November 28, 2011

10 Unsolved Martian Mysteries (Source: i09)
For decades, humanity has been launching missions to Mars, in hopes of making sense of the enigma that is our solar system's most Earth-like planet. And as with all good mysteries, many of our investigations have simply led to more questions. Among the most pressing of these questions is whether Mars is, or ever has been, an environment hospitable to life — and on Saturday, NASA's Curiosity rover embarked for the Red Planet to determine precisely that. But the question of whether life ever thrived on Mars is just one of the Red Planet's many mysteries. Here are ten more that we look forward to finding answers to in the years ahead. Click here. (11/28)

One Promising Puzzle Piece for Confirming Dark Matter Now Seems Unlikely (Source: Kavli Foundation)
Like musicians who make up a melody as they go along, scientists often improvise even after an experiment is underway. One recent example of this comes from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Launched by NASA in June 2008, the $690 million telescope has since been working as advertised, providing scientists with the most complete look yet at gamma rays, the highest energy forms of light.

But just two months after the launch, a tantalizing finding from a European experiment hinting at evidence of dark matter had Stefan Funk and Justin Vandenbroucke wondering if the telescope could be used to look at something for which it wasn’t intended -- specifically, electrons and their antimatter twins, positrons, that are streaming across the universe in cosmic rays. Click here. (11/29)

Researcher Says Curiosity Can Confirm Viking Detected Life (Source: Gilbert Levin)
NASA has repeatedly stated that its new mission to Mars, Curiosity, carries no life detector. Yet, Gilbert V. Levin, Experimenter on NASA's 1976 Viking Mission, disagrees. He says instruments aboard Curiosity can confirm his published claim that his Labeled Release (LR) experiment detected living microorganisms on Mars.

Dr. Levin was Experimenter and Dr. Patricia Ann Straat Co-Experimenter on the experiment that produced evidence of life on Mars. Because another Viking instrument failed to find organic matter, the stuff of life, NASA discounted the LR results. Since Viking, Mars missions have sought only evidence of habitability, not life itself. Levin now claims the organic analyzers and the high-resolution camera on Curiosity as his "stealth life detectors." (11/28)

Pluto's Moons Could Spell Danger for New Horizons Spacecraft (Source:
When NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reaches Pluto in 2015, it may find the region more hazardous than anticipated. The discovery of several moons around Pluto — and the potential for more — increase the risks during the probe's flyby. The small moons are under constant bombardment from nearby space rocks called Kuiper Belt objects, but the moons' low gravity prevents them from holding on to chunks of dirt and rock that fly free when hit. The debris instead finds itself caught in orbit around Pluto, where it could pose a serious threat to New Horizons. (11/28)

Senator Seeks To Stall LightSquared (Source: Aviation Week)
As LightSquared wraps up another round of testing on its new approach to deploy a broadband-wireless network, lawmakers are pushing measures to prevent the plan from moving forward until they are satisfied that the network would not interfere with GPS use. U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) attached an amendment to the financial services and government affairs appropriations bill prohibiting the FCC from using any funds to permit LightSquared to build the network until concerns regarding GPS interference are addressed. (11/28)

Come Home to Virginia, Dream Chaser (Source: Spaceports Blog)
A spacecraft of the future could have its roots in a "space taxi" concept called the HL-20, developed at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Sierra Nevada, the company designing the Dream Chaser as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Development program, this past summer thanked the engineers who came up with the HL-20 and studied it 20 years ago - before the project was canceled.

The Virginia-based vision vehicle, the Dream Chaser should be mated to an Atlas-V and launched from Wallops Island, Va. in this decade. That is the best way to salute the Virginians at NASA Langley who worked the vehicle from concept to model for today's engineers to complete and fly. (11/28)

Russia’s Glonass-M satellite Launched From Plesetsk Spaceport (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia sent another Glonass-M navigation satellite into orbit on Monday. The Soyuz carrier rocket with the satellite on board was launched from the Plesetsk space center earlier in the day. Mission control specialists have been holding a steady connection with the satellite and its onboard systems are operating normally.

The Glonass-M will augment a group of 30 Glonass satellites already in orbit. This was the last launch of a Glonass satellite this year. Glonass is Russia's answer to the U.S. Global Positioning System, or GPS, and is designed for both military and civilian uses. Both systems allow users to determine their positions to within a few meters. (11/28)

Indra to Build Ground Control System for Spain's Radar Satellite (Source: Space News)
Spanish information-technology company Indra will provide the ground control segment for Spain’s Paz radar Earth observation satellite under a contract with the Spanish Defense Ministry valued at 9 million euros ($12.1 million). Under the contract, with the National Aerospace Technologies Institute (INTA), which is affiliated with the Defense Ministry, Indra will provide several components of the Paz ground network including a data-processing center.

The 1,400-kilogram Paz satellite will be equipped with an X-band radar capable of delivering images with a ground resolution as sharp as 1 meter in diameter. The satellite features various operating modes offering different image sharpness and swath widths. (11/28)

Red Planet Blues (Source: Space Review)
With Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft all but dead, Russian scientists are making plans for future missions even as the president of Russia threatens prosecution for those involved with the failure. Dwayne Day examines what Russia should, and should not, do to reinvigorate its planetary exploration program. Visit to view the article. (11/28)

The SLS: Too Expensive for Exploration? (Source: Space Review)
The Space Launch System, NASA's new heavy-lift vehicle, has not met with universal acceptance since the design was formally announced in September. John Strickland argues that the SLS, as currently conceived, will be too expensive to support the exploration missions and other applications envisioned for it. Visit to view the article. (11/28)

Making the Case, Again, for Space-Based Solar Power (Source: Space Review)
Space-based solar power is a concept that has strong support from a small number of space advocates, but little attention or funding from broader audiences. Jeff Foust reports on a new study that offers optimism for the future of space solar power even as the political landscape for supporting it becomes even more challenging. Visit to view the article. (11/28)

EU Code of Conduct: commentary on Indian Concerns and Their Effects (Source: Space Review)
A European Union proposal for a "Code of Conduct" for space activities has run into opposition from some countries, including India. Michael Listner discusses what Indian officials find objectionable in the code and the options for handing those concerns. Visit to view the article. (11/28)

Will NASA Ever Recover Apollo 13′s Plutonium From the Sea? (Source: Txchnologist)
Will NASA ever recover the 3.9 kg of plutonium from Apollo 13’s SNAP-27 nuclear reactor from the depths of the South Pacific Ocean. The plutonium, like the astronauts, apparently survived reentry and came to rest with what remained of the lunar module the Tonga Trench south of Fiji, approximately 6-9 kilometers underwater (it’s exact location is unkown). Extensive monitoring of the atmosphere in the area showed that no radiation escaped.

But with a new breed of submarines from the U.S. and China pushing deeper into the ocean’s deepest depths, is NASA interested in recovering this toxic material? Will NASA Ever Recover Apollo 13′s Plutonium From the Sea? “I don’t think that anyone has seriously considered that,” said Leonard Dudzinski, a NASA executive who deals with radioisotope power systems. The plutonium was in an oxide form about one-tenth of a millimeter in diameter contained in fuel capsule, which itself was inside a graphite and ceramic fuel cask. The current expectation is that the cladding will survive for 10 half lives of the Plutonium, close to 870 years. (11/28)

Embry-Riddle Prepares for Bigger Role in UAV Systems (Source: sUAS News)
CATI Training Systems has been awarded a contract to deliver eight X-TUAS™ ground control station (GCS) unmanned aerial systems training devices to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach, Fla., campus. The training devices will be part of the new CATI UAS Laboratory supporting the university’s new Bachelor of Science degree program in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Science.

Editor's Note: With this and other UAS resources (like the newly opened NextGen Testbed), Embry-Riddle will be working with Space Florida and other Florida stakeholders to pursue the creation of a UAS Test Range in the state. Embry-Riddle is also supporting a similar effort in Arizona. Five UAS Test Ranges are expected to be established nationwide by the FAA, in coordination with the Air Force and NASA. (11/28)

Pentagon Faces Dire Scenario of $600 Billion Budget Cuts (Source: Defense News)
The Pentagon is facing additional budget cuts of $600 billion over the next decade because the congressional supercommittee failed to reach its goal of cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit. "We're going to be cutting fighting muscle, increasing risk, changing strategy before we start talking about the totally irresponsible sequester-type cuts," said Arnold Punaro, a former staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I think we need to let the body politic absorb what the Pentagon is already doing." (11/28)

Defense Department Could "Front-Load" Cuts, Committee Says (Source: Aviation Week)
The defense industry is bracing for another round of drastic budget cuts after the congressional supercommittee's failure to reach consensus on reducing the deficit. "The [Defense Department] will have to front-load many of the cuts because of high short-term costs such as separation payments and penalties for canceling contracts," said the House Armed Services Committee. "Even if the Congress were to amend the sequestration triggers in the next year, some decisions would be irrevocable." (11/28)

NASA Looks for Commercial Option for Cryogenic Rocket Engine (Source: Space News)
NASA plans to outsource the upper-stage cryogenic rocket engine for the first two flights of the Space Launch System because of limited funds. "Acquisition planning is in progress to evaluate the various commercial options available to NASA," said Jennifer Stanfield, a NASA spokeswoman. The first flight of the Space Launch System in slated for 2017. (11/28)

Brazil, Ukraine to Boost Cooperation in Space, Technology and Defense (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Brazil and Ukraine have decided to deepen the strategic partnership and strengthen cooperation in the spheres of space and military science. This was discussed at the meeting of the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation in Brazil, Mercadante, with Prime Minister of Ukraine Mykola Azarov.

Mercadante said the strategic cooperation in the space between the countries and expressed interest in signing the relevant contracts for 20-30 years with the possibility of private sector involvement. In particular, he noted the prospects for bilateral cooperation in the Cyclone-4 project. (11/28)

ILS Proton Lofts AsiaSat 7 Into Orbit (Source: Space News)
An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket successfully placed the AsiaSat 7 commercial telecommunications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit Nov. 26 for fleet operator AsiaSat of Hong Kong. The launch, from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, was the fifth commercial liftoff of the year for Virginia-based ILS and the eighth overall Proton mission in 2011. (11/28)

Suborbital Research Opportunities Discussed at European Gathering (Source: Cosmica Spacelines)
VEGA Space hosted the SubSpace 2011 conference in Darmstadt, Germany with leaders of the European space industry addressing current trends and plans for the future of microgravity research on reusable suborbital vehicles. The purpose of the conference was to break the paradigm of current microgravity research with limited flight rates and high costs. Reusable suborbital launch vehicles overcome both of these concerns, thereby facilitating innovation. Click here. (11/28)

Playing While at Work (Source: Washington Post)
Toys at offices around the Beltway certainly are not as common as pencil holders, but neither are they merely decorative or the purview of parents with young children. They encourage creativity, brainstorming and imagination. They can be found in some creative departments and advertising agencies, on some association executive director’s desks and even at NASA.

“The toys are a good way to introduce kids [to] what space is all about. Let’s face it — we all like to play with toys,” said Alan Ladwig, NASA’s deputy associate administrator of communications, who’s in charge of public outreach, including exhibits and astronaut visits. Plus, he said, they are a great conversation starter for meetings. Click here. (11/28)

Jefferson Space Museum Opens Online (Source: JSM)
Astronauts, ground support crews, and even a few cosmonauts, have sometimes carried or sent U.S. $2 bills into the deep, black void of space during many historic missions that span manned spaceflight history. They took or sent these symbols of home as mementos, good luck charms, or simply favors for family or friends. Whatever the reason, they have made Thomas Jefferson a sort of honorary, accidental astronaut of manned spaceflight history. What you are about to experience in our Gallery is the world’s largest collection of space flown U.S. $2 bills, spanning the entire history of U.S. manned space flight. Click here. (11/28)

Virginia Space Grant Scholarships Available (Source:
The Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC) has just opened the application process for its 2012-2013 Community College STEM Scholarship Program. VSGC is a coalition of five Virginia colleges and universities (the College of William and Mary, Hampton University, Old Dominion University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech), NASA, several state educational agencies, Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, and other institutions representing diverse aerospace education and research.

Annually, VSGC awards over $325,000 to students pursuing higher education at one of its five member institutions, or at one of the 23 Virginia community colleges. Rappahannock Community College students are eligible for a number of scholarships awarded each year to those pursuing a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) degree, the specific number being contingent on available funding from NASA and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Community College STEM Scholarship provides a one-year non-renewable award of $2,000 for students enrolled full time (12 credit hours or more per semester) at a VCCS college. Click here. (11/28)

India Must Explore Possible Resources in Space (Source: Daily Bhaskar)
Space tourism doesn't make sense for India, said Wing Commander (retd) Rakesh Sharma. Sharma, the first Indian to go to space, said that India should instead concentrate on exploring space, particularly to exploit the resources available there. "Space tourism is inevitable. The West can go for it but it doesn't make sense for India which needs to concentrate its energy and efforts on other important things as far as space exploration is concerned," said Sharma.

He said India's thrust should be towards sending more manned missions to space to explore possible resources, given the fact that those on earth are depleting fast. "We should be looking at having a manned presence in space. We can also look at the possibility of deep space exploration that can be launched from the moon," said Sharma. He talked about the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and how nothing of importance had come out of it. He also commented on the time it takes for the organization to come up with a product. (11/28)

Russian President Threatens to Punish Officials for Space Failures (Source: FOX News)
The Russian president threatened to punish those responsible for the country's recent space failures, which included the botched launch of a Mars probe earlier this month. Dmitry Medvedev warned that the space officials responsible could face heavy fines or even criminal penalties. "The latest failures [in the space industry] seriously harm Russia's competitiveness," he said. "This means that we need to conduct a serious analysis and punish those responsible." Russian space agency Roscosmos faced several mishaps over the past 11 months. (11/28)

Freighter to Take Russian Space Equipment to Kourou (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia’s An-124-100 Ruslan freighter will take the third stage of Russia’s Soyuz-ST carrier rocket to the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. “The air carrier’s freighters have repeatedly delivered foreign spaceships to the Kourou spaceport for the European Space Agency (ESA),” an official said. “But the Ruslan freighter will take the Russian space equipment to French Guiana for the first time.” (11/28)

Out of This World - Except For the Service (Source: SMH)
Space flights, space "hotels" and the ability to zoom from one side of the planet to the other in a matter of hours are all being promised as entrepreneurs fight to be the first to bring "space tourism" to the people. Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of hype each time an announcement is made but how real is all this? Will space ever become a genuine travel option for the ordinary person, or will it remain the domain of astronauts along with the ridiculously rich?

The executive chairman of the CAPA Center for Aviation, Peter Harbison, says it's "definitely going to be the latter for quite some time". "It is not something that is going to be commercially viable in the short term," he says. "Quite probably by 2030 or 2040 we will be starting to see some [wider] consumer benefits from it but it's highly unlikely it will be before then." (11/28)

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