January 5, 2010

Plenty of Solar Systems Like Ours Expected (Source: Space.com)
There's good news and bad news. The bad news is that solar systems like ours are in the minority in the Milky Way. The good news is that's still an awful lot of potential twins out there. Combining the results of a search for extrasolar planets in our galaxy and a method for calculating the likelihood that extrasolar planets exist, only about 15 percent of the stars in the Milky Way likely host systems of planets like our own. "Now we know our place in the universe," said Ohio State University astronomer Scott Gaudi. "Solar systems like our own are not rare, but we're not in the majority, either."

The speculation came partially from an exoplanet-hunting effort called the Microlensing Follow-up Network (MicroFUN). MicroFUN uses a method called gravitational microlensing, which occurs when one star crosses in front of another from the perspective of Earth. The nearer star magnifies the light from the more distant star like a lens. If planets happen to be orbiting the lens star, they boost the magnification briefly as they pass by. (1/5)

China's Space Program Poised to Surge (Source: Asia Times)
Over the next 12 months, 2010 could well rank as one of China's top years thus far in terms of the total number and variety of missions launched. Part of the reason for this is the sense, created by reports that two or three major Chinese space programs are running behind schedule, that China has some catching up to do. This might help to explain the rapid sequence of launches of the Yaogan VII and Yaogan VIII remote sensing satellites by China last month. At the same time, a very important chapter will be unfolding behind the scenes, involving the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC, aka CASTC) and what amounts to an ongoing attempt to fundamentally change China's space technology industrial base.

CASC, one of China's two main group corporations that produce the nation's satellites and launch vehicle technology for both the civilian and military space programs, is undergoing another round of reorganization, consolidation, and marketization, according to Eric Hagt, China program director at the World Security Institute in Washington DC. He says it could "lead to a major shakeup of the industry with far-reaching consequences for China's ability to innovate, market and generally advance" its space program. (1/5)

The Top 4 Sites to Land on Mars and Their Biggest Mysteries (Source: Popular Mechanics)
The Spirit Rover is nearly history, stuck deep in sand, and while Opportunity travels on, it's not likely that it will travel much farther. Now, scientists are building the next rover to be sent to Mars. But researchers have to pick a spot to explore. Here are NASA's frontrunners. Scientists at JPL will decide within the next two years where to send the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover after it launches in the fall of 2011. MSL's mission is to scour the Red Planet for environments that may once have harbored, or may still harbor, microbial organisms. After several years of painstaking research and debate, NASA scientists whittled down their initial list of over 50 sites to four— Eberswalde Crater, Holden Crater, Mawrth Vallis, and Gale Crater. Click here to read the article. (1/5)

NASA Administrator Promises Not to Cannibalize Science Budget (Source: Science)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden enthralled astronomers gathered at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, D.C., by telling them exactly what they wanted to hear, without providing an iota of information about the agency's future plans, or the fate of the human space flight program. Bolden promised that NASA's human spaceflight program would not be paid for through cuts to the agency's science budget, which has been cannibalized in recent years to support space flights. The auditorium erupted in applause. Bolden avoided getting into any specifics on the next generation of NASA manned spacecraft, a topic of hot debate.

In response to a question, the NASA administrator expressed optimism that President Barack Obama would support the development of new human missions in space within the next 10 years. "I don't think this president wants to be the president who presided over the end of (American) space flight," he said. Bolden emphasized the need for greater collaboration with international partners both for financial and diplomatic reasons. The first ever African American to become NASA Administrator, Bolden also made an impassioned plea to astronomers to get involved in science education, with a focus on improving science and math learning among minority students. (1/5)

Engine Testing clears Way for Maiden Falcon 9 Launch (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
SpaceX has completed testing of the Falcon 9 rocket's propulsion system as launch preparations get underway at the company's Cape Canaveral launch site for the vehicle's first flight. The Falcon 9 rocket's second stage was fired for five-and-a-half minutes last week at SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas. Powered by a kerosene-fueled Merlin engine modified for use in space, the second stage was the final major piece of the rocket to go through pre-flight testing in Texas. (1/5)

ASRC Primus Wins Goddard IT Contract (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected ASRC Primus for the Goddard Unified Enterprise Services and Technology (GUEST) contract. The five-year contract has a minimum value of $2 million and a maximum value of $229 million. ASRC Primus will develop, integrate, sustain, and manage the information technology infrastructure and systems for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in the areas of information systems management, business infrastructure and application development, system administration, and network design. (1/5)

NASA Calculates A Carbon Budget For California (Source: Space Daily)
While world organizations struggle to find a benchmark and tracking standards for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, NASA has been supporting California's new carbon emissions inventory report, using its satellite imaging data and computer models of the state's natural ecosystems. Researchers report that in 2004, the state's natural ecosystems absorbed as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as fossil fuel carbons emitted into the atmosphere.

They also discovered that during periods of above normal rainfall, ecosystems trapped significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in forests and soils. For these reasons, researchers suggest the ecosystems should be more extensively protected and conserved, and their emissions be monitored as closely as fossil fuel sources of GHG emissions.

California's population is more than 10 percent of the total population in the United States, and produces 13 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, according to 2000 U.S. Census Bureau data. Because of its large population, the state also contributes significantly to global GHG emissions. If California was a country, it would rank among the top 20 national GHG emitters worldwide. (1/5)

Florida's Space Industry Hangs on Obama's Decisions (Source: St. Pete Times)
President Barack Obama has spent months working on front-burner, front-page issues such as health care, Afghanistan, the economy. Next up: whether to send Americans to Mars. And maybe to the moon, the moons of Mars and an asteroid. That may sound like a geeky, almost frivolous multibillion-dollar idea in a time of ballooning deficits and a sagging economy. But the space industry in Florida and nationwide is anxiously waiting for Obama to make his signature statement on NASA's future. At stake is the direction of American's space program, and thousands of Florida jobs.

"It's damn important for both space and Florida," said Dale Ketcham, director of the Spaceport Research & Technology Institute, which works to bring research and commercial projects to the Kennedy Space Center. "There is no scenario where Florida's not due for a very painful transition." "Its humongous, not just for Florida, but for the nation," said Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, who represents the Space Coast.

The Augustin Panel, set up by the Obama administration, said the Bush space program could not be accomplished within its existing budget and time lines, which means Obama needs to choose what to keep, what to cut and whether to increase the space agency's budget. "It leaves the president with some really tough decisions," said Ketcham. Obama met last month with NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, which led some to speculate he is preparing to make key decisions about the space program. But his timing is uncertain. (1/5)

Control of Space Station Rests with '80s Technology (Source: Houston Chronicle)
NASA bills the International Space Station as ?the most complex scientific and technological endeavor ever undertaken.? Perhaps that is so, but its guts are so 1980s. That's because the 44 primary computers that do everything from guide the station around Earth at 17,000 mph to monitor for fires are powered by Intel 386 processors, first built in the mid-1980s, with a clock rate of 16 megahertz. To put that in perspective, today's processors are measured in gigahertz, a speed increase by a factor of 1,000. Needless to say, the task of maintaining the network of computers on the station humming along is more difficult than, say, putting together a home network.

The station has components from the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and Europe, each with their own hardware and software. Each system must ?talk? to one another and crashes can be a bit more problematic than losing the Internet until a technician can arrive. One such crash did occur in 2001, during a space shuttle mission to the station. Of all the station's computers, the command-and-control computer, which has two back-ups, serves as the "brains" of the network. The first command-and-control computer failed, then the first back-up began operating erratically and then, finally, all three failed. (1/5)

Arianespace ’09 Revenue Boosted by Higher Launch Prices (Source: Space News)
Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium on Jan. 5 reported 2009 revenue of 1.046 billion euros ($1.5 billion), a 9.4 percent increase over 2008, and said launch prices worldwide have increased in the wake of the mid-2009 Chapter 11 bankruptcy of commercial launch provider Sea Launch Co. Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said the company will report a slight profit, as it has done in recent years, when it closes its financial accounts in the spring. In 2008, the Evry, France-based company reported a net profit of 2.5 million euros on revenue of 955.7 million euros. (1/5)

Just 5 Missions Left for NASA's Space Shuttles (Source: Space.com)
The end is beginning for NASA's three aging space shuttles, with just five more missions on tap this year before the orbiter fleet retires in the fall. That is, unless NASA needs a few more months to fly those remaining missions or President Barack Obama chooses to extend the shuttle program to fill a looming gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability. Though the ultimate path forward for NASA has not yet been decided, the space agency is at a turning point after nearly 29 years of shuttle flight. (1/5)

Indian Cryogenic Engine Rocket Launch Put on Hold (Source: IANS)
The test flight of a geo-synchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV-D3) powered by an Indian cryogenic engine with super-cooled fuel has been put on hold as it is undergoing final evaluation. “We are undertaking a thorough review of the indigenously built cryogenic engine before finalising the launch date of GSLV-D3,” Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chairman K Radhakrishnan said. Clarifying that there was no delay as such in the rocket’s launch from the Sriharikota spaceport, Radhakrishnan said the launch schedule would be decided at a meeting later this month. The successful test-firing of an indigenous cryogenic engine will take India into the elite space club of the US, Russia, China, France and Japan that can make such engines. (1/5)

Sen. Bill Nelson On Future Of NASA (Source: CFNews13)
Bill Nelson is intimately connected to the space program. As a congressman, he represented Brevard County for years, and flew in space himself as a crew member on the space shuttle in January 1986. So when will we hear from President Obama? “My sense is that the president will make this decision and announce it before he comes out with his next budget, and the budget comes out in February," the senator said. Nelson says he talks to the White House almost every other day. But he says he is careful to couch anything as his personal opinion, based on months of conversations with people in and out of the White House and in and out of NASA. Nelson does say he is cautiously optimistic about the president's eventual decision. (1/5)

Russia to Launch 10 Spaceships in 2010 (Source: Xinhua)
Russia plans to launch 10 spacecraft this year, including four manned spacecraft and six cargo spaceships, the Russian spacecraft manufacturer Rocket and Space Corporation Energia said Monday. Four Soyuz-TMA space capsules and six Progress cargo ships are scheduled to be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) this year, and experiments on a new series of Soyuz-TMA manned spaceships will begin in 2010. The new capsule, which will be able to carry four to six astronauts, is expected to blast off from the Vostochny launching pad in Russia's Amur region. (1/5)

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