November 26, 2011

NASA Launches Biggest-Ever Rover to Mars (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's Curiosity rover, the biggest, most sophisticated robotic explorer ever built, blasted off Saturday on a journey to Mars, where it will hunt for signs life once existed there. Curiosity, which is the size of a large car and weighs in at one ton, has a laser beam for zapping interesting rocks and a tool kit for analyzing their contents. It carries a robotic arm, a drill, and a set of 10 science instruments including two color video cameras.

Sensors will enable it to report back on the Martian weather and the levels of radiation in the atmosphere -- important data for NASA as it devises future human exploration missions. Known formally as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the spacecraft launched at 10:02 am (1502 GMT) atop an Atlas V rocket to begin its nearly nine month trip to the Red Planet. Editor's Note: Here's a picture of the rover. It is huge! (11/26)

Opportunity Rover Continutes To Scout For Site To Winter In (Source: Space Daily)
In preparing for positioning Opportunity for the coming winter, the project has been scouting sites with favorable northerly tilt on the north end of Cape York on the rim of Endeavour Crater. There are two candidate sites for winter havens that indicate sufficient northerly tilt. Opportunity is investigating one of those two sites with the plan to spend the Thanksgiving holiday there. (11/26)

Newly Discovered Planet Just Like Earth, Could Contain Liquid Water (Source: Daily Mail)
Scientists have discovered a planet which could have the most Earth-like environment ever found - raising a 'very compelling case' for life there. Gliese 581g, located around 123trillion miles away, orbits a star at a distance that places it squarely in the habitable - or Goldilocks - zone, NASA said. The research, the product of more than a decade of observations at the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii, suggests the planet could contain liquid water on its surface. (11/25)

Space Lab Student Competition on YouTube Attracts 5500 Teams (Source: ESA)
ESA astronauts will join Google and YouTube managers on 30 November to present highlights of the 'Space Lab' competition. Space Lab is challenging students around the world to design a science experiment for the International Space Station. Launched just seven weeks ago, Space Lab has already attracted 5500 experiment proposals by registered team and individual competitors – and the dedicated YouTube site has recorded 14 million views. Click here. (11/25)

Space Agency Postpones Phobos Contact Until Monday (Source: RIA Novosti)
The European Space Agency (ESA) put off attempting to contact the stranded Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft until Monday, the head of the ESA office in Moscow said on Friday. Rene Pichel said the ESA’s station in Perth, Australia, which had contacted Phobos on Thursday, had been focusing on Phobos-Grunt since and now had a backlog that they will have to catch up with over the weekend. (11/25)

NASA Administrator Tours Space Coast Company Assisting With Mars Rover Launch (Source: NASA)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden toured Kegman Inc. of Melbourne, Florida, one company that supplied technology and engineering support to the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover. Bolden's tour of Kegman coincided with the Second Annual Small Business Saturday, a day to support the local small businesses that create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods around the country.

"Even in a project as expansive and with dramatic long-range impact, small businesses like Kegman and nearly two dozen other small businesses around the nation are playing a large role," Bolden said. Kegman Inc. is an economically disadvantaged, woman-owned, veteran-owned small business. It monitors and analyzes the wind impact during launch preparations. (11/25)

Russia's Medvedev Evokes Stalin Ahead of Elections (Source: Space Daily)
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday evoked the executions of the Stalin era in a pre-election vow to punish those responsible for a recent string of costly space mishaps. "The recent failures are a big blow to our competitiveness. This does not mean that anything fatal happened. It just means that we have to find those responsible and punish them," Medvedev said in nationally televised remarks.

"I am not suggesting that we line people up against the wall like we did when Joseph Vissarionovich was in power," he added in reference to the firing squads that Stalin used to execute his political foes in 1930s purges. "Nevertheless, we have to punish them seriously." Russia's once-proud space program was hit by a shocking series of setbacks this year that included the loss of an International Space Station cargo craft and a Mars moon probe that became stuck in an low Earth orbit upon launch. (11/26)

Come Home X-37B (Source: Space Daily)
At the end of November, the mysterious X-37B robot spaceplane will reach a critical point in its mission. This time will mark the end of the official 270-day endurance limit of the semi-secret military shuttle. The X-37B could be getting ready to come home. But will it? Let's rewind and review what this is all about. The X-37B is a small, experimental winged spacecraft operated by the US Air Force. It's roughly the size of a car, and has wings and a small cargo bay with clamshell doors that open up in orbit. Click here. (11/26)

AsiaSat 7 Launched Aboard Russian Proton Rocket (Source: Space Daily)
AsiaSat 7, a new communications satellite of Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company Limited (AsiaSat), was launched on Nov. 26 aboard an ILS Proton Breeze M launch vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. 9 hours and 13 minutes after liftoff, AsiaSat 7 successfully separated from the launch vehicle. Over the next few days, the satellite will arrive at the geostationary orbit, some 36,000 km above the Equator. (11/26)

SpaceX Expanding Florida Facilities To Meet Launch Demand (Source: Space News)
To accommodate an expected flight rate of 10 to 12 launches per year, SpaceX is building a 16,000-square-meter addition to Space Launch Complex 40 and taking over an old Delta 2 processing building called Hangar AO. Space Florida, a state-funded agency focused on expanding space-related business in Florida, is providing $7.3 million toward the upgrades.

The upgrade includes a clean room, a hazardous hypergolic fueling facility and enough volume to encapsulate a payload in a fairing in a vertical position. “We’ll be able to integrate three rockets at a time instead of one,” Scott Henderson, SpaceX’s director of mission assurance, said. The company also plans to either upgrade Pad 40 or add another launch pad to support its planned Falcon Heavy rockets. That would be in addition to the West Coast Falcon Heavy launch complex under construction at Vandenberg Air Force (11/26)

Amendments Call for Tighter Scrutiny of EELV Program (Source: Space News)
The DOD’s primary satellite launching program would be subjected to tighter internal and congressional scrutiny under an amendment to the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act. A related amendment, to be considered as early as Nov. 28, directs the U.S. Air Force to document plans to implement the recommendations of a GAO report that urged the service to rethink its current launch vehicle procurement strategy, which calls for block buys of Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets.

Both amendments pertaining to the Air Force’s EELV program were authored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The measure updates legislation that previously was introduced in June, but would reduce overall Pentagon spending by an additional $21 billion above the $27 billion target set in the Budget Control Act of 2011. (11/25)

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