April 16, 2012

NASA Planning Group Takes Key Steps For Future Mars Exploration (Source: Space Daily)
There's no shortage of ideas for exploring Mars - just a shortage of money. NASA's Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG), established to assist the agency in developing a new strategy for the exploration of the Red Planet, has begun analyzing options for future robotic missions and enlisting the assistance of scientists and engineers worldwide. NASA is reformulating the Mars Exploration Program to be responsive to high-priority science goals and the President's challenge of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. (4/16)

Shuttle Engines in Rocket Custom Shop (Source: New Scientist)
They may bring to mind Daleks, the sinister cyborg race from the British TV series Doctor Who, but during their working life they belched fire into the flame trenches at the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando, Florida. Now a curious calm has fallen on these formidable beasts - the engines from the recently retired space shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour - as they await a new role in human space flight.

Stored alongside nine others - those from Discovery, plus spares - in the engine shop at Kennedy, these Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne liquid-fuelled motors are awaiting transport to NASA's Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. There, they will be tested and hopefully reused in NASA's future heavy-lifting rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which is designed for missions beyond Earth orbit. (4/16)

SpaceX Mission to ISS Gets NASA Go-Ahead (Source: TPM)
NASA seeks to make space history again, this time by overseeing the first-ever docking of a privately owned commercial spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon cargo vessel developed by private firm SpaceX has been tentatively cleared to launch from Cape Canaveral on April 30, 2012, and is set to rendezvous with the space station a few days thereafter, NASA’s associate administrator of space operations William H. Gerstenmaier said Monday.

The entire mission will take 21 days, at which point the Dragon cargo vessel will re-enter Earth and plunge into the Pacific Ocean, to be recovered and re-used again. “Everything looks good as we head toward the April 30th launch date,” Gerstenmaier said in a press conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, broadcast live online on NASA’s website Monday afternoon. (4/16)

Russian Ministry Backs Space Observatory Entry Proposal (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia’s Education Ministry supports a proposal by Russian astronomers for the country to join the European Southern Observatory but an astronomy development program is required, Igor Protsenko, director of the ministry’s international integration department, said on Monday. “The issue of joining ESO was discussed for a rather long time. It was worked out by working groups established by the Education and Science Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Russian Academy of Sciences,” Protsenko said. (4/16)

Spectacular Solar Flare Erupts From the Sun (Source: Space.com)
The sun erupted in an amazing solar flare today (April 16), unleashing an intense eruption of super-heated plasma that arced high above the star's surface before blasting out into space. The powerful solar flare occurred at 1:45 p.m. EDT (1745 GMT) and registered as a moderate M1.7-class on the scale of sun storms, placing it firmly in the middle of the scale used by scientists to measure flare strength. The storm is not the strongest this year from the sun, but photos and video of the solar flare captured by NASA spacecraft revealed it to be an eye-popping display of magnetic plasma. (4/16)

China Now Tops U.S. in Space Launches (Source: WIRED)
For the first time ever, China has launched more rockets into orbit in a year than the U.S. In 2011, the Chinese sent 19 rockets into space. The U.S. sent just 18. Russia, the Walmart of space launches, fired off no fewer than 31 rockets. The numbers, parsed in recent reports from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the nonprofit Space Foundation, might seem to herald America’s orbital decline relative to its most bitter rival. In terms of sheer numbers of rocket launches, China has been steadily catching up to America for several years. In 2010, China fired off 15 rockets, matching the U.S. for the first time. (4/16)

NASA Announces 16th Undersea Exploration Mission Dates and Crew (Source: NASA)
An international team of aquanauts will travel again to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast to simulate a visit to an asteroid in the 16th expedition of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO). This year's NEEMO mission will begin June 11. It will build on lessons learned from 2011's NEEMO 15 mission and test innovative solutions to engineering challenges allowing astronauts to eventually explore asteroids.

This NEEMO expedition will focus on three areas: communication delays, restraint and translation techniques, and optimum crew size. The crew of four will spend 12 days living 63 feet below the Atlantic Ocean's surface on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aquarius Reef Base undersea research habitat off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. (4/16)

Mars Life Search To Go In High Gear (Source: Discovery)
Looking to make planetary exploration lemonade out of budgetary lemons, NASA says it is open to taking a quicker route to the holy grail of Mars -- learning if there is or was life there. Citing lack of budget, the Obama administration wants to pull out from a flagship expedition with Europe to return soil and rock samples from Mars.

The point of the multibillion-dollar, multi-spacecraft campaign, slated to get under way in 2016, is to determine if Earth's neighbor has or ever had life. NASA was to provide the launches, landing system and some science instruments, among other contributions. Even if Congress nixes a U.S. pullout from the project, it may be too late. Europe already has a new partner for the mission -- Russia. Click here. (4/16)

Russia to Launch UAE Military Satellite on April 24 (Source: Aviation Week)
The Yahsat 1B (Y1B) telecom satellite owned by United Arab Emirates-based Al Yah Satellite Communications Co. is slated to launch April 24 aboard an International Launch Services Proton rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. When Y1B enters service, it will complete the two-spacecraft Yahsat system built by EADS-Astrium and Thales Alenia Space. Al Yah, however, is now considering ordering a third satellite and is soliciting interest from numerous manufacturers, according to industry officials. (4/16)

CASIS Plans Media Update in Colorado Springs (Source: CASIS)
CASIS will hold a media roundtable on April 17 at the National Space Symposium, to discuss their progress in utilizing the International Spaec Station National Laboratory. The CASIS public solicitation process and upcoming deadlines will be addressed, as well as details of an upcoming cooperative agreement between CASIS and BioServe. (4/16)

Working Towards a Space Code of Conduct (Source: Space Review)
The concept of a "code of conduct" for space operations has generated some debate in recent months. Thomas Taverney discusses what attributes a code should and should not have in order to protect national security and permit safe space operations. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2066/1 to view the article. (4/16)

A New "Great Enterprise" for Space Settlement (Source: Space Review)
Space settlement remains a long-term goal for some space advocates, but many hurdles remain to realizing that dream. Jeff Foust reports on a new initiative by the Space Studies Institute to address one of the key unknowns. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2065/1 to view the article. (4/16)

Theft, The Sincerest Form of Flattery (Source: Space Review)
As NASA's shuttles start to make their way to their retirement homes this week, some remember the short-lived Soviet shuttle that appeared to be a copy of NASA's vehicle. Dwayne Day examines a report that offers new insights into how the Soviets acquired shuttle technology. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2064/1 to view the article. (4/16)

Launching 64 Times Per Day (Source: Space Review)
Greater utilization of space will require much higher launch rates than seen today. Ronald Menich examines the economics of a notional system that would launch nearly as many times in a single day as take place worldwide in a year. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2063/1 to view the article. (4/16)

How to Buy a Launch Vehicle (Source: LaunchSpace)
Everyone in the space community knows that the single biggest hurdle to space commerce is the cost of launching satellites into orbit. This has been true from the dawn of the space age, and continues to be true, even today. As one of the most advanced technological societies on Earth, and with the high potential for commercial, civil and national security space applications one would think that the high cost of space access should be resolved by this time. Not only has this issue not been resolved, but it seems that launch costs have gone up over the decades. And, there is no solution in sight. (4/16)

Alaska Expedition Launches Cameras to Aurora's Edge (Source: Space.com)
Two weather balloons rose into the frigid Alaska air early Thursday (April 12), on a quest to photograph and study the dazzling northern lights display that danced around them. A group of scientists had been launching such instrument-laden balloons for the past week or so from a variety of locations near Fairbanks. The auroras had proved somewhat elusive, but they were bold and bright in Thursday's wee hours above the summit of Murphy Dome mountain, and the researchers' excitement was palpable. (4/16)

Asteroid Craters Could Provide Clue to Life on Mars (Source: BBC)
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh said organisms had been discovered thriving deep underneath a site in the US where an asteroid crashed 35 million years ago. They believe such craters provide refuge for microbes. The findings suggest that crater sites on other planets may be "hiding life". To find the microbes, researchers drilled almost 2km below one of the largest asteroid impact craters on Earth, in Chesapeake, US. Samples from below ground showed that microbes are unevenly spread throughout the rock, suggesting that the environment is continuing to settle 35 million years after impact. (4/16)

Space Zucchini's Orbital Life and Times Blogged by Astronaut (Source: Space.com)
Call it Zucchininaut. Or maybe Astrocchini. A zucchini plant growing on the International Space Station is not only forging new scientific territory, but is winning the hearts of its human crewmates. NASA astronaut Don Pettit, currently midway through a five-month stay on the orbiting laboratory, has taken a special shine to the space plant, and even writes blog posts in the voice of the zucchini. Click here. (4/16)

North Korea Will Push for New Rocket Launch (Source: AFP)
North Korea will push for the launch of a new and bigger rocket as part of a five-year space program despite last week's failed launch. The Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper, said Monday that the launch was part of the North's five-year space rocket program which began this year and is aimed at helping the country's "economic development". It quoted an unnamed official involved in the North's rocket program as saying Pyongyang would develop a bigger rocket than the one launched last week, the Unha-3. (4/16)

Next Generation Spacecraft No Comparison To Shuttle (Source: America Space)
The crop of space capsules that are currently being developed to return U.S. astronauts to orbit have all-too-often been dubbed “replacements” for the winged spacecraft that ferried crews to orbit for the past thirty years. But how similar is the shuttle to any of these new spacecraft?

With few exceptions – there are virtually no similarities. Under the Obama White House and his appointed officials, NASA has been directed to encourage the commercial space industry to produce spacecraft and launch vehicles to carry cargo and crew to low-Earth-orbit (LEO). It is hoped this will free up the space agency to focus on sending astronauts beyond LEO. The spacecraft that have emerged in CGI imagery, PowerPoint presentations and occasionally real life all vary in their appearance and capabilities. Click here. (4/16)

Republican Lawmakers Urge Obama to Reconsider Pentagon Budget (Source: The Hill)
Republican lawmakers are urging President Barack Obama to reconsider the $487 billion in planned cuts to the Pentagon over 10 years. Military leaders have publicly supported the budget plan. "The chiefs are telling us that as long as they have to assume the risk inherent in the president's new strategy, they have all they need," said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said. "My job, however, is to minimize that risk and ensure that our military has the resources to keep America safe." (4/16)

Missile Defense System Remains Elusive, Experts Say (Source: Politico)
A missile defense system capable of defending the U.S. against long-range threats remains elusive, experts say. Congress last year approved $8.6 billion for missile defense. "We do have some successes, but we clearly have a long way to go," said Phil Coyle, a former official with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. (4/16)

Panel Discusses Future of Civilian Drones in U.S. (Source: Epoch Times)
A panel of experts put together by the Brookings Institution has discussed how the expanding role of drones could affect U.S. airspace. The Federal Aviation Administration is working on new regulations for drones that should be completed within nine months. "Unmanned aircraft systems may increase efficiency, save money, enhance safety, and even save lives," the FAA said. Click here. (4/16)

NASA Missions to Mars Will Look for Signs of Life (Source: Space.com)
NASA has announced that its goal for missions to Mars will be the search for signs of life, past or present. "Seeking the signs of life still remains the ultimate goal for all of us, frankly, and all these pieces fit within that theme," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. (4/16)

Houston Aviation Director Envisions Spaceport at Ellington (Source: Houston Chronicle)
As Houston's elected leaders consider whether to allow flights from Hobby Airport to CancĂșn, local aviation officials are studying the possibility of a much more exotic destination for flights out of Ellington Airport: space. Technically, it is feasible, Airport System Director Mario Diaz has concluded. A consultant's study maps out an air route that would have vehicles launch from Ellington out over the Gulf of Mexico, climb to 100 kilometers above the Earth, then return to Ellington.

Now, Diaz has to figure out whether spending an estimated $48 million to $122 million to make Ellington one of the nation's first spaceports is a pie-in-the-sky scheme too far ahead of its time, or a visionary business proposition that builds on Houston's historical role as a space capital. "You've got states all over the country saying, 'How do we get into this?' " said James Muncy. "There's a lot of interest in attracting new economic development wherever you are, and this is a new, happening, cool, high-profile kind of activity." (4/16)

Scientists Discover Volcanic Activity In Moon’s Tycho Crater (Source: Asian Scientist)
Contrary to the popular theory, the moon had a lot of volcanic activity and was not a dead place, according to recent findings from India’s moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, and NASA’s lunar mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The focus of this study was Tycho, a young impact crater of the Copernican Age in the southern highlands of the moon. This crater has a well-developed central peak with an altitude of two kilometers. Evidence for a moon volcano was based on the data collected by Chandrayaan-1′s terrain mapping camera (TMC) and moon minerology mapper (M3), along with the narrow angle camera of NASA’s LRO. (4/16)

Impacts Could Be Boon For Subterranean Life (Source: Astrobiology)
An incoming asteroid is trouble whether you're a dinosaur or a Bruce Willis fan. But microbes living deep underground may actually welcome the news, according to a recent study of an ancient impact in the Chesapeake Bay. A biological census of the subsurface life forms suggests that impacts create new niches for these deep dwellers to spread into.

In the last couple of decades, biologists have come to realize that the biosphere doesn't stop at the surface. A large fraction of the Earth's biomass is lurking down below. Several drilling projects have brought up evidence of hearty little microbes thriving in deep rock sediments. Some eat organic scraps that seep down from our world, while others derive energy through chemical reactions with iron and sulfur. (4/16)

Emirates' Ambitions to Open Up Final Frontier (Source: The National)
The exploration and exploitation of space will be one of the main topics of aerospace to be debated at the Global Aerospace Summit. "An increasingly crowded 'last frontier' threatens to throttle the promises of space," said Nicholas Webb, of Streamline Marketing Group, the organizers of the summit. "Our global and local space situational awareness must be greatly improved, so space can continue to be cultivated."

As the subject of one of the centerpiece discussion sessions, delegates will examine the promise of civilian space travel, satellite-based energy sources, increased collection of surveillance data for everything from military reconnaissance to geographic research, and the prospect of cheaper and more sources of communication. (4/16)

Petition to Increase NASA's Budget: If Only It Were That Easy! (Source: SPACErePORT)
The White House "We The People" petition to set NASA's funding at one percent of the annual federal budget gained a lot of steam Sunday night, toward garnering the 25,000 online signatures needed to merit official consideration by the Obama Administration before the deadline of April 20. Other space-related "We The People" petitions have done this too, but I'm aware of none that received an affirmative response from the White House. It will be interesting to see the response that this one generates.

I expect something that describes the difficult choices that have had to be made during recent budget cycles, how NASA's budget has largely been spared from the kind of cuts that other agencies have received, and how Congress has ultimate responsibility for setting federal budgets and has been less kind to NASA than President Obama would like. Click here to see a copy of the latest petition. (4/16)

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