June 19, 2011

U.S. Defense Contractors' Overseas Sales Surge (Source: LA Times)
Defense contractors are finding foreign markets lucrative as demand surges for weaponry made in the U.S. In 2011, U.S. firms are expected to sell $46.1 billion in military hardware to foreign markets. The increase in overseas sales comes as the U.S. government aims to trim its defense spending. However, the situation is raising concerns among advocates of arms control. (6/19)

150 People Enter U.S. Competition for Private Space Travel (Source: AP)
The Department of Defense is offering $500,000 to the winner of a competition centered on finding a way to send people into space. The department's goal is to make interstellar travel a possibility. Millionaire scientist J. Craig Venter is one of the 150 competitors who answered the government's call by entering the competition. (6/19)

NASA Seeks Solar Electric Propulsion Studies (Source: Space Daily)
NASA issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) seeking proposals for mission concept studies of a solar electric propulsion system demonstration to test and validate key capabilities and technologies for future exploration missions. Multiple studies have shown the advantages of using solar electric propulsion to efficiently transport heavy payloads from low Earth orbit to higher orbits. (6/19)

Looking for New Vistas of Space Exploration (Soure: Voice of Russia)
With the ISS slated to go out of business in 2020 the world needs to decide exactly where manned cosmonautics is going from there. The new head of Roscosmos space agency, Vladimir Popovkin, outlined what he described as a two-pronged future of manned space flights.

"First, we need to continue our exploration of the Moon. Secondly, we need a better picture of how our solar system actually came about and for this we’ll have to fly to Mars and its satellites… This year we are going to send a probe to get rock samples from one of the Red Planet’s satellites," Popovkin said.

The US, Russia, Europe, India, China and even Iran have unveiled plans of manned missions to the Moon. Some of these plans seem to have changed over the past few years, with NASA setting its sights on a mission to an asteroid and Russia focusing on unmanned flights to the Moon and the creation of a permanent base there. A manned flight to Mars still remains an overarching priority though, Popovkin said. (6/19)

Florida Residents Send Names to Mars (Source: Polk County News Chief)
More than 34,000 Floridians will go to Mars this year, attached to the back of a wheeled rover. Well, sort of. As part of an ongoing NASA initiative, the space organization invited people to submit their names online to be included on a dime-sized microchip to land on the red planet later this year.

So far, more than half-a-million Americans have submitted their names, with Californians dominating the list. Last week, Texas overtook Florida for the second place spot. Today is the deadline for submitting names to be etched on the rover, said Michelle Viotti, manager for NASA's Mars public engagement program. (6/19)

PM Orders Fresh Probe Into Controversial Antrix-Devas Deal (Source: Hindustan Times)
With an aim of identifying individuals responsible for the controversial Antrix-Devas deal, Prime Minister Singh has ordered a new inquiry by former Central Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha. The panel has been set up according to recommendations of the BK Chaturvedi committee that went into the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects of the agreement between ISRO's commercial arm Antrix and Devas.

The Sinha Committee has been asked to look into matters of individual culpability and fix responsibility, if any and submit a report by July end, the sources said. The government annuled the Antrix deal on February 17. (6/19)

America has Given Up on Exploration (Source: Star Tribune)
The time between when an American flew the first heavier-than-air flying machine until an American flew solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean: 24 years. The time between when an American flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean until an American first broke the sound barrier: 20 years. The time between when an American first broke the sound barrier until an American first flew into space: 14 years.

The time between when an American first flew into space and an American walked on the moon: Eight years. The estimated time between when an American last walked on the moon and a man may be ready to return to the moon: 60 years. In other words, it took us 66 years to go from the dunes of Kitty Hawk to the plains of Mare Tranquillitatis, yet almost the same time between Apollo 17 and when the next person might continue with this exploration.

In all likelihood, as well, the next person to walk on the moon will not be an American; rather, he or she will most likely be Chinese, Russian or Indian. This is a national disgrace. Editor's note: Some would say the Chinese, Russians, or Indians will have come in second place (by several decades) in the race to the moon, while the U.S. focuses on other destinations. (6/19)

NASA Pioneer Optimistic About Space Future (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Bernard Harris, who in 1995 became the first black astronaut to conduct a spacewalk, has devoted much of his post-NASA career to increasing the interest of children in science through The Harris Foundation. With the end of the space shuttle program imminent, Harris talked with science writer Eric Berger about the future of humans in space, science education and why both are important.

Q. What are your thoughts on human spaceflight with the date of the last space shuttle launch scheduled less than three weeks from now? A. Certainly it is the end of a wonderful era. I flew on Columbia and then on Discovery. On one hand it is kind of sad to see the end, but on the other hand I think we've got some great opportunities in front of us. Click here to read the interview. (6/19)

NASA Spacecraft Coming to Challenger Learning Center (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
NASA’s next generation deep-space exploration module, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), will be making a stop at the Challenger Learning Center this week. The spacecraft is a full-scale flight test vehicle that was used for MPCV’s launch abort system flight test last year in New Mexico.

The Challenger Learning Center will host the test spacecraft for a two-day layover Friday and Saturday before the vehicle heads east toward its final destination at the Operations & Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center. (6/19)

Astrium Efficiency Initiative To Trim Workforce (Source: Space News)
The Astrium space hardware and services division of Europe’s EADS aerospace giant expects to be able to reinvest the 400 million euros ($560 million) in annual savings from a corporate-streamlining effort into self-financed research and offering better prices to its customers, Astrium Chief Executive Francois Auque said June 18.

Auque said the streamlining effort is designed to result, in 2015, in an Astrium that is leaner in middle management and what he called “bureaucracy,” by which he said he meant jobs that do not directly contribute to Astrium’s product and service portfolio. Some 1,000 Astrium employees and 1,000 subcontracting positions will be eliminated. (6/19)

Orbital’s Top Lobbyist To Join SpaceX (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp.’s top lobbyist, Mark Bitterman, is leaving the Virginia-based satellite and rocket builder for rival SpaceX, according to officials at both companies. Bitterman, a 19-year-veteran of Orbital Sciences, is stepping down as senior vice president of government relations effective June 17 to join SpaceX’s 10- to 15-person Washington office in mid-July. He will run the Hawthorne, Calif.-based rocket startup’s Capitol Hill activities, these officials said. (6/18)

EDA, ESA To Sign Cooperation Pact (Source: Defense News)
The European Defense Agency (EDA) is set to sign an administrative agreement with the European Space Agency (ESA) at the Paris Air Show on June 20 to improve cooperation between the two agencies. In broad terms, the EDA aggregates security and defense requirements for its 26 member states, while the ESA does the same for civilian requirements for its member states.

The arrangement will include identifying capability gaps that could be filled by space assets in carrying out EU policies (such as Common and Security Defense Capability missions on the military side) and looking at opportunities for pooling and sharing. (6/16)

Air Force Embraces Small Satellites As Budget Outlook Grows Dim (Source: National Defense)
Building, launching and supporting space-based systems is one of the most expensive tasks the U.S military and intelligence communities undertake. With the federal budget expected to shrink in the coming years, Air Force officials said they are already looking at ways to maintain the capabilities they must deliver to the armed services.

The command must deliver an array of services to the armed forces including GPS, communications, weather satellites and space-based sensors. The area of operations it must monitor — the beginnings of space some 100 miles above the Earth’s surface up to where the highest satellites orbit about 24,000 miles is about 73 trillion cubic miles, Shelton said. “There is no question that there will be more demand for these capabilities, not less,” he added. (6/18)

Analysis: LightSquared's Options Include Deal with Sprint, Bid for TerreStar (Source: Fierce Wireless)
Now that LightSquared has been granted a two-week extension from the FCC to file a report on tests showing how much the company's L-band spectrum interferes with GPS receivers, analysts and industry watchers are speculating over what's next for the wholesale LTE startup. The company has multiple options and appears to be hedging its bets as it continues to test and collect data on the GPS interference issues.

The three main courses of action LightSquared could take include a long-rumored network-sharing deal with Sprint Nextel, a possible purchase of TerreStar Networks' assets and spectrum in bankruptcy court or a solution with the FCC to put restrictions on how much of the company's L-band spectrum LightSquared can use for its LTE buildout. (6/18)

Former Astronaut Develops Powerful Rocket Engine (Source: Voice of America)
As scientists develop plans one day to send humans to Mars, they know the journey will involve many hazards for the astronauts, including possibly many months of exposure to dangerous radiation outside Earth's magnetic field. But if they decide to use a rocket developed by former U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, the trip to the red planet might take only 39 days. The plasma rocket could be the answer to many space travel challenges. Click here. (6/18)

Pentagon Dreams of Interstellar Travel (Source: AP)
The research agency in the U.S. Defense Department that helped forster the Internet wants someone to dream up a way to send people to a star. The winner will get half a million dollars for the idea. This month 150 competitors answered the federal government's initial call for private sector cosmic ideas. Officials say some big names are among those interested. The plan is to make interstellar travel possible in about a century.

The Defense Department is known for big spending and big ideas. It devised a space-based missile defense system in the 1980s known as "Star Wars." Its new trademarked 100-year Starship Study concept comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The agency is spending a total of $1 million on the project. After presentations are made at a conference in Orlando, Florida, DARPA will decide in November who gets the money. (6/17)

NASA Rewrites Theories on Planet Mercury (Source: ITN)
NASA has collected important clues to the origin of Mercury from the first spacecraft to orbit the planet. Messenger has been able to relay tens of thousands of photographs to scientists giving them stunning views of the surface of the solar system's smallest planet.

The spacecraft has also collected extensive measurements of the chemical composition of Mercury's surface. Previous images of the planet were not as detailed as they came from flybys by satellites on their way toward the Sun and beyond. (6/17)

Does NASA Need a Philosopher? (Source: Big Think)
One of the most disappointing moments in an otherwise fairly encouraging Republican New Hampshire debate was that none of the six candidates would continue federal funding for human space flight. Newt was about "a real space program that works," but, for him, that now means privatization as the key to innovation.

My own view is that space exploration is a project that our government should believe in. So I'm taking the liberty of sharing with you a defense of that exploration and even, in a limited sense, space conquest as necessary and choiceworthy Amerian efforts that I wrote a couple of years ago. Click here. (6/17) http://bigthink.com/ideas/38900

Raytheon to Help Navy with Satellites (Source: AP)
Defense and aerospace contractor Raytheon Co. said on Thursday that it has gotten a $51.6 million U.S. Navy contract to support communications terminals for a Navy satellite program. The contract calls for Raytheon to handle requisitions, warehousing and tracking of government material. The company will also repair and modify communications equipment. Most of the work will be done in Norfolk, Va., And Chula Vista, Calif. (6/16)

Which Near-Earth Asteroid Should We Visit? (Source: Discovery)
America's next great leap into space may very well be to a Near Earth Asteroid, or NEO (not to be confused the lead character, Neo, in the Matrix series films, who gets roughly ten times as many Google hits as interplanetary NEOs.)

The scientific payoffs from such a mission include investigating the origins of the solar system, better understanding NEOs that could endanger Earth, and characterizing NEOs as space resources for propellant, life support and construction materials. This could be done by 2025 according to the Obama administration's long-term planning for NASA.

But of the tens of thousands of NEOs out there, which ones would be best to visit, optimizing fuel and ease of speeding back to Earth should anything go wrong? The name of the game in space travel is to minimize fuel requirements and maximize payload capacity. Therefore, the ideal NEO candidate should require a minimal change in the spacecraft’s speed (dubbed "delta-v") to shuttle to the asteroid's orbit. Click here. (6/17)

Poland will Become the 20th Member of European Space Agency (Source: Kosmonauta)
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has signed a degree, which will begin the accession negotiations between Poland and the European Space Agency (ESA). Depending on the results of these negotiations, Poland might become the 20th ESA member as soon as late 2012 or beginning of 2013.

Poland has been a member of PECS - Plan For European Cooperating State - since 2008, already starting its first stage of integration with the European space industry. The PECS funds available for Poland reached a level of 20 million PLN (about 5 million EUR). These funds will significantly rise once Poland joins ESA as a full member. (6/15)

A Golden Age of Exoplanet Discovery (Source: IOP)
Now that more than 550 exoplanets have been detected, and with increasingly frequent detections being announced by global teams working with space- and ground-based telescopes, we have entered a golden age of discovery.

The field has progressed from early identification of gas giants, dubbed ‘hot Jupiters’, to slightly smaller but still uninhabitable ‘Neptunes’, and now ‘super earths’; planets with a mass only five to ten times that of our Earth’s.

As researchers move ever closer to finding Earth-mass planets in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ – realms of space the correct distance from stars for orbiting planets to be at a temperature that allows the existence of water and, possibly, harbors life -- they are using techniques to analyse environments on planets thousands of light years from Earth. (6/18)

Falcone’s LightSquared Reaches Wireless Deal With Sprint (Source: New York Times)
LightSquared, the wireless broadband venture controlled by the billionaire hedge fund manager Philip A. Falcone, has reached a 15-year agreement to jointly develop and operate a 4G network with Sprint Nextel, a reprieve for a company that has come under fire recently for its wireless ambitions.

The roughly $15 billion deal would allow LightSquared to piggyback on Sprint’s network instead of having to build its own, according to a letter Mr. Falcone sent to investors in his hedge fund, Harbinger Capital Partners. For Sprint, the deal gives it a partner to bear the cost of an expensive build-out and gives it access to LightSquared’s high-speed wireless service. The exact terms of the deal are still unclear. (6/18)

India to Test Indigenous Cryogenic Stage Onboard GSLV-D5 (Source: Economic Times)
India will undertake the flight test of its indigenous cryogenic stage onboard homegrown rocket GSLV-D5 which will launch GSAT-14 by the middle of 2012. A facility for static testing of the cryogenic engine would be ready in another two months at ISRO's Liquid Propulsions Systems center (LPSC). The new thrust chamber facility for static testing would be a big boon for the LPSC. (6/18)

Editorial: Funding Cut to SETI and the Death of Curiosity (Source: LA Times)
In a country where some corporations do not pay taxes, millionaires get farm subsidies and a presidential candidate can run up a half-million-dollar tab at Tiffany's, we're deferring an attempt to answer one of our most enduring (and least inexpensive to answer) questions: Are we alone in the universe?

Certainly we don't cotton to the idea of being alone. We yearn for the big signal from the stars, the cosmic hail. When Stephen Hawking warns us against contacting E.T. because we might end up invaded by Klingons, we argue about it around the water cooler. We thrill to "Contact" and "District 9" and play video games featuring tentacled aliens.

Yet we're surprisingly unwilling to put our money where our imaginations want to roam. News that the Allen Telescope Array is "hibernating" — a curiously biological term for shutting down 42 radio telescopes designed to listen for signs of life from other worlds — raises questions about our true commitment to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. (6/18)

Small Observation Satellite Launched From Iran (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Iran announced it launched its second homemade satellite into orbit aboard a Safir missile Wednesday, an achievement likely to draw the ire of Western governments as evidence Iran's long-range missile weapons capability is maturing. The satellite, named Rasad, will take images of Earth and transmit them to ground stations, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

Rasad, which means observation, weighed about 33.7 pounds when it blasted off on a Safir rocket, the state-run IRNA reported. Official news reports did not disclose the launch time, but liftoff likely occurred around 0930 GMT (5:30 a.m. EDT) from a remote military base in northern Iran. (6/17)

NASA's New Rocket Looks a Lot Like its Old One (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
As soon as next week, NASA will announce the design for its next big rocket, and anyone who has seen the space shuttle should recognize the key pieces — as the vehicle includes much of the same 30-year-old technology.

Like the shuttle, the new rocket will use a giant fuel tank and a pair of booster rockets. The major difference is that the airplane-like orbiter is gone, replaced by a new Apollo-like crew capsule atop the fuel tank, according to industry sources and internal NASA documents.

That NASA selected this model is not a complete surprise: a 2010 law all but requires agency engineers to reuse shuttle parts or remnants from the now-defunct Constellation moon program, and the design does that. But it also commits the agency's future to hardware — like the main engines taken from the space shuttle — that was designed in the 1970s. (6/17)

NASA's Path to the Future is 'Clear,' Panel Says (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA has a "clear path" to the future and times will be good again one day at Kennedy Space Center — even though the 30-year space-shuttle program ends in July and the agency has not yet revealed the next goal for its manned spaceflight program. That was the unanimous opinion of a panel that included U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, and KSC Director Robert Cabana.

"There is a perception that we do not have a clear path," Nelson said. "The fact is … there is a clear path forward." The path he described, laid out in the NASA authorization bill he co-sponsored last fall, involves: a blossoming commercial space flight program, largely at KSC; evolution of KSC as a multiuse spaceport; development of a NASA heavy-lift rocket; and increasing space and aeronautics R&D and space-vehicle construction at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

Cabana said direct employment at Kennedy will slip from about 15,000 to about 8,200 by the end of this year — not including thousands more jobs disappearing from contractors' centers outside the space center's gates. But he said it should climb back to about 10,000 by 2016 or 2017, and then stabilize. (6/18)

KSC Anchors Prime Political Real Estate for 2012 Election (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
During a panel discussion on Florida's future in space, UCF's Dale Ketcham warned that NASA's $18.5 billion budget will continue to be vulnerable to cuts. He said that makes it urgent to turn the space program into a front-burner issue during the 2012 presidential election.

Florida is a swing state, he noted, and the Interstate-4 corridor is the swing portion of Florida. And KSC's future is the biggest federal issue in the corridor, affecting thousands of potential voters. "It's not rocket science. It's simple political math," Ketcham said. "This is quite frankly the single most important piece of political real estate in a presidential election." (6/18)

Atlantis Payload Teams Prep Atlantis for Shuttle Resupply (Source: Florida Today)
The last heavy load a shuttle will haul into space was hoisted high above a Kennedy Space Center launch pad Friday, three weeks before its planned blastoff with Atlantis. The roughly 25,000-pound cargo container Atlantis will fly to the International Space Station next month is a relatively routine payload by shuttle mission standards.

But its significance may be felt long after Atlantis returns home to end the shuttle program, after a 12-day flight targeted to launch July 8. NASA wants to stock the station with enough supplies to last a year, so a crew of six can continue research in orbit even if new commercial spacecraft aren't ready to deliver cargo as planned early next year. (6/18)

Black Holes Dating to the Early Universe Uncovered (Source: LA Times)
Astronomers have discovered a hidden collection of supermassive, growing black holes dating back to the early universe — showing, for the first time, that black holes populated the cosmos far earlier than thought. The findings could help scientists understand how these black holes are born, how big they grow and how galaxies develop with them.

"We know the nearest galaxies, like our own Milky Way, all have supermassive black holes in the center," said lead author Ezequiel Treister. "And the question is, how did they form? How did they get there?" Click here to read the article. (6/17)

Fallen Astronaut Trained In Bartow, Florida (Source: The Ledger)
In June 1965, Edward White did something no other American had done. He stepped out of a spacecraft and into space. That first spacewalk laid the groundwork for many of the accomplishments that followed at NASA, from the moon landings up through to the construction of today's International Space Station. And for White, it had roots right here in Polk County.

In 1950, however, the Air Force contracted with a private company to make Bartow Air Base a flight training center for military pilots. White arrived in Bartow in 1952 for his first six months of flight training. While he was here, he married Patricia Eileen Finegan. (White was actually one of two future astronauts who trained at Bartow Air Base in the 1950s. The other was Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.) (6/18)

CSF Issues White Paper on Use of Space Act Agreements (Source: CSF)
For the next phase of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program, following CCDev Rounds 1 and 2, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation strongly supports the use of Space Act Agreements (SAAs) under NASA’s Other Transaction Agreements (OTA) authority, rather than a Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR)-based approach. SAA’s are the best means for NASA to support commercial development of systems to transport crew and cargo to the Space Station.

Over the last 30 years, the Air Force and NASA have made numerous attempts to replace some of the capabilities of the Space Shuttle, such as satellite launch, cargo transport, and human transport. Examples include Ares I, COTS Cargo, Orbital Space Plane (OSP), VentureStar/X-33, Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), National Launch System (NLS), and X-30/National Aerospace Plane (NASP). The contrast is stark: of these programs, only the programs that used OTAs resulted in new launch vehicles successfully flying to orbit. (6/15)

Dark Matter Escapes its Dragnet Once Again—Or Does It? (Source: Scientific American)
The ­generic line on dark matter is that nobody knows what it is because nobody has seen it. The former claim remains unassailable—any number of hypothetical particles could be dark matter. As to whether or not anybody has seen it, scientists are as divided as ever, and the discourse among rival dark matter hunters is getting chippy.

The controversy centers on an Italy-based research group that runs DAMA, a particle detector that the researchers have claimed for years is picking up dark matter particles. But the group has been secretive about its data, critics say, and physicists have by and large remained skeptical. Indeed, in April a top experimental collaboration known as XENON100 reported findings that appeared to rule out the possibility that DAMA’s signal came from dark matter. (6/17)

NASA Will Compete Space Launch System Boosters (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA has selected a shuttle-derived vehicle with two existing liquid-oxygen/liquid-hydrogen stages as its reference design for the heavy-lift Space Launch System that Congress has ordered it to build for exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit, but it will hold a competition between liquid- and solid-fuel boosters to get it off the pad.

Administrator Charles Bolden on Wednesday endorsed the basic concept developed by launch vehicle experts at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), and sent it on to the White House Office of Management and Budget for confirmation. Essentially, the latest SLS approach tweaks the earlier “reference vehicle design” selected in January as a starting point for additional analysis. Both stages would use the LOX/hydrogen engines selected in January.

The new wrinkle since then would be a competition for the strap-on boosters needed to get the cryogenic main stage under way, with a kerosene engine added to allow the heavy lifter to “evolve” to the 130-metric-ton capability that Congress ordered in the 2010 NASA reauthorization legislation. (6/17)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory Detects Superfast Solar Waves (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Scientists using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument on board NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) have detected quasi-periodic waves in the low solar corona that travel at speeds as high as 2,000 kilometers per second (4.5 million miles per hour). These observations provide, for the first time, unambiguous evidence of propagating fast mode magnetosonic waves at such high speeds in the Sun’s low atmosphere. (6/15)

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