August 16, 2011

Outlook Sunny for JSC's Team of Forecasters (Source: Houston Chronicle)
For the southern region of the National Weather Service, which includes Texas, the downsizing of JSC's meteorology group from seven to two represents an opportunity. The five experienced forecasters will move to the southern region headquarters in Fort Worth to form a team of emergency responders. Their assignment will be to provide weather information to local, state and federal officials during devastating events such as floods and fires, as well as hazards such as industrial accidents. (8/16)

DNA Has an Alien Origin (Source: Cosmos)
New evidence has strengthened the case for organic-rich meteorites bringing the crucial building blocks of DNA to the early Earth. It's a debate that has spanned over 50 years - were the materials needed to form early life delivered to Earth via an extra-terrestrial source, or was that extra-terrestrial source contaminated upon arrival? (8/16)

Editorial: Nobody Does Rockets Better Than Marshall (Source: Huntsville Times)
Call it a one-stop national think tank for rockets. That is a simple way to describe Robert Lightfoot's plan to establish the National Institute for Rocket Propulsion Systems at Marshall Space Flight Center, where Lightfoot is the boss. His plan is partly an acknowledgment that for the moment the nation's priorities have changed...and that we need to preserve and continue to develop the nation's expertise in propulsion technology.

And there is no better place for it to be located than the Rocket City, where Wernher von Braun's engineers, working then for the Army, began to design and build rocket engines that sent the first U.S. satellite into space. Ultimately, the liquid-fuel rocket engines and solid-fuel motors they and contractors developed and built took Americans to the moon, a feat no other country has matched. (8/16)

Russian Official: Next Space Tourist Flight Set for 2014 (Source: M&C)
The next space tourist to visit the International Space Station (ISS) will probably depart Earth in 2014, a Russian space agency official said Monday. Construction of a Soyuz space module for the paid ride into orbit has begun and provided there is demand the mission will take place, said Vitaly Lopata, head of the aerospace company Energiya.

The corporation also has begun work on a new space project which would bring paying travelers into an orbit of the moon, Lopata told the Interfax news agency. Russian officials have called the country's space tourist programme, which since 2001 has flown nine missions to the ISS at a price of 20 to 30 million dollars per rider, an important source of funding for aerospace research and a key means of publicizing the work of astronauts. (8/16)

Growing Need for Space Trash Collectors (Source: Science News)
On April 2, for the fifth time in less than three years, the International Space Station fired its engines to dodge a piece of orbital debris that appeared on a collision path. Other spacecraft also regularly scoot out of the way of rocket and satellite debris. Such evasive action will be needed increasingly frequently, a new study finds.

Friction between the atmosphere and materials passing through it, known as drag force, offers the only natural means for culling detritus left in orbit by space launches. But the thermosphere is cooling. A resulting drop in its density is cutting this portion of the atmosphere's drag force, thereby increasing the lifetime of orbiting trash (including pieces in that heavily populated band at 800 to 1,000 kilometers). (8/16)

NASA Robot Landers Test Future Space Exploration Tech (Source:
Engineers at two separate NASA centers are hard at work developing futuristic robot landers with cutting-edge technology that could one day be used to take humans back to the moon or other destinations in the solar system. At the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston, members of the Morpheus project are gearing up for two consecutive tethered tests of their robotic lander later this month. At the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., work is continuing on Robotic Lander Development Project after a successful free-flight test in June.

The two landers are being developed as part of NASA projects to design a new generation of small, versatile robotic landers that are capable of performing science and research at a variety of destinations in the solar system. The Morpheus project resumed testing last month after upgrades were made to the lander's launch site to prevent grass fires, like the one that broke out during a tethered test on June 1, said Morpheus engineer Tim Crain. (8/16)

Participate in a Robotics Competition—in Space! (Source: OSTP)
What could possibly make an already super cool robotics competition even better? The zero-gravity environment of space! NASA and DARPA, in cooperation with the MIT, TopCoder, and Aurora Flight Sciences, recently announced the Zero Robotics competition, an event open to all high schools in the United States that form a team and complete the application process.

Zero Robotics is a student software competition that takes the idea of a robotics competition to new heights—literally. The robots are basketball-sized satellites called SPHERES, and they look like something straight out of Star Wars. The competition is kicked off by a challenging problem conjured up by DARPA and NASA After multiple rounds of simulation and ground competition, a final tournament will be held onboard the International Space Station! The 27 finalists will have their robotic programs run by an astronaut in the microgravity environment of space. (8/15)

NASA, NIA Announce Student Engineering Competition (Source: Hobby Space)
NASA is challenging university students to solve space exploration challenges. The RASC-AL (Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage) contest, sponsored by NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), seeks engineering ideas that could potentially provide solutions to issues faced by current NASA projects. Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to select one of four themes for their project: Near-Earth Object Flexible Mission Architecture Designs; Earth Orbit Debris Mitigation and Satellite Servicing Missions; Human-Focused Mars Mission Systems and Technologies; and Lunar Outpost to Settlement Architectures. Click here. (8/15)

NASA GSFC Commercial Suborbital Vehicles Workshop (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) Innovative Partnership Program (IPP) and Earth Science Division will be hosting a Commercial Suborbital Vehicles Workshop at the GSFC on Sep. 7. The purpose of the workshop is to provide information for Earth and Space scientists about these vehicles capabilities, and to examine and discuss science topics that might be conducted from these platforms. (8/15)

SpaceX To Fly To International Space Station In November (Source: Huffington Post)
SpaceX's next mission is to the International Space Station. The private rocket maker said Monday its Dragon capsule will launch on Nov. 30 on a cargo test run to the orbiting outpost. SpaceX said the launch will be followed by a station docking more than a week later. With the space shuttle fleet retired, NASA is depending on private companies like SpaceX to handle space station supply runs and astronaut rides. Until then, the space agency is paying for trips aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. (8/16)

Roskosmos to Show Advance Booster Rocket, Manned Spacecraft (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Roskosmos Federal Space Agency will show the models of an advance medium-class booster rocket with increased payload and a manned spacecraft at the 10th international air show MAKS-2011, which opens on Tuesday. The booster rocket and the spacecraft will be launched from the Vostochny cosmodrome. Director general of the Samara-based CSKB-Progress company Alexander Kirilin told Itar-Tass that the rocket's take-off mass would be 669 to 682 tons. It is a two-stage booster, capable of taking useful payloads of 23.2 tons to low orbits and up to 4.5 tons to geostationary orbits. (8/16)

Air Launch Project Remains Priority for Polyot Company (Source: Itar-Tass)
The Air Launch (Vozdushny Start) project remains a priority for the Polyot airline, its director general Anatoly Karpov said. "The project has never stopped; it is being implemented at present. For example, it envisions the setting up of a European integration center at the Munich airport. Germany was selected as the venue to accommodate the center because of the presence of a large aerospace company there and a large number of satellite producers.

"A German firm worked out a business plan and analyzed the market of launch services," Karpov said. Polyot is the only airline in Russia, which engages in launches of spacecraft from an adapted An-124 ("Ruslan") plane, in addition to passenger and cargo transportation by air. Air launches are highly effective, compared to ground-based ones, offering a flexible choice of launch trajectories and minimal environmental damage. (8/16)

Russia to Launch Remote Sensing Satellite in 1st Half of 2012 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Director of the Samara-based TsSKB Progress space-rocket enterprise Alexander Kirilin said there have been no changes in the timeframe for the launch of a Resurs-II remote sensing satellite, planned for the first half of 2012. The satellite manufacturer's launch schedule gives priority to two launches of Resurs-II units, which are superior to the previous models because of new systems of multi-spectral and hyper-spectral imaging. (8/16)

China Successfully Launches Maritime Satellite (Source: Xinhua)
China successfully launched a maritime satellite at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China at 6:57 a.m. Tuesday Beijing Time. The orbiter, Haiyang-2, was boosted by a Long March-4B carrier rocket from the launch center in the city of Taiyuan in Shanxi Province. The satellite is for the supervision and survey of the maritime environment, an important measure for prevention and reduction of maritime disasters. (8/16)

U.S. Air Force, NRO Push Industry To Shrink Price Tag (Source: Defense News)
Classified elements of the U.S. budget make it difficult to calculate the price that U.S. government agencies pay to put each satellite into orbit. Still, top defense and intelligence officials have left no doubt that the prices are higher than they would like, and they are going public with plans to bring them down.

The Air Force is scrubbing the Delta and Atlas systems for places to cut costs as it negotiates the next batch of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) launches for the military, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and NASA. Perhaps more significantly, the Air Force and NRO are drafting plans to allow national security satellites to launch on rockets built by SpaceX. (8/16)

Lost In The Galactic Core? There's a Map For That (Source: Discovery)
If you were aboard a starship capable of traveling deep into the galactic core, some 27,000 light-years from Earth, you'd be looking into a very alien volume of the Milky Way. Dense with stars, your sky would be a veritable feast of bright star clusters and thick clouds of gas. You'd better hope your vehicle's shielding is up to the task; the central region of our galaxy will be humming with radiation in the form of ionizing cosmic rays and powerful X-rays from clutches of baby stars bursting to life. Oh, and be careful not to fall into that supermassive black hole.

Welcome to the Galactic Core. Try not to get lost. With the help of astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), your journey just got easier. For the first time, the galactic core has been completely mapped using far-infrared data from the European Hershel Space Telescope. Click here. (8/16)

Vibrating Glove May Give Helping Hand to Astronauts & Surgeons (Source:
Scientists have known for decades that faint vibrations can make fingertips hypersensitive. But recent tests with the handy new glove have shown the connection between having a better sense of touch and having more nimble fingers, said Jun Ueda, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "It can be used in any case where you want to wear gloves but don't want to lose your sense of touch," Ueda said. "And it's not limited to that application. What we're seeing are possible benefits for precise assembly tasks, such as when astronauts use a space tool during a spacewalk." (8/16)

Flight Failure Won't Stop 'Mad Scientists' (Source: CNN)
Ground controllers lost contact with DARPA's hypersonic craft, called the Hypersonic Test Vehicle-2, or HTV-2, nine minutes after it separated from its Minotaur rocket. Probably the force of the hypersonic gale screaming past it as it sped through the air overcame the thrusters attempting to maintain controlled flight, and it spun out and blew apart.

DARPA only undertakes projects that have a good chance of failing -- projects that few others dare to take on. Projects like hypersonic flight. The failure is not surprising; permission to fail is what has enabled the agency's spectacular success over its 53-year history. DARPA was, in fact, America's first space agency. It was formed as a rapid response to the Soviet Union's launch of the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957 as a semi-autonomous research and development arm of the Pentagon. (8/16)

Meteor Shower May Have Been 'Caused by Earth-Threatening Comet' (Source: RIA Novosti)
A meteor shower detected in February was likely caused by an undiscovered comet that could pose a threat to the Earth, a U.S. astronomer said. The debris may have been shed by a long-period comet, said Peter Jenniskens, of the SETI Institute. He added however that astronomers did not know whether the comet "has already passed us by or is still on approach."

"The meteors are in a very compact cluster, not wider than our measurement uncertainty. They move in essentially the same orbit," he wrote in reply to questions sent by RIA Novosti. He confirmed his earlier prediction of their possible return in 2016 or 2023, and after that not again until 2076. (8/16)

The NASA Sample on the New Kanye/Jay Z Album? It's From Apollo 11 (Source: The Atlantic)
The new Kanye West and Jay Z album, Watch the Throne, brings together the two biggest stars in hip hop (sorry, Weezy) for one victory lap album. The second track features a NASA sample that's obvious but hot. About 3:18 seconds in, we get to hear the famous countdown sequence from Apollo 11, the first mission to land on the moon from 20 seconds on down. (8/15)

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