March 12, 2011

Quake Moved Japan Landmass 8 Feet; Shifted Earth's Axis 4 Inches (Source: CNN)
The powerful earthquake that unleashed a devastating tsunami appears to have moved the main island of Japan by 8 feet (2.4 meters) and shifted the Earth on its axis. "At this point, we know that one GPS station moved (8 feet), and we have seen a map from GSI in Japan showing the pattern of shift over a large area is consistent with about that much shift of the land mass," said a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Reports from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy estimated the 8.9-magnitude quake shifted the planet on its axis by nearly 4 inches. (3/12)

Private Space Travel Surpasses $10 Million in Sales (Source: Palm Beach Post)
Virgin Galactic and travel network Virtuoso, which seeks out would-be space travelers and accepts deposits for future suborbital flights, announce they have surpassed $10 million in space sales. Along with continued deposits for the program, “significant milestones in 2010 support the evidence that the dream of private space travel is becoming a reality.”

“Each new milestone that Virgin Galactic crosses gets us one step closer to space travel,” said Virtuoso CEO and Virgin Galactic ‘Founder’ Passenger, Matthew D. Upchurch, CTC. Virtuoso’s Accredited Space Agents have done an amazing job building excitement among their clientele and the travel community, and Virgin Galactic delivers on every promise they put forth. Travel to space for every adventurer will soon be at our fingertips.”

In 2010 the rocket motor, known as RocketMotorTwo, underwent extensive development and testing. Next up for the rocket motor is more ground based ‘hot fire’ testing that will take place during the coming months before pairing RocketMotorTwo with SpaceShipTwo for several non-powered test flights. Continuing through the testing process, SpaceShipTwo will then complete multiple powered flights, gradually increasing duration and altitude in the lead up to her first-ever spaceflight. (3/12)

Two High-priority NASA Earth Science Missions Face 1-Year Slip (Source: Space News)
NASA could be forced to delay two approved, top-tier Earth science missions by up to one year due to congressional inaction on the president’s 2011 spending request, which has U.S. federal agencies operating at their 2010 spending levels, according to sources and documents. NASA had hoped to spend about $5 billion on Earth- and space-science missions in 2011, but the funding available under the current continuing resolution falls $450 million short of that total.

The shortfall could delay the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat-2) and Soil Moisture Active and Passive (SMAP) missions while increasing their cost. Although NASA requested $75 million and $132 million this year for ICESat-2 and SMAP, respectively, NASA could be forced to reduce planned spending on ICESat-2 by $22 million in order to stay within the $1.4 billion spending ceiling Congress set for Earth science initiatives last year. SMAP funding would have to be reduced by $30 million. (3/12)

NASA Puts $30M Cost on JWST Hot Pixel Fix (Source: Space News)
The root cause of a problem affecting imaging sensors inside three of the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) primary instruments continues to elude NASA, but under the worst-case scenario the U.S. space agency expects to spend about $30 million to remanufacture the faulty parts, the program’s director said March 3. During testing in December, NASA discovered the performance of multiple detector arrays had degraded since they were tested two years ago and put in storage.

The arrays, built by Teledyne Imaging Sensors of Camarillo, Calif., are planned to fly on JWST’s Near Infrared Camera, Near Infrared Spectrograph and Fine Guidance Sensor-Tunable Filter Imager. Teledyne spokeswoman Robyn McGowan declined to comment on the issue. If it is determined that a full set of new flight and backup detectors is needed, it would take about a year for delivery and integration. (3/12)

March: In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lion (Source: USAF 45th Space Wing)
We've all heard the old saying that "March comes in a like a lion." Well, over the past couple weeks, we've seen how very true that can be. We have lived it here. And it's not like we're slowing down anytime soon. Since providing support for Shuttle Discovery's final mission Feb. 24, we have successfully launched the X-37B perched atop an Atlas V rocket last Saturday, provided support for Discovery's Shuttle landing Wednesday, and put into orbit a National Reconnaissance Office payload.

Getting a rocket and its payload to launch "today" often takes a lot of "today's" before that launch day. And our team of launch professionals works behind the scenes making that "launch today" happen. One important "pre-launch today" happened last week. And it was a big one. The first-ever dedicated satellite for the U.S. Air Force's Space-Based Infrared System next-generation missile warning system arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (3/12)

Inmarsat’s Chief Doubts Severity of LightSquared-GPS Interference Issue (Source: Space News)
The chief executive of mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat questioned the motivations of GPS backers now rising up against a satellite-terrestrial mobile broadband project, saying claims of interference with GPS signals were addressed years ago and settled by mutual agreement.

Andrew Sukawaty, while insisting that London-based Inmarsat is not directly involved in the increasingly heated dispute between LightSquared and government and industry GPS proponents, said LightSquared’s broadcast frequencies have long been known. While Inmarsat does not want to prejudge the outcome of a three-month study to settle the interference question, he said, he is confident that claims that LightSquared will disable GPS in the United States will prove to be exaggerated. (3/12)

NASA Data Supports Claim of Toxic Rain on Gulf Coast (Source: Huffington Post)
Government data collected during the oil spill last summer, which is now being released by one of the scientists on the NASA team, strengthens claims that oil and dispersant was brought onshore in rain during the spill. The Chief Mission Coordinating Scientist on the NASA remote sensing mission to the BP oil spill in the Gulf Of Mexico was Ira Leifer, Ph.D from University of California Santa Barbara.

Dr. Leifer has been working with natural oil spills and natural methane bubble flows for the last decade. He is in the process of releasing some of the government data collected during the spill; the vast majority of this data has been suppressed and is not available to scientists, the media, or the general public. The data was collected on boats at the sea surface, in airplanes over the Gulf, and by satellite.

The data being released, which was collected by the NASA missions to the Gulf, shows that the toxic compounds released from the BP spill became airborne, and significant quantities were brought onshore by precipitation, thereby exposing coastal populations to chemical poisoning. This represents something new and unique not observed in previous oil spills. It helps explain why there were numerous reports by people living along the Gulf Coast that it was raining oil and dispersant during the summer months. (3/12)

Japanese Quake Disrupts Space Station Operations (Sources:,
The deadly 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan Friday ravaged the country's International Space Station control center in Tsukuba and forced NASA to take over the lab's Japanese systems. Photos of the Tsukuba Space Center's control center show debris littering the floor and filing cabinets tipped over. Other reports indicated part of a roof may have collapsed at the space center, which is about 30 miles northeast of central Tokyo.

NASA says the mission control center in Houston took over monitoring telemetry from the space station's Kibo laboratory and the H-2 Transfer Vehicle, a robotic cargo ship that delivered supplies to the outpost in January. NASA has previously relocated its mission control operations from Houston when hurricanes have beared down on the Johnson Space Center.

Japan also has a spaceport called the Tanegashima Space Center on the island of Tanegashima in the country's southern region. An official said that she has not received any reports of damage at that space center from the earthquake. She added that the spaceport is relatively far from the earthquake’s main destruction zones. It is also built on top of a cliff, offering protection from any tsunami waves, she added. (3/12)

Delta 4 Launches NRO Satellite (Source:
A Delta 4 rocket successfully launched a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on Friday evening. The Delta 4 Medium+ lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport at 6:38 pm EST after an approximately 40-minute delay because of high upper-level winds. The mission, designated NROL-27 or "Gryphon", carried a classified NRO satellite. The launch was considered a success. Observers speculate that the spacecraft is a communications satellite designed to relay data from other NRO satellites. (3/12)

Space Coast Braces For End Of Shuttle Program (Source: WESH)
The landing of Discovery on Tuesday brought Florida's Space Coast one step closer to the end of the space shuttle program. The loss of the space shuttle is already having a major impact on businesses in Brevard County. Rob Summers owns T-Bone Designs in Titusville. He is expressing his thoughts in a way that is all his own. Displayed in the front window of the store, Summers put a simple message on a white T-shirt that called the end of the space shuttle program a disgrace.

"I'm concerned. We've been down for two to three years because of the economy being down, and we can't get much better if we are going to be losing these jobs," Summers said. With only two missions remaining, the shop owner knows the days of booming business are close to over for now. But on launch days, Summers' shop is filled with customers. (3/12)

Russia Loses Control of Military Satellite (Source: Xinhua)
Russia's geostationary military communication satellite Raduga-1 has likely lost communications with the flight control center, Interfax reported Friday. Citing a source in the Russian aerospace industry, the report said the satellite might have run out of fuel and not be controlled by ground control center anymore.

Earlier this week, the Raduga-1 approached within three kilometers of a South Korean COMS-1 satellite after the Russian satellite began to become uncontrollable in space. Currently the distance between the two satellites is about 120 kilometers. The South Korean aerospace institute said it had to modify the orbit of its COMS-1 to avoid a repetition of the possible collision. (3/12)

Eight Extremes: The Densest Thing in the Universe (Source: New Scientist)
At the modest temperatures and pressures of Earth's surface, the densest known material is the metallic element osmium, which packs 22 grams into 1 cubic centimeter, or more than 100 grams into a teaspoonful. Even osmium is full of fluff, however, in the form of electron clouds that separate the dense atomic nuclei. Although rarefied, these clouds are robust, and even the immense pressures deep within the planet can only compress solid matter to a modest degree.

Far greater pressure is found within the collapsed core of a giant star, a remnant we know as a neutron star. There, matter is in some exotic and ultra-dense form - most probably neutrons, and possibly a few protons and electrons, packed cheek-by-jowl. One cubic meter of "neutronium" matter from the center of a neutron star could have a mass of up to 1018 kilograms, or a million billion tons. (3/12)

Eight Extremes: The Darkest Thing in the Universe (Source: New Scientist)
Galaxies are supposed to be glittering jewels, studded with billions of bright stars and glowing nebulae. Not so Segue 1, the dark horse of the galactic neighborhood. Segue 1 is only 75,000 light years away, making it a near neighbor of the Milky Way, yet it remained undiscovered until 2006 because its total light emission is only 300 times that of our sun.

That is odd. Segue 1's few stars are moving around quite fast, so its gravity must be reasonably strong, implying that it contains at least a million solar masses of matter. Very little of that can be accounted for by visible stars and gas, suggesting that almost all of it must be exotic dark matter. Studying dwarf galaxies like Segue 1 could tell us more about dark matter. (3/12)

Digital Soyuz Return Could Be Rocky (Source: IEEE Spectrum)
The new “digital” version of the Soyuz spacecraft is having some decidedly analog problems on its maiden voyage. Astronauts will test on-orbit repairs done to its troubled control systems ahead of a scheduled landing next Wednesday. The tests will determine whether the Soyuz can perform a gentle guided descent or instead must rely on a backup emergency “ballistic” landing, involving a much rougher deceleration and landing several hundred kilometers short of the main recovery zone.

The “digital Soyuz” differs from its predecessors by a computer upgrade and the replacement of five incompatible analog processors for monitoring different spacecraft systems with a single digital device called MBITS (the Russian acronym for "small-sized onboard informational telemetry system"). MBITS promises to make transmission of spacecraft parameters much more efficient, so that Russia can meet the rapid launch demands needed to keep the ISS crew at 6 in the absence of the U.S. space shuttle fleet. (3/12)

Skywatcher Spots Astronaut Pee in Space (Source:
A fortuitous skywatching moment made for a beautiful image of the space shuttle Discovery in the night sky, even though what's really happening in the picture is slightly less poetic. What looked like a bright shooting star with a wide, curly tail is most likely Discovery performing a waste water dump while soaring in orbit near the end of its 39th and final mission.

Jens Hackmann recorded the special moment in a short movie that appeared on In the images and movie from March 8, Discovery is visible in the twilight skies over Europe, leaving a trail of what may be frozen, crystallized urine and waste water, disposed in preparation for the shuttle's landing the next day. The liquid could also be excess water from Discovery's fuel cells. Click here. (3/12)

UF Researcher: Space Duct Tape Could Confuse Mars Rover (Source: WIRED)
The NASA equivalent of duct tape could leak enough methane to confuse the next Mars rover’s life-detecting sensors. Astrobiologists found evidence for three distinct plumes of methane flowing from beneath the planet’s surface, like swamp gas or a burp, in January 2009. The gas could simply mean that Mars is more geologically active than previously thought. But because much of Earth’s methane is a byproduct of life, the plumes could point to something living, eating or breathing methane beneath the Martian surface.

To settle the question of the methane’s origin, the next Mars rover, called Mars Science Laboratory or Curiosity, will launch in late 2011 equipped with a suite of instruments capable of sniffing out one molecule of methane in a billion other molecules. But some of the materials in the rover itself could also release methane and confuse the sensors. Microbiologist and veteran Mars simulator Andrew Schuerger of the University of Florida and colleagues show that the tape used to hold the rover’s joints together could release enough methane to be a problem. (3/12)

Operators Describe U.s. Satcom Problems (Source: Aviation Week)
Commercial satellite communications operators complain that a broad overhaul in satcom procurement initiated a year ago, under the new U.S. National Space Policy to help overcome a glaring shortfall in bandwidth, is not working as intended because of contracting inefficiencies. In addition to end-to-end solutions, the overhaul—known as the Future Commercial Satcom Services Acquisition (FCSA)—is intended to increase the government’s ability to draw on transponder lease and subscriber services, which can be made available with relatively short lead times. (3/12)

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