September 15, 2011

NASA's Kepler Discovers World Orbiting Two Stars (Source: NASA)
The existence of a world with a double sunset, as portrayed in the film Star Wars more than 30 years ago, is now scientific fact. NASA's Kepler mission has made the first unambiguous detection of a circumbinary planet -- a planet orbiting two stars -- 200 light-years from Earth. The planet is cold, gaseous and not thought to harbor life, but its discovery demonstrates the diversity of planets in our galaxy. Kepler detected the planet, known as Kepler-16b, by observing transits, where the brightness of a parent star dims from the planet crossing in front of it. (9/15)

American Astronautical Society Statement on NASA's SLS Decision (Source: AAS)
The American Astronautical Society welcomes NASA's plan for a heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS). AAS Executive Director Jim Kirkpatrick said: "This important announcement by NASA - coupled with the enthusiastic words of support for this new exploration launch system by a bipartisan group of Senators and Members of Congress - will assure our nation's continued progress in space. With the Space Shuttle program now complete, it is time to move forward with the steps needed to enable exploration beyond low Earth orbit; developing a heavy lift capability is an essential step." (9/15)

Bill Posey Bashes Obama for 'Lack of Vision' on Space Exploration (Source: Sunshine State News)
Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, who represents parts of the Space Coast, weighed in on NASA’s unveiling of the design of the Space Launch System. "I am encouraged that the administration has finally released the concept for the Space Launch System which can restore America’s prominence in space exploration,” said Posey. “However, there is still a lack of vision, and no clear mission. We need bold objectives and an aggressive timeline to captivate and excite Americans of all ages, and keep our nation first in space as a matter of national security.” (9/15)

XCOR, Space Expedition Curacao on a Roll as Deal Finalized, Ticket Sales Soar (Source: Parabolic Arc)
While XCOR has been busy building its first Lynx spacecraft in Mojave this summer, things have been ramped up in another hot spot, Curacao, where the plan for commercial suborbital space flights in 2014 is coming together. Space Expedition Curacao (formerly Space Experience Curacao) has sold 34 tickets and expects to reach 50 sales by the end of the year.

Ticket holders include Victoria’s Secret model Doutzen Kroes, four-time DJ of the Year Armin van Buuren, and San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulen. Charles Lurio of The Lurio Report says that total ticket sales for Lynx Mark I and II flights are approaching 100. Lurio also reports that SXC and XCOR have finalized the wet lease that will allow the Lynx March II production vehicle to fly from the Caribbean island. (9/15)

Multicolored Fireball in Sky Dazzles Southwest (Source: MSNBC)
A brilliant bright light seen streaking over the Southwestern sky Wednesday night was most likely a fragment of an asteroid that entered Earth's atmosphere, a NASA scientist said. Residents from Phoenix to Las Vegas to Southern California's coastal areas reported to local authorities and media outlets that they saw the light move quickly from west to east. (9/15)

U.S., Australia to Add Cyber Realm to Defense Treaty (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. and Australia will take the rare step on Thursday of declaring the cyber realm as part of a mutual defense treaty, meaning that a cyber attack on one could lead to a response by both nations. Defense and diplomatic chiefs from the U.S. and Australia are meeting in San Francisco some 60 years after the birth of the ANZUS military alliance, which commits Australia and the United States to support each other if one is attacked. The treaty itself states that an armed attack in the Pacific on any of the countries would require each nation to "act to meet the common danger," although there is no automatic trigger for a response. (9/15)

Senate Battle Threatens to Furlough FAA Employees Again (Source: LA Times)
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has held up the expected approval of legislation extending the funding of the Federal Aviation Administration. Coburn's move could put 80,000 FAA employees and airport construction workers on indefinite paid leave starting this weekend. But negotiators are optimistic the Senate will be able to temporarily extend FAA funding. (9/15)

LightSquared Says It Has Resolved GPS Interference Issue (Source: Reuters)
Jeff Carlisle, an executive at LightSquared, said the company has debunked concerns that its planned cellular network cannot coexist with existing GPS devices. Carlisle said LightSquared has teamed with a GPS technology firm to create a prototype device. But the company did not address whether the new plan would interfere with high-precision GPS devices used in aviation and other industries. (9/15)

Japan to Launch Satellite to Track Arctic Sea Ice (Source: RIA Novosti)
Japanese Weathernews will launch a satellite in September 2012 that will provide navigational services to ships traveling along the Russian and North American coasts in the Arctic Ocean. A 30 percent reduction in sea ice coverage over the last 30 years due to global warming has opened up the Arctic Ocean to shipping, including the shortest sea route between Europe and Asia. The satellite will be launched from the Yasny launch base in Russia's Orenburg region. The cost of development and launch will be about $1.7 million. It will circle the Earth 15 times a day. (9/15)

Got a Better Name for NASA's New Monster Rocket? NASA Wants to Know (Source: Huntsville Times)
The press conference with NASA bosses was winding down Wednesday when a reporter asked if the agency couldn't find a better name for its new rocket than Space Launch System (SLS). After all, it had been called "exciting," "the most powerful rocket in history," and a "monster" in briefings just moments earlier. Asked if NASA might come up with something more "catchy" than Space Launch System, William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said "We're all ears." (9/15)

Branson: Virgin Galactic Launch Within 12 Months (Sources: CNN, Hobby
"The rocket tests are going extremely well. And so I think that we're now on track for, you know, a launch within 12 months of today... Virgin Galactic not only hopes to put people up in space but to be able to put satellites up into space at a fraction of the cost that they've gone up in the past. And then you know one day we hope to be able to do intercontinental travel using similar technology to that that we've developed to put people into space. So an exciting few years ahead." (9/15)

What Got NASA's New Rocket Moving? Maybe Clumsy 'Sabotage' (Source: Huntsville Times)
Late last week, NASA's big new rocket seemed firmly stuck in Washington's political mud. On Wednesday, it suddenly came unstuck. What happened? How did the heavy-lift rocket get moving again with what now appears to be White House and congressional support? U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, suggested that its opponents went a step too far last week. Hutchison referred to leaked NASA cost estimates published in the Wall Street Journal. One of those estimates put the new rocket's ultimate cost at $62 billion. (9/15)

Russia OK's Soyuz and Proton Rockets for Return to Flight (Source: Space Policy Online)
Russia is quickly recovering from the double rocket failures experienced in August. The Proton rocket will return to service on Sep. 22. Its payload is identified only as a "defense satellite." An investigating commission determined that the previous Proton failure was caused by human error in programming the upper stage.

As for the failed Soyuz/Progress launch, a different, but similar, version of the Soyuz rocket is now scheduled to launch a navigation satellite on Oct. 1. That launch originally had been scheduled for late August, but was postponed pending the review of the Aug. 24 failure. A clogged fuel line was found to be responsible for the "accidental" Progress M-12M failure. The next Progress cargo launch to ISS is now scheduled for Oct. 30. The next crew flight is scheduled for Nov. 12. (9/15)

Rocketdyne Set to Build Engines to Power NASA Rocket (Source: Daily News)
When and if astronauts finally blast off for deep space, their monster rocket would be powered by liquid-hydrogen engines designed by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in California. Five Rocketdyne RS-25D/E engines producing more than 2 million pounds of thrust would launch the 34-story rocket, while the company's J-2X engine would propel the second stage of the spacecraft.

"It was a long time coming, but we are really glad," Rocketdyne Vice President John Vilja said. "There is a lot open to question, but this is a great first step." Vilja said that is too early to estimate what kind of an economic impact Rocketdyne could receive from the Space Launch System. NASA's timetable calls for the first unmanned test flight in 2017. Vilja thinks testing could start sooner since the engine technology is close to ready. "We'd like to work with NASA to see what we could do to bring that forward ... to get more bang for the buck," he said. (9/15)

Rohrabacher Prefers Fuel Depot Approach (Source: Daily News)
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the only Californian on the congressional subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, is dead set against the new NASA launch system. "This program is just fundamentally wrong," said Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach. "What we're doing is investing, from my perspective, in old technology," he said. "This might as well be a Saturn rocket that we used in the 1960s." He would like to see a system that uses space-based fueling platforms for NASA's next-generation effort. "There are more viable and more creative ways of approaching the creation of a space transport system," Rohrabacher said. (9/15)

Some Senate Numbers for NASA (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Senate's version of NASA's FY-2012 budget is set at $17.9 billion. Here's a breakdown for some of the elements of particular interest to Florida: Commercial Crew = $500 million; Space Technology = $637 million (includes CRuSR suborbital research); SLS = $1.8 billion; MPCV/Orion = $1.2 billion; and JWST = $530 million. I thought SLS and JWST wouldn't co-exist in NASA's budget, and I still may be right for future years, but I wonder what other programs are being cut to accommodate these two programs in FY-2012. (9/15)

Senate Panel Restores James Webb Space Telescope Funding (Source: Space News)
A U.S. Senate panel has proposed giving NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) about $150 million more for 2012 than the White House requested for the overbudget project, which appropriators in the House of Representatives voted this summer to cancel. The additional funding for JWST amounts to a 40 percent increase for the project and is part of a 2012 spending bill approved Sept. 14 by the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee.

The Webb telescope, which was marked for cancelation in the $16.8 billion NASA spending bill the House Appropriations Committee approved in July, would receive $530 million next year under the Senate’s bill — about 40 percent more than the $374 million the Obama administration included for the project in its 2012 request. The Senate subcommittee, by a margin of 15 to 1, voted to send its spending bill to the full committee after a markup that lasted only about 20 minutes. (9/15)

Hutchison's "Heavy Loss" Vehicle (Source: SpaceKSC)
It's one of the most famous Freudian slips in history. President John F. Kennedy was speaking in Houston after visiting Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where he saw the Saturn I and was told that for the first time the U.S. would have a more powerful booster than the Soviet Union. He chose to tell the audience about its pending launch: "Next month, when the [U.S.] fires the largest booster in the history of the world into space giving us the lead, fires the largest payroll, payload, into space, giving us the lead ... It will be the largest payroll, too...And, uh, who should know that better than Houston?

History repeated itself when Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison spoke on the Senate floor after a press conference announcing the design for the Space Launch System. Hutchison slipped and called the SLS a "heavy-loss vehicle" when she meant "heavy-launch vehicle" It's doubtful that those who see SLS as a boondoggle program would see the humor in her misspeech. (9/15)

Adams: Revitalizing Shuttle Workforce (Source: Florida Today)
As the Space Coast continues to feel the effects of NASA’s shuttle layoffs, I am dedicated to doing everything I can to stimulate job growth in Florida’s 24th District without adding to our nation’s already bloated budget. Florida is and should be the premier location in the world for space industry, and it is imperative for us to keep members of our highly trained workforce where they have made a home during the past 50 years of our nation’s space program.

It is for these reasons I recently introduced legislation, H.R. 2712, the Shuttle Workforce Revitalization Act of 2011, which will give Brevard County new resources to recruit and retain employers. This jobs-oriented bill would create a “historically underutilized business zone,” otherwise known as a HUBZone, throughout Brevard County. The HUBZone program helps promote economic development and employment growth in distressed areas. Designating Brevard County a HUBZone allows the county to be more competitive for federal contracting opportunities. (9/15)

Houston Aerospace Industry Gets Reprieve With NASA Rocket Decision (Source: KUHF)
Houston has been bleeding aerospace jobs for months. That’s in part due to the end of the Space Shuttle program, but also due to uncertainty about when or whether the Obama administration would green light a design for a new launch vehicle. Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, anticipates most of the design and construction for the rocket will take place in Alabama, with only about two hundred new jobs coming to Houston.

“From a workforce standpoint, it really stabilizes the people. They can take a deep breath now and know when they go to work the next day that there’s going to be a future in human space flight.” Houston’s aerospace industry currently employs roughly fourteen thousand engineers. (9/15)

United Technologies Officials Say No Plan to Sell Rocketdyne (Source: Bloomberg)
United Technologies Corp. has no plans to sell or spin off Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the unit that builds rocket engines for civilian and military missions, according to one of the company’s top executives. “Right now, there is no plan,” to sell or spin off Rocketdyne, said David Hess, president of Pratt & Whitney. “We look at our entire portfolio every day and obviously, given some of the uncertainty in space right now, we look at Rocketdyne and everything else.”

Rocketdyne’s president, Jim Maser, also downplayed reports of potential buyer interest. Reports of a possible sale surfaced in July after NASA’s final space shuttle mission. Rocketdyne, which makes liquid- fueled rocket propulsion systems, receives about 60 percent of its revenue from the space agency, Maser said. The company this summer laid off about 250 employees in part because of uncertainty in the space program, he said. He said inquires from potential buyers were “exploratory,” and would not identify which companies expressed an interest. (9/15)

Hatch: New Launch System a Win For Utah (Source: KCSG)
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) applauded NASA’s announcement Wednesday regarding which major components will be used in the agency’s new Space Launch System (“SLS”). The announcement means solid rocket motors will be used during the initial testing of NASA’s new heavy-lift SLS. Currently over 950 jobs in Utah are dedicated to ATK’s manufacture of large civilian solid rocket motors. (9/15)

History of the Square Kilometer Array (Source: China Daily)
Home of clear skies and little pollution, South Africa is a forerunner in space technology. Science and technology in South Africa have taken an impressive leap forward over the past decade, particularly in astronomy-related fields. This is due, in no small part, to government efforts to secure the development of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project for South Africa.

When completed, the 3,000-dish Square Kilometer Array will feature the world's biggest radio telescope, and will be between 50 and 100 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope in existence. Dishes in the SKA will be spread over 3,000 kilometers but will work together as one instrument, allowing astronomers to listen to electromagnetic radiation which travels at a fixed speed of about 1.08 billion kilometers/hour.

The SKA is a global collaboration of 20 countries that are aiming to provide answers to fundamental questions about the origin and evolution of the universe. With a budget of 1.5 billion euro, construction of the SKA is scheduled to begin in 2016 for initial observations by 2019 and full operation by 2024. (9/15)

Rocky Planets Could Have Been Born as Gas Giants (Source: Astrobiology)
When NASA announced the discovery of over 1,200 new potential planets spotted by the Kepler Space Telescope, almost a quarter of them were thought to be Super-Earths. Now, new research suggests that these massive rocky planets may be the result of the failed creation of Jupiter-sized gas giants. In a new theory for planetary formation. Known as "tidal downsizing," a gas disk first forms massive gas clumps farther out in space than where most of the planets discovered so far reside in their solar systems.

Left to their own devices, these clumps would cool and contract into very massive (~10 Jupiter mass) planets. During this contraction dust grains grow to large sizes and then fall to the center of the gas clump, forming a massive solid core there – the proto-rocky planet within the much more massive gas cocoon. (9/15)

Dark Matter Signals Detected? (Source: Cosmos)
Physicists have detected signals that could be interpreted as dark matter, the elusive substance believed to comprise 80% of matter in the Universe, and say it could have a lower mass than suspected. Researchers working on the Cryogenic Rare Event Search with Superconducting Thermometers (CRESST) experiment in Italy, have announced they have detected weakly interacting particles that may be evidence for the elusive substance, only known because of the gravitational pull it exerts on 'normal' (baryonic) matter. (9/15)

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