January 19, 2011

First West Coast Delta-4 Heavy Lifter Launching on Jan. 20 (Source: Launch Alert)
The first West Coast Delta-4 Heavy Launch Vehicle is scheduled to launch from Space Launch Complex-6 on Jan. 20 at 1:08 p.m. PST. This will be the largest rocket ever to launch from the West Coast of the United States. (1/19)

CubeSat: Solar Sail Satellite has Deployed from FASTSAT (Source: Huntsville Times)
Engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center say new data confirm that the NanoSail-D nanosatellite has ejected from the larger satellite that carried it into space. The news partially reverses one of the biggest disappointments associated with NASA's Fast Affordable Scientific and Technology Satellite FASTSAT launched in December.

FASTSAT was an attempt by NASA to launch an affordable platform for experiments in space. One of the biggest of those experiments was NanoSail-D, a microsatellite containing a solar sail that was to eject from FASTSAT and then open in space. NASA had to announce two weeks later that NanoSail-D apparently never deployed.

But now it has. The ejection "occurred spontaneously" and was discovered this morning by engineers analyzing data sent down from FASTSAT. The launch has also been confirmed by ground-based radar. NASA is asking amateur ham operators to listen for the signal to verify NanoSail-D is operating. (1/19)

Rocket Launch Scheduled Jan. 22 From Wallops Island Spaceport (Source: SpaceRef.com)
A Terrier-Oriole suborbital rocket is schedule for launch January 22 for the U.S. Navy from NASA's Launch Range at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Based on the approved range schedule, the rocket is set for launch between midnight and 4 a.m. The backup launch days are January 23 - 25. The rocket may be visible to residents on Delmarva. This launch will not be web casted nor will launch status updates be provided once the countdown begins. The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will not be open for viewing the launch. (1/19)

Supreme Court Upholds NASA Employee Background Checks (Source: Reuters)
The government in its background investigations of employees can ask about their drug treatment, medical conditions or other personal information, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a case that pitted privacy rights against national security concerns. The high court unanimously upheld NASA's background checks of scientists in California and ruled the questions do not violate the employees' constitutional privacy rights. The Obama administration had defended the routine background security investigations and described them as standard for millions of federal employees since 1953 and for contractors since 2005. (1/19)

General Dynamics Awarded $41 Million for Deep Space Network Antennas (Source: General Dynamics)
General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies received a $40.7 million contract from NASA to build two additional 34-meter (112-foot wide) beam waveguide antennas as part of NASA's modernization and transformation plan to continue scientific studies of the Earth as well as explore distant bodies in the solar system. The new antennas will be located at the Deep Space Network (DSN) facility in Canberra, Australia. (1/19)

Space Hotel to be Built Soon (Source: RIA Novosti)
A space hotel is to open near the International Space Station (ISS). Four of its comfortable rooms will accommodate seven space tourists, who will be able to stay there for up to six months. Click here for the RIA Novosti video article. (1/19)

Research Station in Utah Desert is Glimpse of Life on Mars (Source: CNN)
Travel twenty minutes north of this tiny town, to the craggy red desert of the San Rafael Swell, and you may discover a spaceship. The cylindrical craft isn't from another world, but it offers a glimpse of one. It is the centerpiece of the Mars Desert Research Station, an environment created by the Mars Society, a growing non-profit organization that supports the research, exploration, and eventual colonization of the mysterious red planet. (1/19)

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Will Check for Organics on Mars... Again (Source: WIRED)
NASA's most recent Mars missions have always featured a common theme: follow the water. But the agency's third rover, which will set off for the red planet later this year, will re-run the mission of the 1976 twin Viking landers: seek the building blocks of life. Original reports from Viking coming back negative for organic chemicals -- what makes NASA believe Curiosity will have any more luck?

Well, for one, the $2.3 billion rover will pick better locations. Mars' landscape is diverse and Curiosity will plunge into areas with exposures of clay and sulphate minerals, which are good at entrapping organic chemicals. If it's not in the right spot, enhanced mobility and a better understanding of the planet's layout means the rover can use mapped geologic context to find a better location. It can also analyse samples from the interiors of rocks with its drill, whereas Viking was stuck with soil samples. (1/19)

NASA Android App Features Space Spinoffs (Source: NASA)
For decades, NASA innovations have made a direct impact on the everyday lives of citizens. Commercialization of NASA technology has contributed to products and services in the fields of health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, environmental resources and computer technology. Since 1976, NASA has featured these technologies in its Spinoff publication.

The NASA Spinoff App for Android contains a feed of NASA’s latest technology news, a searchable database of NASA-derived innovations, a map of spinoff locations, a historical timeline and a database of NASA’s available licensing opportunities to inspire the spinoffs of the future. (1/19)

National Space Symposium Will Feature NASA Optimus Prime Contest Winners (Source: Space Foundation)
NASA has opened online voting for its Optimus Prime Spinoff Award student video contest. The public is invited to vote for its favorite videos, made by students in grades three through eight, developed to help educate America's youth about the benefits of NASA's technologies.

A panel of NASA judges will select the winners in each of the two grade categories. The winning students, associated spinoff companies and NASA innovators will be announced in February. Voting is open until Feb. 6. and the public can choose its favorite Optimus Prime Spinoff Award video at http://ipp.gsfc.nasa.gov/optimus/voting.php. (1/19)

STS-133 Launch Remains On Track as Bowen Replaces the Injured Kopra (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Discovery’s final mission to the International Space Station (ISS) remains on track for February 24, despite a late change to the crew. With Mission Specialist – and lead spacewalker – Tim Kopra injured in a biking accident, managers have decided to assign Steve Bowen as part of the crew as his replacement, with Kopra’s MS2 duties redistributed among the crew. (1/19)

UC Berkeley, NASA Astronomers Find Smallest Exoplanet to Date (Source: Daily Californian)
Aristotle speculated about the existence of another Earth somewhere in the universe. Astronomers have not yet found such a planet, but they have discovered the first definitively rocky planet - the same composition as Earth - outside of this solar system. The planet - dubbed Kepler-10b and first announced last week - orbits a star very similar to the sun. It is the smallest exoplanet - a planet outside of this solar system - found to date, with a diameter that is 40 percent larger than Earth's. (1/19)

Space News Interview with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (Source: Space News)
Less than a year after being tapped by President Obama to run NASA, Charles Bolden was tasked with dismantling a space shuttle replacement and lunar exploration program that had been approved by two separate Congresses in favor of a commercial approach to astronaut transport and technology development aimed at changing the economics of deep-space exploration. Click here to read his Space News interview. (1/19)

Space, the Financial Frontier (Source: The Independent)
Space tourism projects tend to grab headlines because they offer us a tantalizing glimpse of a potential future where space becomes a holiday destination, even if it will be accessible only for the super-rich. But in many ways the more sensational revolution in space travel is the use of private companies to build a new generation of rockets that could one day replace the need for governments to build their own. This is where the space gold rush is really happening. Click here to read the article. (1/19)

University of Kentucky Settles Lawsuit From Astronomer (Source: AP)
An astronomy professor who sued the University of Kentucky after claiming he lost out on a top job because of his Christian beliefs reached a settlement Tuesday with the school. The university agreed to pay $125,000 to Martin Gaskell in exchange for dropping a federal religious discrimination suit he filed in Lexington in 2009. A trial was set for next month.

Gaskell claimed he was passed over to be director of UK's MacAdam Student Observatory because of his religion and statements that were perceived to be critical of evolution. Court records showed Gaskell was a front-runner for the job, but some professors called him "something close to a creationist" and "potentially evangelical" in interoffice e-mails to other university scientists. (1/19)

Virgin Galactic Changes its Accent (Source: MSNBC)
Virgin Galactic may be funded by a billionaire from Britain, but the company's new president emphasizes the private space effort's "Made in America" stamp. President and CEO George T. Whitesides can't quite match Virgin founder Richard Branson's bank account. When it comes to credentials in the space community, however, he's hard to beat. Click here to read the interview. (1/19)

Initial Republican Roster for House Science Committee Finalized (Source: Space Politics)
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee announced late Tuesday the list of Republican members who will serve on the committee. The list features seven freshman members, including Reps. Sandy Adams (R-FL), whose district includes KSC; Scott Rigell (R-VA), whose district includes the Wallops Flight Facility and is immediately adjacent to NASA Langley; Steven Palazzo (R-MS), whose district includes NASA Stennis; and Mo Brooks (R-AL), whose district includes NASA Marshall. (In addition, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) represents the district that includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore, just north of Wallops.)

In Adams’s case, at least, the assignment is a consolation prize: in November she said she was seeking a post on the appropriations committee but would consider the science committee if that fell through. Editor's Note: Absent from the list are Central Florida Reps. Daniel Webster and Bill Posey. Webster defeated former committee member Alan Grayson and was on an early draft of the committee roster. Posey will remain a space supporter regardless of committee status, as his district includes the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. One or both could still be added to the committee, which has five GOP vacancies. (1/19)

Space Station Used in 'Washington Monument Ploy' in Budget Debate? (Space Politics)
The House is expected to vote next week on a resolution to cut discretionary spending back to 2008 levels, a move that could cut NASA spending from the $18.7 billion in FY2010 (and $19 billion in the FY11 proposal) to $17.4 billion. An AP article suggests that the White House said NASA could be forced to "abandon the International Space Station" should those spending cuts be enacted.

The source of that warning about abandoning the ISS isn’t mentioned in the AP article, but that outcome seems unlikely. Instead, it appears to be more like a version of “Washington Monument Syndrome”, where a popular or important program is threatened with closure in response to proposed budget cuts. (1/19)

Announcing the Space Foundation Art Contest (Source: Space Foundation)
New to the National Space Symposium for 2011 is an art contest with the theme, "Human Space Travel in the Year 2020." Students in PreK-12th grade are invited to enter the contest, co-sponsored by ARES Corporation, Fisher Space Pen Co. and the Space Foundation. Grand prize and first place winners will be announced by former NASA astronaut Robert Curbeam at the 27th National Space Symposium, to be held April 11-14 in Colorado Springs. Original artwork depicting the theme "Human Space Travel in the Year 2020" should be submitted to the Space Foundation by Feb. 25. Click here for information. (1/19)

NASA Lacks Budget for Next Generation Rockets (Source: Discovery)
NASA has sent Congress a report stating that it cannot meet the requirements that it produce a heavy-lift rocket by the current 2016 deadline -- or under the current allocated budget. In the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, NASA was directed to develop a heavy-lift rocket in preparation to flights to an asteroid and possibly Mars. NASA said it cannot produce this new rocket despite the fact that the agency would be using so-called "legacy" hardware.

Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) who helped to draft and pass the NASA Authorization Act said that none of NASA's rationale posted within the report provided justification for NASA not to meet its requirements.

Congress has been hoping to shore up any potential failings of the emerging commercial space market by having NASA design, in parallel, a heavy-lift rocket. That way, if these firms don't produce, the nation has a 'backup' in place. Congress might decide to take funds from other areas of the space agency's budget to fill in the projected shortfall. There have been some suggestions that these funds may come from those intended for Kennedy Space Center (KSC). (1/19)

Space Florida Receives $48 Million IDIQ Contract for Minotaur Launches (Source: Space Florida)
The Air Force has awarded a “Spaceports-3” contract to provide Florida-based launch services for the federal government. The Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) award reflects a potential value of up to $48 million for future Minotaur launches from Florida. The first part of this award is a $30,000 Task Order to develop a Logistics Strategy Plan for solid-propellant rocket launches from Launch Complex 46 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

This logistics plan will include specifics regarding infrastructure requirements for launch as well as facilities to be used to process future solid-fueled boosters and payloads. An additional Task Order Award is anticipated to incorporate actual launches from the launch pad. Space Florida will partner with ATK and Astrotech on the Spaceports-3 contract to provide the launch complex and process future payloads related to Minotaur launches from Florida.

Florida has several distinct launch site advantages over other competitive U.S. spaceports. Flying from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport enables a 2% (LEO) - 14% (GEO) increase in payload capability over Wallops Island, Virginia. This can represent up to 600 pounds of additional payload for a typical booster to the same orbit. (1/19)

What the Soviet Space Shuttle Program Looks Like Today (Source: Gizmodo)
In the mid-1970s, the Soviets conceived of the Buran program as their answer to NASA and the U.S. Space Shuttle program. Though the ambitious project faltered after only one unmanned flight, many of its remnants still stand spectacularly today. The construction of the Soviet shuttles proceeded throughout the 1980s, culminating in an unmanned launch of the Buran shuttle in 1988. Many subsequent flights were cancelled due to a lack of funding, but the Buran program equipment remained, taking far longer to deteriorate than the political entity which produced it. Click here for photos. (1/19)

CubeSats: Citizen Satellites (Source: Scientific American)
Ever since sputnik kicked off the age of space satellites more than fifty years ago, big institutions have dominated the skies. Almost all the many thousands of satellites that have taken their place in Earth orbit were the result of huge projects funded by governments and corporations. For decades each generation of satellites has been more complicated and expensive than its predecessor, taken longer to design, and required an infrastructure of expensive launch facilities, global monitoring stations, mission specialists and research centers.

In recent years, however, improvements in electronics, solar power and other technologies have made it possible to shrink satellites dramatically. A new type of satellite, called CubeSat, drastically simplifies and standardizes the design of small spacecraft and brings costs down to less than $100,000 to develop, launch and operate a single satellite—a tiny fraction of the typical mission budget of NASA or the European Space Agency. (1/19)

GOP Spending Cuts Would Affect Millions of People, NASA (Source: Ventura County Star)
Republicans are finding it's one thing to issue a blanket promise to cut spending, an entirely different matter when you actually take the scissors to $1 of every $6 spent by agencies like the IRS, the FBI, NASA and the National Park Service. Federal layoffs would be unavoidable, the White House warns. That's the real-world impact of House Republicans' campaign promise to cut $100 billion from the budgets of domestic agencies.

Next week, they plan to vote on a resolution setting appropriations for the rest of the year at 2008 pre-recession levels. before President Barack Obama took office. The vote will be largely symbolic. The actual cuts would have to be made in appropriations bills that would have to clear a 60-vote hurdle in the Senate, where Republicans hold only 47 seats. A return to 2008 levels would mean significant cuts for lots of programs favored by Republicans, including an 8 percent cut to NASA.

Republicans in Texas, Florida and Alabama - where NASA facilities mean thousands of jobs - are sure to fight against cuts to the space agency, which could have to abandon the International Space Station, the White House warns. Meanwhile, the Pentagon, the Homeland Security Department and veterans' programs were exempted from the cuts when Republicans drew up the promise but are likely to get a good scrubbing anyway. (1/19)

Photos To Space Partners With Photobucket to Raise Awareness for Space Travel (Source: Photos to Space)
Photos To Space today announced a partnership agreement with Photobucket, the world’s leading dedicated photo and video sharing service, in an effort to increase awareness about developments in commercial space travel and how it may be closer than you think.

Photos To Space is offering people a chance to send their pictures to space in hopes to encourage them to take that first step to space travel – at least until it becomes more affordable to partake in such a journey. Scheduled for an April 2011 launch, a rocket will take off out of Spaceport America, the newest U.S. spaceport, located south of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“When people look at our product, one of the first questions that comes to mind is, ‘Why not send a real photo?’ And although the answer is complex, it ultimately boils down to price,” says Joe Latrell, CEO of Photos to Space. “Most people would be surprised to know that it currently costs more than $250 to send a physical 4 x 6-in photo to space, so we are providing them with an affordable opportunity to participate in space travel.” (1/19)

Launch Pad Veteran Finds Himself on Familiar Ground (Source: Santa Maria Times)
John Myers can only guess what he’ll feel when the first Delta 4-Heavy rocket finally blasts off Thursday from the former space shuttle facility where he first began working at Vandenberg Air Force Base nearly three decades ago. The chief engineer for United Launch Alliance at Vandenberg began his aerospace career working at Space Launch Complex-6 about 28 years ago during the lead-up to the first planned space shuttle launch from the site. But after that program’s cancellation, before any space shuttle was launched from the West Coast, Myers moved on to other jobs, including stints on the Titan and Delta 2 programs. (1/19)

Wallops Helps Virginia Industry (Source: DelMarVa Now)
Virginia's aerospace industry last year contributed $7.6 billion to the economy and supported over 28,000 jobs, or 0.8 percent of total employment in the state, according to an economic impact study. It is the first comprehensive analysis of the aerospace industry's economic impact in the state, according to a press release from Gov. Bob McDonnell's office.

The report cites the expected start next year of commercial launches to the International Space Station from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops as a favorable factor for Virginia's aerospace industry and states, "Virginia is well poised to respond to the growth in demand of commercial space launches for medium-heavy lift rockets and small satellites into low earth orbit."

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is one of only four FAA-licensed spaceports in the United States. The report states that NASA's decision to center suborbital rocket launches at Wallops and upcoming launches of Orbital Sciences' 130-foot Taurus II rockets there could increase the value of space tourism in the region and "is expected to attract spectators in numbers previously unseen in the past." (1/19)

Space Oddities Go On Auction in US (Source: AFP)
A freeze-dried beef pot roast, the business card of the first man to walk on the moon, and a Playboy calendar that rode to space in 1969 are among a mishmash of old space items on US auction this week. The collection is being offered for sale online by a Massachusetts-based company, RR Auctions. The eBay style auction continues through January 20. While space enthusiasts will not find the highly coveted items that NASA keeps under lock and key, like spacesuits, many of the offers have a connection to the space program that shows an unusual side of the collectors' passion. (1/19)

Q&A with Charles F. Bolden NASA Administrator (Source: Post & Courier)
In between his many public appearances in South Carolina Tuesday, NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden talked briefly with reporter Robert Behre about the future of his agency. Q: The recent elections showed voters' concern about the level of government spending and debt. How will that affect NASA's work? A: "That's hard to say. I'll be able to answer that question for you better in the middle of February, when we get our budget. Click here to read the entire interview. (1/19)

KSC Cargo Teams Reset for a New Era (Source: Florida Today)
Before taking flight to the International Space Station this week aboard Japan's "white stork," a set of spare parts traveled halfway around the world from Kennedy Space Center. A KSC team oversaw the parts' testing, shipment and integration with Japan's unmanned H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV, which is now set to launch on Saturday.

It's the sort of processing work that will continue here for dozens of employees after the shuttle retires and the station relies on international partners and later commercial vehicles to deliver supplies and cargo. "Station is still going to be going for another 10 years," said Jose Nunez, the mission manager who oversaw the KSC processing team. "Any unpressurized cargo that flies on an HTV, we will be processing, we will be managing and shipping it over there." (1/19)

Poor Weather Forecast Delays Japanese Cargo Mission (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The launch of a Japanese HTV cargo freighter for the International Space Station has been delayed to at least Saturday because of thick clouds predicted over the country's island launch site this week. Originally scheduled for Thursday, liftoff of Japan's second H-2 Transfer Vehicle is now expected no earlier than 12:37 a.m. EST Saturday. (1/19)

Japan's HTV: Taking the Helm of a Spacecraft (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)
Maki Maeda will become the first female flight director of an unmanned spacecraft that delivers scientific equipment, food and other supplies to the International Space Station when the craft is launched Saturday. The HTV-2 will lift off from the Tanegashima Space Center. Maeda, 38, will be one of three flight directors on duty around the clock at the Tsukuba Space Center in Ibaraki Prefecture.

With flight data changing constantly and no second chance if something goes wrong, a flight director wages a constant battle against the clock. If an adjustment is made even a minute too late, the hurtling craft could already be hundreds of kilometers off course. Maeda will handle the Jan. 27 docking of the craft with the ISS, the most difficult part of the mission. "I'll need to figure out the best way of doing things by integrating the opinions of my teammates," she said. (1/19)

Mark Kelly to Decide in Few Weeks on Shuttle Command (Source: Florida Today)
International Space Station commander Scott Kelly said his twin brother Mark Kelly will likely decide within a few weeks whether to continue as the commander of shuttle Endeavour's final flight. Mark Kelly remains at the side of his hospitalized wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot Jan. 8 during a rampage in Tuscon, Ariz., that killed six and injured 18 others outside a supermarket where the Democratic congresswoman was meeting with constituents. (1/19)

SpaceX Proposes Rocket-Powered Landing System (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
SpaceX wants to build an integrated launch abort thruster system for Dragon to provide escape capability throughout the Falcon-9's flight. Tractor designs used by the Mercury and Apollo were thrown away a few minutes after liftoff. The integrated system would stay with the Dragon during months at the Space Station and returning to Earth at the end of a normal flight. It could be fired for a rocket-assisted touchdown on land, bringing astronauts home to a soft landing closer to recovery teams. An emergency parachute would always be carried as a backup. SpaceX claims the concept improves crew safety and reduces Dragon operating costs. (1/19)

Space Agencies Challenge Kids to 'Train Like Astronauts' (Source: AFP)
NASA and other global space agencies have challenged 3,700 students in 25 cities around the world to "train like an astronaut," NASA said Tuesday. The six-week pilot project, called "Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut" aims to teach healthy eating and exercise habits to children aged eight to 12, NASA said. Students will also compete for points in scientific reasoning and working as a team as they practice techniques for strength training, endurance, balance and coordination. (1/19)

New Study Finds No Sign of ‘First Habitable Exoplanet’ (Source: WIRED)
Things don’t look good for Gliese 581g, the first planet found orbiting in the habitable zone of another star. The first official challenge to the small, hospitable world looks in the exact same data — and finds no significant sign of the planet. “For the time being, the world does not have data that’s good enough to claim the planet,” said astro-statistics expert Philip Gregory of the University of British Columbia.

The “first habitable exoplanet” already has a checkered history. When it was announced last September, Gliese 581g was heralded as the first known planet that could harbor alien life. The planet orbits its dim parent star once every 36.6 days, placing it smack in the middle of the star’s habitable zone, the not-too-hot, not-too-cold region where liquid water could be stable. (1/19)

Back to the Moon: How New Lunar Bases Will Work (Source: Space.com)
It's been nearly 40 years since people last set foot on the moon, but momentum is building for a return to Earth's nearest neighbor — and for the establishment of a permanent manned presence on lunar soil. The moon harbors large amounts of water ice, along with lots of other potentially useful compounds. These resources could theoretically support manned lunar bases, which could serve as staging grounds for further exploration of the solar system, and as proving grounds for outposts on Mars.

But if we do set up lunar bases, what will they look like? How will they function? NASA scientists have been working on these questions, as have folks in the private sector who see loads of money to be made on the moon's frigid surface. Suffice it to say that any future operation would look very different than past lunar missions. After all, the first humans to walk on the moon spent only 21 hours on the lunar surface in July 1969.

A 21st-century moon base, on the other hand, would be expected to operate for months or years at a time. NASA is still fleshing out plans for a moon base, which would be a cooperative effort between robots and humans. And calling it a base is perhaps misleading, since the entire enterprise would be very mobile. The idea is to send bots and astronauts up together — at first, likely to Shackleton crater near the moon's south pole. (1/19)

Shackleton Energy Co. Plans Lunar Mining (Source: Space.com)
NASA's mobile lunar bases would be research operations. But some people are looking to set up lunar outposts as a way to make money. The Shackleton Energy Co., for example, wants to mine the moon's water ice and turn it into rocket fuel. Shackleton Energy Co. (SEC), which was formed in 2007, would sell the propellant from fueling stations in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Because spaceships burn so much fuel just lifting off from Earth, letting them top up in orbit could spur a huge wave of travel and discovery in space, according to SEC founder Bill Stone. And it makes sense to supply the filling stations from the moon, since it's about 15 times cheaper to launch something to LEO from there than from Earth, Stone added. "In our view, the moon is a stepping stone," Stone said. "What we extract from there will enable the exploration of the inner solar system."

SEC's mining bases would likely be at one or both lunar poles, in craters whose frigid depths have trapped lots of water over the past several billion years. Craters like Cabeus, perhaps, where water ice makes up 5.6 percent of the lunar dirt by weight. Like NASA's outposts, SEC's bases would rely heavily on machines. "This will be a man-tended, mostly robotic operation," Stone said. (1/19)

Nations and Companies Vie in New Moon Race (Source: Space.com)
Humans may not revisit the moon again until possibly 2020 at the earliest, but plenty of countries and private companies have targeted Earth's rocky satellite as a prime destination for robotic explorers. There is a new onslaught of unmanned lunar missions launched by Europe, Japan, China, India and the United States, which have helped uncover lunar water resources. Private entrepreneurs are also racing to land a homemade robot on the moon and win the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, which will reward the first private team to launch and land a spacecraft on the moon.

Stirrings of a new manned lunar race between the U.S. and Chinese space programs died with the cancellation of NASA's Constellation program at the end of last year. China now looks like the "clear front-runner for reaching the moon," despite not yet officially announcing a human lunar program, according to Joan Johnson-Freese, a space policy analyst at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

Japan has targeted a research robot for the moon with a landing date around 2015. And a private Japanese consortium hopes to send along some company in the form of a two-legged humanoid robot designed to walk on the moon, even if it faces funding and engineering challenges. Click here to read the article. (1/19)

Everyday Tech From Space: Cell Phone Cameras Have Space Origins (Source: Space.com)
The iconic views of our universe provided by space telescopes like Hubble and cameras toted by Apollo astronauts on the surface of the moon have fueled scientific inquiry and inspired countless minds for decades. But the same technology that helped us see the vast plains of Mars and the brilliant, shimmering galaxies around us is also more prevalent in our everyday lives than you may think. In fact, one in every three cell phone cameras on the planet uses technology that was invented for NASA spacecraft.

The first digital camera may have been built in 1975 by Eastman Kodak – the photographic materials and equipment company – but the very concept of digital photography was developed in the 1960s by an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. At JPL, Eugene Lally investigated ways of using mosaic photosensors to digitize light signals that could then be used to capture still images. (1/19)

Astronauts4Hire: Opening Up Space For Fleet Of Commercial Astronauts (Source: Neon Tommy)
Astronauts4Hire, a Florida-based nonprofit organization of prospective commercial astronauts, is seeking new members. Also known as A4H, it is the first company attempting to supply a private astronaut workforce, said president and cofounder Brian Shiro. “Virgin Galactic, XCOR, SpaceX, and other companies are developing vehicles to take humans into space; Bigelow Aerospace is developing private space stations,” Shiro said. “But who are the crews going to be? Who's going to look after the tourists, and who will carry out experiments? That's where we come in.” Click here to read the article. (1/19)

Test Rocket explodes, Damaging Facility in Montana (Source: Missoulian)
A 24-inch rocket exploded during an experimental test Tuesday afternoon at the Butte Aerotec facility, seriously damaging a new building but causing no injuries. Dave Micheletti, president of Montana Aerospace Development Association, confirmed there was a "malfunction" during a SPG Inc. rocket test, and that no one was hurt. The cause of the explosion is unknown.

"It was the first test of the big 24-inch rocket," he said. "As to what happened, we have some ideas, but we won't know for sure until we finish an investigation." Last year, SPG Inc., a Stanford University-affiliated company, had tested an 11-inch rocket on the site in the Tax Increment Financing Industrial District. Butte-Silver Bow built a $168,000 steel-sided structure nearby, so the company could test a larger rocket in which paraffin wax is used as the main fuel. Tuesday's test was among the first in the new facility. (1/19)

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