February 23, 2012

Spaceflight Payloads Workshop Planned in Florida on Mar. 23 (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida and the Florida Space Grant Consortium will sponsor a Space Flight Payloads Workshop on Mar. 23 at the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa. The event will provide an opportunity for launch providers, payload developers, researchers, and their customers to stimulate market interest and demand for suborbital and microgravity flights. Click here for information. (2/23)

Young Engineer Helps Launch Space Academy (Source: Aviation Week)
Founders of the Scientific Preparatory Academy for Cosmic Explorers, or SPACE, will preview plans for a four-year undergraduate institution structured to prepare a global student body for careers in space development with real-world experience and classroom instruction during a pair of conferences set for May and July. The formative school, which is patterned after the 25-year-old graduate level International Space University, was chartered on the Isle of Man in January. SPACE is preparing to offer its first instruction near the island’s capital of Douglas by early 2014. (2/23)

Air Force Fiscal 2013 Budget Invests in Critical Space Capabilities (Source: USAF)
Investment in space programs was a priority in this year's Air Force budget, according to Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton. Air Force leaders sought to sustain and modernize the capabilities that enable the service to support the Department of Defense's new strategic guidance. The U.S. military continues to rely heavily on Air Force space programs for a wide variety of activities that allow the military to be effective on the battlefield, she said.

As the Air Force went into the current budget cycle, she said, Air Force leaders were committed to aligning the service with the new DOD strategic guidance released Jan. 5, which included protecting programs in the budget that support main Air Force mission areas such as space. Conaton said that key capabilities such as missile warning, satellite communications, launch and space situational awareness were protected in this year's budget to ensure continued support to warfighters and space operations around the globe. (2/23)

Space Tourist Proposes Mars Trip (Source: BBC)
A space entrepreneur backs a one-way trip to Mars to set up a human colony. And he does not think there will be a problem finding volunteers. A Mars mission will take at least two and a half years. As the crew gets further away from Earth, they will no longer have the ability to talk in real time with home, as depending on the alignment of Earth and Mars, the time lag for communications will be up to 20 minutes each way.

It will take a lot of fuel, water, food and air. The spaceship will need to pass through intense radiation, navigate to a landing site and touch down on an alien world. Then they have to get back. The technological problems alone are sobering, not to mention the cost of such a venture. Entrepreneur and astronaut Richard Garriott is of the view that these barriers are insurmountable. But he has an alternative suggestion.

“Imagine,” he told me, “if NASA put up a billion dollar prize that said ‘land something on Mars that captures oxygen and puts it in tanks’. You’d probably get a lot of competitors and a lot of oxygen stored on Mars.” And that’s only the beginning. “Now have another billion dollar prize for someone to make a self-sufficient greenhouse and another billion dollar prize to build some radiation-hardened living spaces, and so on.” (2/23)

Extending the Habitable Zone for Red Dwarf Stars (Source: Astrobiology)
Stars known as red dwarfs might have larger habitable zones friendly to ‘life as we know it’ than once thought, researchers say. Red dwarfs, also known as M stars, are dim compared to stars like our sun and just 10 to 20 percent as massive. They make up roughly three-quarters of the stars in the galaxy, and recently scientists found red dwarfs are far more common than before thought, making up at least 80 percent of the total number of stars.

The fact that red dwarfs are so very common has made astrobiologists wonder if they might be the best chance for discovering planets habitable to life as we know it. More and more planets are getting discovered around red dwarfs — for instance, a potentially habitable "super-Earth" at least 4.5 times the mass of Earth, GJ 667Cb, was recently found orbiting the red dwarf GJ 667C. Click here. (2/23)

Dish Network's Net Jumps 24% on Subscriber Additions (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Dish Network Corp.'s fourth-quarter earnings rose 24% as the satellite-television operator reversed subscriber losses from previous quarters with the addition of its new Blockbuster video service. The company added 22,000 net subscribers during the most-recent quarter, beating analyst estimates and pushing its customer base up to 13.97 million as of Dec. 31. The new customers compared to 111,000 net subscriber losses booked in the third quarter. (2/23)

Editorial: Huntsville to Have Co-Pilot in NASA (Source: Huntsville Times)
Marshall Space Flight Center Director Robert Lightfoot's promotion to NASA headquarters should bode well for Marshall as NASA focuses on development of America's next generation rockets. Propulsion is what Marshall knows best. Having Lightfoot in the top command should assure that Marshall's storied success in rocket development along with other vital programs are not overlooked.

Lightfoot's deputy, Gene Goldman, will take over as MSFC director. Huntsville lawyer Mark McDaniel, who served on the national NASA advisory council from 2000 to 2005, said Lightfoot will be a key player in decisions by the NASA administrator, president and Congress. Lightfoot's elevation to acting associate NASA administrator (he's optimistic it will become permanent) marks the fourth MSFC director out of 11 to ascend to NASA headquarters. (2/23)

Zero-Gravity Roller Coaster Could Bring Weightless Thrills to Earth (Source: Space.com)
Think about the tallest, wildest roller coaster you've ever been on. If a Southern California design firm has its way, you haven't felt anything yet. BRC Imagination Arts is proposing a "zero gravity" roller coaster that would give thrill seekers a stomach-churning ride including at least eight seconds of microgravity. The proposed ride takes cues from NASA's KC-135A aircraft, which was used to train astronauts and test equipment for spaceflight.

The aircraft, nicknamed "the Vomit Comet," flew specific flight paths to mimic various states of microgravity. "The configuration would look something like the coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California called 'Superman: Escape from Krypton,' but BRC's Vomit Comet will be much taller and would create a completely different experience," said Bob Rogers. While conventional roller coasters involve open-air seating, the capsule used in BRC's Vomit Comet will be completely enclosed. This will enhance the thrill, Rogers said, since riders will not be able to gauge their own movement against fixed objects or the horizon. (2/23)

Obama Campaign Could Trip Over Space Policy (Source: Houston Chronicle)
President Obama's visit to the political battleground of Florida on Thursday will showcase a robust economic agenda, reap hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars and - he hopes - stymie any Republican effort to render the intricacies of his space policy into a bumper sticker. Like, "Hey NASA, if you need a ride to the space station, call Moscow." The Democrat's visit comes as NASA quietly deepens politically embarrassing reliance on Russia to loft U.S. astronauts and cargo to and from space. The development hands Republicans a potential avenue of attack on Obama in the fall campaign in space-conscious Florida.

Congressman Pete Olson, a Sugar Land Republican, welcomes prospects for a partisan clash over space policy, figuring it might bolster congressional support for operations at Houston's Johnson Space Center, home of mission control for manned operations and the astronaut corps. "Presidential candidates have an obligation to clearly outline their level of support for U.S. human space exploration," says Olson, whose district hosts JSC's multibillion-dollar contribution to the Houston-area economy. "President Obama's actions prove he doesn't believe a vibrant space program is important to American prosperity, technological advancement or national security." (2/23)

NASA Administrator Visits JPL in Wake of Budget Proposal (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
A little more than a week after NASA announced it would drastically scale back the budget for its Mars exploration programs, the agency's administrator made a stop at Jet Propulsion Laboratory - the facility that may be most affected by the cuts. NASA's 2013 budget, which was released Feb. 13, includes $226 million in cuts to the Mars exploration programs. JPL's portion of the cuts amounts to roughly $120 million - about 10 percent of the facility's budget.

The cuts are largely due to NASA's desire to continue funding the enormous James Webb Space Telescope, even while maintaining an overall flat budget for next year. JPL officials have said that without the joint Mars missions in the pipeline, a few hundred JPL scientists and engineers could find themselves without work in the next few years. In spite of that dire prediction, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden seemed to receive a warm and friendly welcome from JPL staffers during his visit. (2/23)

New evidence the Moon is Not Geologically Dead (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Researchers using NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have discovered new evidence of relatively fresh geologic activity on the moon, raising questions about its formation and the arc of its 4.5 billion-year history. The latest announcement is another sign the moon is not geologically dead. Earlier research using LRO's sharp-eyed camera found cliffs and staircase-like terrain formed by thrust faults, leading scientists to conclude the moon is still cooling billions of years after it coalesced. (2/23)

FAA Bill Requires Upgrades to NextGen System (Source: KSPR)
The Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 will upgrade the current radar system for air-traffic control to NextGen. The radar system often creates indirect flight paths because the aircraft need to fly within tracking distance of control towers. NextGen relies on satellite-based GPS for tracking. (2/23)

Milky Way's Outer Fringe of Stars Sparks Disagreement (Source: Scientific American)
It's well known that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, a swirl of stars in an extended, many-armed disk. But the structure of the galaxy is far from two-dimensional. Above and below those familiar spiral arms is a lesser-known feature, a spherical swarm of stars that makes up a halo around the disk.

For decades the presence of the halo has prodded astronomers to ask big questions about its nature: How is it structured? How do stars in the halo compare with disk stars such as our sun, or to stars elsewhere in the halo? And just how did the halo get there? In recent years a group of astronomers has suggested an answer to some of those big questions by drawing on a large telescopic survey of the sky.

The halo, they have concluded, is composed of at least two distinct populations of stars, with different chemical makeups and different orbits. One group of stars, dubbed the inner halo, generally orbits closer to the galactic center, and its members tend to contain more heavy elements such as iron than do stars farther out. Click here. (2/22)

House Set to Pass Cecil Field Spaceport Bill (Source: Jacksonville.com)
The Florida House is set to pass a bill that would help make space-related companies doing business at Cecil Field eligible for tax breaks. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Lake Ray, would officially designate Cecil Field as a spaceport territory at the state level. That recognition would make space-related companies at Cecil eligible for tax breaks on machinery and equipment.

In 2010, the Federal Aviation Authority made Cecil Field the nation’s eighth licensed spaceport. The move authorized the facility for horizontal takeoffs and landing of launch vehicles that can reach space. It needed state recognition, though, to be eligible for the tax breaks. The bill was considered on the House floor Wednesday, and will be up for a final vote Thursday. The Senate has already passed its version of the bill. (2/23)

Robotically Maintained Space Telescopes (Source: SpaceRef)
The historical development of ground based astronomical telescopes leads us to expect that space-based astronomical telescopes will need to be operational for many decades. The exchange of scientific instruments in space will be a prerequisite for the long lasting scientific success of such missions. Operationally, the possibility to repair or replace key spacecraft components in space will be mandatory.

We argue that these requirements can be fulfilled with robotic missions and see the development of the required engineering as the main challenge. Ground based operations, scientifically and technically, will require a low operational budget of the running costs. These can be achieved through enhanced autonomy of the spacecraft and mission independent concepts for the support of the software. This concept can be applied to areas where the mirror capabilities do not constrain the lifetime of the mission. Click here. (2/23)

Playboy Releases Renderings of Potential Club in Space (Source: Playboy)
With the help of futurists and rocket scientists—-including Virgin Galactic's head designer, Adam Wells-—Playboy magazine has imagined a Playboy Club in space, and is releasing renderings of this potential entertainment venue in the sky in its March issue. "As Virgin Galactic gets closer to becoming the world's first commercial space line, Playboy is eagerly pondering the creation of the ultimate intergalactic entertainment destination," said the magazine's Editorial Director Jimmy Jellinek.

"This heaven in the heavens will exceed starry-eyed travelers' wildest dreams, and guests will truly experience a party that's out of this world." Images of the Playboy Club in Space, which include mock-ups of its zero-gravity dance club, human roulette wheel, and floating drink globules, are also available on www.playboy.com/clubinspace. (2/23)
Hockey's Slater for Spaceman? (Source: Winnipeg Sun)
Jim Slater wants to be the first pro hockey player to make it to the moon. The Winnipeg Jets center said that he wanted to be an astronaut when he was growing up and he hasn’t given up the dream yet. “I’ve been talking to my parents and my girlfriend and stuff about those trips to outer space and that’s what I would spend my money on,” Slater said on Tuesday morning. “I would rather spend $250,000 to go to outer space for 30 seconds than to have a brand new car.” (2/23)

GMES Financing Continues to Divide Member States (Source: Europolitics)
Does the EU's Earth monitoring program known as Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) still have a future? The question seems relevant given that the Council is more divided than ever over the question of its financing, and that the European Parliament has clearly stated its opposition to an intergovernmental program (financed "from the outside"), as proposed by the European Commission.

The member states' ministers met, on 21 February, for the Competitiveness Council (internal market, industry, research and space) and reiterated their respective positions: some favor a reinsertion of this program in the Community budget, while others would prefer the Commission's proposal. The Danish Presidency is being cautious, and above all is aware that it would be unrealistic to expect an agreement at this stage of the debate. Thus, the Presidency had given up the idea of presenting draft conclusions on the subject to the member states. (2/23)

Florida Space Institute and NASA Explore Collaboration Opportunities (Source: UCF)
In the past, partnerships between the University of Central Florida and NASA at the Kennedy Space Center have produced technological breakthroughs in the areas of communication systems for space travel and space shuttle simulations that helped prepare for the real thing. To stimulate new ideas for the future, The Florida Space Institute at UCF hosted Space Day on Feb. 21 on the UCF Campus. More than 100 people attended. (2/23)

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