, the report says. If policymakers decide that containing costs is more important that meeting the 2020 deadline, a large ground-based telescope could be pressed into service to complete the survey by 2030, the report says.

The report includes other recommendations for improving NEO detection and collision-mitigation efforts, including immediate action to ensure continued operation of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the initiation of a targeted research program in the area of impact hazard and protection. (1/22)

NASA Unveils Student Ambassadors Program, Including Several Florida Students (Source: NASA)
NASA is taking steps to further engage undergraduate and graduate students in NASA science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, research and interactive opportunities. In one such effort, NASA has inducted more than 80 high-performing interns into the newly unveiled NASA Student Ambassadors Virtual Community. This first group of students includes interns from 35 states and 64 different universities. Nine Florida students made the list, from five universities, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, University of South Florida, Florida Institute of Technology, Florida International University, and University of Florida. (1/22)

Commercial Spaceflight Federation Responds to ASAP Report (Source: NASA Watch)
"Despite the ASAP Report's contention that commercial vehicles are 'nothing more than unsubstantiated claims,' the demonstrated track records of commercial vehicles and numerous upcoming manifested cargo flights ensure that no astronaut will fly on a commercial vehicle that lacks a long, proven track record. The Atlas V, for example, has a record of 19 consecutive successful launches and the Atlas family of rockets has had over 90 consecutive successes, and dozens of flights of the Atlas, Taurus, and Falcon vehicles are scheduled to occur before 2014 in addition to successful flights already completed." (1/21)

Obama Mulls Outsourcing NASA's Next-Gen Shuttle (Source: Sphere)
President Barack Obama will soon have to make the ultimate outsourcing decision: Should NASA farm out the job of carrying astronauts to space? Since the Space Age began in the 1950s, U.S. astronauts have blasted off on government rockets. Now Obama is mulling whether NASA crews should instead hitch a ride into orbit aboard space taxis designed and operated by private companies. Relying on for-profit vehicles "would be a real paradigm change, not just for NASA, but for the American public," says Marcia Smith, founder of SpacePolicyOnline.com and a former Library of Congress space analyst. "It would be more like United Airlines. ... It's not like you're waving the American flag and saying, 'This is something America can do!'"

NASA is already hard at work building its own new rocket and space capsule, which are supposed to replace the antiquated space shuttles. The space agency has sunk billions of dollars into the new spacecraft since 2004, only to see them fall at least three years behind schedule. NASA badly needs a new bus to space, because the shuttles will retire this year or next. After that, astronauts will have to tag along on Russian spaceships until a new U.S. vehicle is available. (1/22)

U.S. Doing Too Little About Asteroids (Source: Reuters)
The United States is doing little to defend the planet against potentially devastating asteroids and is not doing the basic searches that Congress has ordered, according to a report released on Friday. While most of the really big and obvious threats are being found, almost nothing is being done to find the smaller objects that are arguably a more likely threat, the strongly worded report from the National Academy of Sciences said. "It means we are not looking for the small ones which can cause huge damage on earth," astronomer Mike A'Hearn of the University of Maryland, who helped chair the committee that wrote the report, said in a telephone interview. (1/22)

Congo Receives Help From Space After Volcano Eruption (Source: ESA)
On 2 January, Mount Nyamulagira in the Democratic Republic of Congo erupted, spewing lava from its southern flank and raising concerns that the 100 000 people in the town of Sake could be under threat. Fears were also triggered in Goma as rumours circulated that an eruption was imminent at the nearby Nyiragongo volcano, which devastated the city in 2002. Following the eruption, scientists and local authorities have been using a long series of space images from ESA’s Envisat, together with seismic and helicopter data, to monitor the situation and calm fears of the local population. (1/22)

Meteorite Hits Lorton Doctor's Office (Source: Washington Post)
"I was in my office doing charts," Dr. Frank Ciampi recalled. It was Monday, a little after 5:30 p.m. He was on his building's second floor. "And I heard a loud boom, almost like a small explosion." At first, he said, he thought a bookcase had toppled nextdoor. "So I ran toward the office. And then I saw all the debris in the hallway," he said. The floor just outside examination room No. 2 -- about 10 feet from where Ciampi had been doing paperwork -- was littered with small pieces of wood, plaster and insulation. Upon inspection, more debris lay inside the room. He saw three chunks of stone on the floor that together formed a rock about the size of a tennis ball, with a glassy-smooth surface. Then he saw a hole about the size of the rock in the tile ceiling, and a tear in the maroon carpet where the rock had landed. (1/22)

Mars Update: Phoenix Craft Lifeless, Spirit Inches Free (Source: UPI)
The Phoenix spacecraft seeking microbial life near the Martian North Pole shows no signs of life itself and may be frozen. The robotic lander, which completed its five-month mission in mid-2008, gave off no signals when the Mars Odyssey spacecraft passed over Phoenix's location 30 times since Monday. Phoenix was not designed to survive the Martian winter, but NASA and University of Arizona scientists hoped to re-establish contact if the lander can recharge its batteries during the Martian spring, which has begun. Meanwhile, the agency's embattled Mars rover Spirit -- stuck wheel-deep in a Martian sand trap since last May -- managed to move a half-inch, NASA said. It was the first upward motion for the rover since escape attempts began in November. (1/22)

Space Exploration Unconference Set in San Diego for Feb. 27-28 (Source: SDSS)
All systems are go for the launch of SpaceUp, the world's first public unconference devoted to space exploration and development, Feb. 27-28 at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Attendees already registered include entrepreneurs, engineers, educators and scientists from Masten Space Systems, The Scripps Reseach Institute, University of California San Diego ( UCSD ), London's Kingston University and the Prelinger Archive, among others. Dozens of private space exploration advocates from throughout the world have also signed on. Organized by the non-profit San Diego Space Society, registration is $75 per person, with details available at SpaceUp.org. (1/22)

Posey: President Should Make Shuttle Extension a Budget Priority (Source: Rep. Posey)
Congressman Bill Posey (R-Rockledge) has again written to the President requesting that he include in his budget sufficient funding for NASA’s human space flight program in order to keep his commitment to close the gap and maintain America’s lead role in space exploration. Specifically, Rep. Posey requests that the President include funding necessary to provide for additional Shuttle flights beyond 2010. The President is set to release his budget plans for Fiscal Year 2011 on February 1, 2010. (1/22)

Iran to Unveil Three New Home-Built Satellites (Source: Space Daily)
Iran will unveil three new satellites in February, a report said Wednesday, amid Western concerns that Tehran is using its nuclear and space industries to develop atomic and ballistic weapons. ISNA news agency quoted Communications Minister Reza Taghipour as saying that one of the three home-built communications satellites is still under construction. Taghipour named the three satellites as Toloo (Dawn), Ya Mahdi and Mesbah-2, but did not elaborate on exactly when they would be launched. (1/22)

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