August 23, 2011

Space Entrepreneurs May Hold Fate of ISS (Source: New Scientist)
"It is likely that ISS will be extended beyond the current time frame and such extension may involve some public-private partnership," says George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO. "ISS is both an exciting destination in itself and a base for future deep-space operations. Virgin Galactic would certainly be interested in participating in ISS in the future should national agencies be open to the conversation," he says.

Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas, which has built an expandable Kevlar-based space station module, is currently working on two ISS-related deals. Bigelow director Mike Gold, a member of the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, says the firm is in "advanced discussions" with the commercial Japanese Manned Space Systems Corporation (JAMSS) - which operates the Kibo module on the ISS for the Japanese Space Agency JAXA - to provide it with an orbiting habitat.

The module could be rented out as an ISS storage unit, making the station less dependent on frequent resupply flights, says Hiroshi Kikuchi of JAMSS. To show that the modules are capable of safe, crewed operation, Bigelow is also negotiating with NASA to attach one to a US-owned ISS module. This commercial activity comes as China prepares to launch its own space station. The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said this week that it believes it is critical to keep the ISS aloft so China's station isn't the only one come the 2020s. (8/23)

Russia Grounds Rockets After Launch Failure (Source: AFP)
Russia on Tuesday grounded its workhorse Proton-M rockets after the latest in a string of launch mishaps put a prized telecommunications satellite into the wrong orbit. Thursday's accident has already reportedly prompted an angry Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to cancel a government meeting on space issues and marks another blow to an industry reeling from five failed missions in nine months.

The scale of Russia's current space problems was underscored when the first discovery of the missing craft was reported by observers at NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), the bi-national US and Canadian command that was the Soviets' main rival during the Cold War. The Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) said the "temporary" grounding was caused by the malfunction during Thursday's launch of an upper booster that Russia also uses in military satellite missions. (8/23)

United Launch Alliance Officials Hopeful to Produce More Delta 2 Rockets (Source: WAAY)
United Launch Alliance employees could soon be working on new rockets for space. NASA is considering launching a few Delta 2 rockets for climate research later this decade. ULA is already planning on launching a Delta 2 rocket out of Florida in September as part of NASA's Grail mission. (8/23)

Senators: $340 Million for KSC a "Misallocation" (Source: WOFL)
Five senior Republican senators have taken aim at $340 million dollars of upgrades to prepare Kennedy Space Center for future launches of a heavy lift rocket. If the senators are successful in redirecting the money away from KSC and towards other space centers, Dale Ketcham says, "It would turn KSC into all but a ghost town."

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby called the $340 million dollars a "misallocation of funds," because the money is budgeted for development and testing of a new heavy lift rocket to explore beyond earth orbit. At Kennedy Space Center, the money is being used to upgrade the launch facility to launch the next generation rocket. Ketcham says Nelson may need to form a coalition in the senate to fight back against the five senators.

"I think these senators are attempting to use that kerfuffle to go after the meat and potatoes of what Kennedy Space Center is" said Ketcham. "It's a real threat." Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said the five senators have "incorrect information about improvements at Kennedy Space Center." He justified the $340 million dollar upgrades at KSC because the work will "allow the heavy-lift rocket that is being developed to launch." (8/22)

Space Over Time (Source: MIT Technology Review)
Human exploration is the most visible use of spaceflight, but business and defense satellites fill the sky. Of the 7,000 spacecraft that have been launched into orbit or beyond, more than half were defense satellites used for such purposes as communication, navigation, and imaging. (The Soviet Union sent up a huge number, partly because its satellites tended to be much shorter-lived than those from the United States.)

In the 1970s, private companies began increasingly adding to the mix, ­launching satellites for telecommunications and broadcasting. This graphic groups payloads by the nationality of the owner. A satellite, a capsule of cosmonauts, or a deep-space probe would each count as one payload. Click here. (8/23)

Pointless Politics is America’s New Space Program (Source: State Press)
We may not be going to the moon anymore, but NASA is not finished exploring the universe. The space agency is working on the James Webb Space Telescope, which can see clearer and further into the universe than its predecessor, the Hubble telescope. The telescope is costly, as most new technologies are, and has gone over way budget.

Now Congress is looking at pulling the plug on the new telescope in the new budget plan for NASA, which cuts funding in all areas of NASA, but in particular calls for the cancellation of the James Web telescope. One and a half billion dollars seems like a lot of money, but cutting one week off the Afghanistan war would save the U.S. much more than the total cost of the telescope.

The people in charge of this country do not see the potential this telescope has to teach us about our universe, and in turn ourselves. Our very beginnings, the start of life is within the scope of this telescope, but it’s a little pricey and Congress just isn’t willing to spend that money. They’d rather spend it on tax cuts for corporate jet owners and pointless quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. (8/2)

NASA Probes Aim to Help Explain the Origins of Moon and Earth (Source: Washington Post)
NASA plans to launch two unmanned probes on Sep. 8 to help answer questions about the origins of the moon and Earth. The GRAIL mission is intended to help answer questions about how the moon and the Earth came into being, the temperature conditions at various points in the history of the solar system, and the composition of the moon, from crust to core. (8/23)

13,000 Mph to Zero in 7 Minutes? No Problem, NASA Says (Source: Daily Press)
For NASA engineer Dick Powell, 11 years of labor will boil down to seven minutes. That's how long it should take Curiosity, the latest Mars rover, to enter that planet's atmosphere and begin looking for clues of life. The size of a small car, Curiosity contains more scientific capabilities than the three previous rovers — Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity — combined. NASA hopes it will advance knowledge of the planet's climate, geology and atmosphere. (8/23)

NRL Set to Launch Experimental TacSat-4 Spacecraft From Alaska Spaceport (Source: NRL)
The Naval Research Laboratory's Tactical Satellite IV (TacSat-4) is scheduled to launch from the Alaska Aerospace Corporation's Kodiak Launch Complex on Sep. 27, aboard an Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur-IV+ launch vehicle. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) sponsored the development of the payload and the first year of operations. The Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office funded the launch which is managed by the Space Development and Test Directorate (SD), a directorate of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). (8/22)

Super-Earth Spotted on the Edge of Habitable Zone (Source: USA Today)
The Extrasolar Planets Catalogue now lists 573 planets orbiting nearby stars and international astronomer teams are vying to claim the first Earth-like inhabitable planet seen orbiting a star in our sun's neighborhood. Upping the exoplanet ante by bidding on another possible habitable planet, the team at Germany's Max Planck Institute reports a planet 3.6 times as massive as Earth orbits the star HD 85512. HD 85512 is about 69% the size of the sun and is roughly 36.23 light years away. (8/22)

NASA Picks 3 Pioneering Technologies for Deep Space Travel (Source:
NASA has picked a deep space atomic clock, a giant solar sail design and a novel laser communications system as the must-have technologies to help future space exploration, agency officials announced on Aug. 22. NASA plans to pump a total of $175 million into three demonstration missions — one for each pioneering technology — with launches anticipated by 2015 or so. (8/22)

The Dirt on Mars' Soil: More Suitable for Life Than Thought (Source:
The soil on Mars may be more capable of supporting life than previously thought, a new study suggests. Researchers have long suspected that the Martian surface is packed full of oxidizing compounds, which could make it difficult for complex molecules like organic chemicals — the building blocks of life as we know it — to exist. But the new study, which analyzed data gathered by NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander, suggests that's not the case.

"Although there may be some small amounts of oxidants in the soil, the bulk material is actually quite benign," said lead study author Richard Quinn of NASA's Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. "It's very similar to moderate soils that we find on Earth." (8/22)

Evidence for Mars Floods All Dried Up? (Source: New Scientist)
Lava, not water, may have carved the biggest channels on Mars. Ever since NASA's Mariner 9 spacecraft beamed back the first images of the channels in the 1970s, most people have assumed they were created by massive floods. But David Leverington of Texas Tech University says flowing water would have left behind much more sediment than is seen. There are also few minerals that form in liquid water present.

Lava, however, is known to have carved big channels on the moon. And Leverington points out that some of the channels on Mars start on the flanks of volcanoes and end in large deposits of solidified lava. Kelin Whipple of Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe agrees that lava probably carved the huge channels, such as Kasei Valles (shown). He says the study calls into question the case for huge volumes of water – and possibly an ocean – on ancient Mars. (8/22)

NASA to Share Telescope Cost (Source: Nature News)
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is perilously overbudget and under threat of cancellation, but Nature has learned that it may be offered a financial lifeline. The flagship observatory is currently funded entirely through NASA's science division; now NASA is requesting that more than $1 billion in extra costs be shared 50:50 with the rest of the agency. The request reflects administrator Charles Bolden's view, expressed earlier this month, that the telescope is a priority not only for the science program, but for the entire agency. (8/22)

Last Shuttle Main Engine Removed at KSC (Source: Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center technicians this morning removed a space shuttle main engine from an orbiter for the last time. The last engine out: Unit No. 2047, one of the three that help propel Atlantis into orbit July 8 on the 135th shuttle launch. The engine flew on 15 missions. (8/22)

We Need to Talk About Aliens (Source: Guardian)
"No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelli
Linkgences greater than man's." So starts H G Wells's 1898 novel The War of the Worlds, which continues with a military invasion by Martians. While contact with aliens may be a common theme in science fiction, could it also be a serious topic in science?

Indeed it could. Ever since 1960 with the first serious search for radio transmissions from other civilizations, scientists have been thinking about what would happen if evidence for ET were found. Examples of their efforts include the 2010 Royal Society conference on "The detection of extra-terrestrial life and the consequences for science and society".

Last week the Guardian reported on a recent paper led by Seth Baum of Pennsylvania State University on this topic, categorizing some of the possible consequences – ranging from beneficial through neutral to harmful. So what's the point? We have never seen these Little Green Men, so why expend effort thinking about what might happen? Click here. (8/22)

Irene Advances GRAIL Launch Preps (Source: Florida Today)
NASA plans to shield two moon-bound NASA spacecraft within a protective cover ahead of schedule as part of preparations for Hurricane Irene's potential brush with the Space Coast late this week. The GRAIL mission's twin spacecraft, targeted for launch Sept. 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, are expected to be encapsulated in a payload fairing Tuesday instead of Thursday at Launch Complex 17B.

Based on current forecasts, the United Launch Alliance Delta II Heavy rocket is expected to remain in place inside its vertical processing tower through the storm event. Kennedy Space Center today officially entered "Hurricane Condition IV," its preliminary level of storm preparations that is triggered when sustained winds of at least 58 mph are forecasted to arrive with 72 hours. (8/22)

Has Earth Brand™ Life Seeded the Galaxy? (Source: Discovery)
Despite the fact that, for now, the panspermia mechanism is purely hypothetical, there's lots of fun ideas about how life may hop from planet-to-planet. In an effort to explain how life was spawned on Earth, scientists have looked at other solar system planets -- such as Mars -- as possible sources for the terrestrial biology we know and love -- or, as I like to call it, Earth Brand™ Life.

However, more recently, scientists have been eying Earth as the source for life on other worlds. Wouldn't it be odd that if we detected life on Mars, we find it has a distinct (terrestrial) flavor? Today, a study published by Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) researchers reveals that Earth Brand™ Life might not have only rained down on neighboring planets, it may have the potential to spread further afield.

In a nutshell, one version of panspermia goes like this: when a sizable meteorite slams into a planetary body, pieces of the planet's crust may be blasted into space after being given the energy to attain "escape velocity" from that planet's gravity. The smaller the planet, the lower the escape velocity, so less energy is needed to blast bits of said planet into space. (8/22)

Russians Unveil Space Hotel (Source: CNN)
"Getting away from it all" may be a travel marketing cliché, but the phrase might take on a whole new meaning come 2016. Russian firm Orbital Technologies plans to open the first space hotel in history in five year's time. The space hotel, or "Commercial Space Station," as it's officially called, will float 250 miles above Earth.

The hotel can accommodate a maximum of seven people at a time. To check in, tourists will have to undergo special training that can take up to three months, depending on the type of spacecraft they fly to the hotel. The firm says that stays can range from three days to six months. Spending your vacation in space will no doubt inspire travel stories like no other, but what's there to do once you're sealed in up there? (8/22)

NASA Might Be Open to Boosting Whistleblower Protections (Source: WIRED)
Under attack for leaving whistleblowers out to dry, NASA has tentatively signaled that it’s open to changing its policies. “We believe that strongly enforcing existing protections is not something to be embarrassed about,” said NASA spokesperson Bob Jacobs. “That said, if NASA’s science community wants to consider the pros and cons of advancing additional protections, we would not discourage such a process.”

Though Jacobs’ words are restrained, they represent a change in NASA’s position towards criticisms raised after their new science integrity plan was publicized by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a government watchdog group. NASA sent its plan to the White House in response to a 2009 call for policies to explicitly protect federal scientists from financial and political pressures.

During the Bush administration, such interferences distorted scientific information and fact-gathering efforts on dozens of issues, from stem cells to the safety of drinking rocket fuel-tainted water. Political appointees altered reports on NASA’s climate research. (8/22)

Developer Backs Out of NASA Park in Colorado (Source: Colorado Springs Gazette)
A Minneapolis developer chosen to create a new Colorado business park to cultivate innovative technology has backed out of the project. The Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology announced Monday that United Properties ended its exclusivity agreement for Aerospace and Clean Energy Manufacturing and Innovation Park at the former Agilent Technologies campus in Loveland.

United Properties President Frank Dutke says the company withdrew from the project over concerns of available credit tenancy and acceptable financing terms. The goal of the 167-acre business park is to turn NASA-controlled patents into products. The association spearheading the project will continue to develop the park, which they say has significant tenant interest. Once developed, the association says the park could house up to 70 businesses and create up to 10,000 jobs statewide. (8/22)

Aerojet Brings a Boost of Confidence to Huntsville Area (Source: Huntsville Times)
Top officials from California-based Aerojet were in Huntsville for last week's Space and Missile Defense Conference, and they brought something with them that hasn't been seen around these parts recently: optimism. Aerojet is expanding its presence here and will announce its plans to move to another location in town in the next few weeks.

Why? "We believe the country is going to be committed to human spaceflight," said Julie van Kleeck, vice president of Space and Launch Systems. "We're setting up a beachhead and will be expanding when NASA announces its direction (regarding the launch program)," said Rick Yezzi, the company's vice president for business development. "It's the right first step." (8/22)

NASA And Tor-Forge Books Partner In Themed Science Fiction Works (Source: NASA)
In an effort to introduce, inform and inspire readers about NASA, the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. has partnered with Tor-Forge Books to develop and publish a series of science-fiction-themed books. Referred to as "NASA Inspired Works of Fiction," these books will be based on concepts pertinent to current and future agency missions and operations. (8/22)

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