October 18, 2010

Transformers Plot Involves US-Russia Space Race (& Transforming Shuttle) (Sources: NASA Watch, BLASTR)
Now that Michael Bay's third Transformers film finally got itself a title two weeks back—Transformers: The Dark of the Moon—all it needed was a plot. Here's an official description: "The Autobots... are back in action, taking on the evil Decepticons, who are determined to avenge their defeat in 2009's Transformers Revenge of the Fallen. In this new movie, the Autobots and Decepticons become involved in a perilous space race between the U.S. and Russia, and once again human Sam Witwicky has to come to the aid of his robot friends." Editor's Note: I hear the plot includes a transforming Space Shuttle too. (10/18)

Our "New, Improved" Solar System (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Compared with the systems of planets being found around other stars, our solar system is an orderly place, with each planet tracking around the Sun in a stable, roughly circular orbit. For centuries, the planets' long-term stability has been taken as evidence that they formed where they are now, sucking up gas, dust, and larger building blocks from the protoplanetary disk around them until reaching their final sizes. But dig a little deeper, and you find serious problems with that simplistic view.

For example, Uranus and Neptune should have ended up much smaller and less massive, because billions of miles from the infant Sun the protoplanetary pickings were slim and the assembly process too slow. Conversely, Mars formed in the fat of the disk and should have ended up at least 10 times more massive than it is today. And no one really understands the asteroid belt's existence — particularly why it's crudely divided into rocky bodies (called S types) nearer the Sun and dark, carbon-dominated hunks (C types) farther out. Click here for more. (10/18)

NASA Selects 215 Small Business Research Projects (Source: NASA)
NASA selected 215 proposals for negotiation of Phase II contract awards in the Small Business Innovation Research program, or SBIR. The selected projects have a total value of approximately $129 million. NASA will award the contracts to 162 small high technology firms in 35 states. Phase II awards expand on the results of Phase I projects, providing awards for as long as two years in amounts up to $600,000. Six of the 215 projects will be managed by NASA KSC.

Four Florida companies are Phase II winners, including OptiGrate Corp. of Orlando for "Monolithic Rare Earth Doped PTR Glass Laser"; APECOR of Orlando for "High-Temperature, Wirebondless, Ultra-Compact Wide Bandgap Power Semiconductor Modules for Space Power Systems"; Advanced Materials Technology, Inc. of Orlando for "Manufacture of Novel Cryogenic Thermal Protection Materials"; and Florida Turbine Technologies of Jupiter for "Magnetically Actuated Seal". Click here to view the list of winners nationwide. (10/18)

NASA History Division Accepting Interns (Source: NASA)
The NASA History Division sponsors internships for undergraduate and graduate students year-round. Our internships are quite substantive and are opportunities for students to learn and contribute significantly. Currently, we unfortunately are unable to pay interns directly. However, we encourage students to apply for stipends or other funding through the national network of state space grant consortia, their home educational institutions, or other corporate or nonprofit sources. Click here for information. (10/18)

German Satellites Flying in Close Formation for 3D Mapping (Source: Space Daily)
The German Aerospace Center and the space company Astrium have recently taken an important step forward in their mission to create a three-dimensional map of the world. On 14 October 2010, the radar satellite TanDEM-X moved into close formation with its 'twin', TerraSAR-X. Before this, the two satellites were orbiting 20 kilometers apart - a flight time of almost three seconds.

Now, there are only 350 meters separating the pair, which means their antennas are able to acquire radar images of the same area simultaneously. The objective of the mission is to create a high-precision, three-dimensional digital elevation model of Earth's land surface. The project needs the satellites to operate in parallel for a period of three years. (10/18)

EU Releases Revised Draft Space Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities (Source: Space Policy Online)
The European Union (EU) unveiled a revised draft of its "Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities" during a meeting at the United Nations last week. The Secure World Foundation and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) sponsored the event in conjunction with a meeting of the U.N.'s First Committee. The Council of the European Union had adopted it on Oct. 11. Meanwhile, the U.N. First Committee is proposing creation of a Group of Governmental Experts on Space Security to develop Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) for space. Click here for more. (10/18)

Space Shuttle Discovery Leaking Fuel on the Launch Pad (Source: CFL-13)
Will a fuel leak delay the November launch of space shuttle Discovery? It's a question mission managers are trying to answer after a leak was found as the shuttle sits on the pad. They are better known as the OMS pods -- the tiny engines on the rear of the orbiter that allow it to change direction in orbit and later slow it down upon re-entry. The leak was spotted in propellant lines that feed the engines with Monomethyl Hydrazine and an oxidizer. It's a great fuel, but very dangerous to people. (10/18)

Professors: Send Colonists to Mars With No Return Ticket (Source: Seattle Post Intelligencer)
We should send people to Mars without worrying about how to bring them back, professors from Washington State University and Arizona State University argue in a new paper. "A one-way human mission to Mars would be the first step in establishing a permanent human presence on the planet," WSU associated professor Dirk Schulze-Makuch said in a news release discussing "To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars," which he published with ASU physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies in the latest issue of the Journal of Cosmology.

They note that most of the cost of a round-trip to Mars would come in the return leg and say the first arrivals would be the vanguard for a long-term presence on the red planet. "It would really be little different from the first white settlers of the North American continent, who left Europe with little expectation of return," Davies said. "Explorers such as Columbus, Frobisher, Scott and Amundsen, while not embarking on their voyages with the intention of staying at their destination, nevertheless took huge personal risks to explore new lands, in the knowledge that there was a significant likelihood that they would perish in the attempt." (10/18)

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Wins NASA Prime Contractor Award (Source: PWR)
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne received the 2010 Large Business Prime Contractor of the Year Award from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The award is given to large and small business prime contractors, subcontractors and civil service team members whose leadership and pursuit of technological excellence support the work of the Marshall Center and sustain NASA's mission of exploration and discovery. (10/18)

Would You Donate a Dollar to Help Send a Brevard County Man to Space? (Source: CFL-13)
A Brevard County man wants to make his next trip out of this world, and he is asking you to help him, along with some charities. Ken Stricker said he is trying to to raise enough money to hop a ride on Virgin Galactic, which said it will begin taking people into space for a fare of $200,000. “It's very bold, but an attainable goal,” Stricker said. For now, he's scooping up ice cream on Merritt Island as assistant manager at Topper's Creamery. Meantime, he's launched an effort to skip the sky and launch himself into space. Stricker has set up a website, asking people to donate $1 each until he raises the $200,000 needed. (10/18)

Playing Piggyback in Space (Source: DOD Buzz)
Satellites are very expensive. The sensors on them are very expensive. Launching satellites is very expensive. One way the government has considered saving some of those launch and satellite costs is by piggybacking its sensors on commercial satellites. Known as hosted payloads, such packages have attracted considerable interest from the government for the last few years.

But industry worries that their satellites might become military targets in time of war or be used for purposes which their customers might find difficult to explain to their own governments. And there are questions about who controls the satellite and under what circumstances. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s space experts are building a website they hope will make it easier for the government and industry to get together on such deals. (10/18)

NASA Partners Await Policy Shakeout (Source: Aviation Week)
European and Japanese space agencies are awaiting further developments as the U.S. puts the finishing touches on its new policy for exploration, adopting a wait-and-see attitude until Congress funds a compromise space plan and NASA fills in the details. Speaking at a Washington conference organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, representatives of the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), France’s CNES and Germany’s DLR all expressed caution in the face of continued U.S. uncertainty. (10/18)

Soyuz Launcher Ready to Restore Full Globalstar Service (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Six next-generation satellites for the Globalstar mobile communications network will launch from Kazakhstan on a Soyuz rocket Tuesday, the first of four missions to replace the company's aging space fleet. The launch is the first phase of a $1 billion investment to restore Globalstar's beleaguered two-way voice and data service and extend satellite operations beyond 2025. Globalstar's duplex voice and data service fell victim to a problem with the existing fleet's S-band antennas. First announced in 2007, the issue severely limits reliable satellite coverage for users on the ground.

The launch of 24 second-generation Globalstar satellites will gradually bring back the curtailed two-way communications services. "There will be an immediate improvement after each of the launches," said Tony Navarra, president of global operations at Globalstar Inc. "A month or two after this first launch, they will start to see improved services." The antenna degradation does not affect Globalstar's simplex service used for data relay and asset tracking applications. (10/18)

Kosmas & Adams Interviews Include Space Focus (Source: Space Politics)
In separate interviews in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) and her Republican challenger, Sandy Adams, discuss topics including space policy. Kosmas reviews the provisions of the NASA authorization bill in her interview, noting that “NASA and protecting the Space Coast and the space exploration program is a very high priority for me.” In her interview Adams discusses general support of spaceflight, including human missions to Mars as part of a “long-term vision for NASA” and the need to not rely on other nations for access to the ISS. Her language is vague in places, though: when she says “I think it’s a vital part of our national security” it’s not clear if she’s referring to human spaceflight, which she mentioned immediately preceding that comment, or spaceflight in general. (10/18)

Science Committee Leadership Would Change Under Republican-Led House (Source: Space Politics)
Should Republicans take control of the House in November’s elections, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) would be in position to chair the House Science and Technology Committee, on which he is currently the ranking member. However, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Hall is also a candidate to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) has been that committee’s top Republican for six years, a limit under current party rules. Hall, though, indicates he’d prefer to run the science committee in a GOP-led House, saying of chairing the energy committee: “I probably ought to make a run for it but I’m not going to.” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is widely rumored to also be interested in chairing the science committee if the GOP wins the House next month. (10/18)

International Partners and NASA's New Direction (Source: Space Review)
While the debate in recent months about space policy in the US has been focused on its effects on the country's space capabilities, those changes also have an effect on NASA's international partners. Jeff Foust reports that European and Japanese partners see new opportunities for perhaps an expanded role in human space exploration. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1713/1 to view the article. (10/18)

Moonbuzz (Source: Space Review)
Buzz Aldrin was back in the news late last week when an article indicated that the Apollo 11 moonwalker had changed his mind and was now in favor of developing a lunar base before going to Mars. Dwayne Day cautions that there's less to that report than meets the eye. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1712/1 to view the article. (10/18)

SIM and the "Ready, Aim, Aim" Syndrome (Source: Space Review)
The search for extrasolar planets, in particular Earth-like worlds, has become one of the hottest areas of astronomy in recent years. However, Philip Horzempa warns that a recent report could threaten the future of a long-awaited mission designed to search for other Earths. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1711/1 to view the article. (10/18)

Space Station Life Has its Ups and Downs, Astronaut Says (Source: Space.com)
During her six months on the International Space Station, American astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson experienced lots of laughs – and lots of stress. Caldwell Dyson, of NASA, returned to Earth Sept. 25 with two Russian crewmates aboard their Soyuz spacecraft, capping a mission that included three emergency spacewalks to fix a broken cooling pump that is vital to the station. Click here to read the article. (10/18)

Critics Question Charlie Bolden's Focus on NASA's New 'Vision' (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A new NASA vision signed into law a week ago gives the agency four months or less to develop a dozen different plans for the future, including a detailed report on how it would replace the retiring space shuttle. It's an ambitious schedule — one that NASA chief Charlie Bolden said requires the agency to "think and act boldly." But as has been the case for much of his tenure, Bolden won't be around as the plans get rolling. The jet-setting ex-astronaut left for China on Friday for a weeklong trip.

Since taking charge of NASA in July 2009, the 64-year-old Bolden has visited 14 countries and has been missing at critical moments. Last year, he skipped one of the first shuttle flights under his watch to visit Japan and most recently was on a trip to Europe and the Middle East when the U.S. House nearly defeated the NASA vision endorsed by the Obama administration. Click here to read the article. (10/18)

Satellite to Demonstrate UK Tech (Source: BBC)
The UK is going to develop a satellite to trial innovative space technologies. It is hoped the components and instruments flying on TechDemoSat (TDS) can prove their worth and go on to win substantial international business. Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) will lead the project. Payload participants are likely to include a novel instrument to measure the state of the sea, another to track ships from orbit, and even one to destroy TDS at the end of its life. (10/18)

A Spaceflight Attempt’s Almost-Instant Documentary (Source: New York Times)
Few people are better self-promoters than Richard Branson, the tycoon and entrepreneur behind Virgin Records, Virgin Mobile and now Virgin Galactic. So, not surprisingly, he sees the value in having a television documentary series closely follow his company’s efforts at commercial spaceflight. The documentary, titled “Virgin Galactic,” will be shown on the National Geographic Channel. The premiere comes just eight days after the first successful glide of Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo, also known as the VSS Enterprise, in the skies over the Mojave Desert. The hourlong show culminates in that event on Oct. 10, with Mr. Branson applauding during the landing. (10/18)

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