March 7, 2012

Scientists' Life's Work to Search for It Aboard Mars Rover (Source: US News)
Later this year, nearly 300 of the brightest scientists on Earth will begin holding their breath as the most high-tech rover in NASA's storied history touches down on the airless surface of Mars and begins seeking proof of the possibility of life beyond our atmosphere. And, if all goes right, one of those watching eagerly--Jennifer Eigenbrode, an astrobiologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center--may be given the biggest thrill of her career. Her particular "wet chemistry" test aboard Curiosity, or the Mars Science Laboratory, could end up as the critical measurement for the
presence of the complex carbon building blocks of life. Click here. (3/7)

Bermuda to Play Key Role in NASA Space Station Missions From Wallops (Source: Royal Gazette)
Missions to the international space station by the US will be monitored by a new NASA tracking station in Bermuda. The US and Bermuda governments have signed a four-year agreement for the temporary mobile station to be sited at Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve. NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver told The Royal Gazette today that the Island was geographically in the “perfect spot” for tracking launches from the Wallops Flight Facility and the agreement could be extended. (3/7)

Robotic Refueling Mission in Space: Fueling up in Space (Source: CSA)
Beginning today, Dextre, the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) most dexterous robot is tackling new tasks. CSA is collaborating with NASA on a project called the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM). The demonstration will use Dextre, the CSA's robotic handyman on board the International Space Station (ISS) to test how satellites could be refueled in space even if they were not designed to be. If the three-day operations are successful, this could mean extending the life of satellites in the future. (3/7)

New Report Expands on Vital Role of Aerospace and Defense Industry to U.S. Economy (Source: AIA)
A new report commissioned by AIA demonstrates the irreplaceable impact the aerospace and defense (A/D) industry has on America's economic and national security. Addressing the current economic crisis, the report emphasizes the industry's support of more than three million American workers. With federal budget sequestration looming and DOD, FAA and NASA budgets facing severe cuts, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and Aerospace Industries Association have escalated efforts to educate the public and elected officials on the need for alternatives to budget sequestration.

The aerospace and defense industry booked $324 billion in sales in 2010 in every state of the union. The report by Deloitte details state-by-state A/D industry employment, revenues, taxes paid and more. And, following recent White House efforts to promote increased export opportunities for American business, the report details the industry's position as the number one contributor to the country's positive trade balance, at a net $42 billion. A study conducted by Dr. Stephen Fuller of George Mason University in October, 2011, projects that more than one million American jobs could be lost as a result of defense budget cuts if the sequestration trigger is pulled. Unemployment would go up .6 percent and GDP projected growth would be cut by 25 percent. (3/7)

Astrium Nabs $267M Contract to Maintain Helios Ground System (Source: Space News)
The French Defense Ministry on March 6 said Astrium will maintain and upgrade the ground-based user segment for the Helios 2 military reconnaissance satellite and its successor system under a 6-year contract valued at 204 million euros ($267 million). (3/7)

Sun Fires Off 2 Huge Solar Flares in One-Two Punch (Source:
The sun unleashed a cosmic double whammy Tuesday (March 6), erupting with two major flares to cap a busy day of powerful solar storms. One of the flares is the most powerful solar eruption of the year, so far. Both of the huge flares ranked as X-class storms, the strongest type of solar flares the sun can have. They followed several weaker, but still powerful, sun storms on Tuesday and came just days after another major solar flare on Sunday night. (3/7)

Solar Storm Headed Toward Earth May Disrupt Power (Source: Huntsville Times)
An impressive solar flare is heading toward Earth and could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane flights. Forecasters at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center said the sun erupted Tuesday evening and the effects should start smacking Earth late tonight, close to 11 p.m. CST. They say it is the biggest in five years and growing. (3/7)

NASA Probes Shifting Orbits for Curiosity Rover Landing (Source:
Two NASA spacecraft circling Mars have begun repositioning their orbits to provide engineering insight into the landing of the Curiosity rover on the red planet in August, supplying engineers on Earth with vital data during the robot's dramatic rocket-assisted touchdown. Engineers are shifting the orbits of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey probes, ensuring they have line-of-sight communications with Curiosity as it lands at Gale crater, a 96-mile-wide impact site adorned with rugged rock formations and a colossal central peak. Landing is scheduled for early Aug. 6, U.S. Eastern time. (3/7)

Patriarch Kirill Decorates World First Woman-Cosmonaut (Source: Interfax)
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia decided to decorate first woman-cosmonaut and State Duma MP Valentina Tereshkova with a church order for Glory and Honor (1st degree). Such a decision was taken regarding how much Tereshkova made for "Motherland and the Russian Orthodox Church," the Patriarch said in his message dedicated to the cosmonaut's jubilee, the Moscow Patriarchate reports at its website. (3/7)

Chang’e-3: China To Launch First Moon Rover In 2013 (Source: Asian Scientist)
China’s next spacecraft to the moon, Chang’e-3, which is provisionally slated for launch in 2013, will execute a soft landing on the lunar surface. The launch will be from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The spacecraft has entered the critical phase of prototype development consisting of wheels and legs. According to Ye Peijan, since the probe will make a soft landing on the moon’s surface, the use of parachutes has been ruled out due to the moon’s vacuum. Instead, it will employ an anti-thrust mechanism to reduce the speed of the engine.

Five landing sites have been shortlisted with the first choice going to a flat, well-lit, and easily observable region known as Sinus Iridium. He said that the lander weighing 100 kg will have seven instruments and cameras. In addition to their scientific roles, the cameras will also take pictures of earth and other celestial bodies. The lander will have the capacity to operate for three consecutive months. (3/7)

Rice Lands Star Astronaut to Lead its Space Institute (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Seeking to play a larger role in NASA's future, Rice University has tapped astronaut Mike Massimino to lead its space institute for the next year. The university wants to not only provide more opportunities for students to work at Johnson Space Center, but also wants to help design a sustainable future for NASA in Houston. (3/7)

House Appropriator Demands NASA Explain Chinese ISS Comments (Source: America Space)
House Commerce, Science, Justice, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf wrote to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden demanding that the NASA Administrator clarify his comments regarding possible participation by China on the International Space Station.

The five ISS partners met on March 1st in Quebec City to discuss the future of the orbiting laboratory. During the discussions, Russia’s Vladimir Popovkin and ESA's Jean-Jacques Dordian stated their support for adding China and India as partners on the International Space Station. NASA Administrator Bolden reminded his fellow ISS partners that NASA is prohibited by law from bilateral activities with the Chinese. NASA’s Administrator then went on to state that he hoped that the space partners would continue their conversations with the Chinese.

That suggestion did not sit well with the House CSJ Subcommittee Chairman, who is the author of the prohibition on bilateral activities between China and NASA. This isn’t the first time that someone from the Obama Administration has crossed paths with Chairman Wolf regarding the prohibition on bilateral activities with China. Last year, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and in particular its Chief Dr. John Holdren, disregarded the prohibition on bilateral space activities between China and the U.S.. For that, Congress threatened OSTP’s budget with a significant cut. (3/7)

Twin NASA Probes Begin Studying Moon's Gravity (Source: AP)
Flying in formation around the moon, a pair of NASA probes began mapping the lunar gravity field in hopes of figuring out why Earth's only natural satellite is shaped the way it is. The probes kicked off their science campaign late Tuesday two months after arriving back-to-back at the moon over the New Year's weekend. Despite astronaut landings and robotic missions aimed at the moon, scientists still don't know everything about Earth's celestial companion. A lingering mystery is why the side that always faces Earth appears flatter than the mountainous far side. (3/7)

How the Hunt for Mars Life Evolved (Source: MSNBC)
The quest to learn about life on Mars has been lowering its sights for the past century, but researchers think they finally have the right strategy for addressing the key mysteries surrounding the Red Planet: Were the conditions right for living things to arise on Mars? And if so, what happened? Click here. (3/7)

Weather Forecaster Warns of Dangers of Budget Shortfalls (Source: Florida Today)
The head of the agency in charge of the National Weather Service warned House lawmakers Tuesday that a forecasting gap anticipated for later this decade will last longer if they don’t fully fund the administration’s request for a new satellite. The satellite, known as the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), is crucial in tracking hurricanes, tornadoes and other weather phenomena that give emergency officials time to prepare and react, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials. The current orbiter is scheduled to be retired in 2016 and NOAA officials predicted last year its replacement might not be operational for 18 months after that. (3/7)

Space Museum Serves Up Menu for Space Tourists (Source: WIRED)
In space, no-one can hear you scream, but ice cream is now firmly on the menu. A new variety of possible space foods, including a twist on the classic dessert, was unveiled on 2 March at an event to mark the launch of National Science and Engineering Week 2012. A "gastronaut" tasting menu presented at London's Science Museum offered an insight into the future of space food, prepared by food scientists The Robin Collective, with assistance from space nutrition expert Professor Brian Ratcliffe and a person with on-the-ground (or, perhaps more accurately, "floating in a vacuum") experience Helen Sharman, Britain's first astronaut. Click here. (3/7)

Houston's Ellington Field on Right Track to Become Spaceport (Source: Friendswood Journal)
Ellington International Airport is on the fast track to becoming a major aviation hub in the Houston area. The Coast Guard recently broke ground for its new Houston headquarters at Ellington, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will move its Houston campus here and the Lone Star Flight Museum will move to Ellington Field from Galveston. And according to Ellington Airport General Manager Brian Rinehart, Ellington Airport could become a spaceport as well.

He called the situation for a spaceport a “perfect storm.” “You got Embry-Riddle pushing aviation, you got NASA, you got all the aerospace companies here, and that means that we have the capital to really make spaceport work,” Rinehart said. Next up is an economic assessment and then the actual certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration, Rinehart said. Although there are many nay-sayers, he said, “We’re going full steam ahead until someone can prove to us that it’s not viable.” (3/7)

Lockheed Martin Rocket to Launch from Kodiak (Source: Flight Global)
Lockheed Martin has declared Kodiak, Alaska, to be the preferred west coast launch site for the Athena III launch vehicle. The Athena III, a heavier version of the Athena I and II, is in its design phase, with a first flight planned in late 2014. The launch site at Kodiak, which is configured to launch earlier models of the Athena, is a prominent west coast launch site for high-inclination and polar orbits.

The Athena III design, powered by the ATK Castor 120 lower stage and Castor 30 upper stage solid fuel rockets, is in design phase. "We've started the initial design," said Lockheed program manager Al Simpson, "and we're evaluating the business case as we go forward." The company declined to provide additional details, other than to say that negotiations with prospective clients are ongoing. The new rocket will be capable of launching 4,600kg (10,100lb) into low earth orbit from Kodiak.

Lockheed ended the Athena program in 2001 citing a dearth of small payloads seeking launch. Cheaper competition from Russia, Ukraine and China made the business case more difficult. "In 2010 we introduced the Athena 1 and 2 program back into the marketplace because of the demand for small responsive space lift growing inside of the US govt community," said Simpson. "Lockheed is positioning to introduce the Athena III into the marketplace, which provides a greater lift capacity." (3/7)

Nelson, Rubio Back Bill to Help Space Coast (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
In a rare showing of bipartisanship, Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio have co-sponsored legislation that would give Brevard County businesses a leg-up in getting government contracts. The measure, dubbed the Shuttle Workforce Revitalization Act of 2012, is aimed at helping the Kennedy Space Center region, which was hurt badly by the recent retirement of the space shuttle. It would classify Brevard County as a “historically underutilized business zone” — a designation that makes it easier for local business to get government work.

“The shuttle program may have ended, but space exploration did not,” said Nelson, a Democrat, in a statement. “We’ve got talented people who are an asset not only to Brevard County, but to the country. They should have the best chance possible to continue doing what they do best — innovate, create and explore.” Rubio, a Republican, also has joined the effort — as has U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, who introduced companion legislation last year in the House. (3/7)

Embry-Riddle Gets State Funds for Aerospace Research Park (Source: Daytona Beach News Journal)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was counting its blessings Tuesday as Florida lawmakers prepared a final budget. The spending plan -- set for a final vote on Friday -- would include a $8.97 million grant for the university's aerospace research and technology park. The Embry-Riddle grant was nearly twice what had been recommended in Gov. Rick Scott's budget proposal. "We're thrilled," school President John Johnson said Tuesday night. "I can tell you I'm very pleased for the support that's been shown to Embry-Riddle by both the House and Senate." (3/7)

LightSquared Continues Service for Existing Customers (Source: LightSquared)
LightSquared is further extending the emulation phase of its current generation voice (MSAT), private network carrier and mobile data services over its new SkyTerra-1 satellite network through the end of 2015. LightSquared will continue to evaluate extending its current generation services beyond 2015 as it works to finalize its plans for launching next generation satellite services. (3/7)

Inmarsat Looks to New Satellite Boost (Source: Financial Times)
Inmarsat expects a new fleet of satellites providing broadband to return the company to double-digit growth in two years, despite the UK satellite operator losing a lucrative source of income from the LightSquared mobile phone venture in the US. Some $238.1m payments from renting radio spectrum to Philip Falcone’s LightSquared were the main driver of revenue growth for Inmarsat in 2011. (3/7)

Boeing Will Join Forces with Artel (Source: Long Beach Press-Telegram)
Boeing is teaming up with telecommunications company Artel to sell satellite bandwidth to U.S. government agencies, the aerospace giant said Tuesday. Boeing builds satellites at its cavernous production facility in El Segundo. Artel sells satellite services. The U.S. government currently has massive amounts of communications capacity through various satellite constellations. Boeing and Artel hope to augment that capacity using commercial satellites Inmarsat-3, -4 and -5 satellites currently in orbit. (3/7)

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