March 13, 2012

Prolonged Space Travel Causes Brain and Eye Abnormalities (Source: RSNA)
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the eyes and brains of 27 astronauts who have spent prolonged periods of time in space revealed optical abnormalities similar to those that can occur in intracranial hypertension of unknown cause, a potentially serious condition in which pressure builds within the skull. A retrospective analysis of the MRI data appears online in the journal Radiology.

A team of researchers performed MRIs and analyzed the data on the 27 astronauts, each of whom were exposed to microgravity, or zero gravity, for an average of 108 days while on space shuttle missions and/or the International Space Station (ISS), a habitable research facility that has been orbiting the earth since 1998. Eight of the 27 astronauts underwent a second MRI exam after a second space mission that lasted an average of 39 days. (3/13)

JPL Lawyers Want Media Limits During 'Intelligent Design' Trial (Source: Pasadena Star News)
Lawyers for Jet Propulsion Laboratory argued Monday to limit media access in the case of a former employee who alleges he was fired from the lab due to his belief in intelligent design. Lead JPL attorney Jim Zapp asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige to restrict the press from reporting on testimony from lab employees in the civil trial between the agency and former employee David Coppedge, which is set to begin today. Hiroshige has yet to decide whether to allow full media access, officials said. (3/13)

Russia Sets Sights on Moon, Mars and Beyond (Source: AFP)
Russia's crisis-hit space agency intends to send its first manned mission to the Moon and deploy research stations on Mars under an ambitious plan presented to the government this month. The Kommersant daily said the mission statement from the Roscosmos space agency through 2030 reveals no financial details but includes plans to find outside sources of funding that do not put additional pressures on the budget. It also sees Russia purchasing a large chunk of its rocket technology from foreign countries in order to catch up with its eternal US rival NASA by 2020. (3/13)

Camping on an Asteroid (Source:
Have you ever dreamed of sleeping on an asteroid in the middle of the solar system? Well, an astronaut and a geologist have done just that...almost. The NASA team recently spent three days "camping" and "flying" around an asteroid as part of a training exercise. But in reality, they were safe inside NASA's Space Exploration Vehicle prototype (SEV), parked at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at the Johnson Space Center. The duo practised flying the SEV in a digital environment, dodging virtual 'asteroids', simulating space walks, and even venturing out to take rock samples. (3/13)

Official: 2013 Budget Targets Space Capability Resilience (Source: DOD)
The $9.6 billion for space programs within President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request will boost resilience for U.S. space capabilities but cut some modernization and other programs, Air Force Gen. William L. Shelton, commander of the Air Force Space Command, told a House panel. Shelton testified on national security space activities before the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, along with Ambassador Gregory L. Schulte, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, Gil I. Klinger, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space and intelligence, and other experts.

The president’s budget request, Shelton said, “invests in programs that enhance the resiliency and effectiveness of our space capabilities, namely missile warning, positioning, navigation and timing, satellite communications, space situational awareness and space launch.” A 22 percent drop in the 2013 request from 2012 represents mainly “fact-of-life programmatic changes,” the general said, along with “some very difficult budget decisions leading to cuts to some modernization programs, and restructuring our approach” to the Operationally Responsive Space Office, or ORS, and the Space Test Program. (3/13)

How Elon Musk Became A Billionaire Twice Over (Source: Forbes)
New billionaire Elon Musk has made big bets in a trio of risky industries. His portfolio of companies practically reads like the set-up to a contrarian joke. He’s in electric cars, solar power, and space rockets–-sectors rocked by troubles with the unsellable Chevy Volt, the fracas around Solyndra, and budget cuts at NASA. But Musk is thriving in industries where the default expectation is failure. He debuted on the new 2012 Forbes Billionaires List with a net worth of $2 billion. Click here. (3/13)

Dish Closes DBSD, TerreStar Buyouts (Source: Wireless Week)
Dish Network has closed its acquisitions of satellite companies DBSD North America and TerreStar Networks, but its plans to use the companies' spectrum for an LTE network are a long way from being realized. The company had asked the FCC to grant it a waiver to use DBSD and TerreStar satellite spectrum for land-based wireless services, a waiver similar to the one the FCC granted to LightSquared last year.

The FCC cleared Dish’s acquisition of the companies' spectrum licenses earlier this month, but said it would not give Dish the waiver it needed to begin work on its LTE network, instead deciding to examine the issue of terrestrial mobile broadband in satellite spectrum through a time-consuming rulemaking process. (3/13)

ABS, Satmex Join To Buy 4 Boeing All-electric Satellites, SpaceX Launch (Source: Space News)
Regional satellite operators Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS) of Bermuda and Hong Kong and Satmex of Mexico are joining forces to purchase four Boeing-built telecommunications satellites using a revolutionary design in a $400 million partnership. The four satellites will be launched two at a time aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets, industry officials said. The agreement could catapult ABS – a company that just five years ago had no more than a few million dollars in annual revenue – into a position as a global satellite operator with strongholds in South America in addition to Asia. (3/13)

Final Push for Pluto's Postage Stamp (Source: MSNBC)
More than 11,000 people have signed an online petition to honor NASA's mission to Pluto and other denizens of the solar system's icy rim with a commemorative U.S. postage stamp — which is a fine way to celebrate the 82nd anniversary of Pluto's planetary coming-out party. "I'm pretty happy," said Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute who is the principal investigator for NASA's New Horizons mission. New Horizons is due to fly by the dwarf planet in 2015, and Stern is among the leading supporters of the stamp campaign. (3/13)

Hosted Payloads Seen As Niche Market (Source: Aviation Week)
Piggyback government payloads on commercial spacecraft probably won’t win more than 1% of worldwide satellite-market revenue in the next few years, as bureaucratic inertia and a “not-invented-here” mentality work against the cost savings that might be gained, according to a new study.

Speaking at a hosted-payload forum in connection with the Satellite 2012 conference in Washington, analyst Claude Rousseau of North Sky Research said preliminary figures generated by his company suggest that the obstacles to significant early adoption of the hosted-payload concept will keep it in the niche-market category for the rest of this decade. Those include the relatively low cost of some mission-specific spacecraft. (3/13)

Decisive Budget Fight Ahead for Commercial Crew Program (Source:
After NASA chief Charles Bolden fielded blistering questions from Congress last week on the agency's commercial crew initiative, officials said NASA must emphasize the program's urgency and quell expectations ahead of upcoming budget negotiations, during which a crucial SpaceX commercial cargo test flight will attempt to reach the International Space Station, a symbolic mission for the burgeoning private human spaceflight industry.

"I had to turn off the hearings," said Phil McAlister, head of NASA's commercial spaceflight effort. "If I heard another senator say, 'commercial crew sucks' ... I had to turn it off because it was just too much. That's because of this change we're trying to implement, which a lot of people are not comfortable with."

Commercial crew flights are due to begin by 2017. "We have to redouble our communications with our congressional stakeholders," McAlister said, adding that while he is buoyed by growing support for the commercial crew program, there is still disagreement between NASA and some members of Congress on its prioritization in the agency's broad portfolio. (3/13)

Life on Mars? Funds to Find Answer Fade (Source: New York Times)
Just as NASA is on the cusp of answering the most fascinating questions about Mars — is there, was there or could there be life there? — the money needed to provide the answers is about to be abruptly withdrawn, a victim of President Obama’s budget request for 2013, scientists say. Two ambitious missions that NASA had hoped to launch to Mars, in 2016 and 2018, will be canceled. The first would have sent an orbiter to measure gases in the Martian atmosphere — methane in particular, since methane does not last long. Its presence could suggest that Martian microbes are busy at work emitting the gas (though other explanations are also possible). (3/13)

Eutelsat, Es'hailSat Pick Ariane 5 To Launch Satellite to Disputed Slot (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris and its partner, Es’hailSat, the Qatar Satellite Co., will launch the Eutelsat 25B/Es’hail 1 telecommunications satellite aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket in mid-2013 under a contract the companies announced March 12. The satellite is under construction by Loral in California and will carry Ku- and Ka-band capacity intended for the Eutelsat/Qatari orbital position at 25.5 degrees east. It is expected to weigh more than 6,000 kilograms at launch. (3/12)

Scramjet Prepped in New Mexico for Hawaii Launch (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Preparations to fly a new high tech engine are currently underway at White Sands Missile Range. Members from Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme division, White Sands Detachment, are working together to ready the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation, HIFiRE, Flight 2 research vehicle for launch later this year. The experiment itself is part of a joint effort between NASA and the Air Force, with the Navy providing the rocket and launch system the experiment will be flown on.

HIFiRE Flight 2 is an experiment being conducted to study and evaluate a special kind of engine called a scramjet. The scramjet, or supersonic combustion ramjet, and its related systems, are being readied at White Sands for flight later this year in Hawaii. The HIFiRE Flight 2 scramjet is an advanced jet engine designed to function at extremely high speeds. (3/12)

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Tests CST-100 Abort Engine (Source: PWR)
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne successfully completed a full-mission duration hot-fire test on a Launch Abort Engine (LAE) for Boeing's Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft. The CST-100 spacecraft, designed to transport people to the International Space Station and other low-Earth orbit destinations, is in development under NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

The Service Module and Integrated Launch Abort propulsion system is a critical system for safe, reliable and affordable commercial crew transportation. It is designed to push the crew capsule to safety if an abort is necessary. If unused for an abort, the same propellant load can be used for other parts of the mission, including re-boosting the space station orbit. The LAE test was conducted in the California desert. (3/12)

Atlas 5 Being Stacked for Next U.S. Military Launch (Source:
The 30th Atlas 5 rocket began taking shape Monday as United Launch Alliance technicians hoisted the giant first stage onto the mobile launching platform for next month's mission to deploy an ultra-secure U.S. government communications satellite. At the Vertical Integration Facility adjacent to Cape Canaveral's Complex 41 launch pad, the stacking operations got underway to assemble the vehicle for its planned April 27 blastoff carrying the second Advanced Extremely High Frequency spacecraft. (3/12)

NASA Rocket Launch Scheduled March 15 (Source: NASA)
NASA is scheduled to launch five suborbital sounding rockets in just over five minutes March 15 from the Wallops Facility in Virginia as part of a study of the upper level jet stream. Based on the approved range schedule, the launch window for March 15 is between midnight and 1:30 a.m. EDT. The backup launch days are March 16 through April 3. The Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) will gather information needed to better understand the process responsible for the high-altitude jet stream located 60 to 65 miles above the surface of the Earth. (3/12)

SpaceX Launch Schedule Crunch (Source: Hobby Space)
The SpaceX Manifest includes a launch this year for MDA. That spacecraft is the CASSIOPE satellite, which will be placed into a polar orbit from Vandenberg. The development of SpaceX's Vandenberg launch facilities is moving along. The demolition and removal of the old pad is finished and a hangar is under construction. The goal is to launch CASSIOPE in the fall.

That launch will use the new Merlin 1D engine, an upgraded engine that SpaceX must demonstrate at least once before the SES flight. SpaceX says they are firing the engine “four or five times a week” at the test site in McGregor, Texas. The Falcon 9 rocket will also be modified to include an extended propellant tank and a bigger payload fairing.

For 2012 SpaceX has four flights. This includes the upcoming COTS 2/3 demonstration flight of Dragon to the ISS, now set for no earlier than April 20. If that is successful, they will carry out two CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) missions. If it isn't, they must do another demonstration flight before the CRS flights. Besides the MDA launch, commercial activities include the piggybacking of Orbcomm satellites on at least one of the CRS flights. (3/12)

Venus Spacecraft Punched, Blinded by Solar Radiation (Source: Discovery)
Space weather in our solar system has been rather unsettled of late, and some of our tenacious robotic interplanetary explorers have been feeling the impact of the sun's temper tantrums. The European Space Agency's Venus Express orbiter suffered a particularly nasty solar sucker-punch, temporarily blinding one of its navigational systems. The solar radiation hit Venus' orbit on March 7 (Tuesday) after the sun had belched out a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). This radiation uptick knocked-out Venus Express' startracker cameras (including the backup camera), causing them to lose sight of stars the spacecraft uses to orient itself. (3/12)

How a Nuclear Bomb Could Save Earth From an Asteroid (Source: Space News)
A well-placed nuclear explosion could actually save humanity from a big asteroid hurtling toward Earth, just like in the movies, a new study suggests. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a United States Department of Energy facility in New Mexico, used a supercomputer to model nukes' anti-asteroid effectiveness. They attacked a 1,650-foot-long (500-meter) space rock with a 1-megaton nuclear weapon — about 50 times more powerful than the U.S. blast inflicted on Nagasaki, Japan, to help end World War II. (3/12)

NASA Takes to YouTube to Say End is Not Near (Source: Washington Times)
According to NASA, Christmas can go ahead this year — the world will not end on Dec. 21. In a recent YouTube video, one of the agency’s top scientists debunks various doomsday theories linked to the supposed end of the Mayan calendar. While some expect planetary collisions, massive solar storms or magnetic pole shifts that literally could turn Earth upside down, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration sees Dec. 21 as “just another day.” (3/12)

Mars Clays Could Preserve Signs of Life (Source:
The mud and clays ideal for preserving fossil records are less common around Martian lakes than on Earth. A new survey of 226 ancient lakebeds on the Red Planet reveals that only a third show evidence of such deposits on the surface today. A team of scientists from Brown University pored over surface images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Odyssey Spacecraft, and the Mars Express spacecraft in search of lakes that once boasted water rushing out as well as in. They then analyzed the reflected light from each lake to determine their chemical composition, hoping to identify the muds and clays found in such systems on Earth. (3/12)

For Russia's Troubled Space Program, Mishaps Mount (Source: NPR)
Russia's space program has suffered a string of costly and embarrassing mishaps over the past year. NASA says Russia is still a trustworthy partner, but critics say the once-proud program is corrupt and mismanaged — good at producing excuses, but not results. Since December 2010, Russia has experienced at least six mission failures, including the loss of a $163 million Mars probe.

The most recent loss came when builders damaged a Soyuz space capsule that was scheduled to take a new crew to the International Space Station at the end of this month. Yuri Karash, a member of the Russian Space Academy, says some of the problems with Russian missions stem from mismanagement and outright theft. Karash cites a report from the head of Russia's government auditing agency. "He said that a significant amount of the Roscosmos budget was 'misallocated,'" says Karash. "It's a very diplomatic way to put it. It was just stolen."

Igor Lisov says the agency has also suffered a brain drain, with many of the most active and knowledgeable people leaving. The good ones who stayed on, he says, did so mostly out of patriotism. Lisov says some projects, like the failed Mars probe, took so long to complete that parts of them were obsolete before they were launched. In the end, he says, the only option was to launch it, or give it to a museum. Karash says recent Russian budgets have allocated plenty for the space agency, but the organization lacks the vision and energy to innovate. He says they're just building new versions of the same old Soviet hardware. (3/12)

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