November 16, 2011

NASA Probe Data Show Evidence of Liquid Water on Icy Europa (Source: NASA)
Data from a NASA planetary mission have provided scientists evidence of what appears to be a body of liquid water, equal in volume to the North American Great Lakes, beneath the icy surface of Jupiter's moon, Europa. The data suggest there is significant exchange between Europa's icy shell and the ocean beneath. This information could bolster arguments that Europa's global subsurface ocean represents a potential habitat for life. (11/16)

1 Visionary + 3 Launchers + 1,500 Employees = ? (Source: Air & Space)
In early 2002, PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, already a multimillionaire at 30, was pursuing a grand scheme to rekindle public interest in sending humans to Mars. A lifelong space enthusiast with degrees in physics and business, Musk wanted to place a small greenhouse laden with seeds and nutrient gel on the Martian surface to establish life there, if only temporarily. The problem wasn’t the lander itself; he’d already talked to contractors who would build it for a comparatively low cost. The problem was launching it.

Unwilling to pay what U.S. rocket companies were charging, Musk made three trips to Russia to try to buy a refurbished Dnepr missile, but found deal-making in the wild west of Russian capitalism too risky financially. On the flight home, he recalls, “I was trying to understand why rockets were so expensive. Obviously the lowest cost you can make anything for is the spot value of the material constituents... So there’s just a question of how efficient you can be about getting the atoms from raw material state to rocket shape.”

That year, enlisting a handful of veteran space engineers, Musk formed SpaceX, with two staggeringly ambitious goals: To make spaceflight routine and affordable, and to make humans a multi-planet species. Nine years later, SpaceX employs 1,500 people and occupies a half-million-square-foot facility in Hawthorne, California, that used to produce fuselage sections for Boeing 747s. Today it is filled with rocket parts, including stages and engines for its Falcon 9 boosters, which can place up to 23,000 pounds of payload in low Earth orbit. Click here. (11/16)

Romanian Arrested for Hacking Into NASA's Servers (Source: AP)
A court in Romania has ordered the arrest of a Romanian man accused of hacking into NASA's servers. Robert Butyka will be held for 29 days as he awaits trial. The 26-year-old Romanian is charged with breaching security measures to access several of NASA's servers in December 2010. Prosecutors said he interfered with server data, causing NASA losses of about $500,000. There was no comment from the U.S. Embassy. (11/16)

U.S. China Satellite Hacking Report Published (Source: TPM)
The final copy of a lengthy report from a Congressional advisory panel advising lawmakers on U.S.-China relations contains, among numerous other revelations, a new assessment of the “malicious cyber activities” that hit two U.S. government satellites between 2007 and 2008. The report was published by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an independent advisory panel to Congress made up of 12 experts with experience in government, industry and academia.

Both NASA and the USGS confirmed that their satellites experienced two separate incidents of interference each between 2007 and 2008. In the case of the USGS, “the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed two anomalous events related to the Landsat-7 satellite in 2007 and 2008... If executed successfully, such interference has the potential to pose numerous threats.” This indicates that the report’s authors have concluded that the satellite interference experienced wasn’t necessarily “successful.” (11/16)

Google, NASA Work Together on Space Exploration (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
Who knew the basic design of a moon rover could be found at your local pet shop? Team Frednet, one of 26 contenders for the Google Lunar X Prize, has built a round, translucent robotic vehicle that resembles nothing so much as a hamster ball. If the rolling globe can navigate 500 meters of the moon's surface and send back high-definition video along the way, the team has a shot at the $20 million grand prize.

Of course, to do that the Santa Cruz-based group will need to pull off the first privately-funded mission to the moon. It's no small undertaking - and that's the point. The X Prize Foundation was established to inspire the sort of "radical breakthroughs" that can spawn new industries. Google, NASA and contest participants all say that commercial expeditions to the moon represent the first necessary step toward unleashing the potential of a "space economy." (11/16)

Spinning Blood Device Set to Safeguard Astronaut Health (Source: Space Daily)
ESA is looking to adapt a mini-disc diagnostic system developed by Irish company Radisens Diagnostics for use by astronauts in orbit. A pinprick of blood is added to a mini-disc embedded with a wide variety of miniaturised test procedures. The disc is then inserted into the 'point-of-care' device and set spinning to spread the blood sample across the surface. Multiple tests are performed simultaneously, with automated results delivered within a matter of minutes. (11/16)

Shenzhou-8 Departs from In-Orbit Lab, Ready for Return (Source: Xinhua)
China's unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 departed from the prototype space lab Tiangong-1 at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, preparing for return to earth. This came after China had successfully completed its first two space docking tests that joined the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft, launched on Nov. 1, and the target orbiter Tiangong-1 on Nov. 3 and Nov. 14, respectively.

Tiangong-1, a module of a planned space lab, has been in orbit since its launch on Sept. 29. The Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC), which is in command of the mission, will signal Shenzhou-8 back to earth Thursday after conducting a series of examinations, tests and preparations, the spokesperson said. (11/16)

Space Florida and Lockheed Martin Collaborate for Underwater Vehicle Program (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida and Lockheed Martin signed an agreement to advance the testing and production of a new autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) known as Marlin. Lockheed Martin will outfit the Marlin systems with sensors and imaging equipment to conduct commercial underwater inspections. The systems are well suited for use in the oil and gas industry as a safe and cost-effective way to inspect underwater infrastructure and pipelines, especially after severe weather such as hurricanes.

“These AUVs have multiple commercial and civil applications in areas such as infrastructure inspection,” noted Space Florida's Frank DiBello. “This investment fits well with Space Florida’s strategy of leveraging aerospace-related technology in growing the industry three-fold in Florida by 2020; additionally, this project utilizes the financing capabilities that the Florida Legislature gave Space Florida to help strengthen the state’s position as a global leader in aerospace research.”

Space Florida is investing in Lockheed Martin’s technology to allow for further refinement and marketing of the AUV prior to commercial production. An initial estimate suggests that this initiative could create 50 high-tech jobs by 2015. Space Florida’s purchase of the Lockheed Martin AUV prototypes was financed through a mixture of Space Florida equity and third-party financing through Bank of America. Here's a video. (11/16)

NASA Cuts Could Delay KSC Jobs (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Industry advocates have argued that more money is needed to speed development of human-rated spacecraft. Chief among them is Boeing, which one top official said earlier this year could launch astronauts to the station by 2015 if NASA funded commercial efforts at $850 million annually over the next five years – as sought by the White House.

John Elbon, manager of Boeing's commercial crew program, has warned that less funding could mean delays of a year or more for its planned crew capsule, potentially impacting the company's aims to hire 550 workers on the Space Coast. A Boeing spokeswoman declined comment until the budget measure becomes law. "This lower budget level will slow down commercial crew and increase our dependence on the Russians," said Alan Stern, a former top NASA official and director of the Florida Space Institute. (11/16)

NASA Planetary Science Program Faces Uncertain Future (Source: WIRED)
Planetary science is in a golden age. At the moment, NASA has robotic probes flying around Mercury and Saturn, spacecraft headed to Jupiter, Pluto and the moon, recently had close encounters with both an asteroid and a comet, and is set to launch the largest and most complex rover to Mars in less than two weeks. But all this activity could soon come to a grinding halt.

At least, that’s the fear for many within the planetary science community. Slashed budgets and a perceived lack of commitment from the Obama administration have put NASA’s planetary science division in a precarious situation. Without action, the agency could soon be launching far fewer missions to other worlds in our solar system.

“The danger to planetary science is severe,” planetary scientist Steve Squyres told members of the U.S. House of Representatives during a hearing. A planetary science decadal plan asked for a major new Mars exploration vehicle and a new spacecraft to investigate Jupiter during the next decade, the agency’s current budget plans do not make either of these missions likely. (11/16)

Mark Kelly, Gabrielle Giffords' Husband, Knocks John Boehner (Source: Huffington Post)
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' astronaut husband came out swinging against House Speaker John Boehner over his decision not to visit the injured congresswoman. In the couple's new joint memoir, Mark Kelly expressed his disappointment in Boehner's efforts to check in on Giffords. "Considering that she was a member of Congress and he was the highest-ranking member, we thought he'd ask to visit Gabby or at least give a call to see how she was doing," Kelly writes. "Our only contact with him had been a simple get-well card he'd sent a few days after Gabby was injured." (11/16)

'Frustration' in Europe Over Joint Mars Probe (Source: AFP)
The United States has failed to commit to plans for an unmanned joint Mars mission with the European space agency, causing frustration abroad, top NASA officials told lawmakers on Tuesday. At issue is a 2009 agreement to develop an ESA-US ExoMars Mission in 2016 and 2018 which would measure methane in the Martian atmosphere and collect rock and soil samples to eventually return to Earth for the first time.

The project has been named as a top priority flagship mission by the US National Academy of Sciences' Decadal Survey, which sets out a plan for NASA space exploration even as lawmakers bicker over federal budget details year by year. "It can only be done, as the Decadal Survey states, if NASA is able to reduce the cost to less than 2.5 billion dollars," said Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA before a House subcommittee. (11/16)

So You Want to be a Space Entrepreneur... (Source: Reuters)
What’s cooler than being an Internet entrepreneur? Making a living as a space entrepreneur. A handful of space-age capitalists convened at the Techonomy conference in Tucson, Arizona this week to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the burgeoning field of intergalactic commerce. Among the promising business opportunities waiting in the heavens: new and plentiful sources of energy, resource extraction, zero-gravity manufacturing, real estate and tourism.

“Going after an asteroid that’s the size of this room, that literally is a 30-meter long asteroid that has $15 billion worth of platinum rare metals, that’s going to happen someday,” said one of the panelists. Within five years, predicted another, tourists will be able to take a voyage all the way around the moon.

The space entrepreneurs, from companies including Virgin Galactic, Arkyd Astronautics and Planetary Power, grumbled about many of the same types of day-to-day problems that bedevil their terrestrial counterparts, from access to funding to the pace of technological innovation. Regulations in space are murky and another potential trouble spot. Click here. (11/16)

Senate Committee Revises Defense Bill with More Cuts (Source: Defense News)
The Senate Armed Services Committee has cut an additional $21 billion from its version of the defense authorization bill for 2012. To meet new guidelines from the Budget Control Act passed over the summer, the committee revised the bill by reducing costs for 580 programs in the Defense Department's base budget. (11/16)

Congress Could Pass FAA Reauthorization in 2011, Mica Says (Source: The Hill)
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said Congress could pass a long-term reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration by the end of the year. He met with other lawmakers Tuesday to discuss outstanding provisions for the bill. Congress has passed 22 short-term extensions for the FAA since 2007. (11/16)

Northrop Announces Milestones for Telescope, Satellite Programs (Source: Daily Breeze)
Northrop Grumman announced milestones for programs managed out of the company's Aerospace Systems sector in Redondo Beach. The milestones come amid an austere mood in Washington, where lawmakers are considering major cuts to programs by military contractors. On Monday, Northrop said its engineers demonstrated how the sun shield for the JWST space telescope will be folded and stowed during launch.

Demonstrating the feasibility of the various systems in the complex telescope could help steer the funding debate in Northrop's favor. "The most important thing is we are making a lot of progress, technical progress," Northrop spokeswoman Mary Blake said. "The more progress we make, that strengthens our case for funding. To show that even though funding has been less than optimal, we're still producing milestones."

The James Webb program employs 222 people in Redondo Beach. Also on Monday, Northrop announced that satellites it had built for the Defense Department successfully tracked two different missile targets at the same time and delivered data in real-time to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. (11/14)

USA Must Give U.S. Pay Data, Judge Says (Source: Bloomberg)
United Space Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, must turn over pay data to the U.S. as part of a gender-pay disparity probe, a federal judge ruled. USA, the largest U.S. space-shuttle contractor, must give the Labor Department the information. The venture sued to block an April 11 department order requiring the company to turn over detailed compensation data within 30 days or face debarment and cancellation of its contracts.

“The Department of Labor has not accused USA of employment discrimination,” the judge said. “The department has merely required USA to submit data about its employee compensation. Submission to such lawful investigations is the price of working as a federal contractor.” His ruling would be put on hold until Nov. 28 to give USA time to seek an appeal. The Houston-based company had $1.81 billion in government contracts last year. A spokeswoman for USA said the company is still reviewing the ruling and weighing its options. (11/15)

Delta Mariner Offloads Rocket Components at Vandenberg (Source: AFSPC)
The United Launch Alliance Delta Mariner, which transported a Delta IV first stage, second stage and payload fairings for an anticipated 2012 launch, docked at the Vandenberg Boat Dock on South Base Oct. 28. The Mariner departed Decatur, Ala., and traveled approximately 5,000 miles over a three week period to reach Vandenberg. The vessel, which transports Delta IV launch vehicle components, was built in 1999 by the efforts of the United Launch Alliance and Boeing. (11/15)

NASA Budget Loses Millions in Compromise (Source: Florida Today)
Congress is set to approve $406 million for the program that will replace the space shuttle — less than half what NASA originally requested. That could force the space agency to rely even longer on Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

The allocation for the commercial crew program, which will team the space agency with private companies to develop a new vehicle for taking astronauts into low Earth orbit, is part of a spending bill that will finance several federal agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in fiscal 2012. (11/16)

Russian Spacecraft Docks with ISS (Source: AFP)
A spacecraft carrying two Russians and an American astronaut docked Wednesday with the International Space Station in the first Russian manned mission for five months after a spate of technical failures. The glitch-free docking of the Soyuz TMA-22 came after a textbook launch on Monday and was a huge boost to Russia which postponed the mission in the wake of the disastrous crash of an unmanned supply ship bound for the ISS in August. (11/16)

Debris May Threaten Future Space Endeavors (Source: Cornell Daily Sun)
In 1958, the Vanguard I satellite was the fourth satellite launched into orbit. With its deactivation thirty-three years later, it also became the oldest piece of human debris in space. Debris has been accumulating ever since, and after fifty years of space exploration, the final frontier has already become littered. Currently NASA is looking at ways to mitigate space litter to lessen its potential threat on future space efforts.

“The current threat is that we will start to lose the things which we value in space,” said Prof. Joseph Burns, aerospace engineering and astronomy. “The world has become very reliant on space infrastructure for global communications, surveillance, and weather satellites—all of which will be jeopardized if we cannot control space debris.”

The hazards that space junk pose towards satellites and space stations have prompted the creation of the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, which is NASA’s leading center in orbital debris research. “Currently NASA’s active work is in preventing further space debris and coming up with mitigation techniques,” said Burns. (11/16)

Suborbital Research Flight Giveaway Announced by XCOR and SwRI (Source: XCOR)
In a first of its kind prize for the reusable suborbital research community, XCOR Aerospace and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) announced that a research flight will be awarded to one lucky paid registrant at the NSRC-2012 Conference, to be held 27-29 February 2012 in Palo Alto, California.

Editor's Note: XCOR hopes eventually to have 20 of their Lynx vehicles deployed at spaceports around the globe, supporting about four missions per day. (11/15)

Editorial: Scuttle NASA Now (SourcE: IEEE Spectrum)
It’s time for the Obama administration to make NASA a facilitator of private space ventures. Who knows the best way to explore space—-the government or the market? To listen to President Obama, the answer is NASA. The U.S. government’s space agency remains a favorite of the political class, despite decades of disappointment, high costs, and low ambitions. Although Obama did end NASA’s 30-year-old shuttle program, he has maintained the agency’s US $19 billion budget (give or take a few hundred million) and reaffirmed its central position in space exploration.

The president’s policy is mistaken, because space exploration is inexorably democratizing. Boeing is building a promising spacecraft. Bigelow Aerospace is developing a private space station and plans to train astronauts from countries without any formal space programs. Virgin Galactic is working on suborbital space flights for the paying public and, led by the British entrepreneur Richard Branson, is trying to marry entertainment values with space commerce. And Orbital Sciences Corp. has methodically mastered launch technology, sending 129 satellites into orbit over the past 20 years.

One way to demonstrate that the U.S. is genuinely entering a new space age is for NASA to privatize its operations in Houston, Huntsville, Cape Canaveral, and Pasadena, turning them into nonprofit, independent labs that would at first wholly depend on government subventions but gradually become self-sustaining by providing services to both private space companies and covert national-security agencies, which have their own space needs. The death of NASA as a whole would permit its strongest pieces to thrive, albeit in a new organizational form. (11/15)

Space Pioneers to Get U.S. Medals (Source:
The U.S. Congress on Wednesday will award the nation's highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, to four American astronauts including the first man to walk on the Moon, 81-year-old Neil Armstrong. Other recipients are Buzz Aldrin, 81, who was second man to walk on the Moon, and Michael Collins, also 81, who was the command module pilot for Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the Moon in 1969.

The fourth winner is former senator John Glenn, 90, the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. They were given the nod by Congress in 2009 to receive the award, making them the first astronauts ever named to the honor, on what was then the 40th anniversary of the pioneering U.S. mission to the Moon. Past winners of the Congressional Gold Medal, described as the "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions," include Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, Walt Disney, and Pope John Paul II.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who initially sought the Congressional recognition for the quartet, said on the eve of the ceremony that lawmakers were likely to vote to approve a NASA budget of 17.8 billion dollars. Armstrong was on Capitol Hill in September, when he told lawmakers that the end of the space shuttle era has left the American human spaceflight program in an "embarrassing" state and urged NASA to return to the Moon. (11/15)

Budgeting Woes Could Derail U.S. Role in Space Exploration (Source: Washington Times)
The days of U.S. leadership in space exploration could be coming to an end, as lawmakers expressed growing fears at a Capitol hearing Tuesday that the nation’s fiscal mess could derail two highly anticipated Mars missions. NASA continues to plan for joint endeavors with the European Space Agency (ESA), the first in 2016 and another in 2018, in the hopes the money will be there. But the White House Office of Management and Budget has yet to confirm that funding for those missions will be available.

Experts told the hearing they fear that European allies could soon abandon preparations for a joint effort and strike out on their own, or join forces with the Russian space program. The ESA is expected to hold off on a decision until February, when the Obama administration unveils its fiscal 2013 budget. But if the European agency doesn’t have a clear answer by then, it could walk away.

Members from both parties on the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee expressed anger and bewilderment at the possibility of the U.S. ceding control of Mars exploration to Europe or Russia. Mr. Squyres and others pointed a finger directly at the White House, charging that the Obama administration’s unwillingness to commit to the partnership with ESA is putting both missions in serious jeopardy. (11/16)

KSC Veterans Honor Civil Rights Icons (Source: Florida Today)
On the grounds of the park that honors two slain civil rights icons, retired and current Kennedy Space Center employees Tuesday night paid tribute to the man who helped pave the way for black Americans to achieve their goals and dreams. During a celebration marking the 106th anniversary of Harry T. Moore’s Nov. 18 birth, guests of the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park and Cultural Center were treated to the stories of five black Brevardians with deep ties to the space center. (11/16)

NASA Receives Clean Audit Opinion (Source: NASA)
NASA has released its FY-2011 Performance and Accountability Report (PAR), which provides a summary of the agency's annual performance and financial information. This year's report marks an important financial milestone for the agency -- a "clean" audit opinion. This is NASA's first clean financial statement audit opinion in nine years. (11/15)

L2 Aerospace Announces Florida Presence (Source: Space Florida)
L2 Aerospace, an innovative company providing integrated ground, air and space-based products and services to support todayʼs dynamic aerospace markets, is pleased to officially announce its presence on Florida’s Space Coast. L2 Aerospace was founded in 2010 by General (Ret.) Lance Lord, former commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSC) and CEO of Astrotech. (11/16)

Advanced Magnet Lab Teams with NASA for Space Radiation Protection (Source: AML)
Florida-based Advanced Magnet Lab, Inc. (AML) is teaming with NASA Johnson Space Center on a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant for advancement of space radiation shielding. Radiation exposure caused by solar wind and cosmic ray background is a major issue for human space exploration missions. The goal of the research is the development of a lightweight superconducting magnetic shielding system as a means to protect crew from space radiation exposure on long duration missions beyond low Earth orbit.

Similar to the earth’s magnetic field which protects the earth from space radiation, a space vehicle surrounded by a magnetic field would provide radiation protection for astronauts. Launching and deploying a vehicle surrounded by powerful magnets presents a technical challenge due to the stringent weight and safety requirements. Development of magnets providing strong magnetic fields which are lightweight and deployable requires enabling technology.

NASA’s Principal Investigator said “the concept of shielding astronauts with magnetic/electric fields has been studied for over 40 years and has remained an intractable engineering problem. Superconducting magnet technology has made great strides in the last decade. Coupling maturing technology with potential innovative magnet configurations, this proposal aims to revisit the concept of active magnetic shielding.” It is AML’s intent to use its innovative Double-Helix™ magnet configurations to meet NASA’s need for space radiation shielding. (11/16)

Italian Expert: Space Docking Paves Way for China to Join International Projects (Source: Xinhua)
The successful docking of the unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 with the space lab module Tiangong-1 proved China's capacity of performing large-scale projects, an Italian expert says. "This important achievement shows China's ability to carry on highly technological projects far beyond what many Western people would expect," said Franco Bernelli Zazzera, a professor of aerospace systems at Polytechnic University of Milan.

"From our European point of view, it is very positive to see that someone else is capable to do the same things we have done so far, because it encourages us to keep on doing research," Bernelli Zazzera said. In fact, he said, in a period in which both European countries and the United States are relaxing their expenses in the field of space technologies, "the fact that some other countries such as China and India are significantly investing in this sector is a very positive stimulus." (11/16)

Chinese Military Using Australia Station to Spy on Warships (Source: National Affairs)
A satellite ground station in the West Australian desert is being used by the Chinese military to help locate Australian and US navy warships in the region. The explosive claim has been made by the nation's foremost expert on space-based espionage, Des Ball, who says the government may have unwittingly acted against the national interest by allowing China to use the ground station at Mingenew to track Beijing's space satellites. (11/16)

Obama Expands Australia Military Presence (Source: Daily Beast)
U.S. Marines are headed Down Under as part of a new military agreement with Australia, announced by President Obama. The move is seen as a response to China’s growing aggressiveness. Obama said the U.S. is "stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific,” and that 250 Marines will be stationed in northern Australia starting next year, with 2,500 personnel eventually staffing the region. Obama said the military shift will send the message to China that “with their rise comes increased responsibility. (11/16)

DARPA Seeking Electronics for Networked Satellite Clusters (Source: Space News)
DARPA is asking computer chip and electronics manufacturers to assist in developing technology that would enable clusters of wirelessly networked small satellites to perform various elements of a single mission. With the "F6 Technology Package," the modular hardware component to be included in System F6 program spacecraft buses, DARPA plans to conduct on-orbit demonstrations in 2015. (11/16)

Launch Tower Rolls Out for KSC Tests (Source: Florida Today)
A 40-story launch tower rolled out to a Kennedy Space Center pad, where it will be involved in tests before being overhauled to serve NASA’s new exploration rocket. Built to fit the canceled Ares I rocket, NASA plans to spend up to $100 million to modify the mobile launcher for the new Space Launch System, the giant rocket now planned to send astronauts on missions to the moon, an asteroid and eventually Mars.

NASA has pointed to its plans to repurpose the launch platform and tower, which have cost $238 million to date, as evidence that money spent by the canceled Constellation program won’t be wasted. NASA’s inspector general recently announced it would review the project to make sure that’s the case. (11/16)

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