March 9, 2012

South Africa Wins Science Panel's Backing to Host SKA Telescope (Source: Nature)
A scientific panel has narrowly recommended South Africa over Australia as the best site for the proposed Square Kilometer Array (SKA), an enormous radio telescope. But the project's member states have yet to make a final decision on where the telescope will go. A source familiar with the site selection process confirmed to Nature that the panel had indeed made a decision, but added that it was a close call. "This is not an enormous preference for one over the other," he says.

The $2.1 billion SKA radio telescope will be made up of some 3,000 dishes, each 15 meters in diameter. It will try to answer big questions about the early universe: how the first elements heavier than helium formed, for example, and how the first galaxies coalesced. The telescope is so sensitive that it could even pick up television signals from distant worlds — something that might aid in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. (3/9)

TacSat-4 Enables Polar Region SatCom Experiment (Source: NRL_
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter HEALY (WAGB 20) successfully experimented with NRL's TacSat-4 communications satellite, Jan. 24, by communicating from the Bering Sea off the western coast of Alaska to Coast Guard Island, Alameda, Calif. Returning from an escort and icebreaking mission to Nome, Alaska, assisting the Russian tanker Renda delivery of emergency fuel to the town, the USCGC HEALY — Coast Guard's only polar icebreaker — was approximately 260 nautical miles south of the Arctic Circle at the time of the test.

Deployed into a unique, highly elliptical orbit with an apogee of 12,050 kilometers, TacSat-4 helps augment current geosynchronous satellite communication by including the high latitudes. The experiment was the first in a series of planned steps that aim to demonstrate TacSat-4's utility in the polar and arctic regions. (3/9)

Meteorites Reveal Another Way to Make Life's Components (Source: NASA)
Creating some of life's building blocks in space may be a bit like making a sandwich – you can make them cold or hot, according to new NASA research. This evidence that there is more than one way to make crucial components of life increases the likelihood that life emerged elsewhere in the Universe, according to the research team, and gives support to the theory that a "kit" of ready-made parts created in space and delivered to Earth by impacts from meteorites and comets assisted the origin of life.

In the study, scientists with the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., analyzed samples from fourteen carbon-rich meteorites with minerals that indicated they had experienced high temperatures – in some cases, over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They found amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, used by life to speed up chemical reactions and build structures like hair, skin, and nails. (3/9)

Orbital Sciences Crushes Earnings Estimates (Source: Motley Fool)
Orbital Sciences filed its 10-K on Feb. 29. Here are the numbers you need to know. For the quarter ended Dec. 31, Orbital Sciences missed estimates on revenues and crushed expectations on earnings per share. Compared to the prior-year quarter, revenue contracted and GAAP earnings per share contracted significantly. Gross margins improved, operating margins shrank, net margins shrank. Orbital Sciences notched revenue of $335.5 million. The seven analysts polled by S&P Capital IQ expected sales of $358.4 million on the same basis. GAAP reported sales were 3.1% lower than the prior-year quarter's $346.1 million. (3/9)

Santorum Mostly Silent on Space in Huntsville (Source: Space Politics)
“This is—what a venue,” Rick Santorum remarked early in his speech at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. “It just takes me back to my childhood, growing up in the Mercury and Apollo time in our country in the ’60s and ’70s.” He recalled staying up late at night to watch the Apollo 11 “lunar spacewalk”, among other recollections of that era. “Just as an American, I just want to say thank you, Huntsville, thank you for the great work that you’ve done for our country.”

After that trip down memory lane, though, he went on to other topics, and didn’t return to space during the rest of the approximately 40-minute speech. The closest he came was in a discussion of defense spending, where he noted that “a very important part of our defense is space,” without going into greater detail. (3/8)

How Do You Tell Time On Mars? (Source: Popular Science)
When NASA’s new Mars rover lands on the Red Planet this summer, it’s safe to assume it’ll be sometime in the morning or early afternoon at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, home of the rover science and engineering teams. So that means it’ll be mid-afternoon on the East Coast, evening in Europe, and so on — pretty easy to figure out the time zones. But what time will it be on Mars? What time zone will Curiosity live in -- and how can you even tell?

Timekeeping on Mars is a bit like telling time on Earth, because the planets are similar in lots of ways. But there are just enough differences to drive a person slightly crazy. To start with, the Martian day, or sol, is 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than a day on Earth. This isn’t a lot, but it adds up quickly when you’re living on Mars time--as the Curiosity team will. And a Martian year lasts 668.59 sols, about 1.88 times an Earth year. Seasons last much longer and are much more extreme, thanks in part to Mars’ deeply eccentric orbit. Click here. (3/9)

ATK CEO Talks Relocation, Reorganization, and Bouncing Back (Source: Washington Business Journal)
Six months after moving its headquarters from Minneapolis to the Washington area, Fortune 500 aerospace company Alliant Techsystems Inc. lost a nearly $1 billion contract, began proceedings to settle a lawsuit with the Justice Department and laid off about 200 employees in February as part of a company reorganization that came after earnings took a tumble. But Mark DeYoung, who was promoted to CEO in February 2010, says that ATK’s new roots in Arlington will open doors and provide just the foundation needed for a strong re-emergence. Click here. (3/9)

Omega Designs New Timepiece to Mark 50 Years of Watches in Space (Source: Collect Space)
The watchmaker behind the first watches worn on the moon has designed a new timepiece to mark the 50 years since its first watches flew in space. Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Omega announced the Speedmaster "First Omega in Space" numbered edition chronograph, a near replica of the watch worn by Mercury astronaut Wally Schirra on his 1962 spaceflight. Schirra's Mercury-Atlas 8 mission was the third time an American orbited the Earth and the fifth U.S. manned spaceflight. (3/9)

An Interview with the Director of NASA’s Stennis Space Center (Source: Washington Post)
Q: What is your biggest day-to-day challenge? A: It’s no surprise, but the biggest challenge is a lack of resources. You can fill in the blank on what resources you’re talking about, be they physical assets or money or people. Things aren’t likely to get better any time soon, but the unique thing we understand is that we are an investment opportunity for NASA headquarters. What I keep trying to reiterate here is that we need to concentrate on efficiently and safely doing the job we’re doing. Then, we can rest assured that we’ll be rewarded when the agency makes its resource decisions. My philosophy has been and will continue to be, “Do the best we can with what we have.” Click here. (3/9)

Solar Storm that Seemed to Fizzle Gains New Strength (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Solar storms from Tuesday night's powerful flare on the surface of the sun seemed to be less than anticipated and fizzling away. But Friday morning brought new surprises. Geomagnetic storms have picked up, says NASA's Alex Young, and a new solar flare occurred about 7:30 p.m. PST on Thursday. "Earth's magnetosphere continues its upset state," Young, a solar physicist with the Goddard Space Flight Center, says on his website, the Sun Today. The "kp index," which measures just how disturbed the magnetic field is, took a bit of a roller-coaster ride, from a level 5 to 4 and then zooming up to 7. (3/9)

Volpe Study, Revisited (Source: SPACErePORT)
In 1999, the Florida Governor's Office sponsored a study titled: Building on Florida's Strength in Space: A Plan for Action. Conducted by the prestigious John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, the study (available here) was intended to provide insight into how Florida could maintain and strengthen its leadership position in space transportation. I've developed a 20-question survey to determine if the "Volpe Study" recommendations and findings have been adequately acted upon, still require action, or are no longer relevant. I hope you can take a few minutes to
complete this painless 20-question survey. Click here.

This is similar to a survey I distributed late in 2011 to revisit the recommendations of a 1992 study of impediments to commercial launch operations at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport (available here). You can take that survey here. Thanks for taking the time to participate in this effort. (3/9)

NASA Wants $830 Million to Avoid Russian Astronaut Transport (Source: Washington Times)
NASA wants $830 million to create a U.S. transport system to get astronauts to the International Space Station without relying on Russian help. The funding request, a 100% increase from last year, would mean NASA wouldn't have to pay out $450 million a year to Russia for transporting crews, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Congress this week. (3/9)

Lawmakers Reject Move of Mars Mission Funds (Source: Aviation Week)
Lawmakers who oversee NASA funding have said no to the agency's request to move Mars mission money immediately to other areas. The House Appropriations subcommittee wants more debate on shutting down the Mars exploration program. "This proposal represents a significant deviation from the robotic exploration program plan as it was approved by Congress in NASA’s fiscal year 2012 appropriations," Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., wrote in a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. (3/9)

Are Commercial Space Companies Reliable? (Source: Examiner)
Very recently, a senior Senator from Texas grilled the NASA Administrator, Charlie Bolden, about his priorities between commercial spaceflight companies and the similar government program. She refers to “shoring up” commercial space companies and evidently was concerned about their reliability. Related questions have been raised by influential members of Congress as well. The issue is how much money should be allocated to paying for commercial space companies, to allow them to deliver cargo and crew to orbit, and how much should be allocated to the somewhat parallel government program.

There are two contracts with NASA that will absorb that money. One is the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract, where various companies develop and demonstrate their vehicles. A good discussion of that is a previous story that I wrote but that contract is just to develop vehicles. The other contract is the Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) contract and that is one that the Senator and members of Congress are apparently not happy with.

Speaking a person who has worked with Charlie Bolden, when he was an active astronaut, I have complete confidence that he knows what to do and will allocate the money in the best way. Part of the problem is that specifications of the new government program have been dictated by Congress and it will be very expensive. Largely for that reason, the government vehicle is far behind the commercial ones. If we take money away from the commercial programs, it will force us to depend even longer on our shaky Russian crew and cargo delivery systems. (3/9)

China Rockets Forward in Race to Moon (Source: CNN)
Watch out, America. China is steadily catching up in space. Between June and August this year, China plans to launch its manned Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and then rendezvous and dock with a space lab which has been orbiting the earth since September. Three astronauts will undertake the voyage, but one of them will not board the space lab. He will remain inside the spacecraft as a precautionary measure in case of emergency. It will be China's first crew expedition involving manual docking. If all goes as planned, China will become only the third nation, next to the U.S. and Russia, to dock capsules in space. (3/9)

Space Pioneers Sues Better Business Bureau Over Private Property Rights in Space (Source: Space Pioneers)
Can you own a piece of the moon? The legal discussions and opinions have been gathering steam among some pretty prestigious institutions. Space Pioneers LLC is helping move the discussion forward by offering "Derivative Conveyance Deeds" for Lunar Real Estate. Sound crazy? Maybe not, once you've seen the 20 years of research Jeffrey Sablotne and his partners have done and the "by the book" legal claims that are filed and recorded.

Someone has to make the claim and let it become the instrument to move the discussion forward and we are the only ones that have done this within the existing legal framework in respect to the 1967 Multilateral Space Treaty, national and international law. However, someone took exception to this and posted on the web for all to see, that "Space Pioneers is a scam." That someone was Janet Robb, the president of the Arkansas Chapter of the Better Business Bureau, who just previously had invited and approved Jeffrey's company to join the BBB.

"Their comments are made without understanding or thorough investigation and are injurious in nature to our company and our purpose," states Sablotne, "and we intend to get at the minimum, a retraction." In filing a defamation suit against the BBB, Space Pioneers freely provides all documentation to prove Space Pioneers business and claims are legitimate and in no way a scam. Quite the contrary, it is real company who has done the work in the area that is pushing the limits of our current thinking and technology. Click here. (3/9)

House Members Propose Giving Astronauts Ownership of Space Mission Artifacts (Source: The Hill)
The chairman and ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee have proposed legislation that would give astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs clear ownership of any artifacts they might have retained from the missions. The bill is a reaction to plans at NASA to collect various items from space flight missions that astronauts had previously been allowed to keep.

The bill was offered by Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-Texas), ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and 17 other members from both parties. In a "dear colleague" letter seeking support for the bill, Hall and Johnson said that under NASA's recent initiative, some astronauts might have to pay reparations if they cannot produce these items. (3/9)

The Astronaut Inventor’s Best Friend, 35 USC §105 (Source: IP in Space)
For more than 100 years, aviation and aerospace companies have been at the forefront of American and global innovation. The internet is a truly powerful and amazing tool for communication and commerce. It is the very reason you’re able to read this niche-among-niches blog! But a lot of the reality of this modern information age could not be realized without aviation and aerospace companies straining and breaking the bonds of the “possible.”

The US has a robust system in place to protect the rights of inventors and encourage innovation, but those laws are territorial. So are space-related inventions and their creators stripped of protection once they enter space? US inventors of items designed for use in space can rest easy knowing that their patent rights still exist, even in outer space, because of a unique US law, 35 USC §105.

The U.S. is unique in that it has a law that directly addresses the general applicability of its patent laws on objects in outer space. 35 USC §105 “Inventions in outer space” was enacted in 1990 to clarify that US patent law applies to “any invention made, used or sold in outer space on a space object...under the jurisdiction or control of the United States.” That means, among other things, that the patent laws fully apply, unless the exceptions to the law apply. Click here. (3/9)

ILS Proton To Launch Mexsat-1 (Source: Space News)
An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket will launch Mexico’s Mexsat-1 mobile communications satellite in 2013 or 2014 under a contract announced March 9 by ILS. Under the contract, with Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation, an ILS Proton will place the 5,800-kilogram Mexsat-1 into geostationary transfer orbit, from where it will migrate to its operating position at 119 degrees west longitude. (3/9)

'Shoot for the Moon,' Women are Told (Source: Pasadena Sun)
Maria Zuber is a geophysicist playing a key role in a NASA study of the moon’s gravity field, though at one point she considered staying home from work to raise her two sons. Before she made up her mind, she asked for her boys’ thoughts. One protested, Zuber told an audience at Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Thursday. “Mom, you’re the only mother in the classroom who shoots lasers at space,” he said.

Zuber, the chair of planetary and atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was one of several women leaders in science who spoke to a group of about 250 mostly female students Thursday, inspiring them to reach for their dreams and pursue careers in science and technology despite the fact the field has been dominated by men. (3/9)

Female Taikonaut Expected to Fly on Next China Mission (Source: Space Daily)
China has given a great deal of publicity to its two female astronaut trainees, who were a part of China's second batch of Shenzhou astronauts. Educated guesses from space analysts generally suggested that one of these women would fly on the second crew to Tiangong 1, which is expected to be the Shenzhou 10 mission. (3/9)

Three for Tiangong (Source: Space Daily)
The closer we get to the launch of China's Shenzhou 9 spacecraft to the Tiangong 1 space laboratory, the more confused space observers have become. We should have a firmer picture of the whole mission by now, but there are still some big unanswered questions. Media reports on the mission have been garbled and contradictory. What is going on?

This author believes that planning for this mission has been anything but straightforward. The overall pattern of reportage and disclosure is different from recent trends. This suggests that some details weren't fixed in place until recently, and that others could have been subject to dispute. However, it was clear from other media reports that a crewed mission was now firming up. The recent reports of an uncrewed mission for Shenzhou 9 could have been a media mistake, but they contained information on the experiment payloads and quotes from fairly well-placed sources. Click here. (3/9)

ISS Team Conducts Sat Refueling Demonstration (Source: Aviation Week)
U.S. and Canadian ground control teams initiated a robotic refueling demonstration outside the International Space Station this week to underpin future commercial initiatives aimed at extending the operating life of aging satellites. The two-year, $22.6 million multiphase Robotic Refueling Mission (RMM) demonstration also may advance efforts to develop space-based refueling depots for future deep-space human exploration.

A three-day checkout of RMM tools and tool adapters, as well as their interactions with simulated satellite interfaces on the RRM engineering demonstrator is scheduled to conclude March 9. The Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, or Dextre, wielded the tools in the two-armed robot’s first technology demonstration assignment. On March 7, ground control teams in the U.S. and Canada commanded Dextre to remove, examine and activate safety cap removal, wire cutter and multifunction tools stowed in the RMM, which is positioned atop the Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4) on the station’s right side solar power truss.

The final two days of the exercise, which wraps up March 9, have been focused on demonstrations of the multifunction and wire cutter tools for the release of launch locks on several RMM tool adapters, and to sever simulated lock wires of the type used to close out fuel and coolant valve fittings on most satellites. The RMM, a washing machine-sized module, was delivered to the station aboard STS-135, NASA’s final shuttle mission, in July 2011. (3/9)

US to Pay $450 Million Anually to Russia for Delivery of Astronauts to ISS (Source: Itar-Tass)
The US will be forced to use Russian services to deliver its astronauts to the International Space Station, paying for this $450 million dollars annually, said NASA director Charles Bolden at hearings in the US House of Representatives. The US will have a chance to send an American crew to the ISS without Russia’s aid only in 2017, the head of the US space agency said. According to Bolden, this situation has emerged over unlucky planning in previous years, and now it should be undone. (3/9)

HASC: Don't Cut Space Test Program or ORS (Source: Space Policy Online)
The hearing was short and sweet, but members of the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) got their points across: do not cut two Air Force programs that focus on small satellites -- the Space Test Program (STP) and the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program. They also disagreed with each other over the wisdom of negotiating an international Code of Conduct for outer space activities.

Subcommittee chairman Michael Turner (R-OH) began the hearing by noting that the budget request for unclassified national security space programs is down 22 percent from FY2012. He expressed concern that many of the cuts are from research and development (R&D) programs and termination of STP and ORS. Turner, ranking member Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), and Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) pressed the case for restoring funds for STP and ORS.

General William Shelton stressed that the ORS concept was not going away, just the program office for it. He insisted that the idea of building small satellites on short notice was being embraced throughout Air Force space programs, this was only a matter of eliminating the program office. As for STP, Shelton and Gil Klinger, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Intelligence, argued that there are other places in DOD where such R&D takes place and in making difficult budget choices, the decision was made to eliminate STP. (3/8)

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