March 20, 2012

'Japan Can Crash North Korea Satellite If Needed' (Source: Space Daily)
If the need arises, Japan's armed forces could shoot down North Korea's satellite, planned to be launched next month, Japan's Defense Minister has said. The Sankei daily said the country's former defense minister Yasukazu Hamada had then ordered to deploy a missile defense system to protect Japan from North Korean missiles if they fell on to Japanese territory. (3/20)

MESSENGER Completes Primary Mission at Mercury, Settles in for Another Year (Source: Space Daily)
Laurel MD (SPX) Mar 21, 2012 - On March 17, 2012, MESSENGER successfully wrapped up a year-long campaign to perform the first complete reconnaissance of the geochemistry, geophysics, geologic history, atmosphere, magnetosphere, and plasma environment of the solar system's innermost planet. The following day, March 18, 2012, marked the official start of an extended phase designed to build upon those discoveries. (3/20)

Spotting Ancient Sites, From Space (Source: Space Daily)
A Harvard archaeologist has dramatically simplified the process of finding early human settlements by using computers to scour satellite images for the tell-tale clues of human habitation, and in the process uncovered thousands of new sites that might reveal clues to the earliest complex human societies. Researchers have developed a system that identified settlements based on a series of factors - including soil discolorations and the distinctive mounding that results from the collapse of mud-brick settlements. (3/20)

Cassini Sees Saturn Stressing out Enceladus (Source: Space Daily)
Images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have, for the first time, enabled scientists to correlate the spraying of jets of water vapor from fissures on Saturn's moon Enceladus with the way Saturn's gravity stretches and stresses the fissures. "This new work gives scientists insight into the mechanics of these picturesque jets at Enceladus and shows that Saturn really stresses Enceladus," said Terry Hurford. (3/20)

Titan's Haze is Dropping (Source: Science News)
The sky is falling on Titan. An upper layer of the Saturnian moon’s hazy shroud has plunged more than 100 kilometers since the Cassini spacecraft whizzed by in 2004, suggesting that shifting seasons can do more than dump rain. Early Cassini images revealed a smoggy world circled by a detached, hazy layer that hovered 500 kilometers above the moon’s surface. Now, new images reveal, that layer has sunk to an altitude of around 360 kilometers. (3/20)

U.S. Space Tourism Set for Takeoff by 2014, FAA Says (Source: Reuters)
The Obama administration is preparing for a space tourism industry that is expected to be worth $1 billion in 10 years, the head of the FAA's commercial space office said on Tuesday. Rocket planes and spaceships to carry passengers beyond the atmosphere, similar to the suborbital hops taken by Mercury astronauts Alan Shepard and Virgil "Gus" Grissom in 1961, are being built and tested, with commercial flight services targeted to begin in 2013 or 2014.

"Based on market studies, we expect to see this type of activity result in a $1 billion industry within the next 10 years," George Nield, associate administrator for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation testified before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. "This is a new and growing industry. If you look at the last 25 years, almost all the launches were for the same basic purposes - to launch a satellite, such as a telecommunications satellite, to orbit - and that level of business for that part of the industry is continuing today. But there are several new segments that we see just on the horizon," Nield said. (3/20)

Super-Earth Unlikely Able to Transfer Life to Other Planets (Source: Purdue)
While scientists believe conditions suitable for life might exist on the so-called "super-Earth" in the Gliese 581 system, it's unlikely to be transferred to other planets within that solar system. "One of the big scientific questions is how did life get started and how did it spread through the universe," said Jay Melosh. "That question used to be limited to just the Earth, but we now know in our solar system there is a lot of exchange that takes place, and it's quite possible life started on Mars and came to Earth. There's also been a great deal of discussion about the possible spread of life in the universe from star to star."

Moon rocks and Mars meteorites have been found on Earth, which led Melosh to previously suggest living microbes could be exchanged among planets in a similar manner. A Purdue research team has found that, in contrast to our own solar system, the exchange of living microbes between "super-Earth" and planets in that solar system is not likely to occur. Click here. (3/20)

First Global Geology Map of Io (Source: Astronomy Now)
The first complete geological map of Jupiter's moon Io has been published by the U.S. Geological Survey, depicting active volcanoes and lava flows and highlighting a notable absence of impact craters. Fiery Io, discovered by Galileo in 1610, is subject to extreme tidal heating as a result of its proximity to host planet Jupiter. Its crust is rapidly flexed as it careers around the giant planet, inducing intense heating in its interior that is released through hundreds of active volcanoes on its surface, the first observation of which was claimed by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1979.

The new map, which was composed from data collected by Voyager 1 and 2, and the Galileo spacecraft, identifies 19 different types of surface material including volcanic deposits, plains and mountains. No less than 425 individual volcanic centers, or paterae, are highlighted alongside vast expanses of sulphur and sulphur dioxide-rich plains. Click here. (3/20)

Rocks Are Hurtling Toward Us All the Time -- But Sometimes That's Good (Source: SF Weekly)
​It's scary to think that an asteroid or comet might one day slam into Earth. It conjures images of Billy Bob Thornton sending Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck into space in Armageddon to nuke a Texas-sized earthbound asteroid from the inside, saving the world from certain obliteration. It's an unlikely scenario in our time. But is it? Jeffrey Van Cleve says it warrants more attention -- and not just because a near-Earth object -- a so-called "NEO" -- could send humanity the way of the dinosaurs. Van Cleve believes we can learn a lot by studying the junk hurtling toward us in space, and mining elements from it. Click here. (3/20)

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Asks How Much the Universe is Worth; the Web Responds (Source: Washington Post)
Think about it. Can America send the first human being to Mars, the first manned space craft to land on an asteroid, or the first person to the edge of the solar system and back without the agency that put the first man on the moon? There are some, particularly in the private sector, who may argue all of these feats are possible without the space agency. But, for those who grew up with NASA as the icon of American space exploration, it’s not so easy or pleasant a thing to imagine.

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has been advocating for an increase to NASA’s budget even as the fiscal 2013 budget request President Obama submitted to Congress in February is the lowest for the agency in four years. “How much would you pay to launch our economy,” he asked during his March 7 testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. And then, in a quote that swept across the Internet, he intoned, “How much would you pay for the universe?” Click here. (3/20)

FAA Space Transportation Office Urges Action on Launch Indemnity (Source: Space News)
The top U.S. commercial launch regulator and his office’s chief adviser told a congressional panel that the United States must extend, and perhaps even strengthen, the liability shield it offers to commercial launch providers to ensure that the domestic industry can stand up to international competition. “We need it to be competitive internationally,” said Wilbur Trafton, the former Boeing launch executive who chairs the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC).

Trafton spoke at a March 20 hearing of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee. The hearing was called to review the White House’s 2013 budget request for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, known as AST. Trafton testified alongside George Nield, FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation, who urged the subcommittee to extend a risk-sharing liability and insurance regime U.S. launch providers have operated under for the past two decades.

The U.S. government currently indemnifies commercial launch operators by promising to pay up to $1.5 billion to cover third-party damage claims that exceed the insurance coverage the AST requires licensed operators to carry. Congress established launch indemnification in 1988 as part of the Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments and has extended the risk-sharing regime five times, most recently in 2009. (3/20)

FAA Space Office's Role and Budget Discussed in House Hearing (Source:
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to review the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget request and to examine the agency's priorities and challenges. Testifying before the Subcommittee were Dr. George C. Nield, FAA's Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, and Wilbur Trafton (USN ret.), the Chairman of FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) and the former NASA Associate Administrator for Space Flight.

Acting Ranking Member of the Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Jerry Costello (D-IL) said in his opening statement, "The successful growth of commercial human spaceflight activities can open new opportunities for commercial space. However, realizing and sustaining the promise of that industry will require close attention to safety."

The AST's statutory mission is to protect the public, property, and U.S. national security and foreign policy interests during commercial launch or reentry activities. Under current law, AST also is to encourage, facilitate, and promote the U.S. commercial space transportation industry. The Administration is requesting $16.7 million for the AST for FY 2013. This represents a 2.6 percent increase over the level appropriated for FY 2012. (3/20)

Telespazio Lands Pentagon Contract for Satellite Bandwidth (Source: Space News)
Satellite services provider Telespazio will furnish more than 350 megahertz of satellite bandwidth — equivalent to nine satellite transponders — to sister company DRS Defense Solutions for use by the U.S. Department of Defense under a one-year, $22 million contract, Telespazio announced. The contract calls for Telespazio to use satellite capacity it has leased from fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris and includes an option to extend the lease for four more years. (3/20)

Garriott: Why Human Space Travel? (Source: Huffington Post)
Space exploration has created products and services that are essential to contemporary human endeavor. Weather forecasts and information about the long range impacts of climate change come primarily from space. Global telecommunications including phones, television and the Internet depend greatly on space activities. GPS systems are already essential for military and air craft operations and it is becoming essential for automobiles that may soon self-drive with data from space. The power grids that serve people around the globe also depend on solar flare activities reported from space. Click here. (3/20)

Mars for the 'Average Person' (Source: BBC)
Rocket entrepreneur Elon Musk believes he can get the cost of a round trip to Mars down to about half a million dollars. The SpaceX CEO says he has finally worked out how to do it, and told the BBC he would reveal further details later this year or early in 2013. Musk is one of NASA's new commercial partners, building systems to take cargo and crew to the space station. He has developed his own rocket and a capsule for the purpose. Click here. (3/20)

Increasing NASA Funding Could Help U.S. Economically (Source: Isureveille)
We’ve boldly gone where no man had gone before, but now it’s looking more and more likely that we won’t be going any further for a while. Budget cuts to NASA are threatening to cripple our space program and undermine our position as the leading nation in space exploration. Missions and programs designed to broaden the scope of human knowledge are being scrapped in the name of saving money, and these cuts may end up harming us in the long term.
The most recent example is the cancellation of a pair of missions to Mars.

Many argue that cuts to the NASA budget are necessary and desirable. Opponents argue that these programs don’t produce any tangible results and that taxpayer money could be allocated toward more fruitful ventures.
But if there is one federal program that should not be cut, it’s NASA. NASA only costs taxpayers a fraction of a penny every year, and it represents only a tiny fraction of our country’s total spending. For instance, compare the NASA budget with that of the Department of Defense. NASA’s 2013 budget is $17.7 billion, while the Department of Defense is slated to receive $525 billion.

In other words, we are spending 30 times more money per year on missiles and other military equipment than on exploring the cosmos and learning about our place in the universe. Take a second to imagine the implications a reversal of this trend would entail. Instead of throwing money at military projects (that admittedly protect us from threats), we would be investing in a future that would allow our species to progress into the far reaches of space. This would lead to increasing advancements in scientific knowledge and technology. (3/20)

Senate Committee Wants Pentagon to Hold Off on Defense Cuts (Source: Defense News)
The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee wants the Pentagon to wait on making military cuts until lawmakers have a chance to react to the proposed 2013 defense budget. Committee leaders say congressional defense committees need time to propose bills related to defense cuts. (3/20)

Pentagon Budget Secures Major Strategic Win For Lockheed (Source: AOL Defense)
If you are one of those people who believes the various conspiracy theories making the rounds about Lockheed Martin's excessive influence over government decisions, the Pentagon's FY-13 budget request probably won't make you feel any better. Having served as an adviser to Lockheed and many of its competitors for a long time, I don't take the conspiracy-mongering very seriously... However, I have to admit I was surprised at how well the nation's biggest military supplier made out in the Obama Administration's reordering of Pentagon priorities.

The official version of events from policymakers is that the defense budget is being cut by a quarter trillion dollars over the next five years in a "balanced" fashion that will share pain across all mission areas, military services, and major suppliers. And sure enough, Lockheed did take a significant hit to its biggest franchise, the $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But look a little closer at the dozens of major adjustments in weapons accounts, and what you see is that the dominant military contractor is likely to become even more dominant as a result of the decisions made. (3/20)

NASA Plans Flexible Wing Tests With X-56A (Source: Aviation Week)
After Lockheed Martin completes flights of the flying-wing X-56A for the U.S. Air Force, NASA plans to use the experimental unmanned aircraft to develop active control systems for slender, flexible wings on future, highly efficient transport aircraft. Transfer of the aircraft from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is expected around the end of the year, with NASA flights planned to begin by the end of 2013, following development of a new research flight-control system, says NASA Dryden Flight Research Center engineer Starr Ginn. (3/20)

Space Law in Focus in Vienna (Source: SpaceRef)
The 51st session of the Legal Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) opened at the Vienna International Center. The Subcommittee, which has been instrumental in the development of the international legal regime governing the activities of States in the exploration and use of outer space, consisting of five treaties and five sets of declarations and principles on outer space activities, will address issues such as the status and application of the United Nations treaties on outer space, definition and delimitation of outer space, matters relating to the character and use of the geostationary orbit and capacity-building in space law. (3/20)

NASA Calls for Student-Designed Deep Space Habitat Proposals (Source: NASA)
NASA is offering college and university students a chance to help design a deep space habitat. The Exploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge is accepting applications for the 2013 challenge, inviting students to design, manufacture, assemble and test systems for use on NASA's deep space habitat prototype. Click here. (3/20)

China Hands Over NigComSat 1-R to Nigeria (Source: Xinhua)
China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) handed the recently launched NigComSat 1-R to its Nigeria counterpart on Monday at the Obasanjo Space Center in Abuja. NigComSat 1-R, which was launched on Dec. 20, 2011 and successfully positioned in its geostationary orbit a week later, has completed the in-orbit test and is ready to hand over to Nigeria Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT) for commercial operation, said Yin Liming, the CGWIC president. (3/20)

Europe’s Next Weather Satellite Gears Up for Launch (Source: ESA)
Following the safe arrival of the MetOp-B weather satellite in Kazakhstan, the sophisticated craft is now being carefully assembled and tested before launch on 23 May. MetOp-B will provide essential data for weather forecasting and climate monitoring. Developed as a joint undertaking between ESA and Eumetsat, the MetOp programme comprises a series of three identical satellites for continuous observations until 2020. (3/20)

'North Korea Should Terminate Mid-Range Missiles Before Space Exploration' (Source: Korea Times)
North Korea should terminate its mid-range missile program and join relevant international treaties if it wants the world to believe that its rocket launches are actually for scientific purposes, a security expert said Monday. The North has drawn criticism for its recently-announced plan to launch a long-range rocket next month, which it asserts is to put a satellite into orbit but is widely seen as cover for a long-range missile test using the same technology.

Daniel Pinkston, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said Pyongyang’s ballistic missile arsenal –– in addition to its provocative nuclear program — undermines any claim that the launch is for science. “While they did announce their peaceful intent...if this really were the case, they would have no need for medium-range ballistic missiles, which are not for launching satellites but military purposes,” he said. (3/20)

Ex NASA Expert Attacks Bosses in Religious Row (Source: AFP)
A former expert at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) claimed Monday he was falsely accused of harassing co-workers about religion, as he took the stand at an unfair dismissal trial. Computer administrator David Coppedge, who describes himself as an evangelical Christian, was fired last year after expressing support for intelligent design to fellow employees. His trial started last week, and on Monday testified that his supervisor Gregory Chin had wrongly accused him, threatened his freedom of religion and created a potentially hostile working environment.

"You are pushing your religion in this office and harassing people with this religion," Chin said, according to Coppedge, who added: "He was angry and he got angrier." Coppedge said he asked Chin why he considered intelligent design anything but science. "Dave, intelligent design is religion," Chin replied, according to Coppedge. Chin warned him against discussing religion or politics with colleagues, he said. (3/20)

Space Research Institute Honors Sen. Hutchison with Pioneer Award (Source: NSBRI)
In recognition of her ongoing support of the nation's human spaceflight program, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is the 2012 recipient of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute's (NSBRI) Pioneer Award. The senior senator from Texas was honored during the official opening of a new 16,400-square-foot Consolidated Research Facility that NSBRI shares with the Baylor College of Medicine's Center for Space Medicine (CSM). The Facility includes office space, four laboratories, meeting rooms, and science and education collaboration areas. (3/20)

Plutonic Love (Source: Economist)
Defending Pluto is a cheery business. At a bustling backroom at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Store in Seattle, planet fanciers of all ages created placards in support of the demoted ninth planet. The farcical protest remonstrated against the International Astronomical Union relegating Pluto from the grouping of major planets into a mere iceball category that may eventually grow to include thousands of similar objects in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. March 13th is celebrated as Pluto Day by its fans, celebrating the day 82 years ago when its existence was confirmed. (3/20)

From Cronkite to Pelley: Covering the NASA Era (Source: CBS News)
While we were kicking around ideas for an Overtime piece about Scott Pelley's "SpaceX" story this week, our executive editor Bill Owens made it easy. He used to be one of Scott Pelley's producers here at 60 Minutes, and he said, "Just talk with Scott about the U.S. space program. He's crazy about space." Sure enough, when we sat down with Scott, his enthusiasm lit up the room. He talked about his childhood memories of the early U.S. program and the role CBS News and Walter Cronkite played for the country, covering those early exciting days of manned space flight.

And it brought back some memories for me as well. My father, Reid Collins, was a CBS News Correspondent from the early 1960s until 1985. He worked for the radio news division and the space program was one of his "beats." He covered just about every launch. Like Scott, my dad loves everything about space. The imagination, the science, the technology, and the daring of it all. Scott grew up in West Texas while my dad grew up in Montana. Similar backgrounds, a similar passion. And my dad passed some of that on to me. (3/20)

How XCOR Will Open Up Space (Source: Parabolic Arc)
XCOR’s advanced rocket engines will allow for daily flights into suborbital and then orbital space during this decade, investor Lee Valentine said on Saturday. Valentine gave a fascinating talk during the Mojave Air and Space Port’s monthly Plane Crazy Saturday open house in which he laid out in detail how the company plans to make human access to space routine, cheap and safe.

“XCOR has got an engine, the prototype for the Lynx engine, that has got more than 550 flight equivalents on it,” Valentine said. “We have not identified any wear mechanism, and the senior engineering team thinks that that engine is going to be good for many thousands of flights. Indeed, with all of the engines that XCOR has ever built, we have never worn one out or identified the wear mechanism.”

What that gives XCOR is the ability to fly the suborbital Lynx space plane with airline-type operations, Valentine added. In the same way that Southwest can fly the same 737 from one place to another with quick turnarounds, XCOR will be able to fly the Lynx into space, turn it around in 35 minutes, and fly it back. With a single ground crew and pilot, Lynx will be able to fly four times per day. If you add a second pilot and another ground crew, eight flights are possible. (3/20)

Wallops Research Park Land Battle Comes to Capitol Hill (Source: Washington Post)
In the northernmost county of Virginia’s Eastern Shore sits a quiet, 32-acre parcel of land, thick with grass and little else — except controversy. Though mostly empty, the land, which was handed over to Accomack County by the federal government in 1976, holds future economic promise, as it sits near NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. So this week, the House will take up legislation to remove restrictions on the property, allowing it to be developed. Such land transfer bills are usually routine business on Capitol Hill, passing with broad bipartisan support under rules allowing for expedited consideration.

Not this time. To local officials and congressional Republicans, the issue appears clear: The land isn’t being used now but could be developed into Wallops Research Park — a convenient location for companies looking to do business with NASA, many of whom currently choose to locate just over the border in Maryland. But opponents, including some House Democrats, believe the measure would set “a devastating precedent,” by letting a locality take land it received for free from the federal government for one specific purpose and convert it to another without paying for it. Click here. (3/20)

Star Lab Nears Readiness at KSC (Source: Universe Today)
Star Lab, the next-generation vehicle for suborbital experiments developed by the Florida-based 4Frontiers Corporation, is well on its way toward its first successful flight — and it’s looking for payloads. Star Lab consists of stacked and subdivided cylindrical sections customized to hold scientific experiments. Contained within a rocket vehicle affixed to the wing of a Starfighters, Inc. F-104 supersonic aircraft, Star Lab will be launched during flight to attain an altitude of about 100 km, going suborbital and achieving 3 1/2 minutes of microgravity before descending.

“If Star Lab proves itself viable this could open the door to a great many scientific institutions conducting their research by using the Star Lab vehicle,” Mark Homnick, CEO of 4Frontiers Corporation says. Currently Star Lab is moving into its flight test phase of development, when the F-104s will go through a series of incremental tests up to and including an actual launch of the vehicle. This will determine how well it handles the stresses of flight and how to best — and most safely — perform the actual launch, slated for September 2012. Click here. (3/19)

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