November 2, 2011

China Completes Nation's First Space Docking (Source: Space Daily)
China took a crucial step towards fulfilling its ambition to set up a manned space station on Thursday by completing its first successful docking high above Earth, state media reported. The Shenzhou VIII spacecraft joined onto the Tiangong-1 experimental module at 1737 GMT, silently coupling more than 343 kilometers (213 miles) above the Earth's surface. (11/2)

'Sweet Spots' Found for Formation of Complex Organic Molecules in the Galaxy (Source: Space Daily)
Scientists within the New York Center for Astrobiology have compiled years of research to help locate areas in outer space that have extreme potential for complex organic molecule formation. The scientists searched for methanol, a key ingredient in the synthesis of organic molecules that could lead to life. (11/2)

Wind Delays Mars Rover's Move to Launch Pad (Source: Florida Today)
High winds delayed this morning's planned move to the launch pad of the next Mars rover, but NASA says there's no impact to a planned day-after-Thanksgiving launch. Move of the Mars Science Laboratory from Kennedy Space Center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility to Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is now anticipated after midnight tonight. (11/2)

NASA Study of Clays Suggests Watery Mars Underground (Source: NASA)
A new NASA study suggests if life ever existed on Mars, the longest lasting habitats were most likely below the Red Planet's surface. A new interpretation of years of mineral-mapping data, from more than 350 sites on Mars examined by European and NASA orbiters, suggests Martian environments with abundant liquid water on the surface existed only during short episodes.

These episodes occurred toward the end of a period of hundreds of millions of years during which warm water interacted with subsurface rocks. This has implications about whether life existed on Mars and how the Martian atmosphere has changed. "The types of clay minerals that formed in the shallow subsurface are all over Mars," said John Mustard at Brown University. Mustard is a co-author of the study in the journal Nature. "The types that formed on the surface are found at very limited locations and are quite rare." (11/2)

Starfighters Tested at Kennedy Space Center (Source: NASA)
Plans to launch small satellites into orbit from the wings of a supersonic jet are moving along following a taxi test on the runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Starfighters, through a cooperative Space Act Agreement, is based in a state-built hangar adjacent KSC's Space Shuttle runway. Starfighter's fleet of F-104 supersonic jets, similar to those NASA started using in the 1960's with Project Mercury, are helping usher in a new age of commercial spaceflight.

The taxi test was conducted to verify the aeronautical conditions of Star Lab. This is the first of eight tests the launch vehicle will undergo. The final flight test will use a simulated mock-up vehicle and will be flown over the Atlantic Ocean. After the booster separates, a parachute will carry the payload for splashdown. Sensors and recorders are encapsulated in each launch vehicle tested and data will be analyzed for the build up to the next test. 4Frontiers is aiming for tests to be completed by early 2012, with commercial flights starting mid-2012.

Star Lab has the potential to carry four to 13 payloads per flight. 4Frontiers is hoping to launch 10 rockets per year with multiple payloads, or more than 100 payloads per year. The company is trying to keep the costs as low as possible and charges will include flight integration and return of payload to owner. Star Lab supports scientific education for students by offering a physical, hands-on learning environment. The launch vehicle is designed by students and built by students. (10/27)

Senate Includes Funds for KSC Upgrades, But Not FAA Tech Center (Source: SPACErePORT)
In addition to $2.8 billion for Space Station, $1.8 billion for SLS, $1.2 billion for Orion, $662.6 million for Space Shuttle close-out, and $500 million for commercial spaceflight, NASA would have $168 million for "21st Century Launch Complex" (21CLC) activities at KSC. It is my understanding that the 21CLC account was intended for spaceport-wide improvements, including to Air Force owned Eastern Range capabilities and commercially accessible launch pads on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

But there's a qualifier in the 21CLC language, stipulating that 21CLC money "may be transferred to `Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration' for construction activities only at NASA-owned facilities." It is unclear whether this requires NASA to spend all of the 21CLC money "only at NASA-owned facilities," prohibiting any NASA-funded upgrades to non-KSC commercial launch infrastructure at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

Meanwhile, it appears that the proposed KSC-based FAA Tech Center for commercial spaceflight was not funded in the FAA portion of the Senate's bill. This FAA operation would have served the growing need for applied R&D to ensure the safety of commercial spaceflight operations under the FAA's oversight. (11/2)

NASA Must Move on SLS Contracts Before Spending on Commercial Spaceflight (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Senate has approved $500 million for "commercial spaceflight activities," but with a caveat that $192.6 million cannot be spent until "the NASA Administrator certifies to the Committees on Appropriations, in writing, that NASA has published the required notifications of NASA contract actions implementing the acquisition strategy for the heavy lift launch vehicle system." This move is intended to encourage NASA to move quickly on heavy-lift development. (11/2)

Space Florida Plans Spinoff to Manage Launch Competition (Source: Florida Today)
A new nonprofit called the Space Florida Small Satellite Research Center will be set up by Space Florida to manage the new Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge competition, one of 22 Centennial Challenges funded by NASA since 2005. Space Florida’s board of directors is expected to approve the agency’s creation of the nonprofit during a meeting in Fort Lauderdale. (11/2)

New Mexico Schools Get Over $2 Million in Spaceport Funds (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Las Cruces Public Schools spent nearly $1 million in the past year from Spaceport America sales tax dollars. Meanwhile, the Gadsden Independent School District has collected about $1.55 million from the spaceport tax since it took effect in January 2009, Gadsden officials reported. But the district has spent only about $371,000 of that - about 24 percent, they said. The school districts said they've used the money for science and math education programs, mostly for middle and high school students.

Rounds said students are showing improvement and greater interest in those areas. He highlighted several charts, including one that shows the number LCPS middle school students earning a "B" or better in Algebra I increased from 177 in 2008-09, to 208 the next year and 275 last year. The number of high school students enrolling in science, technology and math courses, too, is on the rise, according to a chart. (11/2)

Space Foundation Seeks Teacher Liaison Officers (Source: Space Foundation)
Do you have what it takes to be a Space Foundation Teacher Liaison? Become one of the select few educators from across the nation who will be chosen. This is the tenth year of this prestigious, nationally recognized program, which provides an honored few numerous benefits and privileges that help teachers grow their teaching skills, strengthen their resume, and influence space and science education at a national level. Click here. (11/2)

Chinese Docking System Based on Russian Design (Source:
Since launching Monday from the Jiuquan space base in northwest China, the unmanned 17,800-pound Shenzhou capsule has completed five engine maneuvers to fine-tune its approach to Tiangong 1, a slightly larger bus-sized module fitted with a docking port. The Shenzhou docking collar is similar to the Russian-designed APAS system, which was used in the joint U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the assembly of the Russian space station Mir and by space shuttles visiting the International Space Station.

The androgynous docking system is designed so either spacecraft can be active or passive. China says the docking system would permit Shenzhou capsules to attach to the ISS if the country was ever invited to join the multinational research laboratory. The Shenzhou docking system is designed to automated or manual dockings on missions with a crew on-board. (11/2)

Asteroid 2005 YU55 Will Zip by Earth Next Week (Source: USA Today)
A close encounter of the harmless kind comes next Tuesday when an aircraft-carrier-size asteroid races past Earth. The asteroid, dubbed 2005 YU55, will come within 202,000 miles of Earth, closer than the moon, before zipping farther into space. Carbon-colored and dark, the asteroid measures some 1,300 feet wide. It will be the closest visit by a space rock this size in more than three decades. NASA and the NSF plan a series of radar telescope and other observations starting Friday, aimed at mapping the asteroid's surface and chemistry. (11/2)

Asteroid Flyby a Missed Lander Opportunity? (Source: USA Today)
With a large asteroid zipping into Earth's neighborhood on Nov. 8, coming closer than the moon, we asked a NASA expert whether a probe landing on the object, 2005 YU55, was ever an option. After all, NASA's space marching orders now include asteroid exploration as an option, and the space agency's Dawn mission had to venture out beyond the orbit of Mars to reach the 330-mile-wide asteroid Vesta this July. Why not visit the smaller, but interesting 2005 YU55 on its visit, given another one its size won't come this close until 2028?

"It would be difficult," says asteroid expert Don Yeomans of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The best asteroids for landings are nearby ones that follow nearly circular orbits like Earth, he says, in terms of rocket fuel costs. Asteroid 2005 YU55 instead follows an oval orbit that takes it from Venus to Mars and zips through the Earth-Moon system at 30,600 miles per hour, relative to Earth. "We would have to race to catch up to it," Yeomans says. (11/2)

Megatelescopes Look for Support (Source: Nature)
Astronomers in the United States may have to do without government support in the race to create the world's biggest telescopes and gather photons from the Universe's first stars. Two projects — the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) — are vying for support from the US National Science Foundation (NSF), but the cash-strapped agency says that it may not be able to fund either before 2020, by which time both projects had hoped to be finished. That makes it even more likely that a comparable project, the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), will be ready years ahead of its US-led counterparts.

The problem, says Ulvestad, is a long queue of major new facilities that the NSF is already committed to funding between now and the end of the decade. Even the cancellation of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory in December 2010 is not enough to overcome a poor allocation for such projects from Congress earlier this year. (11/2)

Russia: Women at the Helm of a Spaceship? (Source: IoL)
Half a century after the first human space mission involving legendary cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, Russia's space program is still dominated by men. Gagarin once called female cosmonauts the “Amazonians of space” and even though Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in orbit when piloting the Soviet Vostok 6 in 1963, women cosmonauts continue to be the exception rather than the rule.

“There is a lack of female cosmonauts,” admitted Vitali Davydov, deputy head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. Media experts covering the area have speculated that the lack of women in the Russian space program is as much to do with male chauvinism as any perceived lack of technical enthusiasm among potential female applicants. Yelena Kondakova was the last female cosmonaut to make it into space 14 years ago and a successor is nowhere in sight. (11/2)

Satellite Industry Group Applauds Satellite Explort Control Bill (Source: SpaceRef)
The Satellite Industry Association (SIA) endorsed the introduction H.R. 3288, the "Safeguarding United States Leadership and Security Act of 2011," legislation that would reform the U.S. framework for satellite export controls. The bill would authorize the President to remove satellites and related components from the U.S. Munitions List, subject to certain restrictions and Congressional oversight.

H.R. 3288 would supersede 1999 legislative provisions that required all commercial satellites, satellite components, associated technical data, and related ground equipment to be treated as "munitions" for export licensing purposes, regardless of their technical sensitivity. SIA and its members have consistently encouraged Congress to reverse this unique requirement for satellites and allow the Executive Branch to determine the appropriate export licensing policy for satellites, as it does for all other technologies. (11/2)

Another Australian Satellite to Head for Orbit (Source: Cosmos)
Australia's next communications satellite will be launched in 2013 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's space launch centre in South America, it was announced earlier this week. The 3,200kg spacecraft will have a planned lifetime of 15 years. It will be solar powered, with two huge solar wings protruding from opposite sides of the spacecraft. It will carry ion thrusters instead of the traditional chemical-fuelled versions, with which to keep its orbit finely adjusted. (11/2)

GeoEye To Miss Sales Target; May Sell Aerial Unit (Source: Space News)
Earth imagery products and services provider GeoEye on Nov. 1 said it will not make its previously announced revenue target for 2011, mainly because its biggest customer, the U.S. government, is slowing its contract-award process in the face of budget pressures. GeoEye also said an unnamed European customer that had been expected to make a large order has decided to scrap the idea, at least for now, and that the company’s international business this year in general is not performing as well as hoped. (11/2)

ITT Exelis Revenue Up on GPS Work (Source: Space News)
Work on the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation GPS payload and ground-system programs helped ITT Exelis Inc.’s Geospatial Systems division overcome declines in its classified business to post a $50 million revenue gain for the first nine months of 2011, the company said Oct. 28. ITT Exelis also cited work on the main camera for DigitalGlobe’s WorldView 3 commercial imaging satellite as a factor as Geospatial Systems reported sales of $902 million for the nine-month period ending Sep. 30. The company’s classified business declined by $30 million over that same period. (11/2)

Satellite Battleground in Space? (Source: Discovery)
Space has long been a battleground for disputes between the United States and its rivals, but news this week that the Chinese military may have been behind a hacking attack on NASA satellites has confirmed for some experts that a technological Cold War is well underway. "The reason why space is the must-win region is because, especially for the West, much of our information is collected, transmitted and controlled through space," said Dean Cheng, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Space "is where things are happening. The Chinese have been close analysts of foreign wars and they have reached the conclusion that the ability to establish space superiority is key to victory." Cheng and other experts point to a growing number of suspicious incidents that have occurred to satellites in the past few years. To deter such attacks or probes or incidents, the Pentagon recently set up the Joint Space Protection Program (JSPP), which is now trying to figure out how to differentiate between attacks and accidents in space. (11/2)

Specter of Higher Unemployment Lurks Behind Defense Cuts (Source: AIA)
The Aerospace Industries Association commissioned a study on the effects of U.S. defense cuts. The study found that $1 trillion in defense cuts would lead to a 0.6% increase in unemployment for the U.S. "This should bring some ­sobriety to the debate," said AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey. (11/2)

Bombs, Bridges and Jobs (Source: New York Times)
Faced with the prospect of deep defense budget cuts as the so-called Supercommittee reaches its conclusion, Republicans — who normally insist that the government can’t create jobs, and who have argued that lower, not higher, federal spending is the key to recovery — have rushed to oppose any cuts in military spending. Why? Because, they say, such cuts would destroy jobs.

Thus Representative Buck McKeon, Republican of California, once attacked the Obama stimulus plan because “more spending is not what California or this country needs.” But two weeks ago, writing in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. McKeon — now the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee — warned that the defense cuts that are scheduled to take place if the supercommittee fails to agree would eliminate jobs and raise the unemployment rate. (11/2)

Report: Military Blew $1 Trillion on Weapons Since 9/11 (Source: Mother Jones)
But a new report shows the US defense establishment is in much better shape than it claims: The DOD has blown roughly $1 trillion on tanks, ships, and jets since the 9/11 attacks-—and it's often done so with dollars that were supposed to be spent on those troops on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Stimson Center study, "What We Bought: Defense Procurement From FY01 to FY10", says the military is hardly in dire straits when it comes to funding its big-ticket items. "The services capitalized on funding to modernize their forces, especially the major weapons programs that constitute the heart of the services’ capabilities," writes the report's author, a retired Army officer and ex-CIA military analyst.

The study shows there's one big reason the brass are concerned about budget-cutting discussions in Congress: They've been double dipping into the taxpayer's pocket to finance weapons purchases. Of the roughly $1 trillion spent on gadgetry since 9/11, 22 percent of it came from "supplemental" war funding—annual outlays that are voted on separately from the regular defense budget. Those bills are primarily intended to keep day-to-day operations running in Iraq and Afghanistan—meaning that if a member of Congress votes against a supplemental spending bill, she exposes herself to charges that she doesn't "support the troops" in harm's way.

But once the services got the supplemental money, they managed to spend $232.8 billion of it back home on the manufacture of costly weapons like Abrams heavy battle tanks and the troubled F-22 jet fighter-—neither of which has proven particularly useful in counterinsurgency warfare. So what has the military gotten with all that taxpayer money? A thoroughly modern and formidable force, according to the report. (11/2)

Aerospace Clusters: The Role of Stakeholders (Source: ERAU CAAL)
The following examples illustrate how stakeholders at different levels in the U.S. are investing in the industry clusters concept. At the federal level, the U.S. Economic Development Agency is in the process of issuing over $35 million in grants to advance regional innovation in Florida’s Space Coast. At the state level, the governor of Washington has made aerospace a priority – and for good reason. At the end of 2010, the state’s aerospace cluster included over 650 companies at every level of the supply chain.

At the university level, the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School recently announced the launch of a cluster mapping web site, which is intended to assist in creating jobs, encouraging innovation, and spurring economic growth across multiple industries, including aerospace.

Today, it is clear that clusters have played a key role in helping the United States become a world leader in the aerospace industry. But it is also important to recognize that if America is to sustain its lead in aerospace manufacturing, leaders at multiple levels must continue to work together to support and grow clusters that can provide America with state-of-the-art innovative products that are the hallmark of the U.S. aerospace industry. (11/2)

ULA Trims 40 From Workforce at Vandenberg (Source: Santa Maria Times)
United Launch Alliance has trimmed its workforce at Vandenberg Air Force Base by 40 people, just days after its last contracted Delta 2 rocket blasted off successfully. The cutback, which occurred Monday, included pink slips along with voluntary departures. A breakdown wasn’t available but most of the cuts were involuntary, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The number of slashed jobs represents about 10 percent of ULA’s West Coast staff. “It’s not just Delta 2 (employees); it’s across the company,” spokeswoman Jessica Rye said, explaining that the firm recently issued layoffs at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Denver locations. On Friday, the final contracted Delta 2 rocket carried a NASA satellite to orbit. That launch came weeks after the second-to-last Delta 2 rocket completed another NASA mission from Florida.

But officials also attributed the workforce reduction to receiving less federal funding through the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. Over the years, the aerospace firm has integrated its launch teams rather than have separate groups of employees working on its Atlas 5, Delta 4 and Delta 2 rockets. The jobs affected include engineers, technicans and support positions. (11/2)

The Drake Equation Turns 50 (Source: Science News)
On November 1, the formula for estimating the abundance of extraterrestrial life in our galaxy celebrates its 50th birthday. It’s known as the Drake equation for its creator, Frank Drake, who is also my father. The equation grew out of my dad’s need to organize a meeting he’d convened at the Green Bank Observatory, in West Virginia. Then 31, he had been thinking for a while about the materials needed to build communicating, extraterrestrial life.

He ended up crafting a formula that calculates the number of detectable, intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. That equation is now found in most astronomy textbooks. The equation has remained unchanged in the half century since it was written, but some of its seven terms have evolved slightly different definitions. Click here. (11/2)

City Lights Could Point to ET (Source: MSNBC)
Astronomers suggest that artificial illumination creates a signature that could point to the existence of civilizations on other worlds. Detecting aliens by looking for the glow of their cities would be a long shot. But a Harvard astrophysicist pointed out that the cost of the exercise would be low. "We say that we can piggyback on existing surveys that people are doing anyway. There's no need to use extra resources. ... My philosophy is simple: If we can do it, why not do it and check? Why put blinders on ourselves?"

Here's how the idea could work: An object's brightness varies with distance, but the relationship between those two factors will depend on whether the brightness is due to reflected sunlight or due to illumination from the object itself. For a self-illuminated object, the brightness varies by a factor of 1 over the distance squared, but "if you have an object that reflects light from another source ... the flux dies out like 1 over the distance to the fourth power." (11/2)

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