March 24, 2012

Candidate Challenged Over 'Astronaut' Title (Source: Fresno Bee)
San Joaquin Valley congressional candidate Jose Hernandez flew in space, but his astronaut identity is now under political fire. In a pointed new challenge, a Sacramento law firm is asking a judge to block Hernandez from describing himself as an "astronaut/scientist/engineer" on the June ballot. The lawsuit notes Hernandez has left NASA. "Hernandez's attempted use of 'astronaut' violates the Election Code's unambiguous requirement that a candidate's ballot designation reflect one's current profession, vocation, or one held during the previous calendar year," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit quietly filed Wednesday in Sacramento County Superior Court by the firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk strikes right at the heart of Hernandez's biography. It's a life story he's making considerable use of as he seeks to challenge freshman Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock. "I went from plowshares to the stars," Hernandez told supporters when he announced his candidacy in Modesto in October. (3/24)

ULA Hosts Sen. Richard Shelby for Factory Visit (Source: ULA)
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) discussed important issues facing Alabama and the nation, including job growth, during his visit to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) production facility in Decatur, Ala., where ULA manufactures both Atlas and Delta launch vehicles. ULA launches critical space capabilities for the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office and other commercial customers.

Sen. Shelby's remarks included the health of the aerospace sector in the state and highlighted ULA as an Alabama success story. ULA has added 150 new jobs at its Decatur facility since 2011 and plans to add 70 more jobs this year. ULA is scheduled to launch its 59th mission next Thursday, March 29, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The payload is the first of four missions the company will launch for the National Reconnaissance Office this year. (3/24)

Ecliptic “MoonKAM” Systems Begin Operations in Lunar Orbit (Source: Ecliptic)
Two four-camera color video systems supplied by Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation to NASA’s dual-spacecraft Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) project have been turned on and are generating stunning video views of the Moon’s surface from a vantage point in low lunar orbit.

The video systems, called Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students (MoonKAM) by the GRAIL project, were designed, built and tested by Ecliptic and benefit from the strong heritage of Ecliptic’s popular RocketCam product family. Over two-dozen similar systems have been launched on rockets and spacecraft since 2005, and all operated successfully, including RocketCam’s first lunar mission: NASA’s LCROSS lunar impactor in 2009. (3/24)

'Space Fence' Vital for Military Communications (Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
The president's budget proposal for 2013 includes steep cuts in federal military spending. Requested military appropriations are about $32 billion less than this year's total. Meanwhile, Defense officials recently unveiled a plan to cut projected department spending by $260 billion over the next five years. There's certainly a need for federal fiscal reform. But amid this belt-tightening, genuinely vital military programs shouldn't get axed. There are important new weapons and intelligence systems in development that hold the promise of radically improving our fighting capabilities and making the world a safer place.

Chief among them is the Air Force Space Fence Program. This program needs to stay funded and on schedule. The Space Fence uses a system of radars to detect and track space debris in primarily low Earth orbit (LEO) — around 700 to 3,000 kilometers above the planet's surface, where the majority of space debris is. Space Fence also provides capability beyond LEO to support cataloging of satellites and debris with other space-based sensors. This information is used by military and commercial satellites to adjust their orbits in the event they're headed for a potential collision. (3/24)

Payloads Workshop Highlights Commercial Space Efforts (Source: America Space)
Space Florida and the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium sponsored the first Space Flight Payloads Workshop at the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa, Florida this week. Fourteen companies & universities pitched their products in hopes of having customers purchase sub-orbital time in space. Orlando-based Omega Envoy went much further than sub-orbit. Its representative, Joe Palaia, was selling space on their rover to the Moon for $1.6 million per kilogram.

“Many of us on the Omega Envoy team were inspired to follow careers in aerospace by the Apollo Program,” said Palaia. “If everything goes according to plan, we hope to be able to get HD imagery of the footprints the astronauts on those missions left behind.” This workshop covered a wide spectrum of services available to potential clients. NASA sent representatives working on the NASA Flight Opportunities Program to encourage attendees to continue to bring their concepts and ideas to the space agency. Click here. (3/24)

ISS Crew Takes Shelter as Space Debris Zips Past (Source: Russia Today)
A fragment of Russian satellite Cosmos-2251 has passed at a dangerous distance from the ISS. For security reasons the crew was told to get ready for evacuation and take their seats in Soyuz spacecraft. The wreckage passed the station at a speed of 26,1690 km/h at approximately 07:25 GMT. The distance to the object was about 14 kilometers, but a precautionary measure was considered prudent. The current ISS crew consists of six people. NASA astronaut commander Daniel Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin were assigned to move to Soyuz TMA-22, while cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, US astronaut Don Pettit, European astronaut André Kuipers took seats in Soyuz TMA-03M. (3/24)

Space Debris a Growing Concern for Pentagon (Source:
Space may be the final frontier, but it’s turning into a rough neighborhood — a limited number of Earth orbits increasingly crowded with satellites and littered with debris that can destroy valuable space assets. Overcrowding in space is now a national security threat, experts say. U.S. Defense and State Department officials are grappling with the challenge of cleaning up the mess and encouraging “best practices” without compromising national defense.

In January, the Obama administration announced it would work with the European Union and other nations on an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. The plan has sparked debate in Washington, with critics charging that any such agreement, though nonbinding, would limit defense activities. (3/24)

General: Space Capability Integral to All Military Operations (Source: DOD)
Space capabilities have become integral to all military operations, said the commander of Air Force Space Command. "It’s hard to imagine what life was like before we had... GPS providing very accurate targeting capability, military satellite communications providing all the reach-back that’s needed, [and] missile warning providing cover for our deployed forces,” Air Force Gen. William L. Shelton said.

The Air Force launched and maintains the 24 satellites that make up the GPS navigation system. The all-weather, 24-hour system was intended for military use, but in 1983 President Ronald Reagan made it freely available to civilians, for the public good, after a Korean Air Lines flight carrying 269 people was shot down for straying into Soviet airspace. (3/23)

Jacksonville Aims to Take Lead in Space (Source: Jacksonville Business Journal)
Some people are calling commercial space travel the next big tourism draw for Florida and are positioning Jacksonville to be at the forefront of this new industry. Cecil Airport, operated by the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, received a “space territory” designation by the Florida Legislature this month [after earlier being licensed as a spaceport by the FAA]. The authority is hosting its first Cecil Spaceport Development Summit on Monday from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is designed to foster conversation between aviation and aerospace companies, elected officials and academics.

Editor's Note: Embry-Riddle will participate in the Cecil Spaceport summit. Steve Dedmon, an aviation attorney on Embry-Riddle's faculty, has done analyses for both FDOT and the FAA on spaceport operations and regulatory issues that are key to Cecil's success. I'll also be there. Cecil has a very restricted flight corridor for horizontal take-off and landing of space vehicles. This flight corridor will limit the types of vehicles that can operate at the site. (3/23)

Former NASA Administrator Infuses Action with Ethics (Source:
As one of the Navy's leaders in the aftermath of the 1991 Tailhook scandal, Sean O'Keefe said Friday, he realized that the chain of command had broken down and that the servicemen and women the country relied on had failed to step up and lead. The scandal, involving Navy pilots who had sexually abused female officers at a convention in a Las Vegas hotel, went on for months because of the foot-dragging, institutional denial and amnesia that seemed to afflict almost everyone involved, said O'Keefe, who became Secretary of the Navy in 1992. (3/23)

What It's Like to Soar Into Space, Then Crash to Earth (Source: NPR)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be hurled into the sky, straight up, past the clouds, into starry space, the Earth all blue and turning spherical below, everything silent, tomblike, and then, just like that — you slip and start to fall? What would it sound like? Look like? As you drop, you wobble, twist, turn, tumble, when you hit the atmosphere, you feel the air, it heats you, steams you, there's the whistle of it, then the roar; you are dropping helplessly toward the clouds below, then, whoosh! Four parachutes open above you and you sail down to the sea.

Well, this video shows all that. And it's totally real. (Well, almost totally. What you see actually happened. It's NASA footage, but the sound is "designed" by the extraordinary folks at Skywalker Sound, so reality has been enhanced, but so subtly I can't tell you how.) Plus there's this crazy bonus. The main character in this video is a booster rocket, a cylinder of fuel. Click here. (3/24)

NASA Exploration Roadmap: Evaluation of Crewed Missions to Asteroids (Source:
Classed as one of the defined destinations for NASA astronauts in the mid to late 2020s, missions to a Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) – utilizing the Space Launch System (SLS) – have received a level of technical evaluation via the Exploration Systems Development Division (ESD) Concept Of Operations (Con Ops) document. No firm NEA destination or timeline has yet been established.

It is hoped an expansive roadmap is just a few weeks away, with March documentation showing April is the month when former Space Shuttle Program (SSP) manager John Shannon – who is leading the roadmap effort – conducts an Agency outbrief, to be followed by the “180 Day Exploration Destination Report”. Click here. (3/24)

"I Count Tanks From Space for George Clooney" (Source: Guardian)
Nathaniel Raymond is the first to admit that he has an unusual job description. "I count tanks from space for George Clooney," said the tall, easygoing Massachusetts native as he sat in a conference room in front of a map of the Sudanese region of South Kordofan. Close by, pins and ink scrawlings on the map detail the positions of Sudanese army forces and refugee populations in the troubled oil-producing province, where the Sudanese army is carrying out a brutal crackdown.

The wall next to Raymond has a series of satellite images projected on it. At the flick of a mouse, tiny images of tanks and military vehicles hove into view, caught by a satellite hundreds of miles above. Raymond is director of the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), which aims to use advanced satellite imagery to monitor potential human rights abuses in Sudan. And it was all Clooney's idea, turning him from just another Hollywood liberal with a pet cause to a genuine expert and campaigner on Sudan. Click here. (3/24)

Delta-4 Launch Scheduled for March 29 at California Spaceport (Source: Launch Alert)
Team Vandenberg is scheduled to launch a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ (5,2) rocket carrying a national security payload at 3:30 p.m. March 29 from Space Launch Complex-6. "This will be the Department of Defense's first-ever launch of a Delta IV configured with a 5-meter payload fairing and two solid rocket motors," said Lt. Col. Brady Hauboldt, 4th Space Launch Squadron commander. The solid rocket motors each add nearly 225,000 pounds of thrust to augment the Delta IV's 650,000 pounds of main engine thrust. (3/24)

Asian Satellite Fleet Operators Draw a Bead on Indonesia (Source: Space News)
Asian satellite fleet operators said Indonesia is likely to be the next big battlefield for market share as that nation’s largely untapped direct-broadcast television market opens up. Measat, AsiaSat, SES, APT Satellite Holdings and Sky Perfect JSat appear to be tripping over themselves to establish positions in Indonesia now that the government has licensed several direct-to-home (DTH) television broadcasters. But these operators said the growth depends in part on the regulatory regime put into place by Indonesian authorities. If it follows the model of India, they suggested, the market might be slower to develop. (3/23)

Debate Still Raging on Site for Super-Telescope (Source: AFP)
An international consortium planning to build the world's most powerful radiotelescope is still debating whether South Africa or Australia should host the $2 billion project. Scientists hope the Square Kilometer Array, or SKA, will shed new light on fundamental questions about the universe, including how it began, why it is expanding and whether it contains life beyond our planet.

The SKA board of directors met Monday in Manchester, England, where the project is headquartered, to discuss the still-secret recommendation of the best host for the hundreds of antennas that will pick up faint signals from across the universe. A decision had been expected on April 4.

If South Africa wins the bidding, engineers will connect antennas in the arid Karoo region by remote link to a network of dishes stretching across southern and eastern Africa and as far away as Ghana. Australia's bid puts the core site at Mileura station, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Meekathara in western Australia. Other antennas would be distributed across Australia and New Zealand. (3/23)

Delta 2 Seen as Front-Runner for 3-Launch NASA Contract (Source: Space News)
NASA expects to order launches for three Earth science missions by the end of the summer, and ULA looks like the strongest contender for the job with its medium-lift Delta 2 rocket. NASA sent an RFP to its current stable of approved launch services providers — ULA, SpaceX, Orbital, and Lockheed Martin — in early February seeking bids for three missions: Soil Moisture Active-Passive, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 and the Joint Polar Satellite System-1. Proposals are due April 8, with the launches taking place from 2014-2017.

NASA's Steve Volz said only two of the approved NASA Launch Services 2 vendors, ULA and SpaceX, currently have rockets that meet the agency’s criteria. But he said the limited flight heritage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 puts it at a disadvantage. “Right now, the two possible proposals... are the Delta 2 from ULA and the SpaceX Falcon 9,” Volz told the NASA Advisory Council during a March 21 meeting here. “Delta 2 can bid, and they’re certified; it’s easy. Falcon 9, they may bid, but they haven’t been certified, so there’s a risk on those.”

“The Taurus XL isn’t available until it’s recertified,” Volz said. “We’re not going to be the next ones on that launch vehicle.” NASA has looked at using the Air Force Minotaur 4 rocket, assembled by Orbital using excess missile stages, but Volz said the agency is unlikely to go that route. “If we get only proposals that are extremely expensive or extremely high risk, we have the avenue to continue to pursue the Minotaur 4,” Volz said. (3/23)

Evidence for Flowing Water on Mars Grows Stronger (Source: Scientific American)
Today's Mars is a frigid desert, a place where water—the key to life as we know it—has gone into hiding. Whatever water may have once existed on Mars in rivers, lakes or even oceans is now frozen into ice caps, locked up in hydrated minerals or buried in debris-coated glaciers. But last year compelling evidence emerged that when conditions are right, salty brines may persist to this day in liquid form at midlatitude regions on Mars.

Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona and his colleagues found tracks in high-resolution imagery that looked like liquid flowing downhill. The tracks appeared annually during the warmer Martian months on equator-facing slopes, extended downhill and then faded as temperatures dropped once again. One tantalizing interpretation was that the streaks were caused by briny water melting and seeping downhill through the soil. (3/23)

NASA Extends Cooperative Agreement With NSBRI (Source: NASA)
NASA's Johnson Space Center has awarded a five-year, $120 million extension of its cooperative agreement with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, or NSBRI, of Houston. Under the extension, the institute and NASA's Human Research Program will continue biomedical research in support of a long-term human presence in space. The period of performance for this five-year option begins Oct. 1. It will extend the cooperative agreement through Sept. 30, 2017. This option increases the value of the agreement by an additional $120 million, bringing the total value to $484.2 million. (3/23)

Aliens on Planet With Two Suns Need Rhythm (Source: Discovery)
Despite all the exotic exoplanetary systems discovered so far, the one potential system that has the power to truly galvanize astronomers as well as the public is Alpha Centauri A and B. The star system lies a mere 4.3 light years away, but unfortunately it is only clearly visible from southern skies. The third member of the system, a red dwarf star called Proxima Centauri, yields no evidence for planets and is so far from the binary pair as to be inconsequential. Click here. (3/23)

Mojave Makers Gets Lease, Sets April 10 for Open House (Source: Parabolic Arc)
On Tuesday, the East Kern Airport District board approved a lease with the Space Studies Institute for a storage building at the Mojave Air and Space Port that is being renovated into a maker space. SSI is serving as the lessee until the Mojave Makers, a group composed of employees of different airport tenants, can obtain its 501(c)3 non-profit status.

The maker space will serve as a sort of clubhouse where members can work on their own projects in their free time. It is designed to facility networking and provide a sense of community for employees who work at the more than 60 companies located at the desert spaceport. Airport officials see it as one part of a broader effort to make Mojave a better place for people to live and work. (3/23)

Black Hole Punch Can Launch a Planet (Source: Discovery)
Punched by the gravitational fist of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the location of the supermassive black hole that lives at the center of our galaxy, a planet could be hurled through space at speeds of up to 30 million miles per hour, according to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Dartmouth College. "These warp-speed planets would be some of the fastest objects in our galaxy. If you lived on one of them, you'd be in for a wild ride," Harvard-Smithsonian's Avi Loeb said. The only known objects that move faster than these planets are subatomic particles, added Dartmouth's Idan Ginsburg. Scientists got to thinking about runaway planets after colleagues discovered a star launching out of the Milky Way at 1.5 million miles per hour. Click here. (3/23)

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