May 29, 2011

Maryland Scientists Vie for NASA Missions (Source: Baltimore Sun)
One mission would parachute a floating science lab into a lake on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The other would send a spacecraft to hop on and off a comet as it races toward the sun. Both outer-space adventures would be led by Maryland scientists, and both ventures would be managed by Maryland institutions.

But only one (or neither) will win the $425 million in NASA funding needed to get off the ground. Competing for the money are the Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) mission, led by planetary geologist Ellen Stofan, of Proxemy Research in Gaithersburg; and Comet Hopper, led by geologist Jessica Sunshine, at the University of Maryland. The spoiler in the race, the one that could elbow both Maryland bidders aside, is designed to study Mars' interior geology. Called Geophysical Monitoring Station, or GEMS, it's led by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (5/29)

An Era is Ending, But NASA's Future is Still Bright (Source: WLTX)
NASA does all kinds of stuff. They build space robots. They send up satellites. They study the oceans. But come on - who're we kidding? When most people think of NASA, they think of manned space flight. The space shuttle. But after 30 years, and 135 flights, NASA has decided to close down the space shuttle program.

NASA's William Gerstenmaier says the shuttle isn't ending because we've lost our mojo. It's because the next missions require different designs to go into deeper space, like the Orion capsule that NASA just unveiled . "We need more of a smaller capsule that can take that heat, of coming back from those larger destinations with a higher re-entry velocity," he said.

Charles Bolden was an astronaut on four missions, including the 1990 deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope. "We could conceivably put a human on the surface of Mars in 2030," Bolden said. "The president has told us he wants us to rendezvous with and put astronauts in the vicinity of an asteroid in 2025." (5/29)

AIA, SIA Hail House Bill to Remove Satellites From ITAR List (Source: Parabolic Arc)
SIA and AIA welcome a proposed amendment to H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, that would authorize the president to remove satellites and related components from the U.S. Munitions List, subject to certain restrictions and congressional oversight.

More than a decade ago, Congress passed legislation that required all commercial satellites, satellite components, associated technical data and related ground equipment to be treated as “munitions” for export licensing purposes. SIA and AIA have long encouraged Congress to adopt legislation that would allow the executive branch to determine the appropriate export licensing policy for commercial satellites and related items, just as it does for all other technologies that are subject to U.S. export licensing. (5/28)

New Mexico Pushes Ahead with Spaceport Despite Setbacks (Source: MSNBC)
The wind is still whistling through the massive unfinished steel hangar doors at Spaceport America. The exterior is waiting to be clad with custom metal panels, and the hangar floor, where a pair of sleek spacecraft will one day sit, is still dirt. Construction of the world's first built-from-scratch launch station for sending people and payloads into space has been stymied by everything from Mother Nature to construction delays brought on by working in such a remote stretch of New Mexico desert.

Still, the director of the $209 million taxpayer-financed project says the state is as committed as ever to finishing the project. And so is Virgin Galactic, the space tourism venture founded by British billionaire Richard Branson. "When you think about what we've had to build out here, all of it is challenging because we're building a whole city. There's water storage, a water treatment plant, getting permanent power out here, everything," said Christine Anderson.

This slice of southern New Mexico is beautiful, but it's difficult. The few ranchers who live out here call it a no man's land — where there's little water, where only a hardy cow can survive and where the dirt roads are equal parts sand and rutted earth. Click here to read the article. (5/29)

Should India Go Suborbital? (Source: Space Daily)
What is happening with India's human spaceflight program? It's hard to be sure. India's space program has experienced mixed results in the past two years, with the success of some missions being overshadowed by some major failures. The failures of India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) have drawn a lot of attention and rightly so.

There could be an alternative path to human spaceflight for India. The nation could embark on a short-term program for sub-orbital astronaut launches. Let's not forget that the USA began its own human spaceflight program with suborbital launches of the Mercury spacecraft. Today, private space companies are preparing a new fleet of suborbital spacecraft for commercial astronauts. (5/29)

Atlantis Launch Set for July 8, Viewing Lottery Planned (Source: Hobby Space)
Atlantis is scheduled to carry out the last shuttle launch on Friday, July 8, 2011 at 11:40 a.m. ET. Due to the expected high number of visitors to see the liftoff, KSC is holding a lottery for tickets to access the best viewing spots. Click here. (5/29)

Canadian Team Wins KSC-Based Lunabotics Challenge (Source: CBC News)
Students from Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, have won NASA's Lunabotics competition, beating out rivals from 40 other universities around the world. The eight-member team of fourth-year mechanical engineering students won the competition with a lunabot that collected 237.4 kilograms of synthetic lunar material.

The goal of the competition was to design and build a remote-controlled excavator called a lunabot that can dig and deposit as much of the material, called lunar regolith simulant, as possible in 15 minutes. The University of North Dakota came in second with a lunabot that collected 172.2 kilograms and West Virginia University placed third with a device that collected 106.4 kilograms. (5/29)

Japan Envisions Lunar Beamed-Energy Project (Source: Daily Mail)
It sounds like something out of science fiction - a huge swathe of the moon covered with solar panels to beam captured energy back to Earth. But plans to turn the moon into a gigantic mirrorball manned by robots to provide all the Earth's energy came a step closer to reality today when they were unveiled by Japanese scientists.

The ambitious project would result in 13,000 terawatts of continuous solar energy being transmitted back to receiving stations on Earth, either by laser or microwave. Supplying the Earth with power: The ambitious plans would result in robot vehicles being used to construct the huge strip of panels to capture solar energy.

The plans were unveiled by Japanese construction giant Shimizu Corporation's research division, and would result in a 6,800 mile-long band stretching around the light side of the moon's equator. It would measure up to 248 miles in width and feature 12 mile-wide antennae to transmit the power. Click here. (5/29)

Hardened Solar Panels Ready to Power Juno to Jupiter (Source:
Inside a pristine clean room just outside the gate to the Kennedy Space Center, engineers casting brilliant beams of light on NASA's Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft finished checking the power efficiency of its 18,600 solar cells last week. Technicians also carefully deployed the probe's three solar panels to make sure they're ready for flight.

Juno has three solar panels to generate electricity. The arrays will be folded up for launch, then unfurled like an accordion moments after the spacecraft leaves its Atlas rocket in space. Fully deployed, each wing measures about 9 feet wide and 29 feet long. One array has a magnetometer boom on the end for one of Juno's research investigations. (5/29)

Mars and Moon Mauled Early On (Source: USA Today)
Back when our solar system was being formed, the cosmic void was filled with (rather large) planetary "embryos," each one some 600 to 3,100 miles wide, formed from the disk of dust and gas surrounding the sun at its birth some 4.6 billion years ago. They roamed around in a planetary roller derby, where a collision between one Mars-sized embryo and the early Earth likely led to the formation of the moon, about 60 to 150 million years after the solar system's start. (5/29)

New Mexico Spaceport Experiments Boost STEM Education (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Students at Mesa Middle School in Las Cruces wanted to see if it was possible to send text messages to a cell phone or a satellite phone aboard a rocket as it is blasting into space. Aztec High students from the Four Corners region wanted to find out if a New Mexico chile would heat up or get roasted in space. Middle school students from El Paso wanted to test the effects of microgravity on a marshmallow.

Some 1,200 visitors, including students from New Mexico, Arizona and Texas gathered at Spaceport America last week for the third student launch put on by the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium with NASA funding. Students have been readying their experiments for weeks in preparation for Friday's launch. (5/29)

Endeavour Boosts International Space Station Altitude (Source: Florida Today)
Shuttle Endeavour's digital autopilot just fired the ship's smallest steering thrusters in a series of cannon-like bursts, hauling the International Space Station into a higher orbit. The 14-minute maneuver boosted the station's altitude 3,100 feet -- a little more than a half mile -- the result of a change of velocity of about three-quarters of a mile-per-hour. (5/29)

Astronauts to Try New Spaceship Docking System (Source:
Astronauts on NASA's shuttle Endeavour will perform an unprecedented maneuver at the International Space Station overnight Sunday, when they undock from the outpost, then return again to try out a Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation (STORRM). The test includes a new docking camera and navigation system specifically designed for rendezvous and docking operations on next-generation U.S. spacecraft. (5/29)

Shuttle Astronauts Bid Farewell to Space Station (Source: AP)
The astronauts on NASA's next-to-last shuttle flight floated out of the International Space Station on Sunday and then closed the hatch behind them, after one final round of warm wishes and embraces. Shuttle commander Mark Kelly said the 1 1/2 weeks of joint flight went well. He was the last to leave the space station, lingering for a few seconds with the three space station residents. (5/29)

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