December 5, 2011

NASA's Space Sail is the 'Little Satellite That Could' (Source: Huntsville Times(
NASA scientists in Huntsville call NanoSail-D "the little satellite that could" because of what it has already accomplished. But what has them even more excited is what space sails like NanoSail-D could do to help bring satellites back to earth safely and cheaply. Click here. (12/5)

Pensacola Naval Museum Features Shuttle Exhibit (Source: WEAR)
NASA's shuttle program is over but you still have the chance to experience the thrill of space flight at the National Naval Aviation Museum. The "Shuttle Legacy" traveling exhibit is now on display. It includes a shuttle tire an astronaut's suit and gloves large scale models and more. It will be on display in the museum's "Hanger Bay One" through the end of the year. Admission is free. (12/5)

$200 Million On the Table for Heavy-Lift Work (Source: Huntsville Times)
Is your company experienced at helping the government design and engineer complex rocket systems? NASA 's Marshall Space Flight Center is about to put $200 million of work in that area on the table. The work, part of the new heavy-lift rocket component of NASA's new Space Launch System, could make a strong contribution to companies' bottom lines through 2015.

NASA is seeking research proposals to meet the "goal of reducing risk in the areas of affordability, performance, and reliability" in the new rocket's booster. Marshall is leading the development of the new rocket scheduled to make its first flight by the end of 2017. Industry will have until Jan. 12 to respond to the initial announcement with questions needing clarification. (12/5)

Beam It Down: A Drive to Launch Space-Based Solar (Source: National Geographic)
In an aircraft hangar in Germany, scientists are firing lasers across the room in the hopes of bringing science fiction to life: beaming solar power directly from space. According to a new report by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), space-based solar technologies now in development in the lab will be technically feasible and ready for practical demonstration within the next decade or two.

What's more, based on existing technologies, space-based solar could be an economically viable alternative to today's commercial energy sources within the next 30 years, concludes the report published last month. In fact, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, is "going forward on their [space-based solar] demo plan, with satellites scheduled to be up by the end of the next decade and a full pilot system by 2030," said Frank E. Little, of the Space Engineering Research Center at Texas A&M University.

According to the IAA report, such flight demonstrations "that validate [solar power satellite, or SPS] systems concepts to a high level of maturity . . . appear to be essential in order to build confidence among engineers, policy makers, and the public and allow space solar power technology maturation and SPS deployment to proceed." (12/5)

Astronomers Discover Biggest Black Holes Ever (Source: AFP)
Scientists have discovered the two biggest black holes ever observed, each with a mass billions of times greater than the Sun's, according to a study published Monday. The two giants are located in the heart of a pair of galaxies several hundred million light years from Earth, said the study in scientific journal Nature.
Each black hole is estimated to have a mass about 10 billion times greater than the sun, dwarfing the previously largest-known black hole, which has a mass of 6.3 billion suns. (12/5)

Arsenic Microbe Anniversary Picks Up Steam (Source: USA Today)
A one-year-old study touting a bacterium that seemed to use arsenic in its metabolism continues to garner scientific study, caution and criticism. In an unusual move, Science magazine later published a series of technical comments on the Dec. 2, 2010, GFAJ-1 microbe report critical of initial claims made at a NASA news conference of a "new kind of life" being discovered with the bug. The "arseniclife" debate has taken on a familiar kind of life of its own over the last year on the Internet, and now scientific studies are beginning to emerge investigating the matter, such as the genome of the bug.

Working with other researchers, University of British Columbia biologist Rosie Redfield, a prominent critic of the original paper, has grown the bacteria under arsenic-rich conditions, for example, but she cautions this is not a replication of the original team's results. We asked University of Southern California astrobiologist Ken Nealson to comment on the genome (or gene sequence) results led by Le Phung of the University of Illinois, which suggest that GFAJ-1 is a fairly normal-looking kind of salt-friendly bacteria, without known arsenic-resistance genes common in other poison-tolerating bugs. Click here. (12/5)

Russian ExoMars Cooperation On Agenda (Source: Aviation Week)
Science chiefs from the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos are scheduled to meet on Dec. 7 to discuss Russian participation in ExoMars. Alvaro Gimenez-Canete, ESA director of science and exploration, and his NASA and Roscosmos counterparts are expected to focus on working toward a Mars sample-return mission, in the face of U.S. budget uncertainty that threatens to upend the joint ESA-NASA effort. (12/5)

Some Alien Planets Could Be Made of Diamonds, Study Finds (Source:
Some alien planets could be packing some major bling, according to a new study that predicts planets around other stars could be made largely of diamond. But while such a place might sound beautiful, you wouldn't want to visit, scientists say. A diamond planet would very likely be devoid of life and incapable of supporting living beings like us. "We think a diamond planet must be a very cold, dark place," Wendy Panero, leader of the study, said. (12/5)

Navy Looking for NASA's Next Astronauts (Source:
A Navy administrative message (NAVADMIN) released Nov. 30 announced the Navy will begin accepting applications for the NASA Astronaut Candidate class of 2013 at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Navy NASA Astronaut Candidate selection board #295 is scheduled to convene May 1, 2012. Applications and endorsements are due to Navy Personnel Command no later than March 15, 2012.

"We're looking for people who can perform," said Navy Capt. Lee Morin, M.D., Ph.D., a naval astronaut and former flight surgeon in the Navy medical corps. "We need people who work well with others and represent the agency well, not only to the American people, but to the world. Most important is someone who is a good team player and who's not in it for themselves, or their ego." (12/5)

FAA Chief Suspended Over DWI Arrest (Source: Daily Beast)
The 65-year-old head of the Federal Aviation Administration was placed on administrative leave Monday after being arrested for drunken driving Sunday night in northern Virginia. Randy Babbitt was driving on the wrong side of the Old Lee Highway outside the District of Columbia when he was stopped by police and charged with driving while intoxicated. The White House and Department of Transportation learned of the arrest Monday afternoon, and announced in a statement that the FAA's deputy administrator would take Babbitt's position until his employment status is settled. (12/5)

Accelerating the Future: Human Achievements Beyond LEO Within a Decade (Source: Space Review)
Is it possible to accelerate human missions beyond Earth orbit within constrained budgets? Harley Thronson, Dan Lester, and Skip Hatfield describe how to leverage the experience and technologies of the ISS to support cislunar missions. Visit to view the article. (12/5)

Time for Russia to Rethink its Mars Exploration Plans (Source: Space Review)
In the wake of the apparent failure of its Phobos-Grunt mission, Russian officials are suggesting they'll try to refly the same mission in the coming years. Lou Friedman argues that Russia instead needs to review its overall Mars exploration plans and consider closer cooperation with the US and Europe. Visit to view the article. (12/5)

Innovations in Exoplanet Search (Source: Space Review)
One of the challenges facing the burgeoning field of extrasolar planet research is finding new ways of discovering more, and more Earth-like, planets within constrained budgets. Jeff Foust reports on a couple of innovative approaches that leverage advances in smallsats and suborbital vehicles. Visit to view the article. (12/5)

Big Comm, Little Mysteries (Source: Space Review)
What do changes in little details in a satellite's design mean? Dwayne Day examines a changing antenna design of a classic communications satellite and wonders what story it might tell. Visit to view the article. (12/5)

Fly Faster, Safer with New Air Traffic Control Plan (Source: Palm Beach Sun Sentinel)
Imagine a behemoth Boeing 747 gliding for about 200 miles before landing, conserving hundreds of gallons of fuel along the way. It's happening today at some airports as part of NextGen, an FAA program to dramatically modernize the nation's air traffic control system within the next two decades. Its goals: Cut flight times and delays, make flying safer and save the airlines billions. (12/5)

Kepler Finds Debris Disks (Asteroid Belts) in Exoplanet Systems (Source: Cornell)
The Kepler Mission recently identified systems hosting candidate extrasolar planets, many of which are super-Earths. Realizing these rocky planetary systems are candidates to host extrasolar asteroid belts, we use mid-infrared data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) to search for emission from dust in these systems. We find excesses around eight stars, indicating the presence of warm to hot dust (~100-500 K), corresponding to orbital distances of 0.1-10 AU for these solar-type stars. (12/2)

NIAC’s Jay Falker: On the Hunt for What’s Possible in Space (Source: NASA)
To set your sights on visionary changes that could transform space exploration, look no further than NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts - or NIAC for short. In early August, NASA’s NIAC announced a select set of proposals for study, with each idea receiving approximately $100,000 for one year. The objective: To help transform the space agency’s future space missions, enable new capabilities or significantly alter current approaches to launching, building, and operating space systems. Click here. (12/4)

China's Launch Rate Set to Surpass United States (Source:
For the first time since joining the spacefaring community in 1970, China is poised to eclipse the number of U.S. space launches in a single year. Launching clandestine military payloads, navigation and communications satellites, research platforms and pathfinders for its manned space program, Chinese Long March rockets have blasted off 17 times this year. One of the missions failed to reach orbit in August.

The United States has launched 18 times in 2011. The U.S. launch record includes five Atlas 5 missions, the three final flights of the space shuttle, and three launches each of the Delta 2, Delta 4 and Minotaur rockets. The sole U.S. failure was the launch of a Taurus XL rocket with a NASA climate research satellite in March. No more U.S. space launches are planned this year, but at least one more mission is scheduled on China's manifest. (12/4)

Hope Lost for Fobos-Grunt – Likely to Re-enter Early in New Year (Source:
Despite a small period of time where it was hoped communications and commanding might be established with the stricken Fobos-Grunt spacecraft, it now appears the Russian probe’s future is one which will see it head towards a fiery end, as its orbit continues decay over time. The likely scenario now points to a destructive re-entry sometime in January. (12/5)

Best Space Pictures (Sources: National Geographic, WIRED)
Click here to view a collection of the best space pictures of 2011. And click here to view photos of Copenhagen Suborbitals' development of a space capsule. (12/5)

Kepler Finds Planet in Another Star's Comfort Zone (Source:
NASA's Kepler space telescope has discovered a planet circling at just the right distance from another star, making for comfortable temperatures and supporting an environment for liquid water and possible life, scientists announced Monday. Orbiting a star much like the sun, the planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth and has a year lasting about 290 days. But researchers need to know its mass, density and composition before declaring the planet Earth-like. (12/5)

New Mexico Spaceport Nears Completion (Source: El Paso Inc)
Just 100 miles north of El Paso, in mostly empty desert broken by roaming buffalo and wagon tracks left by settlers who pushed into the Western frontier, a private company prepares to take tourists to space. Despite delays that have put the project a year behind schedule, construction on Spaceport America is 95 percent done, says spaceport spokesperson David Wilson. Its anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic, could send tourists into space as soon as 2013, if everything goes as planned. (12/5)

New Mexico Spaceport Will Be Self-Sufficient, Director Says (Source:
Spaceport America’s executive director says she expects the facility to be “operationally self-sufficient” within a year of Virgin Galactic starting its flights. Of course, there’s still no firm date for the start of Virgin Galactic flights, which will ferry paying passengers into suborbital space. “The people of New Mexico made an investment for the commercial space industry, which is now paying off,” Anderson wrote. “…it’s important for taxpayers to know that the spaceport will be bringing millions of dollars into our economy, and it’s not just Virgin Galactic that’s spending money.”

Anderson highlighted customers of the spaceport including UP Aerospace, which recently won a multi-million dollar NASA contract and a separate contract from the Department of Defense, and Armadillo Aerospace, which has launched from the spaceport twice this year and plans a third launch before the end of the year. Anderson wrote that, to date, the Spaceport Authority has employed 973 New Mexicans. She projected “approximately 500 jobs in the next three years and approximately 2,000 jobs by 2016.” (12/5)

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