October 7, 2010

Spy Sees Off US-Russian Crew for Space Mission (Source: AP)
A Russian rocket with a U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts onboard blasted off successfully early Friday for the International Space Station, with flame-haired Russian spy Anna Chapman making an unexpected appearance at the spaceport to wave them good-bye. Chapman is a Russian national who was deported from the U.S. this summer for alleged spying for Russia. (10/7)

EU's Galileo Satnav System Over Budget, Late (Source: AFP)
Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system, meant to rival the US-built Global Positioning System (GPS), is over budget, running late and will be unprofitable for years. Extra costs of between 1.5- and 1.7-billion euros ($2.1-2.4 billio) are expected and the project will not be ready until 2017-18, Germany's Financial Times Deutschland reported. Originally the system was meant to be up and running 10 years earlier, rivalling the dominance of the Pentagon's GPS system. (10/7)

Manned Commercial Spaceflight Could Mean Jobs for North Alabama (Source: Huntsville Times)
While hundreds of private contractor jobs related to NASA's Constellation program have been eliminated, officials with two private aerospace companies said the commercial spaceflight industry would create new jobs here. Robert Bigelow, whose aerospace company has launched two space vehicles into orbit, said his company will need rockets for 24 flights a year beginning in 2017 to sustain two more space stations he plans to launch. (10/7)

Bigelow: Six Countries Lined Up to Lease Private Space Stations (Source: Parabolic Arc)
United Launch Alliance, which builds Atlas and Delta rockets, is capable of building 40 rockets a year at its plant in Decatur, Alabama, said the company’s vice president of business development and advanced programs. “We’d love to be able to do that,” he said about the possibility of selling Bigelow 24 rockets annually. A commercial space station relying on Atlas and Delta rockets could double to 2,000 the numbers of employees at ULA’s plant in Decatur.

It’s likely Bigelow would also look to fly on other vehicles such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus II in order to avoid being overly dependent upon any one source. And Bigelow would probably not be able to launch them all from Cape Canaveral, meaning that Wallops Island in Virginia might experience a major increase in flights.

It’s also possible that Bigelow could launch from outside of the United States. However, that will require relaxation of strict U.S. export laws government high technology. Bigelow said he has lined up countries to lease his space stations. He said that in a few weeks he will announce six countries that will be Bigelow’s first customers. (10/7)

Could a Human Mars Mission Be Funded Commercially? (Source: Universe Today)
At first glance, a paper published recently in the somewhat dubious Journal of Cosmology appears to have some merits on using an independent corporation to administer and supervise a marketing campaign – similar to what sports teams do to sell merchandise, gain sponsors, garner broadcasting rights and arrange licensing initiatives. The paper’s author, a psychologist named Dr. Rhawn Joseph, says that going to Mars and establishing a colony would likely cost $150 billion dollars over 10 years, and he lays out a plan for making money for a sustained Mars mission through the sale of merchandise, naming rights and even creating a reality TV show and selling property rights on Mars. Click here for more. (10/7)

Hutchison Lauds NASA Reauthorization Bill (Source: The Hill)
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) praised the recently passed NASA reauthorization bill, claiming it will provide clear direction and a new path forward for the nation's space program. Obama's original plan for NASA included the elimination of much of the Constellation program. Hutchison's vocal opposition, along with that of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), helped two key portions of the Constellation program, the Orion crew capsule and a heavy-lift rocket designed to travel to Mars, survive the cuts. But most of NASA's human spaceflight program will be shut down when the space shuttle is retired after one final flight next year. (10/7)

Mauna Kea: Earth's Window to the Stars (Source: Augusta Chronicle)
Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii is the where the world watches the rest of the universe. The dormant volcano rises 13,796 feet from the coastline below. Measured from its base below the sea, it is earth's tallest mountain. If you think it resembles another planet, you're not alone. NASA chose its rocky terrain to test lunar landers and the Mars Rover long before they were propelled into space. Today, it is the world's primary window to the stars - and its barren summit houses the most sophisticated complex of observatories in the world. (10/7)

NASA Re-Thinks Nuclear, Solar Routes (Source: Aviation Week)
Novel nuclear and solar space propulsion concepts could receive long-awaited development opportunities as part of NASA’s evolving exploration road map. Proponents of both technologies believe conventional chemical rockets are reaching their performance limits and that the requirement for faster transit times should drive the exploitation of more advanced systems. Recent developments mean variations of both could see realistic chances for “prime time” application for the first time as part of a human Mars mission, or other space transportation project. Click here for more. (10/7)

Water Discovered on 2nd Asteroid, May Be Even More Common (Source: UCF)
Water ice on asteroids may be more common than expected, according to a new study that will be presented today at the world’s largest gathering of planetary scientists. Two teams of researchers who made national headlines in April for showing the first evidence of water ice and organic molecules on an asteroid have now discovered that asteroid 65 Cybele contains the same material.

“This discovery suggests that this region of our solar system contains more water ice than anticipated,” said University of Central Florida Professor Humberto Campins. “And it supports the theory that asteroids may have hit Earth and brought our planet its water and the building blocks for life to form and evolve here.” (10/7)

Soyuz Rocket Launches New Crew Toward Space Station (Source: Space.com)
A trio of spaceflyers, including one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts, blasted off for the International Space Station onboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan's Baikonur spaceport. Riding atop the Soyuz rocket were NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka. They are flying aboard a new TMA-01M model of the Soyuz spacecraft, which features improved guidance, navigation, control, and data processing systems, in addition to an improved cooling device for the electronics. (10/7)

Venus Express Skims Through Planet's Upper Atmosphere (Source: Astronomy Now)
A first for exploration at Venus, ESA's Venus Express satellite has conducted a series of low passes through the planet's upper polar atmosphere to find it is much thinner than expected. The low passes were made in July and August 2008, October 2009 and February and April 2010 and ten measurements taken in order to measure the density of the atmosphere above the planet's north polar region. The planet's atmosphere extends to an altitude of 250 kilometers above the surface, but for these experiments, Venus Express dived down to just 175 kilometers, with an even lower pass planned in the coming weeks. (10/7)

Building Blocks of Life in Titan's Atmosphere? (Source: Science)
It's unlikely that the process produced Titanians, but experiments simulating the chemistry of the dense air on Saturn's biggest moon have yielded some of the basic buildings blocks of life. Researchers used radio-frequency radiation—-a more convenient substitute for ultraviolet sunlight—to turn methane, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide (the main constituents of Titan's atmosphere) into glycine and alanine, the two smallest amino acids.

The experiments also produced cytosine, adenine, thymine, and guanine, the four most basic components of DNA. And they created uracil, a precursor of RNA. The researchers said that because they achieved the reactions without the presence of liquid water, it's possible life could have sprung forth on Earth not in the seas, as commonly assumed, but perhaps in the planet's early atmosphere—a considerably thinner version of the fog enveloping Titan today. (10/7)

Frozen World of Eris Looks a Lot Like Pluto (Source: Space.com)
The frozen surface of the dwarf planet Eris looks a lot like that of its smaller neighbor Pluto, new research has found. Both frozen worlds are covered predominantly with nitrogen ice, a research team announced Tuesday (Oct. 5). The find could help astronomers get a better handle on the history of the outer reaches of the solar system, scientists said.

"By measuring and then comparing and contrasting the properties of Eris and Pluto, we can better understand how planets in the outer solar system formed and then evolved over the last 4.5 billion years," study researcher William Grundy, an astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., said in a statement. (10/7)

NASA Sponsors Reduced Gravity Technology Test Flights (Source: NASA)
NASA recently sponsored a series of flights from Ellington Field in Houston to test technologies in reduced-gravity conditions. The flights marked the third year of operations for NASA's Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology program, called FAST. The 16 research teams that participated were comprised of small businesses, university groups and NASA researchers from Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Texas and California. Editor's Note: Embry-Riddle was among the universities onboard. (10/7)

New Poll Gauges NASA Support (Source: Space Politics)
Rasmussen Reports released a poll this week showing that just over half of respondents, 52%, said the Space Shuttle program was worth the investment, versus 28% who disagreed and 20% who weren’t sure. Those numbers, though, are an improvement over previous polls: 45% thought the shuttle was worth the cost in April and only 40% thought so in January. The future, though, isn’t nearly as bright, and also a bit contradictory.

While 80% have a favorable opinion of NASA and 72% say it’s important to have a human spaceflight program, respondents were split on cutting spending on space exploration: 41% said spending should be cut versus an equal percentage who disagreed. Space advocates can take solace, though, in that in the polls earlier this year the number who wanted to cut spending was around 50%. (10/7)

California Aerospace Subcontractors Prepare for Defense Cuts (Source: AIA)
While aerospace has been one of the few strong industries in Southern California during the economic downturn, the industry is bracing for a downturn of its own amid defense spending cuts. California is home to more than 130,000 aerospace workers employed with nearly 5,500 suppliers, but many of the small shops depend on subcontracts from large defense contractors, and several of those contractors have announced big layoffs in recent weeks as the Pentagon pulls back on spending. (10/7)

GAO Rejects California Company's Claim in Tanker Case (Source: AIA)
The Government Accountability Office rejected a claim this week from California-based U.S. Aerospace that alleged the Air Force deliberately delayed its delivery person just long enough for a submission of a bid in the agency's $35 billion aerial tanker competition to be late and therefore rejected. Under the company's proposal, the components for the tanker would have been built by Ukrainian firm Antonov but assembled in the U.S. Two companies, Boeing and EADS, remain in the competition. (10/7)

EADS California Rally Boosts Company's Tanker Bid (Source: AIA)
A rally was held in Irvine, Calif., by EADS North America on Tuesday to drum up support for the company's KC-45 tanker for the U.S. Air Force contest. Boeing, which is competing for the contract, has held a similar series of meetings for its KC-767 tanker program. The EADS rally was held at Parker Aerospace, which would be a major supplier on EADS' KC-45, as well as Boeing's KC-767. (10/7)

Report: U.S. is World's Biggest Spender on Space Defense Measures (Source: AIA)
Nearly half of all worldwide spending on space assets involves military projects, and the U.S. is the highest spender in defense-related space programs, by far, according to a new report. In 2009, the Defense Department allocated $10.7 billion to boost space-based military capabilities such as communications, intelligence and surveillance satellites, and the U.S. operated about half of the world's 175 dedicated military satellites that were in space at the end of the year. (10/7)

Kennedy Space Center a Contender for New 'Men in Black' Film (Source: Florida Today)
As "Transformers 3" wraps up shooting in Brevard County in the next few days, another blockbuster could be waiting in the wings. Actor Will Smith and executive producer G. Mac Brown were at the Kennedy Space Center recently, checking out the area, as they develop story lines for "Men in Black 3."

Space Coast Film Commissioner Bonnie King said they were there on a "fact-finding mission." King said she hopes the makers of "Men in Black 3" select Brevard County to shoot some of their scenes, but added that "nothing is written in stone" on that prospect. The 3-D movie is expected to begin overall filming later this year, with a release in May 2012. (10/7)

NASA Administrator Bolden's China Trip: Its His Idea, Not President Obama's (Source: SpaceRef.com)
NASA Watch sources report that this upcoming trip to China and then Indonesia is Charlie Bolden's idea first and foremost. The White House did not ask him to go to either country - nor do they want him to go. But he is going anyway. The trip to Saudi Arabia was similarly unrequested and unsanctioned as far as the White House was concerned.

This begs the question in the White House and elsewhere as to why Bolden is focusing his energy on foreign trips at a time when NASA's domestic support is sagging. Moreover, there is growing concern within the White House as to why Bolden is not getting the message that the White House has been sending to him. Bolden's recent gaffs in the Middle East and ethics issues with Marathon Oil haven't exactly helped his relationship with the White House. (10/7)

Stennis Space Center Not Anticipating Layoffs (Source: Sun Herald)
The director of Stennis Space Center said he doesn’t anticipate layoffs in Mississippi like those at space centers in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana as the space shuttle is retired. “The other centers now are kind of experiencing what we’ve already gone through last year,” Patrick Scheuermann said. Some jobs ended at Stennis when the $200 million post-Katrina projects were completed. But Scheuermann said Stennis didn’t lay off anyone directly associated with the shuttle program because the Stennis workforce is smaller and wasn’t completely focused on the shuttle program.

Some of the more than 1,000 employees who got pink slips at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and at Kennedy Space Center in Florida are now on the payroll at Stennis. “We always are looking at picking up the best of the best,” Scheuermann said. As the skills needed at Stennis aren’t the same as at Michoud, he said they couldn’t hire everyone who was laid off. (10/7)

Positive News for Marshall Means Glass is Half Full (Source: Huntsville Times)
If everything is all so positive, why does it feel so bloody negative? That's the picture Robert Lightfoot faces. That's the picture most of the NASA poohbahs are facing. Lightfoot is the director of the Marshall Space Flight Center. Job description No. 1 right now: Keep reminding everyone the glass is half-full.

Marshall Space Flight Center is going to remain an integral part of the United States' space exploration effort. It's going to manage a heavy-lift launch, set for 2016. Pretty symbolic. There is a lot of heavy lifting to do at Marshall. It has missions to finish. It has missions to begin. Marshall is also having to reduce its workforce by 150 to 250 contract employees - this after layoffs of 500 were announced in June. (10/7)

Decatur May Launch Bigelow’s Big Dream (Source: Decatur Daily)
A commercial space station relying on Atlas and Delta rockets could double to 2,000 the numbers of employees at United Launch Alliance’s plant in Decatur. Robert Bigelow, space entrepreneur and founder of Bigelow Aerospace, shared that information with local elected and business officials Wednesday. If Bigelow can achieve his goal to have two space stations operational in low Earth orbit by 2017, he said 24 flights annually will be needed to shuttle crews and supplies.

Bigelow, who made his initial fortune in the hotel industry, made it clear Bigelow Aerospace is not in the “space hotel” business as often reported by media, but seeks to lease space in outer space. Though adventurous individuals would have opportunities, he said, primary customers range from nations eager to boost their international image to biomedical and pharmaceutical companies needing scientific laboratories in microgravity. (10/7)

Airplanes Could Unlock Mars Mysteries (Source: Astrobiology)
Various orbiters, landers and rovers that have explored Mars in the past three decades have revealed tantalizing evidence of the conditions for life, from frozen water at the planet’s North Pole to methane plumes in the atmosphere. For atmospheric scientist Joel Levine, the evidence has made the case for flying an airplane over Mars stronger than ever.

Levine champions the ARES Mars airplane mission at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. He believes that a robotic, rocket-powered airplane is the perfect platform for unraveling the red planet’s biggest mysteries. Soaring at an altitude of 1.6 kilometers, an airplane could cover hundreds of kilometers, gathering visual images and remote sensing data that it transmits back to Earth. (10/7)

Roomy Addition for Space Station Ready to Launch (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
An Italian-made module that will give the International Space Station a float-in closet and help ease the outpost's storage woes arrived at the launch pad this morning for loading aboard space shuttle Discovery. The Permanent Multipurpose Module has visited the station seven times already as the "Leonardo" reusable cargo hauler. But since its most recent flight in April, ground crews have modified and armored the cylindrical vessel for its new role as a long-term fixture in orbit. (10/7)

Why Did We Go To The Moon? (Source: Discovery)
Nearly four decades have passed since humans last walked on the moon. Sure, we've talked about going back ever since, but we're still waiting for someone to step up to the plate and repeat that "one giant leap for mankind." Why did we travel to the moon to begin with? To answer that question, I talked to Roger D. Launius, senior curator of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. "The driving reason was Cold War competition with the Soviet Union," Launius said. "Without that, it wouldn't have happened." Click here to read the article. (10/7)

Twins Scheduled to Orbit Earth Together (Source: Florida Today)
It's pretty remarkable to have one astronaut in a family. But having two? Who happen to be identical twins? And will be in space together at the same time? Well, the stars have to be aligned for that to happen. Scott Kelly is scheduled to lift off today from Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz on a six-month mission to the International Space Station. His brother, Mark, is scheduled to command Endeavour on its last shuttle mission at the end of February. If Endeavour's launch date holds, that will mark the first time that siblings are in space together, NASA officials said. (10/7)

How to Find Out if Exo-Earths Host Life (Source: New Scientist)
So close, yet so far. Gliese 581 g is the first planet discovered that is the right mass and distance from its star for the surface to be awash with liquid water and perhaps life. Chances are we'll never know for sure without an armada of space telescopes, and their future looks uncertain. But a 2014 mission could tell us whether any habitable worlds with better viewing angles have signs of life.

To find evidence for life we would need to measure the light spectrum of the planet's atmosphere and look for the signature of water vapour, as well as possible by-products of life, such as oxygen and methane. That would mean launching an expensive array of space telescopes to tease out the faint glow of the planet from the powerful glare of its star. NASA and the European Space Agency were hoping to launch such a mission in 2014, called the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF), or Darwin.

But in 2006 NASA backed away from the mission, postponing it indefinitely to free up more funds for human space exploration. Darwin/TPF was dealt another blow this August, when a key panel of US astronomers failed to recommend its construction in the next decade. (10/7)

Culture Shlock: Space is Now Available (Source: San Jose Mercury News)
"Space... The Final Frontier." Star Trek was remarkable because, perhaps more than any other show, it sparked a generation of Americans' interest in the possibility of intergalactic travel. Trekkies or otherwise, anyone interested in the prospect of space travel, got a boost this past week from the announcement that astronomers had discovered a much sought-after "Goldilocks" planet, so named because it is neither too hot nor too cold, but "just right" for sustaining life.

At this early stage, a great deal more research must be conducted to determine whether Gliese 581g does, in fact, contain the essential building blocks for sustaining terrestrial life, including water, a gravitationally-controlled atmosphere, a stable surface climate, etc. There is also the problem of distance. Gliese 581g is located in the Alpha Centauri system, about 120 trillion miles away. That means that it would take a spaceship from earth, even traveling at light speed, 20 years to get there, more if there's traffic. (10/7)

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