August 23, 2010

Air Force Takes Steps to Build More WGS Satellites (Source:
The U.S. Air Force is paying Boeing $182 million to lay the groundwork for a seventh wideband military communications satellite to route video, voice and data messages to deployed troops. The new spacecraft would join the Block 2 series of Wideband Global SATCOM satellites, an upgraded fleet of communications birds to follow up on three first-generation platforms launched between 2007 and 2009. (8/23)

AFRL Reveals Astrox Designs for Future Hypersonic Vehicles (Source: Flight Global)
As US military and space officials develop the outlines for a new generation of hypersonic vehicles, a tiny, Maryland-based company named Astrox has assumed a key role in shaping the designs and defining their performance. For more than a decade Astrox worked in semi-obscurity on several major hypersonic programs, including the NASA X-43A scramjet and the Defense Advanced Research projects Agency (DARPA) Blackswift. But Astrox's public exposure increased dramatically with the public release of "Technology Horizons", a 20-year roadmap for science and technology advances published by the chief scientist of the US Air Force. Click here to read the article. (8/23)

Maryland Governor Tours Wallops Spaceport (Source: WMDT)
On Monday, Governor Martin O'Malley will tour the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, one of the oldest launch sites in the world. NASA and the other organizations at Wallops, including the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) employ approximately 1,800 civilian positions, including government and contractor jobs, 700 of which are held by Marylanders. Gov. O'Malley will take a tour of the facility, including the Range Control Center and the rocket launch facilities on Wallops Island. During the Island portion of the tour, he will see the construction of the new launch pad for MARS and the U.S. Navy Surface Combat Systems Center. (8/23)

European Science Satellite Hit by Glitch (Source: AFP)
A satellite designed to map Earth's gravitational field has been hit by a software glitch and is unable to send its science data back home, the European Space Agency (ESA) said. The problem began to affect the spacecraft GOCE in late July, Mark Drinkwater, head of mission science at ESA's technical division, the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), told AFP. "The satellite's not transmitting its scientific data because of this anomaly," Drinkwater said from Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Technicians were working on a patch and hope to install it by radio link next month, he said. (8/23)

New Mexico a Space Contender (Source: Florida Today)
New Mexico got more good news in its bid to become a serious player in American space travel. The FAA last week picked New Mexico over other competitors, including this area, as site of its Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. New Mexico State University and the surrounding area, including the nearby desert Spaceport America, will get $1 million in each of the next five years to invest in research on everything from space tourism flight operations to insurance.

Three Florida research institutions, including Melbourne's Florida Tech, are part of the academic team working together with New Mexico State on the new center. Florida contended to be the center of excellence, too, with a team led by Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, but it was not picked. In the short term, it's a mostly symbolic victory. The amount of investment is minimal in the grand scheme of the broader commercial space sector. And, it doesn't eliminate Cape Canaveral's built-in advantages as the best launching point for large-scale space operations. (8/23)

NASA Gears Up For Exploration Exercise (Source: Aviation Week)
While the debate over the future of human space exploration simmers in Washington, dozens of NASA engineers, scientists and astronauts will gather on the lunar-like terrain of northern Arizona to field-test planetary rovers, a portable habitat, charging stations and geological tools under development for missions to a range of potential destinations, including near-Earth objects (NEOs) and Mars as well as the Moon.

The 15-day Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) exercise will get underway Aug. 31. Conducted on nearly 750,000 acres of the Black Point Lava Flow, it will simulate a 75-mi. traverse from Shackleton Crater to Malapert Mountain, a pair of south pole features that emerged as prospective sites for lunar outposts during NASA’s Constellation Program. (8/23)

Honeywell and NASA Launch 2010 Fall Tour of FMA Live! Education Program (Source: Honeywell)
Honeywell and NASA announced the fall 2010 tour of their award-winning science education program FMA Live! FMA Live! is the only nationally touring, multi-media, science-education production of its kind. Designed to make science relevant to kids' everyday lives, the program brings an authentic, live, hip-hop concert experience of unprecedented size and proportion to middle schools across the country. FMA Live! is completely underwritten by Honeywell and has traveled 78,800 miles, reaching more than 251,000 students at 730 middle schools in all 48 contiguous U.S. states and Canada. (8/23)

SETI at 50 (Source: Space Review)
Fifty years after the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) started, efforts have yielded no evidence of other civilizations, but the search continues. Jeff Foust reports on the past and future of SETI as discussed at a recent event. Visit to view the article. (8/23)

This space intentionally left blank: The limits of Chinese Military Power (Source: Space Review)
Last week the Defense Department released its latest version of a report on the military capabilities of the People's Republic of China. Dwayne Day examines what the report includes, and what it does not, about China's military space projects. Visit to view the article. (8/23)

Because It's There (Source: Space Review)
Who should go into space, and why? Bob Clarebrough makes the case for broader participation in space exploration by people who can communicate the experience in a myriad of ways. Visit to view the article. (8/23)

Psychics Claim of Evidence of Life on Mars Debunked (Source:
A team of psychics claims to have found evidence not only of life on Mars, but a large industrial dome and a plume of waste coming from it. In a recent video presentation titled, "Evidence of Artificiality on Mars," researcher Courtney Brown, founder of an organization of psychics called the Farsight Institute, claimed to have found mysterious features in a photograph of Mars.

In a YouTube video describing the "anomaly," Brown states, "Here at the top you see a spray... a straight nozzle that's horizontally placed, and what looks like a pipeline going into a dome... below there's also a very large dome that is highly reflective, it looks like it's made of some sort of resin material." Click here to read the article. (8/23)

Venture Capital Fund Backs Business Opportunities from Space (Source: ESA)
Two start-up companies offering a communication handset for outdoor enthusiasts and a computer game to compete live with real racing drivers, both made possible thanks to space technology, are the first to receive funds from ESA’s new Open Sky Technologies Fund. German TakWak GmbH is developing a three-in-one communication device integrating mobile phone, satellite navigation and walkie-talkie functions for outdoor enthusiasts enjoying active sports like hiking, skiing and kayaking. It combines three separate systems in one easy-to-use handset with special features for sport. (8/23)

Vermont Aerospace Industry Takes Flight (Source: AIA)
Vermont's aerospace industry is becoming a significant area of growth for the small state, and officials gathered at an aerospace and aviation open house held by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce last week said they expect the industry to continue to expand. The industry currently generates nearly $2 billion annually for the state and affects 27,268 jobs, according to the Air Transport Association's Smart Skies program. (8/23)

USAF Realignment Affects 12,000 Airmen, 650 Planes (Source: Defense News)
A wide-ranging shakeup will find the U.S. Air Force retiring 650 planes and shifting the jobs of at least 12,000 airmen. The shuffle consolidates F-22 Raptor units, assigns up to 350 F-35 Lightning IIs to four bases, retires F-16 Fighting Falcons as F-35s replace them, establishes a home base for the service's fleet of 37 MC-12W Liberty reconnaissance planes and names the U.S. Air National Guard wings that will be home to 38 C-27J cargo aircraft.

The big winners are Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., two of the largest F-16 Fighting Falcon bases. The installations will get F-35s to replace the F-16s they're set to lose. The only loser is Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., which has to send its F-22s to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., which also flies the stealth jet. USAF officials announced the realignment July 29 after months of study and lobbying by lawmakers and communities looking to save or expand their local bases. Adding an F-22 squadron to Tyndall assuages lawmakers who were concerned that Tyndall - with just one flying squadron - would be vulnerable in future drawdowns. (8/23)

Mikulski Support Wallops Island Spaceport (Source:
In a far-ranging interview, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski touched on the promise of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility over the next decade. Starting next summer, the Wallops Flight Facility will be the launching point for unmanned cargo missions to the International Space Station. President Obama has said those trips will continue until at least 2020, Mikulski said. She predicts that Wallops' expansion will generate hundreds of jobs on the lower Delmarva Peninsula. "(Wallops Flight Facility) will be like the Southwest Airlines of space. It's an upstart, lower cost, cheaper and safer way because it doesn't require human flight," Mikulski said. (8/22)

Upside Down (Source:
Nothing in the National Aeronautics and Space Act requires NASA to fly humans into space, to explore other worlds or to own its rockets. It does list a number of categories in which NASA is expected to "contribute materially," but that's a long way from a mandate. The Act does require NASA to help grow commercial space, an amendment added by the Reagan Administration in 1984. NASA was intended to be a crucible of aerospace innovation that would be exploited by other government agencies and by the private sector — not a space taxi service, and certainly not a government guaranteed job program.

The 2009 GAO report on Constellation, and the Augustine Commission's findings, led the Obama administration to conclude that the only way to assure the quick development of American access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) was to prime commercial space, which is [arguably] free of Congressional machinations... Hence the political firestorm in the months since Obama's proposal was announced.

Some space advocates honestly fear that ending Constellation means an end to human deep-space exploration. They want another Apollo, a permanent lunar colony, footsteps on Mars. I'm all for that, but the harsh reality is that Constellation would have delivered none of it. The Augustine Commission estimated that the first Constellation lunar mission would have been around 2028, and what would it have accomplished? More Moon rocks? That would hardly justify the hundreds of billions of dollars flushed into pork-laden contracts by subcommittee members. (8/23)

Alien Hunters 'Should Look for Artificial Intelligence' (Source: BBC)
A senior astronomer has said that the hunt for alien life should take into account alien "sentient machines". SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, has until now sought radio signals from worlds like Earth. But Seti astronomer Seth Shostak argues that the time between aliens developing radio technology and artificial intelligence (AI) would be short. He says that the odds favour detecting such alien AI rather than "biological" life. (8/23)

Another News Flash From Jupiter (Source: MSNBC)
A Japanese amateur astronomer witnessed a flash on Jupiter over the weekend - less than three months after similar blip, apparently caused by a meteor fall, created a sensation among astronomers. The event suggests that the giant planet may be experiencing shooting stars more frequently than scientists thought, and that it's just a case of looking in the right place at the right time. (8/23)

Mars Rover Technology Could Improve Solar Power Efficiency on Earth (Source: Telegraph)
Technology designed to help NASA scientists explore Mars could hold the secret to solving the world’s energy problems by improving solar power efficiency, experts claim. Solar panels could be kept free from dust and grime which hampers energy output using a self-cleaning system developed for NASA’s Mars rover robots.

The devices scouring the red planet have sensors which detect dust build-ups and zap the surface of their solar panels with an electrical charge to keep them shiny. Dr Malay Mazumder, who helped create the technology for NASA, said it could help boost efficiency of large solar power plants, many of which are situated in arid and dusty desert locations. (8/23)

The Last Oasis (Source: Cosmos)
Pluto and its moon Charon forever keep one face toward each other, like embracing lovers – which may have warmed Pluto just enough for it to develop a life-friendly ocean. Nobody knows what NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will find when it flies past Pluto in July 2015. But one prospect is that it will reveal our former ninth planet once hosted a subterranean ocean - an ocean that might have lasted long enough to develop life.

It's not something most people would envision on the icy planet. In 2006, radio astronomers in Hawaii measured the dwarf planet's surface at a chilly -230°C, only 43°C above absolute zero. At that temperature, it's not just water that freezes rock-hard, but also nitrogen and oxygen. Move the Earth that far out from the Sun and most of our atmosphere would fall to the ground as cryogenic snow. (8/23)

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