March 29, 2012

Satellite Navigation For Spaceships Being Developed by Scientists (Source: AKA Scope)
Companies, such as Virgin, have already started to fly willing individuals out to space for a tour via Virgin Galactic; something that would have been unheard of a few decades ago. Another aspect that would certainly have been unheard of is spaceships having some form of satellite navigation instilled. Scientists, however, are developing an even more intriguing concept which would essentially implement a satellite navigation system within spaceships.

Satellite navigation systems can’t currently operate in space considering the fact that due to the satellites being situated within Earth it would be out of its reach. However, scientists are making ground for an alternative which would allow navigation within space; via the utilization of pulsars as the so called ‘beacons’, it would allow spaceships to be guided through the stars.

The system being developed would effectively see the use of X-ray light from pulsars in order to “triangulate” a position within space. This would then allow spaceships to operate with the system within a few miles of where it’s situated in the universe. Germany’s Max Planck institute currently has a team hard at work regarding the development of navigation technology for spacecraft. Similarly to how GPS satellites operate on Earth in order to deliver navigation, pulsars’ signals have stability regarding timing, which, once compared to atomic clocks, can deliver time signatures that would result in navigation beacons for the spaceships. (3/29)

Can GPS Find Variations in Planck's Constant (Source: Physics World)
Physicists in the US say that they have used publicly available data from global positioning system (GPS) satellites to put a limit on how much Planck's constant might vary from place to place. Their technique involves analysing the tiny corrections that are applied to the atomic clocks used in GPS satellites – corrections that are made to account for relativistic effects caused by the orbits of the satellites. However, not all physicists agree that the analysis is meaningful.

GPS relies on extremely accurate measurements of how long it takes signals to travel from several satellites to a receiver on the ground. As these timings have to be incredibly precise, atomic clocks are used on board the satellites. These clocks measure the frequency of electromagnetic radiation involved in a specific atomic transition, which is related to its energy via Planck's constant.

For reasons outlined in Einstein's special and general theories of relativity, the clocks in space must be corrected on a regular basis so that they agree with atomic clocks on Earth and with each other. Once the appropriate relativistic corrections are made, however, the time on the clocks should be identical regardless of any differences in the local gravitational potentials of the clocks. So if there is still a deviation once relativity is taken into account, Planck's constant might vary from place to place – in other words, the concept known as local Planck invariance (LPI) might not hold true. (3/29)

Space Frontier Foundation and NASA Announce NewSpace Business Plan Competition (Source: SFF)
The Space Frontier Foundation will host the annual Business Plan Competition during its NewSpace 2012 Conference at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, July 26-28, to help entrepreneurs creating NewSpace startups and firms developing supporting, problem-solving, and game-changing technologies in support of the NewSpace industry.

As many as 10 Finalists will present their plans to a distinguished panel of judges, featuring venture capitalists, angel investors, and business development leaders, receiving professional feedback and exposure to the public, press, and investor community. The winner will receive a $100,000 Grand Prize funded by a grant from NASA/Ames. This grant has also funded a $10,000 Second Prize. This Competition is seeking entries from seed, startup, or early-growth firms from multiple fields. Click here for details, and click here to become a sponsor. (3/29)

International Space Apps Challenge Planned in April (Source: Hobby Space)
The International Space Apps Challenge is your opportunity to build, create, and invent new solutions to challenges of global importance. The International Space Apps Challenge is a 2 day technology development event during which citizens from around the world will work together to solve current challenges relevant to both space exploration and social need. The International Space Apps Challenge will take place on all seven continents – and in space - on 21-22 April 2012. Click here. (3/29)

Space Station’s Future Rides on Commercial Cargo Haulers (Source: Space News)
In the near-term, NASA is on track to make good use of the international space station but problems loom if the commercial companies hired for cargo runs do not come through, members of a congressional oversight committee warned March 28. “I hope the incredible potential of the space station is not squandered,” Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said during a hearing, which was webcast, to assess the status of the orbiting outpost.

The U.S. is counting on SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to deliver cargo and experiments to the station beginning this year. SpaceX is scheduled to launch its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule April 30 for a test run to the station. Orbital Science’s Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule is expected to follow this summer. (3/28)

NASA Imposing Penalties for Commercial Cargo Delays (Source: Space News)
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said that when the companies miss milestones and have delays they are penalized. “If they miss a launch date, they owe us either some financial considerations or additional analysis,” Gerstenmaier testified. For example, to compensate for one launch delay, SpaceX did a redesign and added equipment so refrigerated samples could be launched and returned on the Dragon capsule. “For every slip that occurs beyond a one-month period, we get some benefit back to us and we have to show how that provides equitable benefit to us equal to the amount that the slip has caused us,” Gerstenmaier said. (3/28)

Hearings Show Our Dependence on Military Space Technology (Source: Washington Post)
The United States may be falling behind in transportation, education and health care down here on Earth, but its military infrastructure is certainly way ahead when it comes to imagery and communications satellites armed with defensive and offensive capabilities out there in space. That the United States leads in the militarization of space is apparent from House and Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearings this month on the fiscal 2013 budget of $9.7 billion for military space programs.

Like many Pentagon programs, these have had amazing successes but also billion-dollar overruns and costly failures. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, released at Wednesday’s Senate hearing, showed major Defense space acquisition programs “have increased by about $11.6 billion — 321 percent — from initial estimates for fiscal years 2011 through 2016.” The military services see them as the future. (3/29)

North Korea Begins Fueling Rocket (Source: Itar-Tass)
North Korea has begun fuelling the Unha-3 rocket with liquid fuel that will launch an artificial Earth satellite named Kwangmyongsong-3 (Shining Star-3). The rocket will be blasted off in the DPRK in April to mark the birth centenary of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung. “The launch date is approaching. There is a probability that the rocket launch will be carried out on April 12 or 13,” the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper reported on Thursday.

The DPRK claims that the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite will be used in the system of natural resource monitoring and forecasting of various natural disasters. According to a representative of the North Korean Committee for Space Technology, the satellite will also transmit data needed for making weather forecasts, which is necessary for the development of agriculture and other economic purposes. The spacecraft weighing 100 kilograms is planned to be placed on a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers, where it will operate for about 2 years. (3/29)

French Strategy Paper Says ESA Should Fall Under European Union Authority (Source: Space News)
The French government’s newly released space strategy document says the European Union ultimately should take over the European Space Agency (ESA) and should help finance Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport, which is on French territory. The document urges European nations to confront the fact that the current Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket was designed to thrive in global market conditions that are fast becoming obsolete with the arrival of new competitors from China, India and the United States. (3/29)

Vega Rocket Boosts Avio’s Revenue Nearly 4 Percent (Source: Space News)
Italian rocket manufacturer Avio on March 29 said its space division increased revenue in 2011 by 3.8 percent over 2010, to 296.5 million euros ($383.1 million), with the new Vega small-satellite launch vehicle accounting for most of the increase. Turin-based Avio is Vega’s prime contractor through its 70 percent share of ELV S.p.A., in which the Italian Space Agency owns the remaining 30 percent. Vega successfully conducted its maiden flight in February. (3/29)

What Does Budget Day Mean for the Space Sector in Canada? (Source: SpaceRef)
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) budget is going to be cut. This we already knew from last years estimates and the end of the stimulus funding. What we don't know is whether the CSA will receive an additional 5% to 10% cut on top of that. If the CSA receives an additional 10% cut, sources tell SpaceRef that some job cutting may be inevitable. The Department of National Defence also appears to be headed for a budget cut afters years of increases but it is unclear if any cuts will be felt in the Director General Space department. (3/29)

How Deep Must Life Hide to be Safe on Europa? (Source: Astrobiology)
Considered one of the best potential sources for extraterrestrial life in the solar system, Europa may hide life in the ocean deep beneath the moon's icy crust. Some organisms could even travel to the surface through cracks and instabilities in the crust. But radiation from Jupiter's magnetosphere constantly douses the tiny moon and could annihilate life at shallow depths, making it difficult to detect with an orbiter or lander. A group of scientists are seeking to experimentally determine just how deep organic life needs to hide on Europa in order to avoid being destroyed. Click here. (3/29)

Visualize the Seas... And Space (Source: MSNBC)
Do science and art mix? They certainly do in a couple of computer-generated visualizations that show how Earth's oceans flow and how our universe grew up. The "Perpetual Ocean" animation was created by NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio, and tracks ocean surface currents around the world from June 2005 through December 2007. It was created using a high-resolution computer model that translates whatever satellite and ground-based readings are available into a global, full-ocean depiction of ocean and sea-ice circulation. Click here. (3/29)

Many Billions of Rocky Planets in Habitable Zones Around Red Dwarfs (Source: ESO)
A new result from ESO’s HARPS planet finder shows that rocky planets not much bigger than Earth are very common in the habitable zones around faint red stars. The international team estimates that there are tens of billions of such planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and probably about one hundred in the Sun’s immediate neighborhood. This is the first direct measurement of the frequency of super-Earths around red dwarfs, which account for 80% of the stars in the Milky Way. (3/29)

#Penny4NASA Gives Voice to Those Seeking an Increase in NASA's Budget (Source: America Space)
United by the viewing of a five-minute YouTube video posted just two weeks ago, thousands have joined a public movement to “dream about tomorrow” and demand that United States President Barack Obama and Congress double the annual budget of NASA. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson recently gave testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation calling for NASA’s budget to be doubled, from less than half a penny to a whole penny on the tax dollar. Such an increase would raise the agency’s budget from less than $18 billion to a healthy $37.5 billion. (3/29)

Gigantic Solar Tornado is Five Times Earth's Size (Source: WIRED)
This enormous tornado erupting from the surface of the sun is big enough to swallow the Earth. In fact, it could swallow five Earths. Discovered using NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory satellite, this colossal twisting mass is made up of superheated gas at a temperature of between 90,000 and 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit. Over the course of three hours, this behemoth reached up from the sun’s surface to a height of 125,000 miles, or roughly half the distance between the Earth and the moon. The hot gases were whipped up to nearly 186,000 miles per hour. In comparison, the wind speed of terrestrial tornadoes generally reaches a paltry 100 miles per hour. Click here. (3/29)

Satellite Overtakes Terrestrial TV in Europe (Source: Space News)
Satellite television — considered a largely stagnant, mature market by satellite operators looking for growth in the developing world — overtook terrestrial television in Europe in 2011 for the first time as satellite dishes proliferated and the terrestrial-TV audience declined, according to a market survey sponsored by satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg. The annual Satellite Monitor, which surveyed television markets in 35 nations in Europe and North Africa, also disclosed a modest decline in cable-television subscribers during a four-year period ending in December 2011. (3/29)

KSC Building Reborn as 'Spacecraft Factory of the Future' (Source: Florida Today)
Imagine effortlessly moving a 10-ton space capsule atop a pallet that floats like an air hockey puck. Think about operating an advanced crane, carefully placing critical spacecraft components within millimeters of each other during assembly. How about a paperless processing system that eliminates the voluminous stacks of procedure manuals and test verification documents that shackled NASA’s space shuttle program?

Welcome to the Operations and Checkout building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Originally built to receive moon-bound Apollo spacecraft, the “O&C” was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 2000. Now, people call it “The Spacecraft Factory of the Future.” A $55 million restoration transformed the O&C into a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for NASA Orion spacecraft.

Lockheed Martin was lured to use the O&C Building by a $35 million grant from the state of Florida and its aerospace economic development organization — Space Florida. The grant enabled a demolition project of historic proportions, one that gutted the O&C. A 50,000-square-foot Sheetrock ceiling was torn down. A wet-jetting technique removed more than 65,000-square-feet of paint and other architectural coatings. More than 50,000 pounds of structural steel came down, along with miles and miles of electrical wiring and 400 tons of hazardous material — asbestos, mercury, lead. (3/29)

SpaceX Announces Independent Safety Advisory Panel for Commercial Crew (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX has assembled a team of outside experts to help the company create the world’s safest human spaceflight system. “When it comes to manned spaceflight, safety is our top priority,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer, Elon Musk. “These experts will provide us with important insights as we prepare to carry astronauts on the next generation of American spacecraft.” The panel includes Leroy Chiao, Scott Hubbard, Richard Jennings, Mark Kelly, and Edward Lu. Three are former astronauts, one is a former NASA medical officer, and one is a former NASA Ames Center Director. (3/29)

Europe’s Largest Cargo Ship Docks With International Space Station (Source: Voice of America)
The European Space Agency describes the docking of its largest unmanned cargo space ship with the International Space Station Wednesday, as “smooth and gentle.” The ESA says the automated transfer vehicle, called Edoardo Amaldi after an Italian physicist, is delivering nearly seven tons of supplies, including food, drinking water, clothing, oxygen, spare parts and fuel to the space station. (3/29)

Rep. Olsen: US Falling Behind in Battle for Ultimate High Ground (Source: The Hill)
March has been an exciting month in space exploration. The media has been abuzz with stories about future lunar missions to gather soil samples, continued development of lunar probes and record-setting numbers of rocket launches. Unfortunately, NASA is featured in none of these stories, which is unusual, given that the United States has long been the global leader. Sadly, these stories are all about China’s escalating ambition to eclipse the United States as the global leader in human space flight.

America’s ability to compete globally is at risk if we cede global dominance to China. Every move China makes has a primary goal of expanding its military capabilities, and China has already demonstrated its ability to deploy military resources into space...

However, the president’s NASA failures jeopardize our national security by relying solely on commercial partners to achieve our goals. There is an important role for both NASA and commercial space flight, but America cannot afford to continue to widen the gap in accessing space and holding the high ground. This president and the next must demonstra
te a commitment to the SLS and MPCV, which will carry American astronauts to deep space and represent the future of human space flight. (3/29)

What Ion Propulsion Means for Boeing—And Our Future in Space (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Boeing recently announced it would deploy a satellite powered completely by ion propulsion, with no chemical propellant, while in orbit. Electric propulsion has long been seen as a bright hope for future space travel. So does this move means that future has gotten a little closer? Click here. (3/29)

Spaceport America's Current and Future Operations (Source: WRWG)
While the Virgin Galactic building is not quite finished, and the Operations Center is still unfurnished, that hasn’t stopped aerospace companies from launching their rockets at Spaceport America. Familiar names like Lockheed-Martin and Boeing share facilities with Industry Newcomers like Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s commercial space line. Spaceport America’s spokesman David Wilson say that other companies, namely Up Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace, are testing and launching rockets from the already-completed vertical launch pad.

There have been 14 successful launches since the program started in 2007, with 3 more planned in 2012. “We’re entering a new paradigm of space where we’re using fly-back booster technology, air-launch, using carbon composite space vehicles… We’re going to lower the cost in the access to space, and the commercial/private sector is going to do it from here,” says Wilson. (3/29)

Eco-Friendly Spaceport America (Source: WRWG)
The terminal hanger facility stores two Virgin Galactic carrier ships and five spaceships. One side of the building will feature the training facility for Virgin Galactic customers. The west part of the building will be for offices and tourist centers. David Wilson, Spaceport America Media Relations, said the building was created to blend into the natural environment.

“The building is designed to be organic, to blend in and to compliment the mountain ranges, from the cabos from the west to the San Andreas to the east,” Wilson said. From the air the building looks like a giant sting-ray. It blends into the hill and has dirt that comes over part of the building. Some of the lighting is powered by solar panels. There are many windows that help control the use of electricity. The large e-glass facing the runway allows exposure from the sun to light up the interiors but blocks 70 percent of the UV rays to control the heat. (3/29)

Look Out for Latino Astronauts (Source: Modesto Bee)
Who's afraid of a Mexican-American astronaut? When that astronaut is also a Democrat running for Congress, apparently, the answer is: a Republican-leaning law firm. How petty and childish can you get? The firm — which, Doyle reported, has strong ties to Republican candidates and the California GOP — seems determined to show us. Lawyers there have asked a judge in Sacramento County Superior Court to block Hernandez from using the "Astronaut" job title on the ballot because, they claim, the descriptor is not a title that "one carries for life." (3/29)

Isle of Man Students Going to Space School in Houston (Source: IOM Today)
Two A-level students will be going back to school this summer – in Texas! Katy Myers and Rosie Watson, both aged 16, will be enjoying lessons vastly different to their term-time studies after they were awarded scholarships to the NASA United Space School at the University of Houston. They will attend a series of lectures and activities during the busy two-week schedule given by industry experts, astronauts and NASA scientists, all based around Space exploration. (3/29)

Where are the Indiana Moon Trees? (Source: Indianapolis Star)
Have you ever seen something that has been to the moon? If you said no, you may have to change your answer. It's a sycamore tree, and it has been growing in Indianapolis since 1976, on the Statehouse lawn, just a few yards south of the Capitol Avenue entrance. On April 19, 1976, Gov. Otis Bowen planted the sycamore as part of an Arbor Day program started by Indiana poet Olive Inez Downing. A plaque identified the tree as a "Bicentennial Moon Tree" because five years earlier, as a seed on Apollo 14, it circled the moon 34 times.

Apollo 14 is famous as the mission in which astronaut Alan Shepard used a makeshift 6-iron to hit golf balls on the moon. While Shepard was chipping balls, fellow astronaut Stuart Roosa was orbiting 118 miles above in the "Kitty Hawk" command module. Roosa, once a smoke jumper for the U.S. Forest Service, had brought aboard a container of 500 tree seeds given to him by his former employer. Among the seeds were Douglas fir, sweetgum, sycamore, loblolly pine and redwood.

Though the seed canisters burst during decontamination back on Earth, nearly all of them grew, and in 1976 the Forest Service sent the seedlings throughout the country as a part America's Bicentennial Celebration. Each state got one to plant at its capitol. (3/29)

Wallops Launches About Science (Source:
We hear a lot about jobs and technology at NASA's Wallops Island facility, but less frequently about what is actually happening at the facility. It's not the glamour of manned space flight that emanates from Houston and Cape Canaveral, and the launches don't tend to get the kind of media attention that is given to those launches. Our neighbors at Wallops, however, have been patiently attempting a five-rocket launch for several weeks. We've seen news reports of the aborted attempts and planned attempts, but little else.

Reports of launches being scrubbed for weather-related reasons were curious, because they happened at times when it wasn't obviously bad weather on Delmarva. The rockets were successfully launched early Tuesday morning, and the story behind the launch is illuminating. The Wallops Island launch was the focal point of a three-location effort that included New Jersey and North Carolina. The rockets rose to the level of the upper jet stream --not the one that affects our weather here, but an area about 60-65 miles above the Earth where winds have been clocked at up to 300 mph. (3/29)

NASA's Kennedy Space Center Gets Message from Washington on Cyber (Source: Federal News Radio)
NASA took some lumps from Congress and its inspector general over the security of its technology systems. But if there is a silver lining to the Hill lashing, the message that the space agency needs to do a better job securing their systems got through loud and clear. The best way to measure the impact of the hearings is to look at what the NASA centers are doing outside of Washington. For example, Mike Bolger, the Kennedy Space Center chief information officer, made encrypting all laptops a much larger priority this year.

"There is an agency plan to get our laptops encrypted by the end of the year," Bolger said. "At Kennedy, we had about 500 laptops encrypted and those were users who self identified they had sensitive information on there. Unfortunately, that didn't work for us." While the Kennedy Space Center was not specifically mentioned in Martin's testimony, Bolger said laptops will receive hard disk encryption and logical access controls using secure identity cards under Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12. (3/29)

Soviet Moon Mystery Solved By NASA, 50 Years Later (Source: Motherboard)
While the United States was fighting to get a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, the Soviet Union was working hard to return a sample of lunar soil as part of the robotic Luna program. Some missions were successful and others weren’t, but for decades no one was really sure why. That’s changed: Last week, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed the remnants of two Luna missions, Luna 23 and 24, and almost 50 years later is helping solve the mysteries these missions opened.

The Luna program was conceived in 1955 by Sergei Korolev, the elusive Soviet Chief Designer responsible for the USSR’s early successes in space. He proposed building a multi-stage version of the R-7 rocket (the one that would launch Sputnik into orbit two years later) that would be powerful enough to deliver a payload to the Moon. He envisioned Soviet probes orbiting, landing on, and photographing the Moon before the Americans. The eventual goal would be for a Luna spacecraft to return a soil sample. Click here. (3/27)

The Space Tweep Society, Where 'Tweeps' Unite! (Source: Washington Times)
As I continue to showcase the state of NASA, the nation's manned space flight operations, and the future of space exploration, I felt it was time to talk to the collective voice that has been so vocal as to the successes and limitations NASA has faced and solicit their stories. Just what are space tweeps? Space Tweeps are a group of space enthusiasts on Twitter from a variety of backgrounds. A space tweep can include NASA and other space program employees, astronomers, journalists, astrophysicists, scientists, educators, and space geeks. Click here. (3/29)

Russia to Build Nuclear Space Engine by 2017 (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Russian Megawatt-class nuclear propulsion system for long-range manned spacecraft must be ready by 2017, Skolkovo Foundation's Nuclear Cluster head Denis Kovalevich said on Wednesday. “At present we are testing several types of fuel and later we will start drafting the design,” Kovalevich said. “The first parts [of the nuclear engine] should be built in 2013, and the engine is expected to be ready by 2017.” The engine is being developed for interplanetary manned spacecraft to ensure that Russia maintains a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the Moon and Mars. (3/29)

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