January 6, 2011

Schmitt Picked to Head New Mexico Energy and Natural Resources Department (Source: NM Politics)
Gov. Susana Martinez nominated former U.S. Sen. and astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt to head the state's Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. Schmitt, a former NASA geologist, has a doctorate from Harvard University. He landed on the moon on Dec. 11, 1972. The Republican was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 and served one term.

Schmitt said he is “proud to continue my career of public service as secretary of the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department under Governor Martinez...I look forward to working with the governor to enhance New Mexico’s potential to be a leader in energy and natural resource development,” he said. (1/6)

Moon Has Earth-Like Core (Source: Space Daily)
Washington DC (SPX) Jan 07, 2011 - State-of-the-art seismological techniques applied to Apollo-era data suggest our moon has a core similar to Earth's. Uncovering details about the lunar core is critical for developing accurate models of the moon's formation. The data sheds light on the evolution of a lunar dynamo - a natural process by which our moon may have generated and maintained its own strong magnetic field. (1/6)

Launch Date Set For First Orbital COTS Demo (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA has set Dec. 14 as the target launch date for Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) cargo demonstration mission. Meanwhile, the company says it continues to make progress with NASA toward attaining safety clearance for the mission, in which its Cygnus spacecraft will dock with the International Space Station (ISS). It is expected to be preceded by a Taurus II “risk-reduction” mission, which is still awaiting funding approval from Congress. (1/6)

Hunting for Habitable Planets (Source: Newswise)
For thousands of years people have wondered, “Are we alone?” Out of the 500 planets so far known to orbit nearby stars, about 100 transit their host stars, that is, the planet goes in front of its star as seen from Earth. The transiting planets are “goldmines” for astronomers, because the planetary sizes, masses, and atmospheres can be routinely measured. NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope is further revolutionizing transiting exoplanet studies with its unprecedented photometric precision. (1/6)

Where is Arkansa's Little (Moon) Rock? (Source: HopeStar.com)
A moon rock which NASA presented to the State of Arkansas, and which has since gone missing, was presented to an assistant to Arkansas Governor David Pryor in 1976. Charlie Downs, of Hope, knows because he was there. Downs was intrigued by a recent article which said that the fragment of moon rock given to the state from the Apollo 17 mission is missing. He contacted the Star on Wednesday to explain that he was the military officer responsible for the safety of the rock and the logistics for NASA Astronaut Richard Truly, who made the presentation on Feb. 28, 1976, at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds.

The story stems from a lengthier piece in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette which raises two questions concerning the piece of lunar real estate: When, exactly, was it presented to the State of Arkansas? And, where did it go? Downs produced a photograph taken at the time of the event which shows Dick Howell, from Pryor's staff, Truly and Downs with the plaque in which the moon rock is embedded. Click here to read the article. (1/6)

Space Shuttle Discovery's Launch to be Delayed Past Feb. 3 (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The final flight of space shuttle Discovery will have to wait — again. Nagging structural problems with the shuttle's fuel tank have delayed its planned Feb. 3 launch to the International Space Station by a couple of weeks — or longer — although NASA has not made a new launch date official. The previous launch window extended until Feb. 10 and won't reopen until Feb. 27, though officials said a launch before then remains a possibility. (1/6)

Plasma Jets are Prime Suspect in Solar Mystery (Source: UCAR)
One of the most enduring mysteries in solar physics is why the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, is millions of degrees hotter than its surface. Now scientists believe they have discovered a major source of hot gas that replenishes the corona: narrow jets of plasma, known as spicules, shooting up from just above the Sun’s surface. The finding addresses a fundamental question in astrophysics: how energy moves from the Sun’s interior to create its hot outer atmosphere.

“It’s always been quite a puzzle to figure out why the Sun’s atmosphere is hotter than its surface,” says Scott McIntosh, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). “By identifying that these jets insert heated plasma into the Sun’s outer atmosphere, we gain a greater knowledge of the corona and possibly improve our understanding of the Sun’s subtle influence on Earth’s upper atmosphere.” (1/6)

Excalibur Almaz Exports Two Space Stations to Isle of Man (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Excalibur Almaz Limited (EA) is exporting two partially completed Almaz space stations from Russia to the Isle of Man. The stations and Excalibur Almaz’ reusable return vehicles were developed by EA’s Russian associate, JSC MIC NPO Mashinostroyenia. The stations will be initially stored, followed by research, testing and possibly completion and launch to orbit.

EA’s initial flights to orbit will be in the flight tested Excalibur Almaz Reusable Return Vehicles joined to and supported by service module living and working habitats. The space stations themselves are part of EA’s long-term business plan. It is not economically feasible to launch and sustain them on orbit until the company’s flight rate reaches six or more flights per year. In addition to space tourism, the updated space stations could provide platforms for microgravity scientific experimentation to serve governments and academic institutions. (1/6)

State, Local Grants Keep Space Foundation in Colorado (Source: Space Foundation)
The Space Foundation will remain in Colorado Springs thanks to generous support from El Pomar Foundation, the Anna Keesling Ackerman Fund, the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the State of Colorado Economic Development Commission. The Space Foundation will move into 45,715 square feet of space in Colorado Springs.

The approximately $960,000 purchase of the Space Foundation's portion of the building was funded primarily by El Pomar Foundation and its internal Ackerman Fund. The EDC helped locate the property and broker the real estate deal and the State of Colorado Economic Development Commission provided $350,000. (1/6)

FastForward Group Discusses European Spaceplane Plans in January (Source: SPACErePORT)
The FastForward Project is a diverse, ad-hoc industry study group focused on common issues related to future global, high-speed point-to-point transportation (including passenger travel and fast package delivery). Participants in the FastForward Project come from a range of large and small aerospace companies, government organizations, international organizations, and universities.

At their January 14 bi-monthly teleconference, the group will hear from EADS Astrium on "European Perspective on High-speed Point-to-Point Flight" including some of the recent suborbital work going on at Astrium. Click here for information on FastForward. (1/6)

Delta-4 Heavy Mission Planned Jan. 17 from California (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
A United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket will launch a classified spy satellite cargo for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office on Jan. 17. The largest of the Delta 4 family, the Heavy version features three Common Booster Cores mounted together to form a triple-body rocket. Editor's Note: Much of ULA's launch team is based at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. They travel to California to support launches from Vandenberg. (1/6)

Minotaur-1 Mission Planned Feb. 5 from California (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The Air Force Minotaur-1 rocket will launch a classified satellite payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office from Launch Complex 8 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Orbital Sciences Corp. is the prime contractor for Minotaur launches. (1/6)

Potential Root Cause Found for Shuttle Stringer Cracks, Launch Delay Coming? (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The root cause of the cracked stringers on STS-133′s External Tank (ET-137) may have been found, following the investigation team’s findings that the material used for the tank’s intertank support beams was found to be “mottled”, when compared to standard material. Meanwhile, the ongoing evaluation into the modification plan for the stringers may slip the launch from Feb. 3 to a later date in February. (1/6)

Spaceport Needs Martinez’s Support, Homans Says (Source: NM Politics)
Suborbital flights from Spaceport America are expected to begin this year or next, but the current upheaval could cause the project to “slow down or fall apart pretty quickly” if Gov. Susana Martinez doesn’t “clearly and unequivocally” declare her support, the outgoing spaceport director says. Rick Homans resigned from his job as the spaceport’s executive director on Wednesday during an emergency meeting of the Spaceport Authority, but not before reading pointed remarks about the Martinez administration’s demand that he resign.

“While I have embraced this project, it is clear that Governor Martinez is not embracing me,” Homans said during the meeting. “My hope is that Governor Martinez can quickly move beyond viewing Spaceport America as the legacy project of Bill Richardson,” he said. “The very best thing that can happen is for Governor Martinez to embrace this project as her own legacy. She will be the governor who opens the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world – and the world will be watching.”

It was Homans who sold former Gov. Richardson on the vision of building the $210 million spaceport in the remote desert northeast of Las Cruces. Richardson and Homans worked hard to convince the Legislature and local counties to provide funding. Detractors view the spaceport as a taxpayer-funded platform for Virgin Galactic to fly rich people into space. (1/6)

NASA Hopes Spring on Mars Will Help Revive Spirit Rover (Source: AIA)
NASA is working to try to revive its rover Spirit, which has been stuck on Mars and unresponsive for months. Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., say they are hoping the increased solar energy available to the rover now that spring is under way on Mars will generate enough energy to reawaken the rover after a long hibernation in winter. (1/6)

White House Approves Modest Growth for Pentagon in Budget (Source: AIA)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has received approval from the White House for about $554 billion in the fiscal 2012 budget for defense, not including war spending, according to officials. The figure is about $12 billion less than the Pentagon planned, but still allows for growth over the fiscal 2011 budget and would represent about a 2.67% reduction in a $2.99 trillion five-year defense plan, not including war spending. (1/6)

Embry-Riddle and Aerospace States Association Plan Manufacturing Summit on Feb. 23-25 (Source: ERAU)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, in collaboration with Aerospace States Association, presents the second Aviation and Aerospace Industry Manufacturing Summit, Feb. 23-25 at the Walt Disney Resort, Orlando. Experts will address issues, trends and projections in aerospace manufacturing. Click here for information and registration. (1/6)

Contact: The Day After (Source: Scientific American)
Within decades advances in computing power will allow astronomers to scan enough stars in our galaxy to have a reasonable chance at detecting a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization. News of the discovery of an extraterrestrial signal will reach the public almost immediately. A conspiracy to hide or suppress the evidence of alien intelligence would be all but impossible.

The content of the signal may never be understood. The assumption that mathematics or physics could serve as a cosmic lingua franca among civilizations may be misguided. Would revealing our existence to the universe at large attract the attention of hostile aliens? Such fears are probably groundless, despite the warnings of some prominent scientists. (1/6)

Advances in Astronomy Speed Search for ET (Source: Scientific American)
“Fifty years ago, when I made the first search [of Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani], it took two months—200 hours of observing time at Green Bank,” says Drake, who is now chairman emeritus at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. “When I went back this year, they gave me an hour to repeat the experiment. That turned out to be way too much time. It took eight tenths of a second—each star took four tenths of a second! And the search was better. I looked at the same two stars over a much wider frequency band with higher sensitivity and more channels, in eight tenths of a second. That shows how far we’ve come. And the rate of improvement hasn’t slowed down at all.” (1/6)

Pope: God was Behind Big Bang, Universe No Accident (Source: Reuters)
God's mind was behind complex scientific theories such as the Big Bang, and Christians should reject the idea that the universe came into being by accident, Pope Benedict said on Thursday. "The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe," Benedict said on the day Christians mark the Epiphany, the day the Bible says the three kings reached the site where Jesus was born by following a star. (1/6)

New Leader Takes Over at Air Force Space Command (Source: Colorado Springs Gazette)
The new boss at Air Force Space Command has a background that will help him conquer the Peterson Air Force Base unit’s newest mission: cyberspace. Gen. William Shelton, who took over Wednesday during an elaborate ceremony, earlier served as the Air Force’s chief information officer – a post that prepared him for the command’s new role in computer warfare. The 1976 Air Force Academy graduate replaces Gen. C. Robert Kehler, who had led the command since 2007. (1/6)

Editorial: Bringing Business to Spaceport America is a Win-Win (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
We welcome Virgin Galactic's partnership in what's becoming a private enterprise outer-space league. It could mean an economy boost for southern New Mexico since Virgin Galactic is based at Spaceport America just up the road from Las Cruces. Virgin Galactic will continue to focus on customer-based suborbital flights. Soon, for $200,000 a launch, private citizens can go "weightless."

Meanwhile, the two partners are venturing into orbital flights. They are bidding with NASA to take U.S. astronauts into space when the space shuttle mission expires. They are Sierra Nevada Corp., based in Nevada; and Orbital Sciences Corp., based in Virginia. The good news is they will be able to land their spaceships at Spaceport America. Their launching rockets would be expendable; they are too large for a Spaceport America launch. (1/6)

What Will New Legislators Mean for the Future of NASA? (Source: CFL-13)
With the change of political players, what does Florida's new Senate and representative trio mean for the future of NASA and the Kennedy Space Center? “Everybody has some background,” said Dale Ketcham. “I believe we can hit the ground running.” Ketcham is head of Spaceport Research & Technology Institute, a UCF think tank specializing in space-related issues.

He said new Sens. Sandy Adams and Marco Rubio, and Rep. Daniel Webster have experience dealing with the impact of the industry in Florida. “They come to the table familiar with KSC and the space program in Florida,” Ketcham said. “They bring to it a different perspective as freshman members.”

With the budget in the hands of the new Congress after March 1, how will they secure the billions in funding for KSC's 21st century upgrade approved by the president? Will there be enough for a third and final shuttle flight? Those are questions and answers Ketcham said will be closely followed, but with two incumbent allies still in place, perhaps to become reality. (1/6)

Lockheed Martin: "Space Fence" Would Detect and Track Space Debris (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin has posted a video showing its concept for a Space Fence. The Air Force Space Surveillance System, colloquially known as the Space Fence, is a multistatic radar system that detects orbital objects passing over America. It is a component of the US space surveillance network, and is claimed to be able to detect objects as small as 10 cm (four inches) at heights up to 30,000 km (15,000 nautical miles.). Click here to see the video. (1/6)

NASA Projects Need Realism, Bolden Says (Source: Aviation Week)
Future NASA space programs must be affordable, sustainable and realistic to survive political and funding dangers that have killed previous initiatives, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says. Speaking in Orlando, Bolden said that trying to attain affordability, sustainability and realism has become his “mantra” while negotiating with officials in the White House and the Office of Management and Budget, as well as Congress.

Affordability “is dominant,” while sustainability is needed to survive multiple sessions of Congress and presidential administrations. “One of the best ways to help ensure that is through greater international cooperation,” he adds. The element of realism is also vital, he says. “We can’t continue to promise something that is unobtainable.” (1/6)

India Eyes to Spy from Sky (Source: Deccan Chronicle)
Indian Space Research Organization scientists will soon launch a high resolution satellite capable of continuously monitoring major swathes along the country’s borders. “It will be stationed at an altitude of 36,000 km and transmit live pictures of the areas of our choice,” said Ranganath R. Navalgund, director, Space Application Center. Though he refused to divulge more details, he said that the spacecraft would be operational in one or two years. (1/6)

Twelve Florida Students Become NASA Student Ambassadors (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 101 of its high-performing interns and fellows for the agency's Student Ambassador Program. The students will represent NASA at a variety of education and outreach events at schools and universities to help inspire future students interested in science, engineering, mathematics and technology, or STEM, opportunities. The new ambassadors represent 31 states and 64 different universities.

Twelve of the students are from Florida universities, including three from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and others from the University of Florida, Florida International University, University of South Florida, and Florida Institute of Technology. Click here to see the list (click on Florida on the map). (1/6)

Space Experts Lament Shuttle's Legacy (Source: Florida Today)
The space shuttle is a technological marvel that enabled scientific discovery and expanded human access to space, but it failed to meet unrealistic promises it would make spaceflight routine and inexpensive. So agreed a conference panel of space experts Wednesday, discussing a topic likely to come up again and again this year: the shuttle's legacy as it enters a final year of flight near the 30th anniversary of the first launch. (1/6)

Bolden: Additional Shuttle Flight Will Be Safe (Source: Florida Today)
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, in a keynote address at the 49th AIAA Aerospace Sciences meeting's New Horizons Forum in Orlando, said the agency plans to fly three shuttle missions this year to bring the total to 135 before the three-orbiter fleet is retired. He said a report still being finalized has determined the final flight can be flown safely without a rescue shuttle available, using Russian Soyuz spacecraft to bring home astronauts if they become stranded at the International Space Station. (1/6)

Authorizers Versus Appropriators (Source: Space Politics)
The new Republican leadership has already made its stamp on the science committee, which, according to its web site, is now known as the Committee on Science, Space and Technology; it had previously been known as the Committee on Science and Technology. The name change, and other factors, have led some to conclude that the committee will take a sharper, more critical look at NASA and the Obama Administration’s space policy in the new Congress.

However, the ability of authorizers like the science committee to affect change at NASA may be limited during the next two years. With a three-year authorization act in place, there seems little opportunity to substantial changes to the bill: the House could always pass legislation to amend that authorization or make other changes, for example, but it would be difficult to get that through the Senate, which authored the current authorization act and whose proponents, like Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), remain in office.

In the new Congress, it seems that influence on space issues will shift from authorizers to appropriators. The new Congress will soon have to take up an FY11 appropriations bill of some kind, and soon thereafter start work on FY12 spending bills, with concerns about reducing the budget deficit weighing on members. That’s likely where the real action will be in the next two years. (1/6)

Homans Resigns as Spaceport America Director (Source: NewSpace Journal)
The uncertainty about the future of Rick Homans as executive director of Spaceport America appears to be over. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Wednesday that Homans has tendered his resignation, effective Friday. Homans, speaking at an emergency meeting of the spaceport’s board, said that he had been informed last week by Susana Martinez, who became governor of New Mexico on Saturday, that he had to either resign or be fired. Homans had served in the administration of the previous governor, Bill Richardson, a Democrat; Martinez is a Republican.

It’s not clear what the board’s plans are for replacing Homans. Questions about both the spaceport’s management and the commitment to it by the state government could cause some companies to think twice, at least for now. At least five of the seven spaceport board members wanted Homans to stay on, at least until construction of the spaceport is completed later this year. A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Economic Development said the position would be advertised and a search committee created.

The governor has a “Spaceport Review Team” that is examining the current status of the spaceport, including its contract with anchor tenant Virgin Galactic; that team has received input from former astronauts like Harrison Schmitt and Sid Gutierrez. “The governor believes astronauts have more insight into space travel than Bill Richardson’s deputy campaign manager,” said a spokesman for the governor, referring to Homans. (How much insight these former astronauts have on commercial space travel, though, may be very different.) (1/6)

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