December 3, 2011

Exploration Plan Features Reusable Lunar Lander (Source:
In a potential marriage of the Space Launch System (SLS) with a central exploration plan, a Boeing-authored presentation has proposed an Exploration Gateway Platform architecture that not only returns man to the lunar surface – via the use of only one SLS launch and a reusable Lunar Lander – but provides a baseline for pathfinders towards an eventual crewed mission to Mars.

NASA's current plan is vague, with references to a Near Earth Object (NEO) mission in the mid 2020s, on a path to crewed missions to Mars in the 2030s. However, the ambitious plan put forward under the Boeing banner is based around a crewed return to the moon and would use a Lagrange Point and the International Space Station as key elements.

Central to the plan is a deep space platform, known as a gateway, located at Earth-Moon Lagrange (EML) point 1 or 2, after being built from pre-launched hardware, providing the host station for a reusable Lunar Lander – which would also be launched by the SLS Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV). The Gateway would first be constructed at the ISS, mainly using ISS components. Click here. (12/3)

Troop Drawdown Won’t Crimp Bandwidth Demand, Officials Say (Source: Space News)
The sharp drawdown of U.S. and allied troops from Iraq and Afghanistan is unlikely to put any lasting downward pressure on demand for satellite bandwidth as “boots on the ground are replaced by eyes in the sky,” according to U.S. military and NATO officials and industry estimates. U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Lakos, milsatcom capability team lead at U.S. Air Force Space Command, said bandwidth-hungry unmanned aerial vehicles providing full-motion video are not going to be set aside just because of the drop in U.S. troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan. (12/3)

Senate Passes Bill That Puts the Heat on EELV (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Senate passed a defense authorization bill Dec. 1 that would subject the Pentagon’s primary satellite launching program, including plans to buy rockets in bulk starting next year, to much tougher scrutiny. An amendment to the Defense Authorization Act for 2012 that was approved prior to the bill’s passage on the Senate floor directs the Air Force to spell out its compliance with a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that called the service’s rocket acquisition strategy into question.

To the extent that the Air Force does not intend to comply with the recommendations in the report, it must specify its rationale in its 2013 budget request, to be submitted to Congress in February. A similar amendment, which was added to the bill Nov. 18, would subject the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, under which the Air Force procures and operates its workhorse Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets, to much stricter reporting requirements. Specifically, the amendment would change EELV’s designation from a sustainment to an acquisition program. (12/3)

Outer Space? Kinda Been There, Dad... (Source: Financial Times)
The ascendancy on unmanned probes and the lack of a human narrative or drama has removed the thrill of space exploration. Like most men my age, I’m a sucker for space flight, so the details of NASA’s latest robot mission to Mars have certainly captured my attention. Sadly, however, I’ve come to understand that this fascination is just one more thing that separates me from the next generation.

It’s baffling: a robot mission to Mars, for heaven’s sake; how cool is that? But it seems computer graphics, Xboxes and the second Star Wars series mean that the story of how we went to the moon just doesn’t cut it for kids. And as for an unmanned drone – well frankly they’ve seen better in the last Transformers movie. Click here. (12/2)

Keeping The Space Dream Alive (Source: KUHF)
Space exploration is not dead. A new film at Houston's Museum of Natural Science examines human spaceflight after the end of the Shuttle program. Seating inside the Museum of Natural Science Planetarium was at a premium with the 4th graders from Valley West and North Belt Elementary. They are the first to see the new space movie that was created and produced by the museum. Dr Carolyn Sumners is vice president of astronomy and physics at the museum. (12/2)

Still in the Dark About Dark Matter (Source: LA Times)
Dark matter, the mysterious stuff thought to make up about 80% of matter in the universe, has become even more inscrutable. Scientists have been trying for decades to better understand and detect the nature of dark matter, which could help them figure out how galaxies first formed. "We don't know much about dark matter," said Stefan Funk, a particle astrophysicist at Stanford University. Click here. (12/2)

Hot on Trail of ‘Just Right’ Far-Off Planet (Source: New York Times)
What does Goldilocks want? At least four times in the last few years, astronomers have announced they have found planets orbiting other stars in the sweet spot known as the habitable zone — not too hot, not too cold — where water and thus perhaps life are possible. In short, a so-called Goldilocks planet fit to be inhabited by the biochemical likes of us.

None of these claims are without controversy, but astronomers who are making discoveries with NASA’s Kepler spacecraft are meeting next week in California to review the first two years of their quest, which seems tantalizingly close to hitting pay dirt.

“Sooner or later, Kepler will find a lukewarm planet with a size making it probably Earthlike,” said Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, who spends his time tracking down candidates identified by Kepler. “We’re no more than a year away” from such a discovery, he said. (12/2)

Cosmic rays Tracked to 'Cocoon' in Star Nursery (Source: CBC)
Astrophysicists think they may have partly solved the mystery of where cosmic rays come from. Cosmic rays are beams of high-energy charged particles, mostly protons and heavier nuclei — atoms that have had their electrons stripped off — that travel at extremely high speeds through the universe, including our galaxy. Scientists have had great difficulty figuring out where cosmic rays originate and how they are accelerated to such high speeds, although they believe supernova explosions play a role.

Recently, light left by passing cosmic rays has been tracked back to a hollow space in a nebula called Cygnus X where many new stars are born, reports a study published in Science. An analysis of the light suggests similar structures, known as superbubbles, may be a major source of cosmic rays. Click here. (12/3)

Arthur Clarke Predicted Russian Win in Moon Race (Source: RIA Novosti)
In a rediscovered 1963 interview, late British science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke predicts that the Soviet Union would win the Moon race by launching a manned mission to the Earth's natural satellite in 1968. In an episode of The Sky at Night, the world's longest running television science program, the writer says the Bolsheviks would send a manned mission to the Moon, probably on the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. (12/2)

Garvey NanoSat Launch Project Selected for NASA SBIR Award (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Garvey Spacecraft of Long Beach, Calif., has been selected for a NASA Small Business Innovation Research award to develop alternative hydrocarbon propulsion for a nano-sat/micro-sat launch vehicle. No terms were mentioned, but SBIR awards are typically for six months for amounts up to $125,000. The award is contingent upon contract negotiations.

“The technical innovation proposed here is the application of an alternative hydrocarbon fuel – densified propylene, in combination with liquid oxygen (LOX) – that has the potential to enhance the performance of a proposed Nano / Micro Launch Vehicle (NMLV) enough such that a simple two-stage, pressure-fed configuration will be sufficient for orbital missions. Besides eliminating the third stage, the absence of turbopumps reduces hardware costs, improves overall system reliability and simplifies engine start-up,” the proposal reads. (12/2)

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