October 11, 2010

Space Hotel Race Blasts Off (Source: Moscow News)
In October 1987, the famously bearded rockers of ZZ Top optimistically made advance bookings for a passenger flight to the moon. Twenty-three years later, the band is still playing gigs in Moscow, but they haven’t got their space flight yet. And while ZZ Top may still be howling at the moon, a Russian company could be about to make the rockers’ dream come true – at least in terms of flying them to the first-ever space hotel. Sergei Kostenko, president of Orbital Technologies, said his company will launch a space hotel as soon as 2015. Kostenko also heads the Moscow office of Space Adventures, a US company that has already sent seven tourists to the International Space Station (ISS).

Orbital Technologies already has a rival ready to take-off in the tourism space race – US-based Bigelow Aerospace. Founded by Robert Bigelow, a billionaire hotelier and developer from Las Vegas, the company claims it will launch an expandable module-type space station within the coming year. Editor's Note: Not mentioned in this article is Excalibur Almaz, an international group also working toward the launch of a private space station. (10/11)

Should India Go For Space Weaponization? (Source: Eurasia Review)
Outer space is no more an abode of peace and tranquility. The space race initiated by the former Soviet Union with the orbiting of the first man made satellite Sputnik in 1957 has now assumed a sort of ‘sinister dimension’. The leading space faring nations such as the US, Russia and China are now all set to turn the heavens into a battlefield of the future. Of course, the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty forbids the deployment of “nuclear weapons or any other kind of weapons of mass destruction.” It was again the erstwhile Soviet Union which initiated an arms race in space by initiating anti-killer satellite tests in late 1960s. The US followed suit.

Though India, China and Russia have advocated the need for formulating a comprehensive treaty for preventing outer space from becoming a domain for testing destructive devices, USA has refused to be a part of such a treaty. With a range of satellites acting as ‘ears’ and ‘eyes’ of the defense forces, the modern day warfare is fast becoming highly ‘space-centric’.

Indian defense experts have suggested the need for India to go in for both defensive and offensive space systems. The defensive aspect involves hardening the satellites against the machinations of space based and ground based devices. The offensive strategy aimed at countering the threat from ‘rogue satellites’ is to deploy satellites equipped to put out of commission an enemy spacecraft on an offensive mission. Indian defense scientists are clear that India should have a well conceived defensive and offensive plan of action to protect its space assets. Of course, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will be a key player in this endeavor. (10/11)

Obama Signing NASA Law Today, but Funding Still Isn't Assured (Source: Huntsville Times)
President Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 into law in Washington with little fanfare today, giving the space agency a new road map for the coming decade. But funding the new vision, which includes a new heavy-lift rocket to be developed in Huntsville, is anything but assured, according to a press conference today. Funding still has to pass in what NASA supporter Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., predicted will be a "tough" lame duck session of Congress after the November midterm elections.

Some Republican senators, concerned about the budget deficit, want all government spending held to 2008 levels, Nelson said, calling that option "a disaster for NASA." Nelson discussed the new law in an hour-long teleconference with space reporters also including NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr., NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, former astronaut Sally Ride and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla. (10/11)

Europe Eyes ATV Upgrade (Source: Aviation Week)
Space managers in Europe say improvements contemplated for the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and the International Space Station (ISS) would sharply increase its cargo volume while offering a more realistic cost comparison with a proposed Advanced Reentry Vehicle (ARV) derivative.

Luigi Maria Quaglino, vice president for space infrastructure and transport at Thales Alenia Space, says engineers are working on modifications to the ATV’s internal structure that would sharply boost its current 7-metric-ton dry cargo capacity. One factor driving the modifications, Quaglino says, is a possible reduction in the reboost capability of the ATV to enable NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services spacecraft to dock at a lower altitude, lowering the ATV’s fuel-storage requirement. (10/11)

Small Asteroid to Pass Within Earth-Moon System Tuesday (Source: NASA JPL)
A small asteroid will fly past Earth early Tuesday within the Earth-moon system. The asteroid, 2010 TD54, will have its closest approach to Earth's surface at an altitude of about 45,000 kilometers (27,960 miles) at 6:50 EDT a.m. (3:50 a.m. PDT). At that time, the asteroid will be over southeastern Asia in the vicinity of Singapore. During its flyby, Asteroid 2010 TD54 has zero probability of impacting Earth.

2010 TD54 is estimated to be about 5 to 10 meters (16 to 33 feet) wide. Due to its small size, the asteroid would require a telescope of moderate size to be viewed. A five-meter-sized near-Earth asteroid from the undiscovered population of about 30 million would be expected to pass daily within a lunar distance, and one might strike Earth's atmosphere about every 2 years on average. If an asteroid of the size of 2010 TD54 were to enter Earth's atmosphere, it would be expected to burn up high in the atmosphere and cause no damage to Earth's surface. (10/11)

Asteroid Crash Would Devastate Ozone Layer (Source: Physics World)
A mid-sized asteroid impact with the ocean could drastically deplete the ozone layer for many years, according to a team of US researchers. Such damage would expose the surface to levels of UV radiation up to three times more severe than anything currently recorded on Earth. While large asteroids, such as the 15 km space rock implicated in the demise of the dinosaurs, are notorious for their destructive power, mid-sized asteroids, with diameters between 100 m and 1 km, also have the potential to inflict global damage to the biosphere.

Conventional models have focused on mid-sized ocean strikes, analyzing immediate effects, such as tsunamis, or climatic changes due to large amounts of dust ejected into the atmosphere. Now, a group of researchers, led by Elisabetta Pierazzo at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, US, are the first to model the effects on the ozone layer from a mid-sized asteroid ocean impact. (10/11)

The Space Station as a Deep Space Exploration Platform? (Source: Discovery)
It's the bread and butter of sci-fi movies: A spaceport in Earth orbit acting as a spaceship construction facility or an assembly point for astronauts to resupply before flying into deep space. Now there are some low-level discussions about turning the International Space Station (ISS) into that functioning spaceport.

According to letters exchanged by the Russian, European and US space agencies, it would appear there is renewed interest in further development of the space station's purpose. If these new ideas ever reach fruition, we could see a reinvigorated station with deep space aspirations. (10/11)

Private Space Capsule Set for November Test Flight (Source: Space.com)
A private unmanned spacecraft designed to ferry supplies to the International Space Station is slated to launch on its first demonstration flight, tentatively scheduled for early November. The Dragon space capsule is built by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the Hawthorne, Calif.-based private spaceflight company. The flight, a test of the company's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, is being developed under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, aimed at advancing space transportation capabilities among U.S. commercial firms. (10/11)

NASA Closer to Getting Extra Space Shuttle Flight (Source: AP)
There's still the matter of money. But it looks increasingly likely that NASA will get an extra space shuttle flight. The NASA Authorization Bill directs NASA to move forward with an additional shuttle flight to the International Space Station, before retiring the fleet. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space who took part in a White-House ordered review of human spaceflight, said the extra flight represents "an important extension" for supporting the space station. (10/11)

NASA Prepares for Grand Challenges (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
NASA is looking for a few good ideas. This fall, the Office of the Chief Technologist, Robert Braun, is opening its doors to the best and the brightest to help take its long-term space missions to the next level. Braun, who joined the organization in February as NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s principal adviser, is soliciting cutting-edge, disruptive technologies through a new series of competitive "grand challenges." Optimally, the technologies developed would enable a range of Earth observation missions, as well as robotic and human exploration voyages to the asteroids, Mars, and beyond.

"I’m talking about an open competition model from an open community of innovators," says Braun. "Not where we say, ’Here’s a solicitation, and if you work for the government or a university, you can compete for this award.’ I’m talking about strategically defining the technologies needed over the next 10 or 20 years, putting those capabilities on the street in a competitive bid, and then having the community—folks in government, academia, industry, and citizen innovators working in their garages—form ad hoc teams on their own." (10/11)

President Obama Signs NASA Bill on Columbus Day (Source: Parabolic Arc)
President Barack Obama signed the NASA authorization bill on Monday, a federal national holiday that honors the achievements of Christopher Columbus. "We are grateful for the President’s forward-thinking plan and the hard work members of Congress put into this framework that will guide us for the coming three years. This legislation supports the president’s ambitious plan for NASA to pioneer new frontiers of innovation and discovery. With this direction, we will extend operations on the International Space Station through at least 2020," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. (10/11)

Shuttle Launch Pad Towers Coming Down (Source: Aviation Week)
Workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center have begun removing pieces of the space shuttle’s Rotating Service Structure at Launch Pad 39B as part of an ongoing demolition project aimed at creating a clean, multi-use pad for future government and commercial vehicles. KSC expects to receive $1.33 billion over the next three years to transform its shuttle-centric facilities into infrastructure that can be used by a variety of future users and vehicles. Some of that work already is under way, funded through the Constellation Moon program, which is being renamed and recast under the new exploration strategy.

Pad 39B was modified for the test flight of Constellation’s Ares 1-X booster last year, but many shuttle-unique systems were left intact, including its rotating and fixed service structures. Over the next nine months, the steel towers will be cut apart, removed in pieces and hauled away to be recycled, leaving the pad with a concrete surface, the water sound-suppression system and three 594-ft. lightning masts that were installed as part of the Constellation program. Final details of what the pad will look like are unknown. (10/11)

Did Japan Space Probe Bring Back Alien Life? (Source: AOL News)
Like something out of a sci-fi movie, did alien particles find their way inside a space probe that landed on an asteroid and returned to Earth? That question was raised last week by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Scientists reportedly found small, odd particles inside Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft, which returned to Earth in June after a seven-year, 3-billion-mile journey that took it to an asteroid and back.

After a more than two-year voyage, Hayabusa spent 30 minutes on the surface of an asteroid -- dubbed Itokawa -- and collected small samples of asteroid dust. Recent electron microscope analysis detected some particles that display different characteristics from the dust already picked up by the spacecraft. Whether the asteroid dust contains an unknown extraterrestrial life form may not be known for some time, as the analysis of the material will continue for several months. (10/11)

Gliding Spaceship Brings Space Tourism Closer (Source: New Scientist)
SpaceShipTwo, the craft in which Virgin Galactic hopes to fly more than 370 paying space tourists to suborbital altitudes, made its first solo unpowered flight on 10 October - in a flight test designed to assess its performance when returning to Earth. Slung between the twin fuselages of the carbon-fiber, four-engined WhiteKnightTwo mothership, SpaceShipTwo was carried to an altitude of 13.7 kilometers (45,000 feet). Then, using a novel release mechanism developed by Mojave, California based Scaled Composites, the maker of both the aircraft and the spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo was released to fly alone for the first time. (10/11)

Astronomers Find Long-Lost Lunar Rover (Source: ABC Science)
The long lost lunar rover Lunokhod 1, has been rediscovered by astronomers using laser pulses, thirty-six years after it disappeared. A team led by Associate Professor Tom Murphy at the University of California, San Diego worked out its position to within a few centimetres using data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

Lunokhod 1 was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard the then Soviet Union's Luna 17 mission, landing on the Moon on the 17 November 1970. The rover, about the size of a small car and looking like a tin bathtub with a lid, travelled about 10 kilometers along the lunar landscape sending back tens of thousands of images and soil analyzes from over 500 sites. (10/11)

NASA Glenn Upbeat on Replacement Bill (Source: Crains Cleveland Business)
The new NASA may not be so bad for NASA Glenn Research Center after all. The center's director and others with close ties to NASA Glenn have voiced support for a federal bill expected to reshape NASA's space exploration plans. About half of Ohio's congressional delegation opposed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, a bill expected to replace the Bush-era Constellation program with a space exploration plan that pays private companies to develop rockets for NASA and puts more emphasis on long-term technology development. A few members of the delegation even circulated letters saying the bill would be bad for NASA Glenn; so did the Greater Cleveland Partnership. (10/11)

Mars Carbon Dioxide Finding Hints at Ancient Life (Source: Telegraph)
Widespread deposits of carbonate rock are buried a few miles beneath the surface, according to new research. Small amounts of this mineral have been detected on Mars before. But if they are abundant it means the greenhouse gas could have helped make it a much wetter and warmer place hundreds of millions of years ago. Space scientists used satellite data to analyze the geology of a region known as the Leighton Crater near the enormous Martian volcano Syrtis Major which is almost 750 miles wide.

This revealed extensive deposits of the mineral almost four miles below the crust that were exposed by a massive meteorite impact, according to the findings published in Nature Geoscience. The team believes these represent ancient sediments that were subsequently buried by volcanic material ejected during eruptions from Syrtis Major. (10/11)

Manned Flight Around Moon Considered (Source: BBC)
The possibility of using the space station as a launching point to fly a manned mission around the Moon is to be studied by the station partners. Letters discussing the concept have been exchanged between the Russian, European and US space agencies. The Moon flight would be reminiscent of the 1968 Apollo 8 mission which snapped the famous "Earthrise" photograph. The agencies want the station to become more than just a high-flying platform for doing experiments in microgravity. (10/11)

Google's Lunar X Prize Drives Effort to Put Australian Flag on Moon (Source: News.com.au)
An Australian engineer hopes to use his experience in managing indoor volleyball teams to help a global coalition win $30m by landing a rover - and an Aussie flag - on the moon. Andrew Barton is based in The Netherlands with White Label Space - an international team of experts dedicated to becoming a major player in the rapidly expanding sector of private space exploration.

They don't believe in small steps, either, targeting Google's Lunar X Prize as the perfect launch pad for their future. First announced in 2007, the Lunar X Prize is a seven-year search sponsored by Google to find a private team capable of landing a rover on the moon. Mr Barton moved to Europe from Sydney join the European Space Agency nearly 10 years ago after being involved with the Australian Space Research Institute on "exciting but virtually unfunded projects". (10/11)

China Hitting India Via Net Worm? (Source: Times of India)
The deadly Stuxnet internet worm, which was thought to be targeting Iran's nuclear program, might actually have been aimed at India by none other than China. Providing a fresh twist in the tale, well-known American cyber warfare expert Jeffrey Carr, who specialises in investigations of cyber attacks against government, said that China, more than any other country, was likely to have written the worm which has terrorised the world since June.

While Chinese hackers are known to target Indian government websites, the scale and sophistication of Stuxnet suggests that only a government no less than that of countries like US, Israel or China could have done it. "I think it's more likely that China is behind Stuxnet than any other country," Carr said. Attributing the partial failure of ISRO's INSAT 4B satellite a few months ago -- the exact reason for which is not yet known -- to Stuxnet, Carr said it was China which gained from the satellite failure.

Carr, however, made it clear that he had not arrived at any definite conclusion till now. He said he was pointing out that there were alternative targets in countries other than Iran that also made sense and served another nation's interest to attack -- namely India's Space Research Organization which uses the exact Siemens software targeted by Stuxnet.(10/11)

More ‘Space’ for Women (Source: Deccan Herald)
Kalpana Chawla may have reached space via the US but no more will an Indian woman have to take that route. If the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) plans go well, a woman from the country will find herself floating in space in a few years. IRSO is planning to have a woman on-board an upcoming mission--if not the first one scheduled for 2015. ISRO’s Human Space flight Program aims to develop an orbital vehicle to carry a two-member crew. In a subsequent mission, the agency planned to carry a three-member crew to space, one of which will be a woman, highly-placed sources from ISRO said. (10/11)

Energia: Political Obstacles for Sea Launch Overcome (Source: RIA Novosti)
Sea Launch plans to resume Zenit-3SL carrier rocket launches from its floating platform in the Pacific Ocean in 2011, the head of Energia said Monday. "All political conditions for resuming launches on the Sea Launch program have been met. All commissions in the United States have been passed. A license for 70 launches has been received," Vitaly Lopota said. "There are enough contracts for satellite launches. The first launch is due at the end of next year," he said. (10/11)

Airplanes in Space? (Source: Discovery)
A vehicle that can take off, fly and land like an airplane, but also travel in space is "the holy grail" of aeronautics. A British firm is upping the ante in a long-held dream to build an airplane that also can fly in space. With support from the U.K. Space Agency, Reaction Engines is building a prototype of a critical piece of its spaceplane's technology, which will be tested on a conventional jet engine.

The ultimate goal is Skylon, an unpiloted, air-breathing vehicle that takes off and lands on a runway, and can travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. Rather than using expensive rocket motors that have to be discarded or refurbished after every flight, Skylon is powered by two hybrid engines that can use oxygen from the air when available or liquid oxygen when there is no air. Its propellant is liquid hydrogen. (10/11)

Claim of Alien Signal from Planet Gliese 581g Called 'Very Suspicious' (10/11)
The recent discovery of Gliese 581g, an alien planet in the habitable zone of another star, has been an exciting development for scientists probing the galaxy for signs of extraterrestrial life. At least one claim of a possible signal from the planet has already surfaced – and been met with harsh skepticism among the science community.

Following the Sept. 29 announcement of the discovery of Gliese 581g, astronomer Ragbir Bhathal, a scientist at the University of Western Sydney, claimed to have detected a suspicious pulse of light nearly two years ago, that came from the same area of the galaxy as the location of Gliese 581g, according to the U.K.'s Daily Mail online. Bhathal is a member of the Australian chapter of SETI, a non-profit scientific organization that is dedicated to research, exploration and education in the field of astrobiology.

Still, there are some scientists who are skeptical of Bhathal's assertion. "I know the scientist, and when he first announced it, I asked him for the details, and he wouldn't send them to me," astronomer and SETI pioneer Frank Drake told SPACE.com. "I'm very suspicious." (10/11)

Armadillo Signs Up Russian Space Tourist (Source: RIA Novosti)
The U.S. Armadillo Aerospace company, which is developing the suborbital spaceship for space tourist flights, announced on Monday that a Russian has become its first confirmed passenger. St Petersburg resident Evgeny Kovalev won his ticket to the cosmos in a contest organized by Efes brewery. "We plan to hold the first manned flight in 2012," Russia's representative for the firm Space Adventures Sergei Kostenko said. "Before sending the first tourist, we will have to conduct another five or six more test flights." (10/11)

Houston, Rockford, Ill., Top Choices for New Campus for Embry-Riddle (Source: AIA)
The president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University told officials from Rockford, Ill., over the weekend that the city's main competition in serving as home to the university's third campus is Houston. The officials had flown to Daytona Beach, Fla., for the Wings and Waves Air Show, where Embry-Riddle President John Johnson said Rockford is a "strong candidate" for the campus. Trustees will be presented with information on the choices in November, and a decision on the new campus is expected in March. (10/11)

Central Community Leaders Discuss Florida's Space Future (Source: Florida Today)
Several hundred community leaders, politicians and space industry representatives gathered Monday at the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa to attend a forum titled "Diversifying Florida's Economy for the Future." The first panel addressed ways to attract commercial space vendors with state grants and state programs. "The state of Florida can incentivize these companies to come here, " said Will Trafton, a former Boeing executive and president of Will Trafton & Associates, LLC.

Kennedy Space Center Deputy Director Janet Petro said NASA is evolving to handle commercial and government launch programs. She acknowledged that it's a new direction for the space agency, and urged attendees to continue to support government financing for space initiatives. Attendees included U.S. Rep Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach, and U.S. Rep Bill Posey, R-Rockledge. Officials said ideas that emerge from this forum, and others like it, should help community leaders to proactively lobby decision-makers on behalf of Florida's space industry. (10/11)

The Beginnings of Planetary Exploration (Source: Space Review)
Fifty years ago this month the era of planetary exploration began with the first attempts by the Soviet Union to launch probes to Mars. Andrew LePage recounts the ultimately failed attempts by the Soviets to send spacecraft to the Red Planet. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1709/1 to view the article. (10/11)

A Fading Opportunity for Export Control Reform? (Source: Space Review)
The US space industry has raised its hopes in the last year about the prospects for improving export control given initiatives by the Obama Administration to reform the overall process. Jeff Foust reports that some advocates of reform, though, are skeptical that this effort will result in significant change. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1708/1 to view the article. (10/11)

Reviving the SSI Space Manufacturing Conference (Source: Space Review)
After a nine-year hiatus, the Space Studies Institute will be holding its latest conference on space manufacturing and space settlement later this month in California. Lee Valentine and Douglas Messier discuss the background behind this conference and why now, more than ever, it's relevant to humanity's future in space. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1707/1 to view the article. (10/11)

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