January 6, 2012

Alabama Universities Join High Schools in NASA Student Launch Initiative (Source: Huntsville Times)
Teams from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Alabama A&M University will join teams from middle schools, high schools and colleges from 29 states in the 2011-12 NASA Student Launch Projects flight challenge. The teams will design, build and test large-scale rockets in April.

"Just as NASA partners with innovative companies such as ATK to pursue the nation's space exploration mission, these young rocketeers pool their talent and ingenuity to solve complex engineering problems and fly sophisticated machines," said Tammy Rowan, manager of Marshall Space Flight Center's Academic Affairs Office.

A record 57 teams of engineering, math and science students will take part in the annual challenge in Huntsville, organized by Marshall . Fifteen middle and high school teams will tackle the non-competitive Student Launch Initiative, while 42 college and university teams will compete in the University Student Launch Initiative. The latter features a $5,000 first-place award provided by ATK Aerospace Systems of Salt Lake City, Utah. (1/5)

Space Station Crew Excited for 1st Private Spaceship Visit (Source: Space.com)
The astronauts living on the International Space Station (ISS) are gearing up for a milestone event in February — the first visit of a commercial spaceship. SpaceX plans to launch its unmanned Dragon capsule to orbit Feb. 7 atop the firm's Falcon 9 booster from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The capsule will carry a load of food, clothing and other supplies for the six-man crew of the space station. "We're excited about that," NASA astronaut Don Pettit said from the station. "Anytime you have a visiting vehicle coming by, that's an exciting day." (1/5)

Florida Schools Compete in NASA Launch Competitions (Source: SPACErePORT)
Florida's Plantation High School will send two teams to compete in NASA's 2012 Student Launch Initiative competition against 13 other high school teams. Plantation is a frequent competitor in this and other rocketry events nationwide. Meanwhile, at the collegiate level, Florida A&M, FSU, Santa Fe College (Gainesville), UCF, and UF will compete against 37 other teams. Click here. (1/6)

U.K. To Foster Satellite Application Research (Source: Aviation Week)
The British government plans to set up a technology center to foster work on satellite applications. In a wide-ranging speech aimed at laying out the government’s plans to improve science and technology, Science Minister David Willetts tells the Policy Exchange think tank that the satellite effort “will provide business with access to in-orbit test facilities to develop and demonstrate new satellite technologies. It will also provide access to advanced systems for data capture and analysis, supporting the development of new services delivered by satellites. These could be in a wide range of areas such as distance learning and telemedicine, urban planning, precision agriculture, traffic management and meteorology.” (1/5)

Space Powers Propose Roadmap for Flight to Mars (Source: Russia Today)
Despite various economic issues undermining efforts by the world’s leading space powers to forge a program for future manned flights to the Red Planet, an international working group has come up with a universal space exploration roadmap. The effort by the partner nations in the International Space Station project, namely Russia, the United States, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency, was also supported by China, India, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and other countries.

"This is not merely an ISS club, but a broader project," the chief of human spaceflights programs of Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos, Aleksey Krasnov, added. The proposed roadmap may be based on three alternative routes: preparation of a manned expedition to Mars from scratch, the testing of technologies on the Moon prior to a flight to Mars, or a flight to an asteroid followed by a journey to Mars. "Which of them will be chosen has yet to be decided," Aleksey Krasnov explained, adding that any of the options would suit Roscosmos. (1/5)

Wanted: Habitable Moons (Source: Astrobiology)
As the Kepler space telescope continues to search for potentially habitable planets, it also may reveal moons that could host life. Three new simulations will help astronomers identify rocky satellites that could hold water on their surface, if the parent planet circles close enough to its sun.

When the Kepler science team announced the discovery of 1235 planetary candidates in February 2010, the candidates included 37 Neptune-sized planets and 10 Jupiter-sized planets within their star’s habitable zones: the region of space where water can exist as a liquid on a rocky planet. Though gas giants would not boast liquid water on their surface, their moons might. (1/5)

X-37B Spaceplane 'Spying on China' (Source: BBC)
America's classified X-37B spaceplane is probably spying on China, according to a report in Spaceflight magazine. The unpiloted vehicle was launched into orbit by the US Air Force in March last year and has yet to return to Earth. The Pentagon has steadfastly refused to discuss its mission but amateur space trackers have noted how its path around the globe is nearly identical to China's spacelab, Tiangong-1. There is wide speculation that the X-37B is eavesdropping on the laboratory.

"Space-to-space surveillance is a whole new ball game made possible by a finessed group of sensors and sensor suites, which we think the X-37B may be using to maintain a close watch on China's nascent space station," said Spaceflight editor Dr David Baker. The X-37B's flight has since been followed from the ground by a dedicated group of optical tracking specialists in the US and Europe, intrigued by what the vehicle may be doing. (1/5)

Former Astronaut to Lead Starship Effort (Source: BBC)
The Pentagon's premiere research agency has chosen a former astronaut to lead a foundation that is designed to take humanity to the stars. DARPA and NASA are sponsoring the project, known as the 100-Year Starship. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to go into space, was notified last week that she had won the post. Since leaving Nasa, Jemison has been involved in science education programmes, and is known as a space travel enthusiast and long-time Star Trek fan. (1/5)

Aldrin: American Space Exploration Leadership -- Why and How (Source: Huffington Post)
As we flip the calendar to 2012, we get the first blast of space news, and the resurgent relevance of human space exploration. China just announced plans to lead humanity in to the moon and beyond, the tail of their comet a strong defense mindset. The Chinese challenge comes at a time of a dangerous convergence, the international debt crisis and a contentious, highly consequential presidential election. In short, 2012 is an inflection year -- the year we will and must decide whether the U.S. has the will and ability to lead the world in human space exploration. For me, I am betting we do -- and here is how I suggest we begin. Click here. (1/5)

KSC Renovation Work Continuing Ahead of Future 21st Century Spaceport Role (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The Kennedy Space Center is undergoing improvements to its buildings and infrastructure, work which will continue at the spaceport through to 2013. Most of the work is taking place on the 50 year old waterway, which links the Turn Basin to the crawlerway through to both Pad 39A and 39B – the latter of which continues to undergo modifications ahead of hosting the Space Launch System (SLS).

The most iconic launch site in the world has fallen silent since the end of the Space Shuttle Program (SSP), but it at least hopes to transition into vitally important future role – one which will not only provide a home base for a number of commercial launch companies, but one which will eventually host crewed missions to Mars. Click here.

Editor's Note: KSC is now finalizing a new master plan, which seeks to minimize infrastructure O&M costs while maintaining capabilities that will be needed for a diverse variety of government and commercial users. With its role as a space transportation authority, Space Florida is likely to be a major partner in KSC's efforts to offload facilities that will primarily be used for commercial space transportation. The plan is likely to also focus on making underutilized property available for clean energy research and development. (1/6)

China: Rockets Galore (Source: The Economist)
By one well-known (if fictitious) criterion, the purpose of a space program is to boldly go where no man has gone before. China, however, has a different plan: to boldly go back where men have already been. Specifically, with the release on Dec. 29 of an official space-policy paper, it has said it wants to send people to the moon. The last earthling to leave a footprint on the lunar surface, Eugene Cernan, did so in 1972. He was (and is) American. According to the new paper, the next print in the regolith is likely to be Chinese. The country’s experts have long discussed the possibility of such a mission, but this is the first official acknowledgment of a decision to proceed.

The document is, however, more than a mere claim to vainglory. It outlines a program that will, if fully implemented, make China a space power equal to America and Russia. One goal for the next five years is to improve China’s Long March rockets, the workhorses that launch its satellites. The Long March-5, in particular, is intended to be able to lift 25 tons into low Earth orbit. (Perhaps significantly, this is 600kg more than America’s space shuttles could manage.) Another part of the plan is to upgrade the country’s satellite networks.

Editor's Note: If the U.S. had no plans for NASA to build the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS), I bet China's plans for a new heavy-lift rocket (though smaller than SLS) would spur calls for the U.S. to do so... despite current concerns that the rocket is not needed. (1/6)

Hundreds of Tiny Moons May be Orbiting Earth (Source: New Scientist)
THE moon may look lonely, but it is far from alone. Small asteroids too dim to detect seem to stray into Earth's orbit quite frequently and stay for short periods of time. We may even be able to bring one of these moonlets back to Earth for study. Researchers have long suspected that wandering asteroids might occasionally get snagged by Earth's gravity and become temporary moons, and a few years ago one of these was spotted. Called 2006 RH120, it is a few meters across and wandered into orbit around Earth in July 2006 before drifting off again a year later. (1/5)

Japan Could Trigger Space Arms Race (Source: Korea Times)
An arms race in outer space is likely to be intensified as Japan is trying to lay the legal ground for space development for defense. Media reports said that Tokyo will soon propose to revise the law that confines space research and exploration to non-military purposes only.

If such a revision gets approval from parliament, the Japanese government will succeed in clearing a major obstacle to developing spy satellites and state-of-the-art weapons by diverting space technologies for defense applications. Japan has so far only focused on utilizing these technologies for peaceful purposes.

The move is certainly in response to China’s ambitious space programs, both with peaceful and military intentions. China has maintained that it clings to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes. But other countries fear that Beijing may exploit the programs to develop weapons. (1/5)

Obama Proposes Cutting Military Budget, Personnel (Source: Wall Street Journal)
President Barack Obama has proposed a plan to shrink the number of U.S. Army troops by 14%, which would leave the U.S. incapable of fighting two ground wars at the same time. The proposal also cuts the military's budget by $487 billion over a decade. "Our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats," Obama said. (1/6)

Defense-Contractor Shares Decline (Source: MarketWatch)
Shares of defense contractors declined Thursday after the Pentagon announced that it would trim its force structure. However, the Department of Defense also announced plans to boost operations in the Asia-Pacific region, which could present new business opportunities for defense firms. (1/6)

Space Coast Could be Spared From Brunt of DOD Cuts (Source: Florida Today)
Florida's "Space Coast" may not suffer as much as other parts of the U.S. from President Barack Obama's proposed cuts for the Department of Defense. "I would say that the intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance are areas less likely to be cut back," said Lawrence Harris, a financial analyst with CL King Associates. Obama has proposed $487 billion in defense cuts over 10 years. (1/6)

Shostak: Humble Pie (Source: Huffington Post)
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the cosmos' ground zero was moved again, to the realm of the stars. Astronomers Vesto Slipher, Milton Humason, and Edwin Hubble discovered that our galaxy - long regarded as the be-all and end-all of existence -- was just one of many. How many? Well, there are at least 100 billion galaxies within the reach of our best telescopes.

Our solar system -- once thought to loom so large -- is just a small bit of amusing clockwork in a stunningly vast panoply of stars, gas, and dark matter. We're not special. Somewhat ironically, this cosmic ordinariness motivates a lot of interesting research. Two decades ago, you could argue whether planets were commonplace or rare. But the Copernican Revolution whispered they must be commonplace, so astronomers hunted them down. The same rationale -- that we're typical -- gives impetus to the searches for habitable planets, alien biology, and intelligent extraterrestrials. They all appeal to the lesson learned nearly five hundred years ago: We're not special. (1/6)

Rare Moon Mineral Found in Australia (Source: AFP)
A mineral brought back to Earth by the first men on the Moon and long thought to be unique to the lunar surface has been found in Australian rocks more than one billion years old, scientists said Thursday. Named after Apollo 11's 1969 landing site at the Sea of Tranquility, tranquillityite was one of three minerals first discovered in rocks from the Moon and the only one not to be found, in subsequent years, on Earth.

Australian scientist Birger Rasmussen said tranquillityite had "long been considered as the Moon's own mineral" until geologists discovered it, by chance, in rock from resources-rich Western Australia. "It tells you that broadly overall you have similar chemistries and similar processes operating on the Moon as on Earth." As well as being "quirky and surprising" Rasmussen said the discovery also had important practical applications, with the mineral proving to be an excellent dating tool which had allowed scientists to pin down the rocks' age. (1/6)

Was a Metamaterial Lurking in the Primordial Universe? (Source: Physics World)
A scientist in the US is arguing that the vacuum should behave as a metamaterial at high magnetic fields. Such magnetic fields were probably present in the early universe, and therefore he suggests that it may be possible to test the prediction by observing the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation – a relic of the early universe that can be observed today.

One of 2011's strangest predictions in physics was the suggestion by Maxim Chernodub of the French National Centre for Scientific Research that, at incredibly high magnetic fields, superconducting states can emerge from the vacuum. This was particularly interesting because one of the main difficulties facing scientists working on traditional superconductivity is preventing superconducting states disappearing in the presence of even moderate magnetic fields. (1/5)

Europe's Arianespace Sets 13 Launches for 2012 (Source: AFP)
European satellite launch operator Arianespace said on Thursday it had scheduled 13 missions for 2012, the first year in which it would deploy rockets in all three categories of payload. This year will see seven launches by the heavy lifter Ariane 5, five by the medium-sized Soviet-Russian space veteran Soyuz and the first by the lightweight rocket Vega, the company said. Missions include the launch of the European Space Agency's third automated freighter to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 9.

Last year, Arianespace carried out five Ariane 5 launches and four Soyuz launches, including the first from Europe's space base in Kourou, French Guiana. For 2011, the company will post total revenues of about 985 million euros (1.27 billion dollars) "and expects to reach break-even," Arianespace said. (1/6)

Arianespace Expects To Post 2011 Profit (Source: Space News)
The Arianespace commercial launch consortium expects to post a 10 percent increase in revenue for 2011 compared to 2010 and to report a slight profit for the year after two years of losses, the company’s chairman said Jan. 5. Jean-Yves Le Gall told reporters here that the Evry, France-based company’s backlog now stands at a record 4.5 billion euros ($5.9 billion) for its heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket and Russia’s medium-lift Soyuz vehicle. (1/5)

China to Launch Bolivian Satellite in 2013 (Source: Xinhua)
China would put Bolivia's first telecommunications satellite into orbit in December 2013, China's Ambassador to Bolivia Shen Zhiliang announced Thursday. The manufacturing process of the satellite had been completed in China, Shen said, and technicians from both countries were working on the final design, which was expected to be finished by March 2013. If there were no divergences among the parts, the project will be completed before next December. (1/6)

Stargazers Will Gather in Texas (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
The American Astronomical Society, the largest gathering of professional stargazers, will meet at the Austin Convention Center in Texas from Sunday though Jan. 12. On the agenda are new results from several NASA missions - including the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Kepler Space Telescope and the European Space Agency-led Herschel Space Observatory. (1/4)

Rocket Test Flight Scheduled Next Week on Wallops Island (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
A flight test is scheduled Wednesday for a NASA Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore. The rocket, being developed for science missions, is scheduled to launch between 7:30 and 9 a.m., a NASA news release says. Backup launch days are next Thursday and Friday. Residents in the Wallops area will be able to see the rocket. (1/5)

Branson: Science, the Final Frontier (Source: Huffington Post)
Throughout my career I have always been a strong believer in the power of humankind to use innovation to help solve the world's challenges. Today, many of the greatest areas of innovation are driven by scientific research and development. In a time of deep uncertainty and upheaval, we can be certain that our collective brain power and imaginations are helping us get closer to solving big problems and making big discoveries -- like slowing down climate change, finding and adopting new sources of renewable energy, traveling great distances safely and quickly without harming the environment, and exploring the depths of space and the ocean.

But it isn't easy to keep that focus today when the world is facing so many challenges. Many economies are struggling, the divide between rich and poor is widening and we face the ongoing threat of climate change. There is so much to fix -- so why bother investing in something like Virgin Galactic, our company that is aiming to revolutionize space travel. Click here. (1/5)

Delta 4 Rocket and Air Force Payload Joined for Launch (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Moving from the cleanroom to the Cape Canaveral launching pad, the next update to the U.S. military's space-based communications network was hoisted aboard its booster rocket Wednesday. The Wideband Global SATCOM 4 spacecraft, better known as WGS 4, will ride a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket into orbit Jan. 19 from the Florida spaceport's pad 37B on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Liftoff will be possible during a 93-minute window extending from 7:38 to 9:11 p.m. EST. (1/4)

NASA Dismisses Space Junk Theory (Source: 7News Australia)
The US space agency NASA has cast doubt on whether it was Russian space junk that came close to hitting an Auckland-bound plane over the Pacific Ocean. But NASA says the plane still had a near-miss with something from out of this world. The pilot of a Lan Chile airbus reported seeing flaming debris falling within a few kilometers of his plane which was en route from Santiago to Auckland on Tuesday night.

New Zealand civil aviation authorities were alerted and began investigating whether an obsolete Russian satellite that was due to crash back to Earth yesterday had re-entered the atmosphere early. But NASA, which keeps close tabs on space junk, now says the satellite splashed down on schedule, which means the Chilean plane more than likely had a close encounter with a meteorite. (1/5)

For Sale: Nuclear Bomb-Proof Ground Station in Carmel Valley (Source: LA Times)
Who wouldn't want to own a nuclear bomb-proof earth station and a piece of space history? The Jamesburg Earth Station, which transmitted some of the first images of the Apollo 11 moon landing, is on the market. The one-of-a-kind securely fenced 160-acre property comes with a three-bedroom house, a 20,000-square-foot building, a helicopter landing pad and a 10-story satellite dish and antenna. It's in Cachaua Valley, not far from Carmel Valley and about 20 miles southeast of Monterey, a bit off the beaten track and offbeat, period.

The unusual selling point of this picturesque property situated among rolling hills and wine vineyards: Built at the height of the nuclear arms race with the former Soviet Union, the 20,000-square-foot earth station can withstand a five-megaton nuclear blast. The dish used to transmit satellite communications between the U.S. and other Pacific Rim countries. It was shut down in 2002 by owner AT&T and put up for sale.

Some ham radio operators restored and fired up the dish in 2007 and bounced 20 radio signals off the moon. The current owner of Jamesburg hails from Silicon Valley. He had hoped to turn it into a residence. He even added an exercise room and an indoor basketball court, according to his real estate agent. (1/6)

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