December 19, 2010

NASA Engineers Propose Combining a Rail Gun and a Scramjet to Fire Spacecraft Into Orbit (Source: Gizmodo)
NASA has been working on creating a new, cheaper method to launch spacecrafts. Their latest proposal involves train tracks, a rail gun and a scramjet. All it will take is two miles of train track, an airplane that can fly at 10 times the speed of sound, and a jolt of electricity big enough to light a small town.

The system calls for a two-mile-long rail gun that will launch a scramjet, which will then fly to 200,000 feet. The scramjet will then fire a payload into orbit and return to Earth. The process is more complex than a rocket launch, but engineers say it's also more flexible. With it, NASA could orbit a 10,000-pound satellite one day and send a manned ship toward the moon the next, on a fraction of the propellant used by today's rockets. Click here to read the article. (12/18) h

Leak Stalls India Launch (Source: The Hindu)
The launch of Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F06) with the satellite GSAT-5P on board, slated to take place from Sriharikota at 4.01 p.m. on Monday (December 20), has been postponed. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) took this decision after its rocket technologists detected on Saturday evening the leak of helium gas from one of the valves in the Russian upper cryogenic stage of the vehicle. The leak rate was on the higher side. The leak was noticed during the pre-countdown check of the vehicle. (12/19)

Japan's Low-Cost Space Program Pushes the Limits (Source: France 24)
Despite its shoestring budget, Japan's space program has boldly reached for the stars, pioneering solar-powered galactic travel, exploring a distant asteroid and planning a robot base on the Moon. The past year has seen Japan's space agency JAXA chalk up several world firsts, including the safe return of a deep-space probe that picked up asteroid dust from a potato-shaped space rock on an epic seven-year odyssey.

Earlier this year the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also stunned earthlings everywhere when it sent a "space yacht" floating through the black void, without leaving a hint of a carbon footprint. The kite-shaped Ikaros -- short for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun -- is propelled forward by sun particles bouncing off its fold-out wings, which are thinner than a human hair.

JAXA's mission are far more ambitious than its budget would suggest. The agency has no manned missions and operated on 339 billion yen (four billion dollars) this fiscal year -- less than one-tenth of the NASA budget, and less than half the annual cost of Europe's space program. Space officials are now fighting back against any further government belt tightening as they plan a follow-up probe to Hayabusa in 2014, which would explore an asteroid named 1999JU3. (12/19)

NASA Says NanoSail-D Satellite Failed to Deploy from FASTSAT (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA has concluded that its football-sized NanoSail-D satellite failed to eject from another satellite earlier this month. The Marshall Space Flight Center had said Dec. 6 that it had accomplished the first successful launch of a satellite from a satellite with the NanoSail-D experiment. The agency backed off that claim a few days later, saying it was not clear if the deployment had occurred. On Friday, Marshall said its engineers "current evaluation is that the NanoSail-D likely did not successfully eject." (12/19)

NASA Goes Futuristic with Efficient Offices (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The agency concerned with spaceflight has created one of the greenest buildings on Earth — or at least in Houston. NASA's new Building 20 at the Johnson Space Center has obtained the highest standard for energy efficiency - LEED Platinum - set by the U.S. Green Building Council. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program measures the design, construction and operation of green buildings.

"It's modeled to perform 57 percent better than the typical office building," said Daniel Mills, sustainability manager at HOK, which provided the project's architectural, mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineering, consulting and landscaping services. The savings are enough to power 200 homes for a year. NASA Building 20 is one of only 10 new buildings in Texas that have achieved the LEED Platinum level, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. (12/19)

Controversial Study Suggests Our Universe is One of Many (Source:
The sky holds many wonders, such as stars, galaxies, supernovas, neutron stars and black holes, but now scientists claim it could hold something potentially more extraordinary — hints of an earlier universe, or even other universes. However, a number of other researchers dispute these findings as evidence for past and other universes, suggesting that it could be easy to see something that isn't there in the data. The evidence in question is said to lie in the haze of microwaves permeating the cosmos that was left over after the Big Bang.

A little over a month ago, a pair of physicists said they found something potentially even more extraordinary in this radiation — giant rings they said could be evidence of a universe that existed before the Big Bang roughly 13.7 billion years ago. The cosmic microwave background is normally slightly blotchy, showing variations in hot and cold that apparently originate from microscopic fluctuations in the very earliest moments after the Big Bang. Recently, a pair of researchers claimed to have found concentric ring patterns where this radiation is less patchy than normal. (12/19)

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