March 27, 2012

Hawaii's 'Rocket Man' Dies Suddenly in Florida (Source: KITV)
Christopher K. Davis, a 1973 Damien Memorial School (Hawaii) graduate who went to become a senior project manager with NASA's space shuttle program, died suddenly at his home in Merrit island, Fla. on March 21. He was 56. Davis helped investigate the cause of the Columbia tragedy and he won the Space Flight Awareness Award, the shuttle program's highest award, for developing two major projects that allowed the program to resume after a suspension. (3/27)

An Emerald-Cut Diamond in the Rough (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Astronomers have discovered a rare, rectangular galaxy that challenges current theories of galaxy evolution. Think “galaxy” — what do you see? Maybe a grand-design spiral comes to mind, or a fuzzy, football-shaped elliptical, or a patchy, irregular dwarf galaxy like the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. I bet there’s one thing you don’t think of, though: rectangles.

Researchers have found an “exceedingly rare” galaxy called LEDA 074886, nick-named the “emerald-cut galaxy” for its odd, rectangular shape. “It’s one of those things that just makes you smile because it shouldn’t exist, or rather, you don’t expect it to exist,” says Alister Graham (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia), lead author of the study. (3/27)

Shifting NASA Funds Irks Senators (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
Almost every year there is a battle over the NASA budget, and this year is no exception. In the past, the fight has been over money – not enough of it. This year, however, with last year’s partisan fight over the federal debt still fresh in mind, many space agency officials are just happy with President Obama’s funding request -- $17.7 billion, which is only a $59 million drop from the 2012 budget.

But some, including Kay Bailey Hutchison and Bill Nelson, are not happy with the proposed allocation of funds, which would take money away from the Space Launch System (SLS) that will rocket astronauts into space, and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and funnel it into the commercial crew program. NASA wants to cut funding for the Space Launch System and Orion approximately $350 million less than the two programs received in last year’s budget, while increasing the Commercial crew budget by $500 million to a total of about $850 million in the 2013 budget.

Not that they are against the commercial crew program, they just differ with Bolden on the amount of funding.
Hutchison was incensed over the cuts, pointing out a “$326 million combined reduction in Orion and SLS and a corresponding increase of $330 million for commercial crew. ”I was, frankly, floored, as you know from our conversation, that it would be so blatant to take it right out of Orion and SLS and put it into commercial crew rather than trying to accomplish the joint goals we have of putting forward both... “How can you explain that?” she wanted to know. (3/27)

NASA Wants You to Find Hubble’s Next Iconic Image (Source: WIRED)
NASA wants you to help search for spectacular but overlooked images from the Hubble space telescope. Hubble has made more than a million observations during its two decades in orbit. Astronomers working with Hubble data have created amazing, iconic images of gaseous nebulae, forming stars, and massive galaxies. Only a handful of researchers have looked at much of the Hubble archive, which is stored in an online public database. NASA and the European Space Agency, which jointly run Hubble’s website, want people to discover what’s been overlooked.

The agencies are now running two contests for the best hardly-before-seen Hubble pictures. Because the multifaceted images are scientific data and not normal digital photographs, they contain far more information than is visible to the naked eye. By manipulating the images, members of the public may potentially reveal a different side of a famous picture such as the one above or uncover something completely new. (3/27)

NASA Wins Award for Best Twitter Use (Source: The Hill)
This week NASA was recognized as a pioneer in a frontier even newer than the one it's known for: social media. On Tuesday, the State Department tweeted a shout-out to NASA. NASA won a Shorty Award in the Government category for its use of Twitter. The award was announced at a special live ceremony at Times Center in New York’s Times Square on Monday. The event marked the fourth annual Shorty Awards, a ceremony honoring the best in short-form social media content. (3/27)

Russian Top Brass Declares Soviet Satellite Fell in Antarctica (Source: Itar-Tass)
Fragments of the first Soviet meteorological satellite - Meteor-1, which had been in space for exactly 43 years, have fallen onto the Earth in Antarctica on Tuesday. According to the data of the Russian Center for space reconnaissance, the Meteor-1 fragments entered the dense layers of the atmosphere over the Antarctic continent on Tuesday. The Meteor-1 was launched into space from Plesetsk cosmodrome on March 26, 1969; it had worked on the Polar orbit for over one year.

Editor's Note: This is not the same re-entered Russian satellite (the Express AM4) that Antarctic researchers were hoping Russia re-purpose to provide broadband communications for Antarctica. That satellite also fell to Earth last week after an August launch failure. (3/27)

Hosted Payloads May Be Just 1% of Sat Market (Source: Aviation Week)
Government payloads riding piggyback on commercial spacecraft are likely to win only 1% of the worldwide satellite-market revenue in the next few years, as bureaucratic inertia and a “not-invented-here” mentality work against the potential cost savings. Analyst Claude Rousseau of North Sky Research says 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. (3/27)

Wesleyan Researchers Design Molecule to Aid Space Travel Ailments (Source: Wesleyan)
During extended space travel, astronauts may experience dramatic health consequences, such as anemia, due to reduced gravity and exposure to space radiation. To help combat the adverse effects of space ailments, two scientists at Wesleyan are developing new molecules that enhance cells’ ability to tolerate large swings in pressure, fluid redistribution, temperature and radiation exposure.

Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, received a $20,000 seed grant from NASA’s Biological and Physical Research Enterprise to work on the project titled “Osmoregulation for Microgravity Environments. (3/27)

Richat Structure: Mysterious Geologic Formation Seen From Space Station (Source; Huffington Post)
A huge, copper-toned formation in West Africa dominates a mesmerizing photo taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers snapped this hypnotic image of the so-called Richat structure in Mauritania, as the space station flew over the Sahara Desert on the Atlantic Coast of West Africa. Erosion of the various rock layers created the ring-like features that make up the sprawling structure, but the origin of the Richat structure remains somewhat mysterious, geologists have said. Click here. (3/27)

Doubting Indemnification (Source: Space Politics)
It’s become a tradition for the commercial launch industry in the US: every several years they ask Congress to extend the current regime for launch indemnification. This system requires launch providers to take financial responsibility (usually through insurance) for any third-party damages from a commercial launch up to a “maximum probable loss” determined as part of the launch licensing process; any losses above that level, up to a very high level ($1.5 billion in 1988 dollars) would be the responsibility of the government, subject to appropriations.

The industry usually seeks a long-term, or even permanent, extension, but typically gets only three to five years at a time. The last extension, passed in late 2009, expires at the end of this calendar year. Last week Congress discussed the need to extend the indemnification regime this year. “It has to be extended, at least for a year,” said Will Trafton, chairman of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC). A one-year extension would give the industry some near-term certainty while providing time to “work the fine details” of a long-term extension, he said.

However, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) openly wondered if the indemnification regime was necessary. She tried to differentiate between commercial launches of satellites and those carrying people as she asked if indemnification was still necessary. “Why is that on the commercial side the taxpayers should enjoy pretty much all the risk and the companies engaged in the activity bear really not a lot of the risk?” Click here. (3/27)

NASA Advisory Council: Select a Human Exploration Destination ASAP (Source:
The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) – a body that provides the NASA Administrator with counsel and advice on programs and issues of importance to the Agency – has insisted a human exploration plan, or at least a destination, should be selected as soon as possible. The call comes just weeks ahead of the greatly anticipated “180 Day Exploration Destination Report”.

“Major Reasons for the Recommendation: With the approval of an SLS Booster, the Orion Spacecraft, and 21st Century Launch Complex planning can now begin on the destination mission. With initial crewed flight in 2021, the first operational flight could occur as early as 2022,” noted the Committee.

“Given the budget reality and development time for new hardware and software, (which is estimated to be at least 10 years) now is the time to pick a specific destination in order to focus the NASA, international agencies and contractor teams on a specific destination, such as Mars. In addition, the near and interim steps in order to achieve the ultimate objective should also be defined. (3/27)

NASA Successfully Launches Five Rockets from Wallops Spaceport (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA successfully launched five suborbital sounding rockets this morning from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as part of a study of the upper level jet stream. The first rocket was launched at 4:58 a.m. EDT and each subsequent rocket was launched 80 seconds apart. Each of the rockets released a chemical tracer that created milky, white clouds at the edge of space. The launches and clouds were reported to be seen from as far south as Wilmington, N.C.; west to Charlestown, W. Va.; and north to Buffalo, N.Y.

The Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) mission 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. Click here for photos. (3/27)

Galileo Win, Acquisitions Boost OHB Earnings to New Heights (Source: Space News)
Satellite and rocket-component manufacturer OHB AG reported record revenue and profit in 2011, with acquisitions during the year and continued work on Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation constellation maintaining a momentum that the company said should carry through 2012. Germany-based OHB, which has been one of the fastest-growing space-hardware companies in recent years and remains one of the few whose stock is publicly traded, said longer-term prospects will depend in part on the results of a competition to build the German military’s second-generation SAR-Lupe radar reconnaissance satellites. (3/27)

FAA Changes Break-Even Forecast for NextGen to 2020 (Source: Aviation Week)
The Federal Aviation Administration has changed its break-even point for NextGen to 2020, from 2018 in a previous forecast. However, the FAA said NextGen remains an important goal. "Recognizing that NextGen provides improvements is not enough ... we must also understand that without NextGen we will not be able to sustain the performance of the U.S. airspace system and economy will suffer," the FAA said. (3/27)

Sat Operators Team for Situational Awareness (Source: Aviation Week)
A half-century-plus after Sputnik, the swirling mass of operational spacecraft and space junk that has grown up around the planet is overwhelming mankind’s ability to keep track of it, much less clean it up. Some of the world’s biggest commercial satellite operators have teamed up to help each other with their space situational awareness (SSA), spurred by the 2009 collision between an active Iridium low-Earth-orbit (LEO) spacecraft and a defunct Russian military bird.

The U.S. Air Force, which has handled SSA for most of the spaceflight era, is struggling to keep up, hampered by “sources-and-methods” security concerns, aging equipment and outmoded software, and stingy budgets. The problem is only going to get worse, both from high-speed “conjunctions” like the 7-mi./sec. smashup that turned Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 into a new debris swarm, and from radio-frequency interference (RFI) between ever-more-powerful satellites and radio sources on the ground. (3/27)

Secret Payload Launch Set This Week in California (Source: Lompoc Record)
After a busy 2011, the nation’s spy satellite agency will begin another spurt of launches that kicks off Thursday with a Delta 4 rocket carrying top-secret cargo from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Liftoff of the rocket, built by United Launch Alliance, is planned for 3:30 p.m. from Space Launch Complex-6 on South Base. Because of its top-secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, the actual launch window remains hush-hush. However, officials have said it will occur before 5:15 p.m. (3/27)

Bowles Oversees VAFB Rocket Equipment (Source: Lompoc Record)
After two decades of working for a contractor once mainly focused on extracting oil from underground, Jim Bowles landed a new career at Vandenberg Air Force Base helping put satellites into space. “I actually never pictured myself coming out here,” Bowles said of the career switch. The Orcutt resident and 1976 graduate of Cabrillo High School works as an environmental control system technician for United Launch Alliance at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (3/27)

North Korea Still Plans Missile Test (Source: Telegraph)
North Korea plans to roll the dice with its missile launch next month, despite stern warnings from President Obama and the international community to abandon the idea. The Hermit Kingdom has claimed that the launch is for a peaceful space program, but South Korea and Japan aren’t buying it and have readied missiles defenses. (3/27)

Japan Armed Forces on Alert Ahead of N.Korea Satellite Launch (Source: RIA Novosti)
Japan’s armed forces received an order to put on alert its missile interceptors ahead of a planned North Korean satellite launch in April, Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said on Tuesday. The Defense Ministry has been already taking preparations including deploying its Aegis-equipped destroyers and the land-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile systems on the Sakishima islands. (3/27)

India Offers to Llaunch South Korean Satellites (Source: IBN)
Seeking to enhance space cooperation, India on Sunday offered to launch South Korean satellites. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made the offer during the wide ranging bilateral talks he had with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak in Seoul. A joint statement issued after the talks said that the two leaders pledged to enhance cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space as envisaged in the MOU on cooperation between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). (3/27)

Was Cameron's Deep Dive as Useless as Manned Space Flight? (Source: Technology Review)
Ninety-nine percent of what we know about the solar system came to us from unmanned probes. There can be no argument about comparative value of sending humans to other worlds, at least from a scientific perspective, because our relatively cheap, versatile, expendable robot spawn will win every time.

Indeed, had we spent the money we wasted on the shuttle program on unmanned probes, we would probably know already, for example, whether or not there is life in the watery oceans of Enceladus. Watching astronauts eat space food while weightless is great and all, but wouldn't you rather know whether or not we're alone in this universe?

It's worth asking whether the same logic applies to filmmaker James Cameron's just-completed dive to the deepest place on the planet -- the Challenger Deep. During the expedition, the hydraulic pump on the submarine's sample gathering arm failed, which means Cameron failed to bring back anything of scientific value. (3/27)

Signs of Thawing Permafrost Revealed from Space (Source: ESA)
Satellites are seeing changes in land surfaces in high detail at northern latitudes, indicating thawing permafrost. This releases greenhouse gases into parts of the Arctic, exacerbating the effects of climate change. Permafrost is ground that remains at or below 0°C for at least two consecutive years and usually appears in areas at high latitudes such as Alaska, Siberia and Northern Scandinavia, or at high altitudes like the Andes, Himalayas and the Alps.

About half of the world’s underground organic carbon is found in northern permafrost regions. This is more than double the amount of carbon in the atmosphere in the form of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. The effects of climate change are most severe and rapid in the Arctic, causing the permafrost to thaw. When it does, it releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, exacerbating the effects of climate change. (3/27)

Jacksonville Aviation Authority Holds Spaceport Summit (Source: Jacksonville Business Journal)
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority hosted its first spaceport summit Monday, attracting representatives from aerospace companies, elected officials and local universities. About 140 people attended the event, which covered topics including the future of space travel, workforce needs, incentives for companies to locate in Jacksonville and a tour of Cecil Commerce Center and Cecil Airport. Companies at the summit included XCOR Aerospace, The Rocketplane and Masten Space Systems. (3/27)

Saudi Youth Visit Indian Satellite Center (Source: Deccan Herald)
A 40-member youth delegation from Saudi Arabia, led by the kingdom's Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah visited the satellite center of the state-run Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Monday. The delegation, comprising 34 students from secondary schools to college level and six media personnel, were briefed about the highlights of the Indian space program and applications over the past five decades. “The Saudi youth evinced keen interest in the activities of the Indian space agency and participated in a lively inter-action with a team of scientists on the occasion,” a senior ISRO official told IANS here. (3/27)

Power Lunch at NASA Langley: Keep Cell Phones Off the Table! (Source: Daily Press)
NASA's budget is decreasing, which helps explain a recent class for 20 employees at Langley Research Center in Hampton. Titled "Outclass the Competition: Dine Like a Diplomat," the class brought together employees who may be asked to dine with potential business partners. The article quotes Cheryl Cleghorn, Langley's outreach and protocol coordinator, advising researchers about the finer points of dining. That includes passing the salt and pepper together, keeping the table free of cell phones and not ordering unfamiliar food.

The class drew sneers from the blog NASA Watch, which offered the headline: "NASA is Now Teaching Its Employees How To Hold a Fork." The story drew opinions from the blog's readers, many negative. At least one reader saw value, however: someone using the screen name "oldscientist" observed that "manners and interpersonal skills matter." Facing a 4 percent funding cut under President Barack Obama's proposed budget, Langley brass hopes that details explained in the class will help it land partners that will bring business to the center. (3/27)

KSC's Astronaut Suit-Up Room Changing With the Times (Source: America Space)
Located of the third floor of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Operation & Checkout Building (more commonly known as the O&C building) lies the astronaut living quarters. The facility is familiar to the general public as the building the astronauts depart from waving, dressed in their orange flight suits on their way to the launch pad. This area is restricted and requires a key-controlled override on the elevator to gain access, ensuring that the astronauts had privacy while they were in residence.

This home-away-from-home is equipped to take care of their everyday needs. Both personal needs and mission requirements were managed in the days leading to launch in this building. Just like the fleet of shuttles that it once supported, the astronaut suit-up room is beginning the process of being decommissioned. It is not known what this room will look like when the U.S. once again regains the ability to launch astronauts to orbit. Click here. (3/27)

Archeo-Astronomy: 4,000-Year-Old Stone Monolith Likely an Astronomical Marker (Source:
An ancient stone monolith in England was likely an astronomical marker, according to new archaeological evidence. The 4,000-year-old stone is triangular in shape and angles up toward geographic south. Its orientation and slant angle are aligned with the altitude of the sun at midsummer, researchers said. And new evidence shows that there are packing stones around the base of the 7.2-foot tall monolith, indicating that it was placed carefully in its location and position, they added. (3/27)

Mars Life: Been There, Done That? (Source: MSNBC)
Thirty-six years after an experiment conducted by NASA's Mars Viking lander sparked controversial claims about the presence of life on the Red Planet, NASA's next Mars mission could conceivably hint that those claims were correct after all. At least that's the hope held by the experiment's principal investigator, Gil Levin, who is keeping the Mars Viking flame alive even in retirement. He still thinks Viking was "the most remarkable unmanned mission ever," but he worries that its legacy will be lost amid the scientific shuffle.

"Twenty or thirty years from now, when the economy permits NASA to rise again, there will be missions to Mars, and they will find life, and they will take credit for it and not mention Viking at all," he told me. It might not take 20 or 30 years to bring Viking back into the spotlight, however. NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission is due to deliver the car-sized Curiosity rover to the Red Planet in August — and although the space agency insists that Curiosity doesn't have the capability to detect life, Levin believes it could show that his experiment was on the right track when it detected the chemical traces of organic activity. (3/27)

No comments: