February 1, 2012

Scientists Close to Entering Vostok, Antarctica’s Biggest Subglacial Lake (Source: Washington Post)
After drilling for two decades through more than two miles of antarctic ice, Russian scientists are on the verge of entering a vast, dark lake that hasn’t been touched by light for more than 20 million years. Scientists are enormously excited about what life-forms might be found there but are equally worried about contaminating the lake with drilling fluids and bacteria, and the potentially explosive “de-gassing” of a body of water that has especially high concentrations of oxygen and nitrogen. Click here. (1/31)

Did Russian Workers Die After Soyuz Pressure Test Accident? (Source: Russian Space Web)
The botched pressure test that disqualified a Soyuz (TMA-04M) capsule from an upcoming flight to ISS may have resulted in two deaths, according to a report on RussianSpaceWeb.com. "When specialists checked the interior of the descent module, they reportedly discovered that internal surfaces of the vehicle were distorted and bloated. Initial data showed that the descent module had been pressurized up to three or even four atmospheres, instead of nominal 1.3-1.5 atmospheres, even though test personnel claimed that they had followed all standard procedures during the test."

"Two specialists involved in the botched pressure test on Soyuz reportedly died in the aftermath of the accident, likely from stress-related trauma. One independent source reported that an official responsible for the vacuum chamber, where the botched test had taken place, had been asked by the management to write a report on the accident. The official responded that he had had a day off at the time of the failure, however on the way back from work he had collapsed by the security gate to the RKK Energia campus and died instantly at the age of 59." (2/1)

How NASA Solved a $100 Million Problem for Five Bucks (Source: Gizmodo)
A few years ago, back when the Constellation Program was still alive, NASA engineers discovered that the Ares I rocket had a crucial flaw, one that could have jeopardized the entire project. They panicked. They plotted. They steeled themselves for the hundreds of millions of dollars it was going to take to make things right. And then they found out how to fix it for the cost of an extra value meal.

The problem facing Ares 1 wasn't a booster malfunction or a computer glitch. It was simple cause-and-effect physics. During the final stages of a launch, as the solid booster rocket burns down it makes the entire vehicle oscillate rapidly. Add that oscillation to the resonant frequency of the large tube that separates the booster and the crew cabin, and you get a crew capsule that vibrates like crazy. When humans are vibrating to that extent, it's impossible for them to read a digital display. If the astronauts can't read, they can't do their jobs. If they can't do their jobs, no more mission.

To evaluate the extent of the problem, NASA called in its Human Factors Division. They're the ones who study human perception and performance, from very basic research to very applied research. In fact, they were the ones who had done the most recent round of vibration tests: 50 years ago, for the Gemini project, back when displays were analog, steam-actuated dials and gauges instead of the computer screens of today. Cockpits, like everything else, have changed a lot since those days. It was time for some new tests. Click here. (2/1)

Nine Years Of Space Policy Disaster (Source: PJ Media)
We retired the Shuttle with no good plan to replace it, and made ourselves dependent on an unreliable foreign supplier for the support of a space station in which we have invested decades and many tens of billions of dollars. And Congress continues to fiddle while NASA burns. Next year, it will be a full decade since Columbia was lost. And judging by the pathetic state of space policy discussion we’ve seen over the past few days, with Mitt Romney hiring Mike Griffin, the man who caused this policy disaster, to advise him, it’s likely that we’ll still be floundering and earth bound, despite the billions we’ve spent and continue to spend. Click here. (2/1)

Thanks to Plants, We Will Never Find a Planet Like Earth (Source: Scientific American)
Astronomers are finding lots of exoplanets that are orbiting stars like the sun, significantly raising the odds that we will find a similar world. But if we do, the chance that the surface of that planet will look like ours is very small, thanks to an unlikely culprit: plants. Earth's flora is responsible for the glaciers and rivers that have created this planet's distinctive landscape.

We all know how Earth's landscape came about, right? Oceans and land masses formed, mountains rose, and precipitation washed over its surface; rivers weathered bare rock to create soil and plants took root. Well, new research indicates that the last stage of this scenario is not right. Vascular plants-—those with structures such as xylem and phloem that can conduct water-—are what created the rivers and muds that built the soils that led to forests and farmland. Click here. (2/1)

Post Mortem: Gingrich Averaged Better on Space Coast (Source: SPACErePORT)
The GOP was hoping for 2 million voters to decide the Florida Primary, but they ended up with about 1.6 million, a low turnout compared to the 1.9 million who voted in the 2008 Primary. Votors on the state's Space Coast favored Mitt Romney over Newt Gingrich, giving him 42.7% compared to Gingrich's 32.9%. Statewide, Romney captured 46.4% of the vote, compared to Gingrich's 31.9%.

If we generously assume that their respective positions on space were responsible for the difference, Gingrich's 'grandiose' space vision gained him only an additional one percent of the vote, while Romney's vague reliance on future analysis lost him about four percent of the vote. Rick Santorum got 15.2% of the Space Coast vote, compared to 13.4% statewide. Santorum's attraction to Evangelicals on the highly conservative Space Coast could account for part of Romney's four-point slide here. Ron Paul got about 7%, both statewide and on the Space Coast. (2/1)

Russia Plans Extrasolar Planet Search (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian astronomers are planning to start their own search for planets outside the Solar System using ground-based telescopes, head of the Institute for Space Research Lev Zelyony said on Wednesday. "Scientists from the Pulkovo Observatory are planning to use ground-based instruments to study the transit of planets around their parent stars,” Zelyony said. The search for extrasolar planets or exoplanets is one of the fastest developing areas of astronomy. A total of 755 such planets have been identified since 1989 when observations suggested that a planet orbits the star Gamma Cephei in the constellation of Cepheus. (2/1)

Northrop Profit Rises 80%; Forecast Falls Below Estimate (Source: Bloomberg)
Northrop Grumman Corp. said fourth-quarter profit rose 80 percent and forecast 2012 earnings that fell short of analysts’ estimates. Net income from continuing operations was $550 million,compared with $306 million a year earlier. (2/1)

Ohio Senator: Fully Utilize Plum Brook by Supporting ESA Partnership (Source: Sherrod Brown)
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden urging him to support a proposed partnership between the NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) and the European Space Agency (ESA) that would help ensure that the Plum Brook facility in Sandusky is fully utilized. Brown has been a leader in Congressional efforts to save jobs at NASA Glenn. Thanks to Brown, a Senate bill passed in 2010 preserved civil servant jobs at GRC for the next three years.

“It is critical that NASA GRC’s Plum Brook facility is fully utilized. ESA has approached NASA GRC with a proposal to test its new Ariane V upper stage engine at the B-2 Facility at NASA GRC’s Plum Brook Station site. This is precisely the type of international cooperation and ‘thinking outside the box’ that you prioritized for NASA,” Brown wrote. (2/1)

Czechs Sign Agreement to Host Galileo Headquarters (Source: GPS World)
The Czech government signed an agrement January 27 with the European GNSS Agency (GSA) for Prague to host the headquarters of the Galileo system. The signing took place during the Galileo Application Congress Prague 2012. The accord will see the GSA moved to Prague later this year. (2/1)

Asteroids - The New 'It Mission' for Space Exploration (Source: UCF)
The Japanese are heading back into space on a second attempt to collect samples from a nearby asteroid. The asteroid selected, 1999 JU3, is a perfect specimen, said Humberto Campins, a University of Central Florida professor and international expert on asteroids and comets. "Based on our analysis, it should be rich in primitive materials, specifically organic molecules and hydrated minerals from the early days of our solar system," Campins said. "If successful it could give us clues about the birth of water and life in our world."

Campins has been studying 1999 JU3 for years. He published an article in 1999 in Astronomy & Astrophysics on this asteroid and its potential to hold raw materials and perhaps even evidence of water. It is believed to have come from the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. Finding water in asteroids and comets is a major focus of research. NASA and ESA are both planning trips to recover samples from asteroids in the next 5-7 years through the OSIRIS-REx (NASA) and Marco Polo-R (ESA) missions. Campins is part of both teams. (2/1)

Successful Launch from New Mexico Spaceport (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
A "STIG-A" rocket designed and built by Armadillo Aerospace launched successfully Saturday from Spaceport America's vertical launch complex. The research and development test flight was a non-public, unpublished event at the request of Armadillo Aerospace, as the company is testing proprietary advanced launch technologies. Preliminary data indicates the rocket reached its projected altitude well in excess of the prior flight record of 137,000 feet and potentially as high as 250,000 feet.

The STIG-A's recovery system did not function properly after reaching its projected altitude, however the rocket was successfully retrieved after a hard landing within the designated Spaceport America mission recovery zone. This was the third test of the Armadillo "STIG A" reusable sub-orbital rocket technology to launch at Spaceport America. The last successful "STIG-A" was launched at the spaceport on Dec. 4, 2011, and this is the first time that the exact same vehicle has been launched for a second time.

Saturday's launch was the 14th from the Spaceport America vertical launch complex since 2006 and marks the fourth Armadillo Aerospace launch from the spaceport. Armadillo Aerospace has additional plans to launch from Spaceport America this year. (1/31)

Can't Sleep at Night: ISRO Scientist (Source: Hundustan Times)
Space scientist A Bhaskaranarayana, one of the four former ISRO scientists blacklisted from government jobs on the controversial Antrix-Devas deal, today said the action has left him feeling miserable and worried over his standing in society. "We feel miserable. We have worked for 37 years..average nine to ten hours a day including Sundays, and one day we have been given such a notice (barring them from government jobs)", an anguished Bhaskaranarayana, a former Scientific Secretary at ISRO, said. (2/1)

Zubrin: Gingrich Was Right to Propose Mars Prize (Source: National Review)
In August 1994, I was invited to have dinner with House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich. At that time, I was a senior engineer working for Martin Marietta Astronautics in Denver, where I had been responsible for inventing a new plan called “Mars Direct.” By radically simplifying the mission architecture and making bold use of Martian resources starting on the very first mission, this concept offered the potential to reduce the cost and schedule of a human Mars-exploration program.

NASA analysis had confirmed these advantages, and word had leaked to Newsweek, which featured it as the cover story of its July 25, 1994, issue celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. “A manned mission to Mars?” the editors asked. “The technology is already in place. And at $50 billion — one tenth of previous estimates — it’s a bargain.” Gingrich had read the article and wanted to know more. Click here. (2/1)

Smoky Conditions Keep KSC Workers Away (Source: Florida Today)
Several hundred Kennedy Space Center workers were allowed to remain home today after heavy smoke left over from a prescribed burn continues to linger over the southern portion of the complex. NASA Causeway, an east-west roadway that runs through the space center, was shut down earlier this morning but has since been reopened. (2/1)

Petition Pushes for Pluto Stamp (Source: MSNBC)
The next three years just might be prime time for poor little Pluto, thanks to NASA's New Horizons mission — and if the leaders of that mission are successful, a brand-new Pluto postage stamp will be part of the celebration. But they need your help. Today marks the start of an online petition campaign at Change.org, calling for the creation of a stamp commemorating the $700 million mission and its 2015 Pluto flyby. It would mark only the second time the dwarf planet has appeared on a U.S. postage stamp. The first time was in 1991, when a 29-cent stamp labeled Pluto as "Not Yet Explored." (2/1)

Northrop Unit Wins Contract for Space Travel Solar Energy Study (Source: Daily Breeze)
Engineers in Redondo Beach are developing a more efficient way to turn the sun's rays into electricity for space travel. Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Aerospace Systems sector, based in Redondo Beach, is one of five companies that each won a four-month NASA contract to conduct early-stage studies for a high-power solar propulsion system. "The study has no hardware, so the `work' is all design work, and will be done here in Redondo Beach mostly," said a spokeswoman. (1/31)

SpaceX Tests New Advanced Engine for Dragon Abort and Descent (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX has successfully test fired SuperDraco, a powerful new engine that will play a critical role in the company’s efforts to change the future of human spaceflight. “These engines will power a revolutionary launch escape system that will make Dragon the safest spacecraft in history and enable it to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy,” said Elon Musk.

he SuperDraco is an advanced version of the Draco engines currently used by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to maneuver on orbit and during reentry. As part of SpaceX’s state-of-the-art launch escape system, eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch. Click here. (2/1)

Time in Space May Alter Astronauts’ Genes (Source: WIRED)
Spending long periods at low gravity may alter genes, suggests a new experiment involving a magnet-powered trick used on Earth to simulate weightlessness in space. Subjected to magnetic levitation that generated an effect similar to microgravity experienced by astronauts orbiting Earth, fruit flies experienced changes in crucial genes. Humans won’t necessarily respond like fruit flies, but the system is considered an useful model for probing the effects of permanent free-fall on biology. However, it’s also possible that the gene disruption was caused by magnetism, not low gravity. Click here. (2/1)

Space Tourism to Accelerate Climate Change (Source: Nature)
Scientists predict that soot from commercial space flight will change global temperatures. Climate change caused by black carbon, also known as soot, emitted during a decade of commercial space flight would be comparable to that from current global aviation, researchers estimate.

The findings suggest that emissions from 1,000 private rocket launches a year would persist high in the stratosphere, potentially altering global atmospheric circulation and distributions of ozone. The simulations show that the changes to Earth's climate could increase polar surface temperatures by 1 °C, and reduce polar sea ice by 5–15%. (2/1)

Report Identifies 16 Priorities to Guide NASA Technology Efforts (Source: NRC)
During the next five years, NASA technology development efforts should focus on 16 high-priority technologies and their associated top technical challenges, says a new report from the National Research Council. In addition, the report recommends emphasis on flight demonstrations for technologies that are nearly ready and a 10 percent allocation from the existing program budget to advance and refine early emerging technologies. Click here. (2/1)

Critics Blast NASA’s “Rocket to Nowhere” - NASA Responds (Source: Houston Chronicle)
There’s been a lot of concern expressed about the state of NASA’s rocket program in recent months, especially since the space agancy announced its plan to develop a heavy-lift vehicle. The gist of those concerns is that NASA may be embarking upon an unsustainable course, and that the costly 10-year plan to build a heavy lift rocket will never be seen through to completion because it lacks a clear goal and its true costs are not yet known. In short, I wondered, is NASA laying the groundwork for human exploration beyond the moon, or laying a gravestone for American human spaceflight?

For their part, NASA supplied Dan Dumbacher, Director of Engineering at the agency’s Washington headquarters, to speak for its choice, the heavy lift rocket. To that end, I’m posting below the nearly complete transcript of my conversation with Dan. Click here. (1/31)

Key FAA Bill Provisions are Approved by Congressional Leadership (Source: Politico)
House and Senate aviation leaders have approved a $63 billion four-year FAA reauthorization, which includes compromises on several difficult issues. A provision was dropped that limited shipments of lithium batteries on cargo planes. Lawmakers agreed to decrease the Essential Air Service program by $20 million a year, add eight daily long-distance flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and fund NextGen air navigation modernization with a goal of 20% fewer delays. The House could see a floor vote on the legislation by Friday and could be voted on by both chambers by next week. (2/1)

Retiring Baby Boomers to Leave Aerospace Industry (Source: AIA)
The retirement of the baby-boomer generation will affect the aerospace industry, experts say. During the 1960s, new workers entered the workforce at 1.7% per year, but that pace is expected to slow to 0.6% through 2050. Firms can outsource work or encourage retirees to stay on the job past age 65 to offset the trend. (2/1)

Commercial Satellites are Boosted by Need for Bandwidth Speed (Source: Aviation Week)
Commercial satellite communications has proved to be recession-proof as consumers hunger for more bandwidth. The demand for digital television and high-definition video are driving new growth in the commercial satellite communication market. Satellites can also provide broadband Internet access in rural areas. (2/1)

OHB To Build 8 More Galileo Satellites (Source: Space News)
The European Commission has selected OHB AG of Germany over Astrium to build eight more Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites following a replay of a competition for the first 14 spacecraft that OHB won in 2009. The contract, valued at around $267 million, will give OHB and its main partner, payload supplier Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of Britain, an uninterrupted production cycle as they continue work on the 14 satellites already under contract and then move on to the eight nearly identical spacecraft now being added. (2/1)

NASA Probe Discovers 'Alien' Matter From Beyond Our Solar System (Source: Space.com)
For the very first time, a NASA spacecraft has detected matter from outside our solar system — material that came from elsewhere in the galaxy. This so-called interstellar material was spotted by NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), a spacecraft that is studying the edge of the solar system from its orbit about 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers) above Earth.

"This alien interstellar material is really the stuff that stars and planets and people are made of — it's really important to be measuring it," said David McComas, IBEX principal investigator. An international team of scientists presented new findings from IBEX, which included the first detection of alien particles of hydrogen, oxygen and neon, in addition to the confirmation of previously detected helium. (2/1)

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