September 26, 2011

FAU Physicist Develops Mathematical Method to Find Satellite Galaxies (Source: Space Daily)
Sukanya Chakrabarti, Ph.D., at Florida Atlantic University, has developed a mathematical method called "tidal analysis" to find satellite, or dwarf, galaxies by analyzing the ripples in the hydrogen gas distribution in large spiral galaxies in outer space. Chakrabarti, who specializes in the study of astrophysics, black holes and galaxies, used this method to predict that a dwarf galaxy sat on the opposite side of the Milky Way from Earth earlier this year. This dwarf galaxy has been unseen to date because it is "dark" and obscured by the intervening gas and dust in the galaxy's disc. (9/26)

Florida Fusses Over Wallops Upgrades to Support 'Manned Spaceflight' (Source: Satellite Spotlight)
Florida space leaders are getting fussy about NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, specifically environmental impact documents saying the facility wants to support “manned spaceflight” as it starts upgrading its aging infrastructure. But there's a key word missing from the discussion of Wallops plans and it is “suborbital.”

The key here is the definition of “manned spaceflight.” Florida wants to make sure it retains its preeminence in orbital manned spaceflight operations, while from all indications Wallops is more interested in entertaining suborbital operations -- a state of affairs Florida can live with.

Wallops has only expressed an interest in suborbital manned operations -- but hasn't underlined the “suborbital” part. The facility has had some very preliminary discussions with suborbital firms, according to one NASA exec and Virgin Galactic. Manned suborbital operations with systems such as Virgin's SpaceShipTwo and XCOR's Lynx would take advantage of Wallops 8,000 foot runway, extensive range facilities, and controlled airspace. (9/26)

Space Coast Energy Consortium Plans November Symposium (Source: SCEC)
The Space Coast Energy Consortium is proud to announce the 2nd Annual Space Coast Energy Symposium scheduled for Nov. 17-18 at the Radisson Resort at Port Canaveral. With over 400 business, government and educational leaders throughout Central Florida expected to attend, the goal of the Symposium is to diversify the region’s post-Shuttle economy by sharing ideas on how to develop and attract clean energy enterprises. Click here for information. (9/26)

Changing NASA Mission Has Contractors Readying for New Program (Source: Washington Post)
As NASA’s missions change, the agency is restructuring its contracting program, and contractors are anticipating a new intiative worth millions over nearly 10 years. The initiative, known as the Test and Operations Support Contract or TOSC, covers ground systems work now being done as part of two other contracts, one held by Boeing and the other by the United Space Alliance.

The new program would provide NASA with services related to managing the ground systems used for flight launches, such as maintaining equipment, overseeing landings and performing simulations and experiments — the kinds of services that still will be required for remaining NASA programs and in the case of commercial launches. the agency is set to release a draft of the solicitation by the end of this month, and the final one is expected in December. Under the planned schedule, NASA would receive proposals in February and then make an award in the fall. (9/26)

Northrop Grumman Opens New HQ in Virginia (Source: Washington Business Journal)
Northrop Grumman Corp. officially unveiled its new headquarters Friday, hosting a ribbon-cutting at the Falls Church facility that now houses 500 employees. The ribbon cutting concludes a process that began in April 2010, when Northrop Grumman announced the company’s plan to move its corporate headquarters to Virginia. About 400 corporate employees will share the headquarters with 100 sector employees. Northrop counts nearly 20,000 employees located in the Washington area. (9/26)

Planet Hunters are Losing Count (Source: Sky & Telescope)
At last week's Extreme Solar Systems II conference, the main message I took away is that everybody is losing count as far as extrasolar planets are concerned. Yes, the canonical Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia lists an exact number: 687 confirmed as of Sep. 23. But it changes often now, and in jumps. Francesco Pepe announced the discovery of 16 new super-Earths among 50 new planet discoveries by the European HARPS radial-velocity spectrograph. At the same time, HARPS' team leader mentioned not 16 but 19 new super-Earths, and later that day he revised that number upward to 20.

That same day, Coel Hellier rushed his audience through the discovery of more than 23 new exoplanets found with the WASP-South transit survey (Wide-Angle Search for Planets), which monitors vast numbers of stars across the sky using small telescopes. More dramatically, Natalie Batalha announced well over 500 new exoplanet candidates from Kepler as part of its latest data release. “I think I mentioned a total of 1,781 candidates” from Kepler, she told me later that week, “but there are many more in the pipeline. At the end of the mission, we may easily have found over 3,000 candidates.” (9/26)

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