January 4, 2012

China’s Quiet Military Space Program (Source: The Trumpet)
China’s latest five-year plan on space exploration talks a lot about peace. The white paper, published at the end of 2011, mentions “peace” or “peaceful” a dozen times. But almost every major plan it details has important military applications. “Most media have chosen to focus on Beijing’s vague aspirations towards deep-space and manned exploration,” writes formal Royal Navy officer and author on military matters Lewis Page, “but in fact the concrete details given all point toward a primary emphasis on strategic advantage for China here on Earth.”

The talk of peace is just a distraction. China’s space program is run by the military. In the past, China’s bombastic approach to its space program has upset governments around the world and spurred talk of a new space race, or even a space arms race, between the United States and China. This report is more diplomatic. China does not want a new space race. It would lose, by a mile. America is already far out in front. It doesn’t want America to start racing. It wants America to keep standing still, or even stumbling backward in its space program, while it quietly catches up. (1/4)

NASA Satellites Slash Costs for Ski Game Development (Source: WIRED)
Winter sports and open data? A gnarly combo -- but crucial to EA Sports' SSX snowboarding game. "We wanted 300 tracks," says Todd Batty, creative director of EA Canada. "The first reaction was: we'll need 300 artists. Of course we didn't have the budget for that." So EA turned to topographical information from NASA's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (Aster), on board the orbiting Terra satellite. The dataset covers 99 percent of the Earth's surface and is available as a free download.

EA fed this information into Mountain Man, a proprietary tool that automates the construction of downhill runs. "The technical director Googles the longitude and latitude of Everest, types that into Mountain Man and in about 28 seconds it creates a 100,000-polygon 3D replica of Everest," says Batty. "It probably saved us 30 to 40 percent of the up-front cost of creating a mountain. And then it saved us a huge amount of work creating the surrounding vistas. You stand on the top of Mount Everest in SSX and you can see Lhotse and Makalu." (1/4)

Editorial: Defense Budget Cuts are "Costing Jobs" (Source: The Vindicator)
Dawne S. Hickton, a member of the Executive Committee of the Aerospace Industries Association and leader of RTI International Metals, says defense budget cuts affect businesses. "For our company, the immediate impact of the actions and inactions on spending is the uncertainty that the constant tug of war is creating. At best, the inability to compromise in Washington is delaying hiring. At worst, it is costing jobs," she writes. (1/4)

NASA Conducts Test on Mock-Up of Orion Spacecraft (Source: Space.com)
NASA engineers last month conducted tests on parachutes for spacecraft near Yuma, Ariz. NASA tested how a mock-up of the Orion spacecraft would handle landings if only two of its three parachutes open. The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is designed to carry four astronauts into space. (1/4)

A JWST Progress Report (Source: SPIE)
Two key managers of the James Webb Space Telescope project for NASA talk about the innovations that have taken place to advance technology for the JWST. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope. The project is working to a 2018 launch date. JWST will find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way galaxy. It will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System.

JWST will study every phase in the history of our universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System. Click here. (1/4)

Bacteria-Powered Microbots for Planetary Exploration (Source: WIRED)
For NASA's Martian rovers, it seems that bigger is better. The $2.5 billion Curiosity -- which is currently whizzing towards the red planet following its November 2011 launch -- is five times bigger than twin predecessors Spirit and Opportunity. In fact it's taller than most basketball players at 2.2 metres high, and is about the size of a small SUV with its three-meter length. Add on its humongous robot arm, which can reach out another 2.2 meters, and you've got only seriously huge rover.

At the US Naval Research Laboratory, space roboticists are researching planetary explorers at the other end of the size spectrum. While Curiosity weighs about the same as a giraffe (900kg), these autonomous microrovers would be lighter than a bag of sugar, at just one kilogram. Gregory Scott at NRL's Spacecraft Engineering Department has been awarded a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) research grant to investigate the initial phase of tiny planetary robots that are powered by bacteria. Click here. (1/4)

Booking a Flight to Space, With Travel Insurance (Source: New York Times)
To go to outer space, Catherine Culver went to a travel agent. The first flights of the new airlines that will take tourists past the threshold of space are poised to take off in 2012, and getting a seat on one is not all that different from booking a trip someplace on Earth. You can sign up on the Web site of, say, Virgin Galactic, the most prominent of the new space tourism companies, or go to a travel agent and put down a hefty deposit. Soon you will be able to buy travel insurance, just as you can for any other vacation. Click here. (1/4)

Phobos-Grunt Fragments Expected to Fall Onto Earth on Jan. 15 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Fragments of the Phobos-Grunt probe not burnt in the atmosphere are expected to fall onto the earth on January 15, the Russian Air and Space Defence Troops' spokesman Alexei Zolotukhin said. The date of the fall may change depending on some factors. Specialists of the main center of the troops' space situation reconnaissance are monitoring the changes of the orbit. (1/4)

'Zero-G' Fruit Flies Aid Human Space Travel Studies (Source: Space.com)
A new study that examines the way magnetic fields that simulate weightlessness on Earth affect how fruit flies walk could help scientists understand microgravity's influence on humans and other animals in space, researchers say. Previous studies have shown that the common fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) walks more quickly and frequently in space compared with flies on Earth. However, it was unclear if aspects of space travel other than microgravity might have been responsible for these changes, such as the G-forces felt during launch.

Now, using powerful magnetic fields that simulate microgravity, researchers find that weightlessness does seem to alter fruit fly walking patterns. Most biological materials are "diamagnetic," Richard Hill, the study's lead author, said. "This is a different type of magnetism from what we're familiar with," explained Hill. "What we ordinarily think of as 'magnetic materials' are ferromagnetic materials such as iron — these are strongly attracted by magnetic fields. A diamagnetic material on the other hand is weakly repelled from magnetic fields.

This is a very weak force compared to ferromagnetic attraction, so that if you hold a refrigerator magnet up to your hand, for example, you don't notice the repulsive force." Using superconducting magnets to create very strong magnetic fields of about 16 tesla — about 350,000 times stronger than the strength of the Earth's field, or about 16 times as strong as the most powerful permanent magnets — "then the diamagnetic force can be large enough to just balance the force of gravity so that the object levitates with no support." (1/4)

Orbital Space Junk Will Make Private Space Travel From Firms Like SpaceX Impossible (Source: PolicyMic)
In previous weeks, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's company Stratolaunch Systems unveiled its plan to launch rockets into space using a specially-designed airplane by 2016. This comes on the heels of news that SpaceX's Dragon capsule will be the first privately-made module to dock with the International Space Station and Virgin Galactic's plans to start launching into space as soon as next year.

With these recent announcements about long-term private space ventures becoming a reality, many writers (including myself) have been very optimistic about the future of space travel. However, there is one glaring problem these private firms haven't addressed: The dangers posed by space junk accumulating in the Earth's orbit. Not only will the space junk problem slow down the growth of space travel technology, but it will also lead to necessary governmental regulations on private space travel to curb the further growth of debris.

According to a recent study by the National Research Council, the Earth's orbit has reached a "tipping point" in space junk accumulation where items such as parts from old satellites and rocket boosters can continually collide with other pieces to create more debris. While many pieces fall back into the Earth's atmosphere and burn up in the process, at least 20,000 pieces of soda can-sized space junk are still in low-Earth orbit. (1/4)

Editorial: Space Travel Should Not be a Top Priority in This Economy (Source: Sacramento State Hornet)
Man landing on the moon was an amazing achievement. Getting to Mars would be an impressive feat as well. However, Americans shouldn’t have to pay for that accomplishment anytime soon. NASA’s plan to create new heavy-launch vehicles to take human beings to asteroids and eventually Mars is unnecessary and absurd considering America’s debt.

Is being more than $14 trillion in debt not enough? Spending billions more to go get new dirt samples is not worth the cost. Retiring the fleet of space shuttles last year was a good financial decision. Replacing them with enormous new ones just makes things worse. No one knows exactly how much the plans are going to cost to send people to Mars. With budget shortfalls, project setbacks and the predictable rise in estimated costs, building the most powerful rockets known to man would easily soar to more than $100 billion.

The high speed railroad for California currently has a price tag of nearly $100 billion after it was estimated to cost around $45 billion a few years ago. If one railroad in one state is going to have expenses balloon out of control to such an extreme, the cost of going to another planet is going to be astronomical, literally. (1/4)

Through Hardship to the Stars (Source: Physics World)
With current propulsion technology only able to move spacecraft at 0.005% of the speed of light, a one-way trip to the star system nearest our Sun, Alpha Centauri, would take 80,000 years to travel the four light-years to our nearest stellar neighbours. Delegates at 100-Year StarShip conference – from ex-astronauts to engineers, artists, students and science-fiction writers – looked at the range of issues facing scientists who would like to make the “mad and glorious aspiration” a reality.

Some theoretical models present tantalizing options, such as Miguel Alcibierre’s idea to contract space–time in front of a spaceship and expand space–time behind it to create a bubble that would propel the spacecraft at any speed without violating special relativity. The math behind this theory is impeccable but the model requires negative mass, which, to the best of our knowledge, doesn’t exist.

Accepting that interstellar travel will, at very best, take decades, some are now considering using suspended animation, or even carrying the DNA and other resources necessary to recreate humans on an unmanned ship. Click here. (1/4)

Plan to 'Catapult' UK Space Tech (Source: BBC)
The UK Science Minister David Willetts says the next Catapult technology and innovation center will be dedicated to developing new space applications. Three such centers have already been initiated by the government, in advanced manufacturing, cell biology and offshore renewables. Their aim is to find the next big idea that, with the right support, can be turned into an economic success story. Ministers see space activity as an area where "UK plc" can excel. (1/4)

ITT Exelis Wins $121 Million Satellite Communications Contract (Source: ITT)
ITT Exelis XLS +2.87% has been awarded a $121 million U.S. Army contract to provide mission support to wideband satellite operations centers and management sites around the world. The Wideband Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Operations and Technical Support (WSOTS) contract, awarded by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and the Army Forces Strategic Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., includes the base year and six, one-year option periods. (1/3)

Titusville: The Game Isn’t Over (Source: Space Coast Business)
There are signs of new life as Titusville emerges in the post Space Shuttle era. Bleak forecasts all of which focused on the layoffs at Kennedy Space Center have given way to, at worst, a reluctant acceptance of change or at best, new energy toward a diverse economy, eco-tourism and an exciting arts-based future. “I relate the Shuttle layoffs to a storm,’’ said District 1 County Commissioner Robin Fisher. “We were gearing up for a CAT 5 and I think it was about a CAT 3.”

While officially about 8,000 contractor and NASA workers lost jobs, the local population has not suffered the expected domino effect. Space workers have stayed in the area in retirement, found new ways to make a living via the Internet, or are living on their severance pay and still looking for work, officials said. (1/3)

UCF Group Wins Templeton Grant to Study Space & Spirituality (Source: Central Florida Future)
Members of the UCF faculty have received a $300,000 grant to research the relationship between space travel and spiritual experiences. UCF faculty members are looking to the heavens for a research project. Faculty from the philosophy department, the Institute for Simulation and Training, and the College of Medicine have received a $300,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation to research the relationship between space travel and spiritual experiences.

Astronauts have reported spiritual experiences while in space, Shaun Gallagher said. The team is seeking to gain a better understanding of the kind of spiritual experiences that seem to be associated with space travel. After the John Templeton Foundation recently offered a grant to research the theme of awe and wonder, Gallagher put a team together to win the grant. The John Templeton Foundation is an independent foundation that funds projects relating to the "big questions" of humanity, including topics from evolution to love and freewill. The foundation has been criticized for having conservative bias and for trying to link religion to science. (1/3)

Flashback 2007: Candler and NASA Start Chaplaincy School (Source: Aldergate Gazette)
Candler School of Theology in Atlanta plans to open a new chaplaincy program in response to the recent arrest of astronaut Lisa Nowak for attacking another woman. The Space Chaplain certification will train clergy to handle problems unique to those who work in NASA’s high stress environment.

“Astronauts face different challenges than the rest of us,” said James “Spacey” Gordon, the Candler faculty member who first envisioned the program. “Space Chaplains will use their skills to address those challenges.” These new chaplains, however, will be prepared to take their caring ministries beyond the launch pad. Gordon has begun conversations with NASA to enable Candler to prepare the Space Chaplains to accompany the astronauts on their missions. “We want every Space Shuttle launch to carry a chaplain. We want the International Space Station to have a chaplain on duty at all times.”

NASA spokesperson Randy Heller said the space administration has high hopes for Candler’s new venture. “It is important for the mental and spiritual health of our astronauts, and Space Chaplains could go a long way toward repairing the damage to our public image,” he said. “There’s precedent for this in the church,” said Candler’s Gordon. “Sailing ships often carried clergy on long voyages over the open, and largely uncharted, seas. (2/13/07)

Flashback 2009: Spaceflight Spiritual Issues Research Presented at ISDC (Source: SPACErePORT)
Former NASA engineer Mike O'Neal presented his research on spiritual support for space exploration at the ISDC-2009. This was the first presentation of his NASA-supported research of several years ago. O'Neal conducted extensive interviews with astronauts and officials from various government agencies who send personnel into isolated and dangerous situations, to identify their practices and mechanisms to support the spiritual needs of these personnel.

O'Neal's work was conducted as part of a sabbatical sponsored by NASA and hosted by the Florida Space Research Institute. O'Neal presented at ISDC during a Human Factors panel chaired by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University researcher Jason Kring. (5/28/09)

MIT's Hoffman Elected to Astronaut Health Board (Source: Mass High Tech)
Jeffrey Hoffman, a former astronaut and current aeronautics and astronautics professor at MIT, has been chosen to join the board of directors for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) where he will support research into astronaut health.

Hoffman made five NASA space shuttle flights from 1985 to 1995. He became NASA’s European representative from 1997 through 2001. Since then, he has been teaching at MIT and serving as director of the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium. Hoffman earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in the same subject from Amherst College, as well as a master’s degree in materials science from Rice University. (1/3)

Ecliptic Shoots for Moon at End of a Record Year (Source: Ecliptic)
The year 2011 was a record year of launch activity for Ecliptic Enterprises Corp. and its RocketCam™ product family, with a total of 17 RocketCam systems successfully launched–-12 onboard various rockets and 4 onboard various spacecraft.

The firm closed out the year celebrating the successful Lunar Orbit Insertion maneuvers executed by the twin NASA GRAIL spacecraft, each of which carries a 4-camera RocketCam video system to be used for the project's education and public outreach program. Both "MoonKAM" systems will begin operating in March this year. Since 1997, with no known failures, RocketCam has been employed on 94 rocket launches and 9 spacecraft missions to capture the action and improve situational awareness for project stakeholders. (1/3)

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