December 28, 2011

Arianespace Completes 2012 With Soyuz Launch Partner Mission For Globalstar (Source: AFP)
Arianespace wrapped up another busy - and historic - 12 months of commercial launch services today by orbiting six satellites for mobile voice and data services on the ninth flight of 2011 - during a year in which the company lofted a total of 29 payloads using the Ariane 5 and Soyuz members of its launcher family. Today's mission, performed from Baikonur Cosmodrome by the Starsem affiliate of Arianespace, carried the latest cluster of second-generation satellites for Globalstar and utilized the medium-lift Soyuz. (12/28)

Money No Remedy for Russia's Scientific Decline (Source: Washington Post)
Although Russia has tripled its spending on scientific research in the past 10 years as it seeks to make up for the collapse of the 1990s, “innovation is losing out to exhaustion, corruption and cronyism,” says Will Englund. Under Soviet rule, science had prestige and strong support, which resulted in the first satellite and then the first man in space.

But two decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union, many young Russian scientists are looking to escape the low pay and poor facilities of the government science program, which is "shot through with back-scratching and favoritism," Englund writes. The U.S. could feel the effects as it depends on Russian rockets to carry astronauts to the international space station.

“In 20 years, all the positive things that existed in Soviet times have been destroyed, and replaced by nothing,” said Natalia Desherevskaya, a biologist at Institute of Biochemistry and Physiology of Microorganisms. Despite the increase in spending, Russia’s share of articles published in international scientific journals has fallen by 30 percent since 1998, and the number of people working in research and development dropped from more than 1.1 million in 1994 to 761,000 in 2008. (12/22)

Feeling the Ripples of Black Hole Collisions (Source: Discovery)
You might call it the universe's ultimate Clash of the Titans. As if the idea of monster black holes lurking in the heart of a galaxies isn't ominous enough, imagine two of them crashing together like a pair of Sumo wrestlers. This is an inevitable outcome when galaxies collide. But such a death match has never been directly detected, at least not yet.

Astronomers are eagerly looking forward to the day when gravitational wave detectors are sensitive enough to pick up the fabric of space-time ringing from such a smashup. This would allow theorists to precisely test general relativity under extreme conditions where strong gravity is at work. These events that happened long ago and far away are a prime target for space based gravitational wave detectors, like the long-planned Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) -- a joint mission between NASA and the European Space Agency.

According to theory, a black hole merger will first look like a sinusoidal wave on LISA's detectors. It will wiggle, increase in frequency and then flat-line after the black holes coalesce. The gravitational waves will tell scientists about mass, spin and orbital properties of the merger. (12/28)

NASA Twin Spacecraft On Final Approach For Moon Orbit (Source: NASA)
NASA's twin spacecraft to study the moon from crust to core are nearing their New Year's Eve and New Year's Day main-engine burns to place the duo in lunar orbit. Named Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), the spacecraft are scheduled to be placed in orbit beginning at 4:21 p.m. EST for GRAIL-A on Dec. 31, and 5:05 p.m. EST on Jan. 1 for GRAIL-B.

The distance from Earth to the moon is approximately 250,000 miles (402,336 kilometers). NASA's Apollo crews took about three days to travel to the moon. Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sept. 10, 2011, the GRAIL spacecraft are taking about 30 times that long and covering more than 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers) to get there. (12/28)

Japan's Satellite Launch Business Faces Cloudy Future (Source: Japan Times)
Japan's H-IIA rocket appears to have joined the ranks of the world's major launch vehicles following the Dec. 12 launch of an intelligence-gathering satellite. With 19 successes and one failure, however, Japan may stand little chance of capturing a substantial slice of the commercial satellite launch market, given the presence of well-entrenched competitors such as Europe and Russia.

The government and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. are hoping that the successful development of the H-IIA will provide a big break for Japan as it advances into the satellite launch market. However, in addition to Europe and Russia, emerging space powers like China and India also pose tough competition. This makes it likely that any Japanese satellite launch business will continue to depend on orders from the domestic government for some time to come. Click here.

Editor's Note: Sadly, this article makes no attempt to characterize U.S. launch providers as being competitive in the global marketplace. Atlas and Delta rockets should have more of this business, but fail to do so for various reasons (including, I suspect, their higher pricing structure for willing, deep-pocketed U.S. government customers). Hopefully, the Falcon-9/Heavy and Liberty rockets will introduce new competition that will bring down Atlas and Delta prices for both government and commercial missions. (12/28)

Large Hadron Collider Researchers Find New Particle (Source: GizMag)
British researchers say they've seen a new particle using data from the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. The chi b(3P) is the first new particle that has been clearly observed using the LHC, the world's largest particle accelerator, which is housed in a 17-mile (27-km) long tunnel near the border of Switzerland and France.

The chi b(3P) is a boson, but is different than the Higgs boson, the so-called "God particle" that researchers have also been using the LHC to search for. Researchers from the University of Birmingham and Lancaster University describe the new particle as a new way of combining a beauty quark and its antiquark so that they bind together. (12/28)

LightSquared, GPS Industry Dispute Spills Into 2012 (Source: Washington Post)
The struggle over the airwaves that has bogged down Reston-based LightSquared’s plans to deploy a wireless broadband network looks like it might be nearing a showdown. The company made its boldest attempt yet to squash the opposition last week, asking the Federal Communications Commission to issue a declaratory ruling asserting LightSquared’s right to use the spectrum.

At issue is the network’s potential interference with the receivers on global positioning systems that provide navigation support to consumers, companies and the federal government. Opponents of the project say that interference could cripple industries that rely on GPS and would cost, at minimum, hundreds of millions of dollars to fix. Those claims gained further support earlier this month when officials from several government agencies reported that tests showed the LightSquared network would interfere with “the majority” of GPS receivers.

LightSquared, which is backed by Harbinger Capital Partners, said in its FCC petition that its satellite-based network is consistent with its license and should not be penalized because the GPS industry “simply has failed to prepare itself.” “In contrast [to LightSquared’s network], commercial GPS receivers are not licensed, do not operate under any service rules, and thus are not entitled to any interference protection whatsoever,” the filing stated. (12/28)

LightSquared Releases Tests on Modified GPS Devices (Source: Telecom Paper)
LightSquared filed the first set of data from independent testing of precision GPS devices which were modified to coexist with the company's proposed nationwide LTE network. According to the company, the data shows that properly filtered high-precision GPS devices do not suffer any loss of accuracy in the presence of LightSquared's signals. The government has not yet begun the next phase of its testing, which will focus on high-precision devices.

The government's testing has already confirmed that more than 300 million GPS-enabled mobile phones are compliant with LightSquared's signal. However, the government-required tests showed that the majority of standard GPS devices suffer interference from LightSquared's network. The company has claimed that this is because they are leaking into spectrum licensed to LightSquared.

It has been working with equipment manufacturers on a way to alter the devices to prevent interference. In addition, it has asked the FCC to reaffirm its spectrum rights, in order to secure regulatory clearance for its network roll-out. (12/28)

Photo Shows What Our Sun Will Look Like When it Dies (Source: Telegraph)
The outer layers of a dying star form a huge cloud of gas, lit up by the core. In an estimated 5 billion years time, our own sun will turn into a nebula like this one. The photograph, taken by Bill Snyder and featured on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day website, shows the Dumbbell Nebula, or M27. It is about 1,360 light years from earth and can be seen by stargazers with amateur telescopes and even binoculars. (12/28)

To Truly Understand Gingrich, Read his 1984 Book on Space Exploration (Source: Salon)
“Today,” Gingrich declared to an auditorium of Iowa City students, “we are on the cusp of an explosion of new science that will create new opportunities in health, agriculture, energy and materials technology.” But, he argued, we must first reform the bureaucracy hindering unfettered science. Perhaps — but it was hard to argue with Politico’s conclusion that giving the seminar in the midst of a hard-fought primary was politically “puzzling.” At worst it was suicidal.

The best guide to understanding the reasons Gingrich took time off the campaign trail to teach a brain-science seminar — and also, in the words of Mitt Romney, to understanding his “zany” side — is Gingrich’s first book, “Window of Opportunity.” Published in 1984 when he was the three-term member of Congress from Georgia (and, the cover notes, “chairman of the Congressional Space Caucus”), the book is an extended meditation on how the bureaucratic welfare state is holding back America from a bright future of space tourism and a poverty-ending computer revolution. Click here. (12/28)

If There is Life on Other Planets, God Put it There (Source: Chicago Tribune)
Q: Do you think we'll ever know if there's life on other planets? My 8-year-old son (who is fascinated by space travel) asked me this question, but I didn't know how to answer him. Does the Bible say anything about life on other planets?

A: No, the Bible doesn't directly address the question of whether or not there is life on other planets. It doesn't say there is, nor does it say there isn't; it's simply silent on the subject. Instead, the Bible's focus is on this world, and how we can know God's will for our lives right now. If there is life elsewhere in the universe, then you can be sure that God created it and put it there. It didn't happen by chance -- anymore than life here happened by chance. The Bible's opening words underline this great truth. Click here. (12/28)

Editorial: NASA Should Accept Google Gift of Saving Hangar One (Source: Mercury News)
Inexplicably, NASA-Ames is leaving a perfectly-wrapped present unopened under its tree at Moffett Field: an offer from three Google executives to pay the entire $33 million cost to re-clad Hangar One, whose asbestos-poisoned skin is being scraped to the skeleton this winter. Google execs made the offer to save the landmark in September. Local NASA officials seem enthusiastic, but headquarters has given no official response, according to U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo -- ignoring bipartisan interest and repeated letters from her seeking a reaction.

Timing is critical because the tear-down will be finished by spring, and the most economical way to re-cover the shell is to do the work immediately. The agency says it's studying options for its 2013 budget -- but it needs to speed up its review of the offer and open negotiations as soon as possible if it appears there's even a possibility it could work. Delay could squander the opportunity. (12/28)

Lasers Measure Earth's Rotation and Wobble (Source:
The Earth spins around once every 24 hours on its axis, creating the continuous cycle of day and night. But this rotation isn't as straightforward as it sounds: Forces large and small cause the Earth to wobble as it spins. This wobbling can pose a problem for navigation systems like GPS. Scientists working with lasers and mirrors are refining a new system to track the Earth's rotation and its kinks.

The pull of gravity from the sun and the moon contribute to the planet's wobble. So do variations in atmospheric pressure, ocean loading and the wind, which change the position of the Earth's axis relative to the surface. Together their effect is called the Chandler wobble, and it has a period of 435 days. Another force causes the rotational axis to move over a period of a year. This "annual wobble" is due to the Earth's elliptical orbit around the sun.

Between these two effects, the Earth's axis migrates irregularly along a circular path with a radius of up to 20 feet (6 meters). Pinning down the overall wobble of the planet's rotation is key to keeping certain tracking systems accurate. Currently, this is now done through a complicated process that involves 30 radio telescopes around the globe that measure the direction between Earth and specific quasars, a type of galaxy that is assumed to be stationary relative to the Earth. (12/28)

Decades Later, a Cold War Secret is Revealed (Source: AP)
For more than a decade they toiled in the strange, boxy-looking building on the hill above the municipal airport, the building with no windows (except in the cafeteria), the building filled with secrets. They wore protective white jumpsuits, and had to walk through air-shower chambers before entering the sanitized "cleanroom" where the equipment was stored. They spoke in code.

Until recently, they were forbidden to speak about the greatest achievement of their professional lives. "Ah, Hexagon," Ed Newton says. It was dubbed "Big Bird" and it was considered the most successful space spy satellite program of the Cold War era. From 1971 to 1986 a total of 20 satellites were launched, each containing 60 miles of film and sophisticated cameras that took vast, panoramic photographs of the Soviet Union, China and other potential foes. The film was shot back to Earth in buckets that parachuted over the Pacific Ocean, where C-130 Air Force planes snagged them with grappling hooks. (12/28)

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