March 31, 2012

China Launches French-Made Communication Satellite (Source: Xinhua)
China successfully sent a French-made communication satellite, "APSTAR-7," into orbit Saturday evening, using a Long March-3B carrier rocket launched from the southwestern Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Monitoring data indicated that the satellite separated from the rocket and reached its designated orbit 26 minutes after its launch at 6:27 p.m. Beijing time. Produced by Thales Alenia Space for Hong Kong-based APT Satellite Company Limited, the satellite will replace the APSTAR-2R, which is currently in orbit. (3/31)

When Dark Energy Turned On (Source: SDSS3)
The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III) today announced the most accurate measurements yet of the distances to galaxies in the faraway universe, giving an unprecedented look at the time when the universe first began to expand at an ever-increasing rate. The results, announced today in six related papers posted to the arXiv preprint server, are the culmination of more than two years of work by the team of scientists and engineers behind the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), one of the SDSS-III's four component surveys. (3/31)

Zubrin: Obama Shoots Down Mars Exploration (Source: Washington Times)
In its budget submitted to Congress Feb. 13, the Obama administration zeroed out funding for NASA’s future Mars exploration missions. The Mars Science Lab Curiosity is en route to the red planet, and the nearly completed small Maven orbiter, scheduled for launch in 2013, will be sent, but that’s it. No funding has been provided for the Mars probes planned as joint missions with the Europeans for 2016 and 2018, and nothing after that is funded, either. This poses a crisis for the American space program. Click here. (3/31)

Boeing Details Bid to Win NASA Shuttle Replacement (Source: Flight Global)
Boeing has released crucial details of its commercial crew integrated capability (CCiCap) bid that it delivered to NASA on 23 March. The company has twice won awards under the commercial crew development (CCDev) program, predecessor to CCiCap, to work on its CST-100 capsule. CCDev was meant to stimulate development of vehicles to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.

"It's really in two phases," says John Mulholland of the latest bid. "There's a 21-month base period where we'll accomplish our critical design review and a significant amount of risk reduction design testing, and we will culminate at the end of the option period with a two-crew flight test." Mulholland confirms that Boeing will use a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V in 412 configuration, adding that human-rating the Atlas V is part of Boeing's CCiCap bid. Currently the Atlas is being human-rated by ULA. Under an unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA, ULA gets access to NASA's technical assistance, but no financial help.

Boeing's formal inclusion of Atlas allows its human-rating progress to be funded milestones for the CST-100 program. Mulholland also confirms that discussions have been held with SpaceX and ATK for possible launches when CCiCap transitions to a services contract in 2016. Both SpaceX and ATK have submitted bids for CCiCap and compete with ULA for launch business. (3/31)

SiriusXM Fights Liberty Media Takeover Move (Source: LA Times)
Did Sirius XM Radio Inc. make a Faustian bargain when it decided to accept $530 million from Liberty Media Corp. to stave off bankruptcy in early 2009? The New York-based satellite radio company filed a petition late Friday afternoon with the Federal Communications Commission, urging that the agency deny a request by Liberty Media Corp. that sought to transfer several of SiriusXM's operating licenses to Liberty's control. Liberty owns 40% of SiriusXM and occupies five of its 13 board seats.

Liberty's request, filed March 20, include SiriusXM's earth station licenses and its terrestrial repeater license. The FCC requires SiriusXM to have all three licenses to operate. But SiriusXM fought back, arguing in a 24-page petition that Liberty failed to get proper signatures from the company’s board for its transfer request. At issue is whether Liberty's 40% stake in SiriusXM allows Malone to assume ownership of the satellite radio company, which last year earned a $427-million profit on more than $3 billion in revenue. (3/31)

Leading Government Space Programs Under Strong Budget Pressure (Source: Euroconsult)
World space expenditures reach ceiling of $70 billion after decade of continuous growth. But Euroconsult announced that global budgets for space programs have reached a plateau of roughly $70 billion, confirming a slowdown in expansion experienced by the space industry for the last 10 years. According to Euroconsult's new report "Profiles of Government Space Programs: Analysis of 60 Countries & Agencies," Space programs received a short-term boost in recent years from several governments to counter the economic crisis.

However, they must now undergo even more stringent budget constraints exemplified by the European public debt crisis and the U.S. Budget Control Act of 2011. In addition, the decrease of global funding for space programs is also the consequence of the inherently cyclical nature of public investment in certain space applications and programs, particularly when related to the procurement of operational systems. New leading and emerging space programs in Asia, Latin America and Middle East/Africa will represent the first budget growth driver confirming a changing environment for the global space sector. (3/31)

Mars' Mystery Cloud Explained (Source: MSNBC)
A week ago, amateur astronomers were marveling over a curious cloud that they spotted on the Mars — and now the professionals are focusing in on an explanation. The cloud was intriguing because it was most noticeable along the very edge of the Martian disk, and seemed to project high into the atmosphere. Some suspected that it might be a cloud of dust thrown up by an impact on the Red Planet. So, over the past week, professionals and amateurs have been working together to collect imagery and analyze the hazy spot.

"It's most likely a condensate cloud/haze, H2O in composition," Bruce Cantor, senior staff scientist at Malin Space Science Systems, said in an email that was circulated to other experts. "Similar type of phenomena have been seen in early-morning orbital observations in the past." Cantor pointed to an earlier example of morning-limb clouds, observed by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor in the planet's northern hemisphere in 2003. (3/31)

Half-Ton of Cargo on Dragon's Space Station Payload (Source:
Technicians will load more than 1,000 pounds of food and clothing into SpaceX's Dragon capsule next month for delivery to the International Space Station on the commercial craft's first flight to the outpost. Working inside the company's hangar adjacent to the Falcon 9 launch pad, technicians will carefully stow approximately 530 kilograms, or 1,168 pounds, of station-bound cargo inside the Dragon's pressurized section. Most of the supplies are currently scheduled to be loaded inside Dragon in mid-April. The cargo is comprised of mostly low-value items such as food, water, and clothing to supplement supplies delivered this week aboard Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle. (3/31)

Can Convince You to Love NASA? (Source: LA Times)
It's been a rough year for NASA. President Obama's proposed budget for 2013 would slash $300 million from the agency's planetary sciences division—a 20% cut from the $1.5 billion it received for 2012. And many Americans are wondering if it makes sense to spend federal dollars on space exploration rather than putting that money to more practical use right here on Earth. But here to tell you that space exploration is both cool and practical is none other than, producer and frontman of the super group Black Eyed Peas.

In a 1-minute slightly awkward video, suggests that the challenges of space exploration often mirror those we have here on Earth—for example getting someone medical care when the nearest doctor is miles away, or getting clean water and electricity to a place that doesn't have any. So when NASA scientists and engineers find solutions to these problems, people on Earth benefit too.

This is not the first time that NASA and have teamed up in an effort to get publicity for the space agency. gave of his celebrity presence at a "Tweetup" at the Kennedy Space Center's Press Site in Florida during the prelaunch activity for the agency's Mars Science Laboratory launch in November 2011. (3/31)

SpaceLoft-6 to Launch Seven Suborbital Payloads from Spaceport America (Source: AFMC)
The SpaceLoft-6 sounding rocket will launch April 5, 2012, at Spaceport America, in New Mexico, with seven payloads, crucial for future Operationally Responsive Space missions, demonstrating its dependability and resilience during a 13-minute, 70-mile-high trek. The ORS director explained the mission's significance:

"One of the ways we prove space-based range technologies of tracking the rocket through flight, knowing where it is at all times in case the flight has to be terminated due to trajectory issues, is to get multiple flights to validate that the systems work in flight. Orbital flights are rare and costly, so one of the ways we are getting that flight heritage is by flying these technologies on small sounding rockets, which is much more inexpensive and easier," said Dr. Peter Wegner. (3/31)

UK Office to Provide Space Weather Warnings for Earth, Forecasts for Exoplanets (Source: RAS)
The UK Met Office's weather and climate model is being adapted to help understand space weather at Earth and the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars. Two teams of scientists will present their work at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester. The Met Office plans to expand its services to provide operational space weather forecasts for the UK. It is pooling skills with the UK's space weather research community to extend its 'Unified Model' upwards to include the Earth’s thermosphere, a region about 90-600km above the Earth surface. The impact of space weather events is very commonly seen in this region. (3/31)

NASA, Partners Solicit Creative Waste-Management Solutions (Source: NASA)
NASA, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the State Department and Nike today announced a challenge to identify 10 game-changing innovations that could transform waste-management systems and practices. Waste management is important for planning long-duration human spaceflight missions to an asteroid, Mars or beyond.

Humans living off the planet require waste solutions that mirror issues facing people on Earth. In the hostile environment of space, waste must be eliminated or transformed in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible. The innovations, which will be presented at the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste forum, may lead to practical applications for astronauts as we send humans deeper into our solar system. (3/31)

Pentagon: Sequestration Will Cause Hundreds of Thousands of Layoffs (Source: KGMI)
The defense industry could see mass layoffs if Congress doesn't act to stop $500 billion in automatic spending cuts due to take effect in January, the Pentagon warned this week. In addition, the Pentagon would have to break contracts, including one with Boeing for a refueling plane and another with Lockheed Martin for combat ships, if the cuts take place, said Frank Kendall, the Defense Department's acting undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics. (3/30)

Lawmakers: Defense-Employment Limits May Raise Costs (Source: Washington Post)
The Department of Defense's plan to limit civilian employment to 2010 levels will send more work to contractors and raise costs, says a group of lawmakers. In a letter from Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., signed by 130 other House members, lawmakers say that "it makes no sense to prevent Defense managers from using civilian employees simply because they are civilian employees." (3/30)

Jobs, Dreams Lost After Space Shuttle Program Ends (Source: CBS News)
The final Space Shuttle mission last summer spelled the end of work for 7,000 people at the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County, Florida. Scott Pelley talked to some of those people and also examined the ripple effect on the local economy caused by those lost incomes in a 60 Minutes broadcast on Apr. 1.

Sammy Rivera, 60, who worked on the Shuttle for 26 years, is having trouble finding a new job. He's had just three interviews in 11 months. "At the max, I figured three months. I've applied for engineering jobs...technician jobs...entry level jobs
," he tells Pelley. Like others laid off from the Space Center, he's scraped together some income with menial work because he can't give up on his American dream. "This is my country. I can't let it go down without a fight." Click here. (3/30)

Vega To Support New German Space Situational Awareness Center (Source: Space News)
Vega Space GmbH of Germany will provide equipment and training for the new German Space Situational Awareness Center in Uedem under a contract that calls for the hardware and software to be installed by July, Darmstadt-based Vega announced. Financial details were not disclosed. The center, operated by the German Armed Forces, is expected to develop an initial operating capability to track objects in space by 2019. (3/30)

C Riverside Professor to Archive Hubble Images (Source: My Desert)
A UC Riverside astronomy professor will be archiving galactic photos snapped over the last decade by the famed Hubble Space Telescope thanks to a federal grant, campus officials announced this week. Bahram Mobasher received a $200,000 endowment from NASA to create a data bank containing images of other galaxies that were captured between 2002 and 2012. (3/31)

Earth’s Other Moons (Source: University of Hawaii)
Earth usually has more than one moon, according to a team of astronomers from the University of Helsinki, the Paris Observatory and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Our 2,000-mile-diameter Moon, so beloved by poets, artists and romantics, has been orbiting Earth for over 4 billion years. Its much smaller cousins, dubbed “minimoons,” are thought to be only a few feet across and to usually orbit our planet for less than a year before resuming their previous lives as asteroids orbiting the Sun.

Mikael Granvik (formerly at UH Manoa and now at Helsinki), Jeremie Vaubaillon (Paris Observatory) and Robert Jedicke (UH Manoa) calculated the probability that at any given time Earth has more than one moon. They used a supercomputer to simulate the passage of 10 million asteroids past Earth. They then tracked the trajectories of the 18,000 objects that were captured by Earth’s gravity. (3/31)

Stanley Cup Could Head Into Space (Source: Toronto Sun)
A victory lap with the Stanley Cup might one day become a space walk. One of those entrusted with accompanying the oldest trophy of the major sports around the world thinks it’s ready for the final frontier. The Cup has already been where few have gone before, inside the shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center. “Mr. (Jeremy) Jacobs, the Boston Bruins owner, has some business there,” Cup custodian Mike Bolt said Friday. “I am convinced the Cup will get into space one day, I bet within the next 20 years. It will probably be an owner who has the money when space travel becomes more regular.” (3/31)

Editorial: Spaced Out (Source: Jacksonville Business Journal)
Space tourism. People paying $200,000 for a 15-minute suborbital flight featuring five minutes of weightlessness. Is this a business model? Apparently some people think it is. A business conference last week put on by the Jacksonville Aviation Authority brought together the stakeholders and the feeling was close to unanimous: Let’s get moving on building a spaceport. (3/31)

JAA: Get Serious About Cecil Spaceport (Source: Jacksonville Business Journal)
Participants at the Cecil Spaceport Development summit this week said Jacksonville needs to start positioning itself now as a destination spot for space travel. The Jacksonville Aviation Authority showcased Cecil Airport’s capabilities and assets for key stakeholders and to attract public and private investment. Panel discussions touched on educating skilled workers, attracting aerospace companies through government incentives and creating industry partnerships. There are 193 aviation and aerospace companies in Duval County, employing more than 5,000 workers with an economic impact of more than $440 million in wages, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said. (3/31)

Strange Gamma-Ray Objects in Deep Space Perplex Scientists (Source:
The universe is filled with high-energy radiation, much of which is made of gamma rays belched out by strange pulsing stars and the remnants of supernova explosions. But a new study of some of most extreme objects has turned up a mystery: nearly one-third of all gamma-ray emitting objects seen to date defy identification.

The objects were spotted by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which scans the entire sky over the course of three hours, mapping the powerful spectrum. When stacked together, the surveys create an extremely precise view of the gamma-ray universe. (3/31)

America Should Send Astronauts to Mars 'Because it's There' (Source: Wicked Local)
For a long time there has been the debate whether or not we should go to Mars. I strongly believe we should do this in my lifetime (I’m 10 now) and that the mission would be time, money and effort well spent. Some people are against the idea of sending humans to Mars because they think we should take the billions of dollars needed for the mission and use it for homeless people, cancer research, the military, etc., here on Earth. But here’s the thing: NASA’s budget is way less than 1 percent of what the government spends.

And as you know, to send humans to Mars, we need a lot of complicated technology. Some of this technology has already proven itself useful for more than space exploration: like an improved fire hose system. When NASA was developing a new rocket engine, the technology was also used to design a fire hose system that pumps five times the amount of water as the old fire hose. This has improved the quality of firefighting and will save lives. (3/31)

AMS is Working Great — But No Results Yet (Source: Nature)
When Samuel Ting got up to give his plenary talk at the opening session of the American Physicial Society’s spring meeting here in Atlanta, the vast hotel ballroom was close to standing-room only. Not only is the MIT physicist a Nobel laureate, but he the principal investigator and prime mover of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer: the hugely controversial, $1.5 billion cosmic ray detector that has been riding on the International Space Station since its launch last May.

If AMS works as advertised, it could detect positrons from the self-annihilation of the mysterious particles comprising dark matter, thus providing the first solid clue as to what those particle are. It might also see anti-helium nuclei created right after the Big Bang, thus shedding fresh light on why matter is so much more common than anti-matter. But Ting is a famously meticulous man, willing to spend enormous amounts of time on checking and cross-checking his experiments before announcing his results.

He spent almost all his 30-minute talk describing the AMS and going over the multitudinous tests his team has conducted to prove that the AMS is working a planned in the weightless, airless, sun-blasted environment of space. Along the way, however, Ting did drop a few tantalyzing hints. The AMS is working very well, he said. It has registered some 14 billion cosmic ray events in 10 months — far more than expected. And it has seen high-energy positrons. Hopefully within a year,” was his reply when he was asked about when results would be announced — “and as late as I can. We don’t want to announce preliminary results.” (3/31)

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