December 10, 2011

US Military Keeps Wary Eye On Asia's Space Race (Source: NPR)
A couple of decades from now, if there's a party on the moon, it's not certain we'd be invited. This is Science Friday. I'm Joe Palca. You might not - we might not even be able to get there. But China, India and Japan might be on the guest list because all three have sent missions to map the moon in recent years and have plans for lunar landers, rovers and bases, too.

South Korea and Malaysia aren't as far along, but they've put astronauts on the International Space Station. Why not just join up a sort of Asian space organization instead of sending three different rovers? It might be easier, not to mention cheaper, but that's not going to happen, according to my next guest, at least not for now, because regional rivalries are too strong, and so, too, is national pride. Click here. (12/10)

NASA Has Rocky Record of Tracking Space Materials (Source: Forida Today)
NASA has not been a good housekeeper. More than 500 “astromaterials” that the agency has loaned to research facilities and schools have been stolen or gone missing, according to an audit issued Thursday by NASA’s inspector general. The items include lunar specimens, meteor fragments and cosmic dust samples loaned over the past four decades. (12/10)

Mt. Cuba Board Member: We Sent Moon Rocks Back , NASA Lost Receipt (Source: WDEL)
A member of the Board of Trustees at Delaware's Mount Cuba Observatory calls on NASA to improve its record-keeping in the wake of media reports that the Observatory lost some moon rocks and other materials the space agency loaned out. Physics and astronomy prof Doctor Harry Shipman said what NASA sent here was a small sample of lunar material. Shipman says when the loan period was over, the Observatory sent the samples back, and it's not their fault that NASA apparently misplaced the receipt. (12/10)

LightSquared Network Could Block GPS Devices, Report Says (Source: Wall Street Journal)
New government tests show wireless start-up LightSquared's network could knock out a "great majority" of GPS devices, according to a congressional aide who has seen a draft government report on the tests. Preliminary data from recent government and industry tests of LightSquared's network suggest that the start-up hasn't solved concerns that its network would knock out a large number of personal or military GPS devices, the report said, according to the aide. (12/10)

Solar Storms Are "Sandblasting" the Moon, NASA Study Hints (Source: National Geographic)
The moon gets periodically "sandblasted" by intense solar storms that can strip tons of material from the lunar surface, a new NASA study suggests. The sun is constantly emitting charged particles, or ions, in all directions in a stream called the solar wind. Scientists previously knew that solar ions can collide with and eject material on the moon's surface in a process dubbed sputtering.

But a new computer simulation finds that this sandblasting effect kicks into high gear during intense bursts of solar plasma—charged gas—known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Once ejected, about 90 percent of sputtered moon particles escape into space, where they become ionized and are drawn into the solar wind, said study co-author Rosemary Killen, also of NASA Goddard. "The material is in atomic form," Killen added. "It is not meteoric and does not produce meteor showers" on Earth. (12/10)

MSFC Reports Increasing Small Business Participation (Source: Huntsville Times)
Marshall Space Flight Center spent more than $2 billion in small business subcontracting in fiscal 2011, and showed growth in most of its small or disadvantaged business setaside categories, Marshall's top small business contracting official said. David Brock, MSFC Small Business Specialist, told the more than 300 attendees at the Marshall Small Business Alliance (MSBA) update meeting at the Davidson Center that 2011 small business subcontracting at MSFS amounted to $2.019 billion. (12/10)

ULA Chief Disputes Assertion that Air Force Lacks Block Buy Data (Source: Spacec News)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Chief Executive Michael Gass challenged a key assertion in a U.S. government report that urged the U.S. Air Force to rethink plans to proceed with a bulk purchase of satellite launchers next year, a recommendation that has found a receptive ear in Congress. While expressing support for Air Force efforts to comply with GAO recommendations, Gass said the congressional watchdog agency was mistaken in suggesting the service has insufficient information to move forward with its block buy.

Under the block buy strategy, designed to curb costs on the Pentagon’s primary satellite launching program, the Air Force intends to order as many as 50 Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets combined over a five-year period. Denver-based ULA, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture, builds and operates the rockets under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

Editor's Note: With two state-of-the-art launch vehicles (Atlas-5 and Delta-4) and four state-of-the-art launch complexes (in Florida and California), ULA certainly has the technical capacity for more than 11 launches per year, as were conducted in 2011 (seven in Florida, four in California). So why does the company not compete more effectively for commercial launches? (12/10)

Deadline Fast Approaching for NATO To Replace Satcom Capacity (Source: Space News)
NATO is facing a fast-approaching deadline for replacing its satellite telecommunications capacity that, if missed, will result in “satcom blackouts” at a time when the alliance’s engagements are extending far beyond its original borders, a NATO official said.

The 28-nation NATO currently leases capacity aboard British, French and Italian national military telecommunications satellites in the SHF and UHF frequency bands. The arrangement is part of a contract vehicle called NATO Satcom Post-2000 for which NATO agreed to pay 457 million euros, or $617 million at current exchange rates, between 2005 and 2019. (12/10)

O3b Exercises Option for Third Soyuz Launch (Source: Space News)
O3b Networks, which is building a satellite constellation to provide Internet connectivity to telecom providers in developing countries, exercised an option for a third launch aboard a Soyuz rocket, Arianespace, which markets the Russian-built vehicle, announced. The launch, to take place from Europe’s spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, will deliver four O3b satellites to medium Earth orbit in 2014. (12/10)

Launch Costs Could Put a Damper on NASA Earth Science Missions (Source: Space News)
NASA’s Earth Science Division will be able to launch two missions per year under its current budget outlook if the agency can find reliable, affordable rides into orbit for those spacecraft, said Michael Freilich, the division’s director. But Freilich acknowledged that is a big if, explaining that rising launch costs make “one or two” missions a year more likely. (12/10)

Jupiter's Moon Europa Is Target for Possible NASA Lander (Source:
NASA is considering dropping two robotic landers on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, a body that many scientists regard as the solar system's best bet for harboring life beyond Earth. Researchers at JPL are developing a concept mission that could launch in 2020 and deliver the landers to Europa about six years later. The chief goal would be to investigate whether life could ever have existed on the huge moon, which likely hosts an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell. (12/10)

$5,000 Kit to Send Your Own Rocket to the Moon (Source:
When father-and-son backyard experiments have reached the point of sending smartphones up on weather balloons to snap pictures at the edge of space, DIY space enthusiasts will want to take things up a notch. A crowd-funded project to create a $5,000-moon-rocket kit just may do the trick.

The idea comes from Lunar Robotics, a private team formerly competing to land a robot on the moon in the $30-million Google Lunar X Prize. It has already conducted several tests based on an old U.S. Air Force concept of launching rockets from high in the sky aboard weather balloons — called rockoons — to save on fuel costs. But after its financial backer had to pull out, the team turned to the public through the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. Click here. (12/10)

Is Vesta the "Smallest Terrestrial Planet?" (Source: NASA)
NASA's Dawn spacecraft spent the last four years voyaging to asteroid Vesta – and may have found a planet. Vesta was discovered over two hundred years ago but, until Dawn, has been seen only as an indistinct blur and considered little more than a large, rocky body. Now the spacecraft's instruments are revealing the true complexity of this ancient world. "We're seeing enormous mountains, valleys, hills, cliffs, troughs, ridges, craters of all sizes, and plains," says Chris Russell, Dawn principal investigator from UCLA. "Vestais not a simple ball of rock. This is a world with a rich geochemical history. It has quite a story to tell!" (12/10)

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