November 12, 2010

EADS' Earnings Affected by Weaker Dollar (Source: AIA)
EADS reports that the weak dollar cut into its earnings, giving the company its smallest quarterly profit in a decade. Airbus meanwhile added to the uncertain news, warning investors of possible delivery setbacks related to the Qantas engine failure on an A380 jet. (11/12)

Astrium Reports Steady Sales, Good Prospects (Source: Space News)
European space hardware and services provider Astrium reported stable revenue and increased backlog for the nine months ending Sept. 30 and said its near-term prospects in government and commercial markets look favorable. The company, which is prime contractor for Europe’s Ariane 5 launch vehicle, the French M51 strategic missile and is one of Europe’s three principal satellite manufacturers, said revenue for the first nine months of 2010 equaled the performance of a year ago. (11/12)

Sen. Warner Says He'll Step Up for NASA Langley (Source: Daily Press)
U.S. Senator Mark Warner, D-VA, acknowledged that Virginia's Congressional delegation hasn't been as vocal supporting NASA as their counterparts in Florida, Texas, and other states. On Thursday at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Warner said he would change that. "That's where I'm hoping to pick up the baton," he said after mentioning U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, who fought hard for an additional Space Shuttle flight, thus staving off thousands of layoffs at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.

Congress in September ended a month's long stalemate by agreeing to a new NASA policy that, in addition to the shuttle flight, promotes commercial space flight and supports the development of a heavy-lift rocket to send people to asteroids and Mars. Warner said the policy strikes the "right balance" in helping NASA move forward after President Obama halted Constellation, the agency's underfunded return mission to the moon.

It remains to be seen, however, if the upcoming Republican House majority will fully fund Obama's plan, which slightly increases funding for NASA. The GOP picked up many seats on promises to curtail spending. Langley constitutes 3 percent of the agency's budget. It currently employs about 1,950 civil service workers and 1,800 contractors. (11/12)

Germany Formally Commits to MTG Satellite Program (Source: Space News)
The German government on Nov. 12 formally committed $630 million to finance Europe’s next-generation meteorological satellite system, a decision likely to have a snowball effect on the several governments that have yet to confirm their participation, government and industry officials said. (11/12)

The Race for Private Space Stations: It's U.S. Versus Russia (Source:
A new space race is beginning, but this time between private companies, not nations. Businesses in the U.S. and Russia are vying to be the first to launch a private space station. One project, an inflatable space habitat, already has six clients waiting for it, according to the company, Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas.

The other venture, led by two companies in Russia, is called the Commercial Space Station and aims to be a combination laboratory and hotel. Both the CSS and the Bigelow station are looking to launch in the next five years or so. The Russian project has received support from the official Russian space program. Click here to read the article. (11/12)

Balloons in Space: A History (Source:
Humanity's oldest flight technology, ballooning, proved instrumental at the beginning of the space age, helping loft the world's first communications satellite, Echo 1, 50 years ago. Now inflatable structures are seeing a resurgence in space — they are, for instance, the foundation of a new effort from Bigelow Aerospace to build the first private space station.

"We're trying to take the next step from where Echo was," said Mike Gold, Bigelow Aerospace's director of Washington, D.C. operations and business growth. "We're going to go to low Earth orbit and beyond with expandable technology." (11/12)

NASA Faces Scheduling Headaches in Shuttle Launch (Source: Flight Global)
After a week's worth of aborted attempts to send the Space Shuttle Discovery on its way to the International Space Station, NASA now says the earliest it will launch is 30 November. But rescheduling a Shuttle launch is no mean feat. The soonest Discovery can be launched is 4:05 a.m. EST on Nov. 30. The next launch window will last through Dec. 5.

One major hurdle to overcome in launch planning is timing the rendezvous with the ISS. Before the space station became the primary focus of Shuttle missions, NASA had two-hour launch windows, providing more options for fixing last-minute problems and waiting out bad weather. But when the Shuttle has to meet up with the space station, NASA gets only one 10-minute launch window every day. Other traffic to and from the ISS must also be taken into account. A Soyuz cargo flight is scheduled to depart on Nov. 29, and NASA prefers to not have multiple vehicles coming and going at the same time for safety reasons. (11/12)

Pluto Might be Bigger, But Eris is More Massive (Source: Discovery)
Which is bigger: Eris or Pluto? Eris... right? Not so fast. In 2005, the discovery of dwarf planet Eris started a chain of events that rocked the astronomical community and plutonites alike. Pluto was found to be smaller than Eris, causing the "ninth planet" to be demoted to a dwarf planet. The nine planets of the solar system became eight, astronomers argued, Illinois wrote some nutty laws, McDonalds tried to set the record straight, schoolkids went wild... In short, it wasn't pretty.

But! Last weekend, an extremely rare and exciting event happened. Eris (twice as far away from the sun as Pluto) blocked the light from a single star, an event known as an "occultation." Viewed from three telescopes in Chile, the occultation whas used to measure the size of Eris. They determined the orbital velocity of Eris and, by using the background star as a marker, they could deduce the dwarf planet's diameter.

It turns out that Eris could be a lot smaller than previously thought. So small in fact that it is roughly the same size as Pluto! It could even be smaller. From years of observing the motion of Eris' moon Dysnomia, a measure of the dwarf planet's mass has been arrived at. When it was thought Eris was larger than Pluto, it was logical to assume that both objects would have similar densities (and therefore similar compositions). However, these new measurements of Eris' size suggest it is smaller, and therefore more dense. (11/12)

Jupiter’s Missing Stripe Reappears (Source: WIRED)
One of the gas giant’s characteristic red stripes, the South Equatorial Belt, faded late in 2009 and had vanished completely by early May, 2010. The band had waned and returned several times in the past, astronomers noted, and kept an eye out for its return. (11/12)

Editorial: NASA's Money Woes (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Just as NASA is trying to get Congress to bump up the agency's funding comes a report that its next big telescope is running another year and another $1.5 billion over budget. Unbelievable. The James Webb Telescope would be launched into space 1 million miles away to observe galaxies billions of light years away. It promises to reveal secrets about the dawn of the universe.

But back on earth, budgets still matter, even for a project of such extraordinary scientific potential. If NASA can't get control of costs on this project and others, it has little hope of persuading Congress to give the agency the extra dollars it needs to maintain U.S. leadership in space exploration. (11/12)

Editorial: Like Your Father's Oldsmobile, It's Time for Space Shuttle to Move On (Source: The Republican)
When the space shuttle Discovery didn’t lift off last week, its mission was pushed back to Nov. 30 - at the earliest. If technical difficulties delay that launch, the next window of opportunity will be in February, which is when the space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to blast off. If both launches proceed, Endeavour’s would be the 134th shuttle mission, the last one on the books. And the point was?

The nation grew bored with the space shuttle program long, long ago. Except for the astronauts and their families, NASA’s many employees and a handful of space geeks, the shuttle hasn’t been on anyone’s radar for years now. For good reason, too. For those who are old enough to remember the early days of the nation’s space program, the shuttle has always been a pale and pointless imitation of what came before it.

Every once in awhile, with the eyes of the nation focused elsewhere, another shuttle heads into space so that the astronauts on board can conduct a series of arcane experiments about what it’s like to be in space. These are the voyages of the shuttle fleet: to seek out the same old thing, to routinely go where we’ve already been, and to do it over and over and over again. (11/12)

1 comment:

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Pluto and Eris are both planets and Kuiper Belt Objects. One does not preclude the other. They are planets because they are large enough to be rounded by their own gravity. They are Kuiper Belt Objects because they are located in the Kuiper Belt. Ceres too is a small planet because it is large enough for its gravity to pull it into a spherical shape. The IAU misappropriated the term "dwarf planet," which was first coined by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, to indicate a third class of planets which are large enough to be rounded by their own gravity but not large enough to gravitationally dominate their orbits. He never intended for "dwarf planets" to be classed as not planets at all. The IAU did not "have" to do anything other than allow Eris's discoverer to name it while holding off on any additional classification until more information is discovered about remote planets in this solar system and all planets in other solar systems.

Significantly, there are quite a few exoplanet systems in which multiple planets orbit the host star in various different planes. Some have orbits far more eccentric than Pluto's, yet they are giant planets the size of Jupiter or larger. According to the IAU definition, none of these objects are planets!

Saying there are more differences between Pluto and the eight closer planets to the Sun depends on what aspects one considers. Earth actually has far more in common with Pluto than with Jupiter. Both have surfaces on which we can place rovers and landers. Both have a large moon formed by giant impact; both are geologically differentiated into core, mantle, and crust, and both have nitrogen in their atmospheres. Other than orbiting the Sun, what do Earth and Jupiter have in common?
It is premature to pronounce declarations that these faraway objects are definitively not like the other planets or that one is larger than the other. We just do not have enough data at this point to do more than make educated estimates. What we really need to do is send robotic missions like New Horizons to Eris as well as Haumea and Makemake. Yes, that will take time and money, but it is a far better investment than the black holes the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become.

Also, memorization is not important. It is much more important to teach the characteristics of each category of planet than to ask kids to memorize a bunch of names. We don't ask them to memorize the names of rivers or mountains on Earth, so why do so with planets, and why allow a need for convenient memorization to determine how we classify them?