June 23, 2011

Moon Dust Found At St. Louis Auction House (Source: KMOX)
It came from outer space, but ended up for sale at a St. Louis auction house. Then the feds stepped in. “There have been rumors about this material being on the black market for years,” said U.S Attorney Richard Callahan. “But no one knew for sure.” The U.S Attorney’s Office in St. Louis says it has returned what it believes is moon dust from the Apollo 11 Missions to Johnson Space Center.

Callahan says there are no charges pending against the auction house, Regency-Superior Auctions, nor against the woman who tried to sell it. The name of the consignor is not being released. She apparently acquired it from her late husband, but it’s not clear how he got it.

Callahan believes the lunar soil is part of a batch smuggled out of NASA by an employee. “It was in a piece of tape, protected under heavy plastic,” explains Callahan. “We’re talking about a very very small amount.” That piece of tape was apparently later sold to a German national who divided it up in to smaller pieces and sold it as space memorabilia. (6/23)

LISA Pathfinder To Proceed Despite Cost Growth (Source: Space News)
Europe’s space science policymaking body on June 22 agreed to cover new cost increases to the LISA Pathfinder science satellite rather than cancel the mission, which is nearly 100 percent over its initial projected budget, European Space Agency (ESA) Science Director Alvaro Gimenez said June 23.

Continued problems with two technologies aboard LISA Pathfinder have pushed the mission’s launch into 2014 instead of 2013. The technological challenges, combined with the delayed launch, have added 70 million euros ($100 million) to Lisa Pathfinder’s total cost, which is now estimated to be 400 million euros. (6/23)

Modified GT Sets World Speed Record at KSC (Source: NASA)
A modified Ford GT set a world record during testing June 16 and 17 when Johnny Bohmer reached 223 mph on the runway of NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility. A Guinness World Records judge authenticated the accomplishment, confirming Bohmer's place in automotive history, along with Kennedy's role in the achievement. Bohmer's Performance Power Racing modified the car and was testing the suspension and aerodynamic coatings at the runway. (6/23)

NASA Suspends Payments on Launch Contract with Orbital (Source: Space News)
NASA is suspending payments on a nearly $70 million contract with Orbital Sciences Corp. for launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2 environmental satellite aboard a Taurus XL rocket, which failed in its last two missions. Orbital remains under contract to build OCO-2, a duplicate of the $200 million carbon-mapping satellite destroyed in a 2009 Taurus XL launch failure.

However, the $68.1 million NASA had budgeted for a Feb. 2013 Taurus XL launch of OCO-2 has been “temporarily put on hold” as the agency evaluates “launch services options for the OCO-2 mission,” according to NASA’s 2011 initial operating plan. NASA’s Earth science chief said he would be unwilling to put another satellite on the rocket until it proves itself in flight. “I would go more than recertified, personally,” Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, said in May. “I would go demonstrated.” (6/23)

Microlensing Finds a Rocky Planet (Source: Space Daily)
The addition of another technique, gravitational microlensing, promises to find planets down to 10 Earth masses, much farther out from their parent stars. Using this technique, a team of astronomers has just announced the detection of a rocky planet in this range.

According to the Extrasolar Planet Encyclopaedia, astronomers have discovered 13 planets using gravitational microlensing. The newly announced one, MOA-2009-BLG-266Lb, is estimated to be just over 10 times the mass of Earth and orbits at a distance of 3.2 AUs around a parent star with roughly half the mass of the Sun.

The new finding is important because it is one of the first planets in this mass range that lies beyond the "snow line", the distance during formation of a planetary system beyond which ice can form from water, ammonia, and methane. (6/23)

Rockefeller, Hutchison Threaten NASA with Subpoena for Documents (Source: Sen. Rockefeller)
"Over the past few weeks, [NASA] has repeatedly refused to provide documents the Senate Commerce Committee needs to conduct appropriate oversight of your agency. We are writing to inform you that if you do not provide these documents to us by 6:00 p.m. on Monday, June 27, 2011, Chairman Rockefeller will issue a subpoena requiring the production of these docuements." Click here. (6/23)

TEA Party Space Platform (Source: SpaceRef)
"Our goal is make space policy a national issue. We want to educate Americans and our elected officials that we have a space economy and not just a space program, and every district and state can participate. We need to move away from calling a state a 'space state' or a district a 'space district'" stated Isaac Mooers, TPIS Director of Operations. "We have a platform that will grow all of America's potential in space. We ask each elected official, and those running for office, to review the TEA Party Space Platform and pledge to vote in line with this platform." Click here. (6/23)

ESA: Space Nations Must Unite on Transport Policy (Source: Flight Global)
Europe's drive for technological non-dependence in space will not extend to manned spaceflight capabilities, says European Space Agency director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain. Dordain restated his conviction that a key lesson of the International Space Station experience is that ISS partners have made a "collective mistake" in failing to devise a common transport policy.

The result, he said, is that following the final flight of the US Space Shuttle later this year there will be just one route to the space station, via Soyuz. And that, he said, means "the situation today is uncomfortable. We run the risk of being glued to the ground." (6/23)

Canada Seeks Space Debris Solutions (Source: CTV)
Scientists believe the space-object crash rate is on the rise, and they're gathering in Quebec to try to find ways to minimize the damage. The First Orbital Debris Workshop, organized by the Canadian Space Agency, brings together stakeholders from academia and industry as well as some international partners, to discuss the issue and come up with solutions.

Nicholas Johnson, NASA chief scientist for orbital debris, and a keynote speaker at the workshop, said the U.S. space agency has been concerned about space junk since 1979, when the Orbital Debris Program Office was first established.

"Initially, we were only worried about protecting human space flight," he said. "And then as our understanding of the environment got better and the number of robotic spacecraft in space increased to where there are now about 1,000 of them, we said we need to be really worried about them as well." (6/23)

Deere Says Revised LightSquared Plan Doesn’t Solve Interference (Source: Bloomberg)
Philip Falcone’s LightSquared Inc. wireless venture will interfere with agricultural equipment even if it follows its plan to lessen interference with the U.S. global-positioning system, a Deere & Co. official said. “The LightSquared proposition would degrade most of our GPS receivers and their capability of helping the farmer in precision agriculture, as far away as 22 miles,” Ken Golden, a spokesman for world’s largest farm-equipment maker Deere, said. (6/23)

Nelson & Hutchison: Blueprint Shows Way to Next Space Frontier (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
A year and a half ago, while everybody knew the shuttle program was coming to an end, there was no consensus on a new direction for the space program. There were a lot of ideas of where to go next, but not enough funding to make it happen. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 gave us the blueprint — a way to move forward with human spaceflight and to continue exploring the next frontier.

It extended the life of the International Space Station from 2015 to 2020 and eased NASA resources away from the end of the shuttle program and toward commercial spaceflight and NASA-led development of a heavy-lift rocket for deep-space exploration.

The blueprint we ushered through the Congress last fall also will help reduce the economic impact of the shuttle's retirement. We made every effort to boost the aerospace industry and take advantage of an extremely skilled NASA workforce. We also were able to avoid huge cuts at a time when Congress is slashing across the board. (6/23)

Minuteman III Launches from Vandenberg (Source: USAF)
A scheduled unarmed operational test Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launch occurred at 6:35
a.m. June 22 from Launch Facility-10 here. Inclement downrange weather and an interruption in communication with the Airborne Launch Control System led to unprogrammed holds in the countdown. Furthermore, boats detected at different times in the hazard area resulted in additional unprogrammed holds. Still, those issues were overcome allowing for a safe launch within the established window. (6/22)

We Could be Due for a Massive Solar Storm in 2011 (Source: Seattle PI)
But before you get too worried, NASA said a fleet of spacecraft surrounding the sun warns us of solar storms within hours of when they strike. In the event of an uncommonly large storm, early-warning system would give power grids and high-tech grids more time to prepare. (6/23)

Astronaut Mark Kelly; Arizona’s Next Senator? (Source: Washington Post)
That’s the question in political circles this week. The minute Kelly, 47, announced his retirement from the Navy and NASA Tuesday, the behind-the-scenes speculation that’s been brewing for weeks went public: Will the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords run for office himself?

One of Arizona’s Senate seats is open in 2012, thanks to the retirement of Jon Kyl. Giffords has been polling way ahead of any other Democratic candidate, even amid uncertainty about her recovery. Now the name of her Gulf War vet-turned-astronaut husband is in play. Though he has not previously expressed an interest in elected office, he left an intriguing hint: “After some time off, I will look at new opportunities and am hopeful that one day I will again serve our country.” (6/23)

FAA Opportunities Could Mitigate Shuttle Impacts (Source: Daytona Beach News Journal)
This is a challenging time of transition for our space industry, but the future is far from bleak for the workers who made the space shuttle program and other NASA ventures successful. Thousands of highly skilled workers, including many in Volusia County, will be laid off when the shuttle program ends. The layoffs certainly won't help the struggling Florida economy. But hope for the future comes in the form of new aviation-related projects and budding aerospace technologies.

For instance, the growth of new technologies in the Daytona Beach area, including NextGen air-traffic control at Daytona Beach International Airport, could help buoy the regional economy. A local plan to develop aerospace businesses is in place, but depends in large part on the growth of the 90-acre research park planned by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, is pushing for major growth at the Daytona Beach International Airport and Embry-Riddle. University officials are testing satellite-based navigation systems, known as Next Gen, at the airport. This effort involves the FAA and a number of aerospace and high-tech companies. The NextGen technology could turn Daytona Beach into a "center of the 21st century aerospace technology business," as Mica said. (6/22)

Stennis Chief Promotes "Accelerator" for Mississippi Jobs (Source: Hattiesburg American)
Patrick Scheuermann, director of Stennis Space Center, visited the University of Southern Mississippi's "Accelerator" business incubator at the Trent Lott National Center. NASA awarded a $1 million grant in 2010 to the Mississippi Polymer Institute, located in the Accelerator, that helped it enhance its rapid prototyping capabilities via state-of-the-art laser scanning and 3D printing equipment.

That, in turn, may benefit the space agency as rocket-building becomes increasingly commercialized. NASA also awarded $75,000 to Southern Miss' National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security for software in sports evacuation research. Also, Stennis is planning to renovate many of its 50-year-old buildings and grow its marine and Naval operations.

One key component to its continuing development is its university presence. Southern Miss and Mississippi State University both have buildings at Stennis. Southern Miss's Business and Innovation Assistance Center, located at Stennis, develops partnerships among the university, businesses and federal agencies like NASA. NASA awarded contracts last November to two companies that have research partnerships with Southern Miss. (6/22)

Europe To Speed Galileo Satellite Deployment (Source: Aviation Week)
The European Space Agency’s Galileo program could get an extra six satellites in addition to the 18 currently funded under the €3.4 billion ($5 billion) global satellite navigation system, the European Commission says. The organization has identified €500 million in unanticipated savings for the program through 2013, after an initial estimate issued in February indicated a €1.9 billion overrun. This has lowered the overrun estimate to €1.4 billion.

A competition for the extra satellites is to be held after the launch of the first two Galileo spacecraft from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana Oct. 20. “After the launch in October, we will have with us a half-billion euros,” Tajani says. “I think at this moment it’s possible to have six new satellites.” Tajani says the second pair of Galileo spacecraft would be launched in 2012, with subsequent launches to follow every six months. (6/22)

European Space Telescopes on the Trail of ET (Source: Irish Times)
“Low Frequency Arrays (Lofar) are giant multipurpose sensor radio telescopes which can look at large portions of the sky all at once,” explains Dr Peter Gallagher. There is now a network of interconnected Lofar stations throughout Europe, 36 of which are in the Netherlands, five in Germany, one each in France, the UK and Sweden. While independently useful to all participating countries, all Lofar antennae are also linked to a super computer. Every second Lofar antennae produce 10 terabytes of data – equivalent to 265 full DVDs.

“Lofar is ‘kick-ass’ science,” says Smith. “It’s different because of the new frequency ranges it can pick up. They look like mats on the ground that use software to pinpoint where the radiation is coming from. It’s much cheaper than building large telescopes like Arecibo and is producing better results.” (6/23)

The Shape of Space Shots to Come (Source: MSNBC)
Once the shuttle Atlantis returns from its final mission, the only way to get into orbit and back for the next several years is going to be on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The landing is an experience completely different from the precise routine associated with a space shuttle touchdown: Spacefliers can't predict exactly where their parachute will take them. Heck, they actually carry handguns to ward off the wild animals on the Kazakh steppes. (6/23)

NASA’s Langley Honored for Developing ‘Space Taxi’ Design (Source: Washington Post)
Officials from a Colorado company are thanking current and former workers at NASA’s Langley Research Center for their work developing a type of ‘space taxi.’ Sierra Nevada Space Systems has won an $80 million contract to develop the Dream Chaser spacecraft. Sierra Nevada’s design is unique because it’s based largely on research conducted at Langley over the past 20 years. The company thanked NASA workers Wednesday. (6/23)

Great News for Spaceflight and Utah? (Source: Deseret News)
Fabulous news may be coming soon for the U.S. space program and Utah's aerospace industry, assuming a report on an Internet site specializing in spaceflight coverage is correct. NASA officials are preparing to announce the configuration of a new heavy lift space vehicle. NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. has reportedly agreed on a configuration of the vehicle "which is heavily derived from the retiring space shuttle."
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As nobody interested in space exploration can forget, President Obama's 2011 budget proposal tried to kill the Constellation space flight system, which would have used big boosters built by ATK in Utah. Constellation was well on its way as a replacement of the shuttle fleet. (6/23)

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