January 23, 2012

Santorum, Romney Talk Space in Central Florida (Source: SPACErePORT)
In one television interview on Monday, after a campaign speech, GOP candidate Rick Santorum was asked about the importance of the space program. He responded that space is important from a national security standpoint, because the U.S. will in the future encounter more international threats from space. Later that night at a candidate debate in Tampa, Mitt Romney also spoke of space in terms of national security. He said "We have control of the commons: space, air, and the sea." Then he mentioned the fact that the "Space Coast is struggling" while President Obama plays golf. (1/23)

One Russian Ship Vacates Station Port for Next Vehicle (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
After 82 days docked to the International Space Station, a Russian Progress resupply freighter pulled away Monday afternoon to fly independently into a higher orbit for deployment of a science satellite and setting the stage for another cargo ship launching to the outpost later this week. The Progress M-13M spacecraft reached the station Nov. 2 to deliver three tons of equipment, food, rocket fuel, air and water. It was marked resumption of the Russian-provided supply chain after the August launch failure of the previous ship. (1/23)

Next Solicitation for Commercial Crew Program Expected Feb. 7 (Source: Space News)
NASA plans to solicit proposals Feb. 7 for the third round of its commercial crew program and award at least two funded Space Act Agreements this summer that will run through 2014 and prepare competing astronaut transportation concepts for production. NASA has rebranded this initiative as the “Commercial Crew integrated Capability” program, according to a procurement notice posted online Jan. 23. It was formerly known as the Commercial Crew Integrated Design Contract. (1/23)

Biggest Solar Storm Since 2005 Underway, Will Peak Tuesday (Source Washington Post)
Fast on the heels of a solar storm that delivered a glancing blow over the weekend — triggering bright auroras in Canada and Scandinavia — the sun released an even more energetic blast of radiation and charged plasma overnight that could disrupt GPS signals and the electrical grid Tuesday, especially at high latitudes, space weather experts warned Monday morning. Already, the storm could be disrupting satellite communications as streams of radiation from the sun bounce across the Earth’s magnetic field, which extends above the surface into space. (1/23)

Gingrich Faces Struggling Space Coast Audience for Space Speech (Source: Huntsville Times)
Newt Gingrich, riding a wave of popularity in the Republican Party after winning the South Carolina primary, will find a Space Coast struggling to re-invent itself after the end of the 30-year-old space shuttle program (which cost thousands of Florida jobs) and a long fight over the future of NASA between Congress and President Barack Obama. That fight is over now, but the compromise solution has left uncertainty in Florida and other space states.

Obama ended NASA's behind-schedule Constellation rocket program in favor of government support for building a U.S. commercial space industry to ferry astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station. His idea was that NASA would spend much of the coming decade preparing for the complex challenges of deep space missions.

Fearing loss of the nation's spaceflight capability, Congress forced the White House to agree to allow NASA to develop a new heavy-lift rocket instead. That rocket will be developed in Huntsville by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. The Huntsville area lost an estimated 1,500-2,000 aerospace jobs in 2010 and 2011 as the Constellation and space shuttle programs wound down. (1/23)

How to Picture a Black Hole (Source: WIRED)
This month, researchers are inaugurating the Event Horizon Telescope, a project that will try to take the first detailed pictures of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. This observation would be a remarkable achievement, underscoring the progress that has been made in black-hole research in just the last few decades.

As recently as the 1970s, astronomers still argued over whether black holes were theoretical constructs or real physical objects. They now have ample evidence that black holes are not only real, but abundant in the cosmos. Here on Earth, advanced computer simulations have given astronomers a wealth of information, leading theoretical physicist Kip Thorne of Caltech to suggest that black-hole research is entering a new golden age. (1/23)

South Africa Space Agency Looks to Cyberspace for Help with Real Space (Source: Meme Burn)
The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) has put out a call on Facebook and Twitter for the country’s citizens to have a say in the drafting of the National Space Program (NSP). According to agency’s website, the aim of the NSP is to “make South Africa a leading space player by 2030″. The site also invites South Africans to share their “thoughts on ‘Space Vision 2030′ via the face book [sic] or Twitter”.

Speaking to Business Day, a leading South African newspaper, Arthur Goldstuck of internet research firm World Wide Worx said SANSA’s move was something of a first among South African state agencies. “The Presidency is on Twitter, but not the president, and it does not encourage interaction,” he said. He added that the decision to use social media was “forward thinking because it shows they are in tune with where people are going”. It seems that social media is not the only high-tech method SANSA is using to come up with a viable national space program. (1/23)

Law Focused on Space a Growing Speciality (Source: Denver Business Journal)
As humans encroach more and more into the space around Earth, the legal issues surrounding outer space increase at warp speed. Just ask Holland & Hart partner Rachel Yates, who has become one of the nation’s most prominent space law attorneys. Colorado’s growing clout in the space industry and the increasing commercialization of space transportation has meant more business for Yates, who leads Denver-based Holland & Hart LLP’s space law practice. The practice has doubled in the last five years, in terms of time spent on aerospace clients, she said. (1/23)

Mark Kelly to be President Obama's State of the Union Guest (Source: Huffington Post)
The White House says President Barack Obama has invited Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' husband to attend Tuesday's State of the Union address. White House spokesman Jay Carney says the president looks forward to having Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut, as a guest in the first lady's box. Carney says Obama and Kelly spoke Monday morning. He says the president thanked both Giffords and Kelly for their patriotism and dedication to the country. (1/23)

A Bold Plan to Study Dark Energy (Source: Sky & Telescope)
On the afternoon of January 8th, a small group of journalists and scientists headed north from downtown Austin, the venue for 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, to the University of Texas campus. There we learned about HETDEX, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment, which David Lambert, the director of McDonald Observatory, introduced as the first major effort to "map the evolution of dark energy as a function of time."

The universe has been expanding since the Big Bang, but observations in the last couple of decades show that this expansion is accelerating, rather than slowing down. Dark energy was first postulated in 1992 as the hypothetical force that causes this stepped-up expansion. Calculations suggest that it constitutes about three-fourths of the energy in the universe — yet remains one of the least understood scientific phenomena. (1/23)

Hundreds of Meteorites Found in Antarctica (Source: Space.com)
A gang of heavily insulated scientists has wrapped up its Antarctic expedition, with its members thawing out from the experience, but pleased to have bagged more than 300 space rocks. They are participants in the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program, or ANSMET for short. Since 1976, ANSMET researchers have been recovering thousands of

According to the ANSMET website, the specimens are currently the only reliable, continuous source of new, nonmicroscopic extraterrestrial material. Given that there are no active planetary sample-return missions coming or going at the moment, the retrieval of meteorites is the cheapest and only guaranteed way to recover new things from worlds beyond the Earth. (1/23)

Caution and Optimism About the Future of Human Spaceflight (Source: Space Review)
Six months after the Space Shuttle completed its final mission, many are still uneasy about the future of America's human spaceflight efforts. Jeff Foust reports that many in the field see cause for optimism for the future, mixed with a dose of caution about the obstacles in the path ahead. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2011/1 to view the article. (1/23)

A Vision for a New Frontier Purpose for American Spaceflight (Source: Space Review)
Supporters of spaceflight have struggled to find rationales to back continued expenditures on relevant projects. Robert D. Lancaster argues that future spaceflight efforts should be based on planetary defense, access to resources, and settlement. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2010/1 to view the article. (1/23)

The Difficult Road to the Moon (Source: Space Review)
Fifty years ago this week NASA launched the first in a series of Ranger spacecraft to the Moon, with poor results. Drew LePage examines the development of those spacecraft and the unfortunate outcomes of those early missions. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2009/1 to view the article. (1/23)

NASA Seeks Partner to Preserve Shuttle Depot Capabilities (Source: SPACErePORT)
NASA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) inviting non-federal organizations to consider taking temporary stewardship of an impressive array of NASA-owned equipment in the NASA Shuttle Logistics Depot (NSLD). About 25 people from a dozen organizations attended a walk-through of the NSLD on Monday to view the equipment, which includes lathes, fabrication equipment, avionics equipment, autoclaves, vibration testing chambers, etc. Embry-Riddle was the only university represented, and none of the other organizations were what I would consider "new space" companies.

NASA hopes to identify a single organization to take the equipment under a five-year renewable Space Act Agreement. NASA would maintain ownership of the equipment and could take some items back before the five year agreement expires. The suite of equipment represents what could become a state-of-the-art aerospace fabrication enterprise, very well suited for a company developing launch vehicles or payloads.

The NSLD facility is located in the city of Cape Canaveral, not on KSC property. It is a very large facility leased to United Space Alliance. Disposition of the facility is not technically part of the NASA RFI, but some potential users might want to take control of the entire facility, rather than relocate the equipment to another location. (1/23)

Compromise Removes Roadblock for FAA Funding (Source: Reuters)
A compromise reached by Senate and House lawmakers on labor issues removes a major roadblock for long-term funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. The compromise would strengthen the rules that airline and railroad workers must follow to hold union elections. The FAA funding extension expires Jan. 31. The agency has been funded by short-term extensions for more than four years, which has stalled a plan to improve the nation's air traffic control system. (1/23)

Spaceflight Bill On New Mexico County's Agenda (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Doña Ana County commissioners on Tuesday will indicate their support - or lack thereof - for a bill that would restrict a space traveler's right to sue in most cases of injury or death. A proposal for the 2012 state legislative session - which started this week in Santa Fe - would limit lawsuits against manufacturers and suppliers of spacecraft. Virgin Galactic, the company that intends to operate flights from Spaceport America in Sierra County, already has state protection from most lawsuits.

Proponents of the bill argue its needed to keep the spaceport, located just north of Doña Ana County, competitive with three other aerospace-focused states that have already OK'd similar measures. County Commissioner Scott Krahling - also a board member of the state's spaceport authority - is proposing Tuesday's measure, a formal declaration of support for the bill. A draft version of the document points out that Virginia, Florida and Texas have approved their own versions of the legislation and "consequently could be more appealing to spaceport-related operators, manufacturers and suppliers," according to the county's agenda.

The resolution urges the Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez to pass the proposal, known as the "Spaceflight Informed Consent Act." Spaceport officials have said previously the proposal wouldn't restrict the ability of passengers to sue in cases of extreme negligence or intentional injury. (1/23)

Engineers Removing Shuttle Components for Heavy Lift Rocket (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Kennedy Space Center engineers have begun removing Main Propulsion System (MPS) hardware from the aft of the retired orbiters. The flight-flown hardware – a natural match to the RS-25Ds the SLS will initially fly with – will live on with the monster rocket, as much as some of the orbiter hardware will be focused on the test program side of SLS’ development.

The MPS relates to the powerhouse in the aft compartment of the vehicle, aiding the acceleration from lift-off of an orbiter to Main Engine Cutoff (MECO) – the phase of ascent referred to as “powered flight”. As such, the Integrated MPS consists of the three RS-25Ds, the External Tank (ET), a propellant management system used to transport fuel and oxidizer from the tank to the engines, and a multi-purpose helium system. (1/23)

Does Obama’s Planned NOAA Move Make Sense? (Sources: Space News, Washington Post)
President Obama’s plan to shift NOAA from the Commerce Department to the Interior Department has raised questions about the agency’s role and whether the move would help or hurt its mission. While some believe Interior, which oversees the nation’s parks and other land holdings along with its wildlife, is a better fit for NOAA than Commerce, which is focused on promoting U.S. business, others fear the agency — which manages weather satellites, commercial and recreational fisheries, and a range of coastal, ocean and atmospheric programs — will lose clout in the move.

“NOAA will be less prominent as one small part of Interior than it is in Commerce,” David Goldston of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote. NOAA’s $4.9 billion budget is about 60 percent of Commerce’s overall funding. Of course, whether it should even be in Commerce is a point of contention. It ended up there because President Richard Nixon was miffed at his interior secretary.

In some ways, NOAA could fit more easily within Interior, with its science-oriented U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees imperiled species and their habitat. Others say that some divisions mesh better with Commerce. The National Weather Service, for instance, provides critical planning information on everything from precipitation to temperature fluctuations for the farming and transportation sectors. (1/23)

A Brazilian Bump in the Road for New Telescope (Source: Sarahaskew.net)
In recent years the E-ELT project, Europe’s flagship next-generation optical observatory, seems to have gone from strength to strength: in 2010-2011, ESO Council officially gave the green light to the baseline technical design of the telescope (with the primary mirror slightly reduced in size), several member countries pledged their support for the project, others announced substantial investments into the development of hardware and instrumentation, and crucially, membership fees from giant new member state Brazil looked set to provide a major boost to the project’s financial coffers.

But apparently the E-ELT has hit a snag. This article in Brazilian publication Veja talks about Brazil’s failure to ratify the accession to ESO and support for the E-ELT project because of financial difficulties in 2011. Although an agreement was signed between ESO and the then science minister of Brazil in December 2010, Brazil’s parliament has yet to give its approval. Since then, Brazil’s been through general elections, and the new science minister hasn’t been forthcoming in continuing this approval process. (1/22)

ATK Advances Liberty Rocket for Commercial Crew Launches (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Alliant Techsystems successfully held a Launch System Initial Systems Design (ISD) Review of its Liberty Transportation System. This is the third milestone to be completed under ATK’s unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. ATK has five milestones to meet under the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) agreement, which enables NASA and ATK teams to exchange technical information related to Liberty during the Preliminary Design Review phase of the program.

During the ISD, Liberty team members from ATK, its European-based partner, Astrium, and their subcontractors presented the status of Liberty’s system level requirements, preliminary design and certification process to representatives from the Commercial Crew Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and other NASA centers. The current SAA continues through at least March. The two milestones met earlier include a Requirements Status Briefing and a Technical Interchange Meeting for the Liberty Transportation System. Two additional milestones are scheduled to be completed under this SAA. (1/20)

Russian Scientist Claims Signs of Life Spotted on Venus (Source: Daily Caller)
A Russian scientist has published what he claims is evidence of life on Venus, Earth’s nearest neighbor in the direction of the sun. Leonid Ksanfomaliti, an astronomer based at the Space Research Institute of Russia’s Academy of Sciences, analyzed photographs taken by a Russian landing probe during a 1982 during a mission to explore the heavily acid-clouded planet.

Venus is roughly the same size as Earth, but it has a thick atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide. With an atmospheric pressure 92 times Earth’s, a waterless and volcano-riddled surface and a surface temperature of 894 degrees, the planet has never been considered a serious target of research into the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

But in his article, published in the magazine Solar System Research, Ksanfomaliti says the Russian photographs depict objects resembling a “disk,” a “black flap” and a “scorpion.” “What if we forget about the current theories about the non-existence of life on Venus?” he wrote. “Let’s boldly suggest that the objects’ morphological features would allow us to say that they are living.” (1/20)

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