September 4, 2010

Orbital Pushes ‘Cheap’ Taurus-2 Rocket, Virginia Spaceport (Source: DOD Buzz)
Currently, most DoD launches are handled by the EELV program, not known for its low costs or lack of cost growth over the last five years. EELV launches cost around $250 million a pop. Orbital says it can provide Taurus-2 launches for “quite a bit south of $100 million a launch,” There are around three DoD launches for payloads of 10,000 pounds to 12,000 pounds each year, that could be supported by Taurus-2 rockets, according to an Orbital official.

Taurus-2 will use the Russian NK-33 engine, which Aerojet has modified and is now known as the AJ-26 engine. For those who may worry about U.S. dependence on Russian-built rockets, Orbital says there are 36 engines already in America, with another three dozen in Russia. “Once the supply gets down to a certain level,” he says American companies have the right to co-produce the engine here.

In addition to using a lower cost rocket, Orbital also believes its Wallops Island launch site in Virginia offers greater flexibility because there is no competition with other launches, and it can both loft payloads to the space station, as well as into orbits that appeal to the intelligence community and to the weather satellite community. “You can reach a lot more locations from Wallops than you can from the Cape,” said an Orbital official. (9/3)

ATHLETE Rover Steps Up to Long Desert Trek (Source: NASA)
The ATHLETE rover, currently under development at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is in the Arizona desert this month to participate in NASA's Research and Technology Studies, also known as Desert RATS. The desert tests offer a chance for a NASA-led team of engineers, astronauts and scientists from across the country to test concepts for future missions. (9/4)

Bangalore Cool to Virtual Telescope Idea (Source: sify News)
India's premier science city failed to live up to its reputation as it gave a tepid response to a Microsoft-sponsored workshop here on the concept of the 'virtual telescope'. Though the city is host to about 70 scientific and research institutions, including the renowned Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), there were only a few takers to peep into the universe or scan the outer space through the computer-programmed telescope.

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, partnered with Microsoft Research Labs to conduct the workshop in which a computer program that allows you to scan the universe and zoom into outer space through its Windows was on demo. (9/4)

Editorial: New Space Race Can Give New Mexico Economic Lift-Off (Source: The Independent)
It is approaching truth or consequences time for space tourism. Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has some big milestones coming up in its effort to put paying passengers into zero-gravity, and a host of rivals are also stepping up their experimental work. But while it is too early to say who might succeed – and who might fail – in this modern-day space race, I would put my chips on one economic winner in particular: the state of New Mexico.

The desert state is one of the poorest in the union. Around one in five New Mexicans lives below the poverty line, but the government in Santa Fe is gambling big on space, and with the open spaces and clear skies of its desert in its favor, it increasingly appears to have been the right bet. The partnership between business, government and now local academics, too, is turning New Mexico into the space state. Its desert is home to Spaceport America, where Virgin will be headquartered and from where it plans to carry out the first powered flight of the VSS Enterprise in the next few months.

State subsidies of up to $300m (£200m) are going into the Spaceport, which is no small sum, but the risk that it has helped build a white elephant is declining. Armadillo Aerospace will be conducting future NASA-funded tests of its vertical take-off-and- landing craft from Spaceport America. And New Mexico State University in nearby Las Cruces is the home of a new FAA funded "center of excellence" in related research. (9/4)

Accepted Notion of Mars as Lifeless Is Challenged (Source: New York Times)
For all the triumph of NASA’s 1976 Viking mission, which put two unmanned spacecraft on Mars, there was one major disappointment: The landers failed to find carbon-based molecules that could serve as the building blocks of life. The complete lack of these organic molecules was a surprise, and the notion of a desolate, lifeless Mars persisted for years.

Now, some scientists say that conclusion was premature and perhaps even incorrect. They suggest that such building blocks — known as organic molecules, although they need not come from living organisms — were indeed in the soil, but that they were inadvertently destroyed before they could be detected. If true, that could cast the scientific conclusions of the Viking mission in a new light, especially since another Viking experiment claimed to have found living microbes in the soil. (9/4)

Is the Grand Design Within Our Grasp? (Source: MSNBC)
More than a decade ago, British physicist Stephen Hawking said there was a 50-50 chance that a unified "theory of everything" would be discovered in 20 years' time. Now Hawking thinks the theory has been found. In "The Grand Design," he and co-author Leonard Mlodinow explain why a concept called M-theory offers the only path they can see to understanding the universe's grand design. Hawking got a lot of attention this week for his observation that God wasn't needed to explain the origin of the universe. But his claim that "M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find" could be, if anything, more scientifically controversial.

"Stephen often overstates the case, and that's fine," said Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University who's coming out with his own book about the ultimate questions of physics next year. "That's by virtue of the fact that it's hard for him to go into detail because of his medical condition. Because of that, he makes brief, blunt statements. It's almost like the Bible. Whenever he says anything, people jump on it."

M-theory is a key jumping-off point for "The Grand Design." The string theorists who came up with the term have never agreed on exactly what the "M" stands for, although the words "membrane," "matrix," "mystery" and "magic" have all been floated as possibilities. My favorite explanation is that M-theory is the "mother of all theories." Click here for more. (9/4)

COM DEV Announces Third Quarter Fiscal 2010 Results (Source: COM DEV)
COM DEV announced third quarter financial results for the period ended July 31, 2010. All amounts are stated in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted. Revenue was $52.3 million, compared to $61.5 million in the third quarter of 2009. Net loss was $1.7 million, compared to net income of $5.2 million for the third quarter of the prior year. (9/4)

Activation of Space Operations Group at Florida's Tyndall AFB (Source: USAF)
Members of the 601st Air and Space Operations Center held a ceremony to commemorate the activation of the 101st Air and Space Operations Group. The 101st AOG, which is a Florida Air National Guard unit, provides the manning for the 601st AOC to fulfill their mission of defending the homeland. (9/3)

Google Space Competition to be Held in the Isle of Man (Source: Isle of Man Newsroom)
THE fourth Google Lunar X PRIZE team summit will be held in the Isle of Man during World Space Week. 22 teams from around the world will compete in the international competition which requires engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low cost methods of robotic space exploration.

Senior executives from the competing teams will come together, on October 4 and 5, with representatives from Google and the X PRIZE Foundation, industry experts and Space Isle representatives from the Isle of Man. To win the grand prize of 30 million dollars, teams must successfully soft land a privately funded spacecraft on the moon, explore the lunar surface by moving at least 500 meters and transmit a specific set of video images and data back to the Earth. (9/3)

Space Blogger Turned Down as “Hero of Russia” Candidate (Source: Russia Today)
The Defense Ministry of Russia has twice rejected requests to honor cosmonaut and space blogger Maksim Suraev with the “Hero of Russia” title. Surayev went into orbit in September 2009 together with space tourist Guy Laliberte and American astronaut Geoffrey Williams. He spent 169 days at the International Space Station. He is also known as the first Russian space blogger: On his page at the Russian Space Agency Roskosmos website, he told readers about everyday life aboard the ISS and posted pictures of the station. (9/3)

Kansas State Studies Physical Impacts of Space Travel (Source: Kansas State Collegian)
Funded by a $1.2 million grant from NASA, a group of Kansas State researchers and engineers will spend the next three years studying the physiological changes to the human body caused by low-gravity environments. “We are going to compare performance on a lunar obstacle course with exercises that we do in a lab,” Barstow said. “These are standard tests like push-ups and sit-ups. They will also do a ‘max-run’ on a treadmill along with some ‘max-arms’ tests. That is year one.” (9/3)

Spaceport America Launches Planned by Armadillo Aerospace (Source: KRWG)
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) has announced that Armadillo Aerospace of Rockwell, Texas, plans to launch three NASA-funded tests of their vertical takeoff and landing rocket technology from Spaceport America this winter. "These launches mark an important step in NASA's plan to empower the emerging commercial spaceflight industry to assume a greater role in the nation's space program," said Rick Homans, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. "Spaceport America is the launch pad for this new industry, and Armadillo's decision to launch here affirms our important position."

Armadillo Aerospace is developing new vehicles that can launch small payloads to suborbital "near space", which NASA defines as altitudes between about 19 and 106 km, and return them safely to earth. Armadillo will move its test operations to Spaceport America for two NASA-funded CRuSR (Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program) flights to 15 kilometers, under the Amateur Class III waiver, and a subsequent fully licensed or permit flight to at least 40 kilometers this winter.

Armadillo's grant will help fund flights from Spaceport America, and was made possible through NASA's CRuSR program. Homans added that the Armadillo announcement comes just two weeks after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded at least $5 million to New Mexico State University to develop a Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. (9/3)

Space Technology Leadership Rests with Virginia Delegation (Source:
Virginia U.S. Sen. Mark Warner had vision for Virginia’s commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport when he supported the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, (S 3729), last month. Virginians can only hope that the full House delegation will act in a similar manner this fall. Warner and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb voted to fund commercial space crew development, commercial cargo, and new space technology propulsion development. Each is essential in providing new launch business opportunities and hundreds of high technology jobs at Wallops Island and throughout Virginia.

However, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science (HR 5781), is seeking to take our nation on a different path by failing to fund the items referenced in the Senate-passed measure. The House Committee bill, expected to come to the House floor for amendments and debate in mid-to-late September, is essentially the destruction of the American space program by underfunding a false program now over budget and way behind schedule.

The two Virginia NASA facilities at Langley and Wallops fair much better with the Senate measure, as compared to the flawed House committee measure. Virginia’s commercial spaceport, co-located on the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, will stand ready to commence commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station next year. (9/3)

Accident Fatal to Former Astronaut with Florida Roots (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
Former scientist-astronaut Dr. William “Bill” Lenoir, who flew on the fifth space shuttle flight in November 1982, died Saturday. He was 71. He died from head injuries sustained in a bicycle accident on Aug. 26. The Miami native was the first native-born Florida astronaut and a descendant of Gen. William Lenoir, a Revolutionary War officer. His former wife, Elizabeth, served as mayor of El Lago from 1979 to 1984 and was one of the first women to head a Bay Area city. (9/3)

Aldrin: Forget the Moon, Let's Colonize Mars (Source:
The second man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, says New Zealand should take part in colonizing Mars. The retired astronaut is in Australia promoting a charity and took the opportunity to push his dream for occupying our neighbour in the solar system. Speaking from Australia, he says NASA astronauts shouldn't go back to the moon but aim for Mars.

“Going back to the moon; getting there 50 years after we first got to the moon? Why would we want to do that?” Aldrin thinks that a co-operative global effort needs to be established to make Mars an affordable goal for mankind and that countries like Australia and New Zealand should be involved. (9/3)

Second Super-Fast Flip of Earth's Poles Found (Source: New Scientist)
Some 16 million years ago, north became south in a matter of years. Such fast flips are impossible, according to models of the Earth's core, but this is now the second time that evidence has been found. The magnetic poles swap every 300,000 years, a process that normally takes up to 5000 years. In 1995 an ancient lava flow with an unusual magnetic pattern was discovered in Oregon. It suggested that the field at the time was moving by 6 degrees a day - at least 10,000 times faster than usual. "Not many people believed it," says Scott Bogue of Occidental College in Los Angeles. (9/3)

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