April 29, 2012

With Shuttle's End, Space Firms Seek New Direction (Source: WTOP)
Less than a year after NASA ended its shuttle program, players in America's space business are casting around for new direction. United Technologies Corp. is the most recent company to announce it will sharply scale back its role in space exploration. Other companies have shifted some business from space exploration. Lockheed Martin Corp. closed its shuttle tank production line in New Orleans in 2010, ending the jobs of about 1,400 workers. A year later, NASA chose that site in New Orleans to build components of its new heavy-lift rocket, but only if Congress funds the project.

ATK Space SystemsTech has laid off hundreds of workers in Utah, citing the phase-out of the space shuttle and the Minuteman III ballistic missile programs. And Florida's Space Coast, once the center of rocket launches, has lost thousands of jobs. NASA suffers in comparison with its early days when it followed through on a grand vision by national leaders, said Olivier L. de Weck at MIT.

NASA is working on a new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. But several businesses such as SpaceX insist that with time, they also can build a launch system, de Weck said. "It's a real policy question, government competing with private business for space launch," de Weck said. An argument can be made that government should focus on military applications such as spy satellites and explore beyond earth while leaving space launches to private business, he said. (4/29)

Durable NASA Rover Beginning Ninth Year of Mars Work (Source: Space Daily)
Eight years after landing on Mars for what was planned as a three-month mission, NASA's enduring Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is working on what essentially became a new mission five months ago. Opportunity reached a multi-year driving destination, Endeavour Crater, in August 2011. At Endeavour's rim, it has gained access to geological deposits from an earlier period of Martian history than anything it examined during its first seven years. It also has begun an investigation of the planet's deep interior that takes advantage of staying in one place for the Martian winter. (4/29)

Russia to Send Manned Mission to Moon by 2030 (Source: Space Daily)
Russia is planning to send a manned mission to the moon by 2030, Russian space agency Roscosmos said on its website on Friday. According to the Russian space strategy published on the Roscosmos website, Moscow has set several waypoints for its space exploration activities: 2015, 2020, 2030 and the period after 2030. Roscosmos will resume lunar exploration by 2015 using an unmanned space ship. Russia is also planning to send a manned mission to the moon by 2030, the space agency said. (4/29)

Florida's Connection to Planetary Resources (Source: SPACErePORT)
Former NASA Astronaut Tom Jones was among the team of space visionaries assembled in Seattle to announce the formation of Planetary Resources. He has been identified as an "advisor" to the new company, but his full-time employer is the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) in Florida. IHMC is led by Dr. Ken Ford, chairman of the NASA Advisory Council and a former senior official at NASA Ames Research Center. Whether IHMC will directly support Planetary Resources is not known, but the institute's focus on "technologies aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities" certainly makes it a good candidate. (4/29)

Odds of Finding Alien Life Boosted of Billions of Habitable Worlds (Source: MSNBC)
A new estimate of the number of habitable planets orbiting the most common type of stars in our galaxy could have huge consequences for the search for life. According to a recent study, tens of billions of planets around red dwarfs are likely capable of containing liquid water, dramatically increasing the potential to find signs of life somewhere other than Earth. Red dwarfs are stars that are fainter, cooler and less massive than the sun. These stars, which typically also live longer than Class G stars like the sun, are thought to make up about 80 percent of the stars in the Milky Way, astronomers have said. (4/29)

Humans May be One of the First Advanced Species in the Universe (Source: Space and Earth Science)
Intelligent life may be in it's "very young" stage in the observable Universe. Its 200 billion galaxies show a clear potential to continue on as we see them today for hundreds of billions of years, if not much longer. Because planets and life are so young in our Universe, says Harvard's Dimitar Sasselov, perhaps "the human species are not late comers to the party. We may be among the early ones."

That may explain why we see no evidence of "them" and may go a long way to explaining the famous Fermi Paradox, which asks if there's advanced intelligent life in the Universe, where are they? Why haven't we discovered any evidence of their existence? The story of the Universe according to Sasselov in is new study, The Life of Super-Earths, looks like this: generations of stars made enough iron and oxygen, silicon and carbon, and all the other elements from the original hydrogen and helium about 13 billion years ago to be able to form the Earth we live on and the planets the Kepler Mission is discovering today. (4/29)

India to Launch Heaviest Foreign Satellite in August (Source: The Hindu)
India will ferry two foreign satellites — French and Japanese — on board its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV—C21) rocket in August this year for a price, said a senior official. “The next rocket launch will be in August. We will be sending our PSLV rocket with French satellite SPOT 6 (800 kg) and a small Japanese satellite weighing around 15 kg. Though the rocket is called PSLV—C21 it will go before PSLV—C20,” P.S. Veeraraghavan, director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), said. (4/29)

Two Space Shuttles Down, Two to Go (Source: Space.com)
The prototype shuttle Enterprise arrived in New York City Friday morning (April 27) atop a specially modified 747 jet, on its way to Manhattan's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. Enterprise's flight came just a week after the shuttle fleet leader, Discovery, was delivered to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. NASA's two other remaining orbiters — Endeavour and Atlantis — are also headed to museum retirement homes soon. Endeavour, the agency's youngest shuttle, is the next to move. (4/29)

Consortium Plans Energy Funding Opportunity Workshop (Source: SCEC)
The Space Coast Energy Consortium plans a May 3 workshop is to provide information on funding opportunities that your organization may wish to respond to directly or in partnership with others in the region. One of the opportunities is in the pre-announcement phase and is a major federal endeavor and ideally matches the strengths of the Space Coast and Central Florida region. Join the Consortium to learn about a range of funding opportunities (Federal, State, and privatesector) that are available to support energy-related or advanced technology enterprises in our region. Meet other energy-related businesses and community leaders in the Space Coast/Central Florida region, and build your network! Click here. (4/28)

Rocker Jack White Wants to Have His Music Played in Outer Space (Source: NY Daily News)
Don't tell rocker Jack White that the space race is over. The former White Stripes guitarist confesses he’s hoping to accomplish something that neither NASA nor the USSR could manage. “We have a secret project...where we want to have the first vinyl record played in outer space,” White told interviewer and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the current issue of Interview magazine. “We want to launch a balloon that carries a vinyl record...and figure out a way to drop the needle with all that turbulence up there and ensure that it will play.” (4/29)

NASA Sea Mission a 'One-Shot' Deal for SpaceX Launch (Source: SeaCoast Online)
John Jacobs said that the last time he was in Portsmouth, he was just a child and had arrived in town onboard a ferry along with his parents. Earlier this week, Jacobs made his second visit to the Port City, only this time he arrived onboard the Liberty Star, a special NASA ship, along with scientists tasked with monitoring a first-of-its-kind space launch.

Jacobs, 43, is captain of the Liberty Star, a 180-foot vessel that arrived Sunday at the Port of New Hampshire with another NASA ship, the Freedom Star. Crews on both vessels are preparing for a unique mission at sea, during which they will capture high-definition video and thermal imagery of an upcoming launch of a commercial rocket headed to the International Space Station. (4/29)

Massive Lava Coils Spotted on Mars, Where Everything is Super-Sized (Source: LA Times)
A little bit of Hawaii has been discovered on Mars. Lava coils have been spotted on the surface of the Red Planet, but the Mars version dwarfs anything we've seen after Mauna Loa blows its stack. The distinctive coils, spotted in a region of valleys near the planet's equator, were captured in high-resolution images by NASA's orbiter and returned to Earth for scientists to pore over. The spirals discovered in those images -- by a graduate student at Arizona State University -- are reportedly the first extraterrestrial lava coils ever identified. Click here. (4/29)

Launch of Soyuz-2 with European Satellite From Baikonur Postponed (Source: Itar-Tass)
The launch of a Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket with a European weather satellite aboard from Baikonur has been postponed till the second half of July. The head of the Permanent Mission of the European Space Agency in Russia Rene Pichel quoted the Starsem as saying that “additional measures are needed to ensure the availability of drop zones for elements of the Soyuz rocket.

The launch of MetOp-B, previously scheduled on May 23, has therefore been pushed back several weeks. The satellite, currently at Starsem's facilities in Baikonur, has been placed under maximum security conditions. “A new launch date will be announced as soon as possible,” Starsem said. Sources in the Russian rocket and space industry told Itar-Tass that “the launch of the European satellite has been postponed because of the absence of permission from Kazakhstan”. (4/29)

What Would it Take to Become the Silicon Valley of Space? (Source: Seattle Times)
Planetary Resources seems like the real deal, not a flash in the public-relations wormhole. Whether this turns Seattle into the "Silicon Valley of space" is another matter. We'd better get a few billionaires to bankroll a Seattle version of Stanford and bulk up funding at the University of Washington to even make a start. Still, it's a nice thought, a worthy aspiration if backed by serious actions.

What might it take to make a serious space cluster? Paul Allen's space interest adds heft. Although most of his jobs will be in Alabama, maybe some of the brainpower could come here. Also promising is Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, which since 2010 has won $26 million in NASA money to develop a next-generation spacecraft. We also have Boeing, a major space player, and its ecosystem of suppliers and aerospace expertise. More federal research money would help. But the competition is tough, especially with entrenched space hubs such as Houston and Huntsville. Click here. (4/29)

Russian Progress M-14M Splashes Down in Pacific (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia's Progress M-14M cargo spacecraft has been sent on its final journey to the waters of the Pacific Ocean, Mission Control said on Saturday. Fragments of the spacecraft that did not burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere splashed down into a spacecraft cemetery in a non-navigational area of the Pacific at 6:39 p.m. Moscow Time (14:39 GMT) and sunk. (4/29)

Astronomers Find Possible Secret of the Origin of Brown Dwarfs (Source: UWO)
The origin of brown dwarfs is one of the great unsolved mysteries facing astrophysicists today. In a new study, Shantanu Basu and Eduard Vorobyov (lower right) present a new model of brown dwarf formation that unites the best parts of existing theories and has far-reaching implications for understanding the population of low mass objects in the universe. Brown dwarfs are astronomical objects that have too little mass to be called stars and too much mass to be called planets.

Only a theoretical concept until discovered in the mid-1990s, several hundred brown dwarfs have now been identified through infrared telescopes and surveys. Basu and Vorobyov prove that the early life of a disc is characterized by the formation of multiple fragments that orbit the central protostar and that the interaction of fragments leads to the ejection of some brown dwarf fragments that have yet to fully form. The ejection speeds in this mechanism are much lower than in a model where ejections occur only for fully formed brown dwarfs and provide a more favorable comparison with observations that show that brown dwarfs are present in close proximity to young stars. (4/29)

Successful Test of Skylon Engine, Can Fly Anywhere on Earth in Just Four Hours (Source: Daily Mail)
Tests have begun on a new engine that could launch a plane into space and revolutionize the way we travel - making it possible to reach anywhere on Earth in just four hours. The 270ft Skylon spaceplane would take off and land from a conventional runway but fly 18 miles above the ground and out of the Earth's atmosphere at five times the speed of sound. Critical tests are now being carried out to make sure the Sabre engine - a hybrid that can operate like a normal jet engine but then switch to rocket mode - is faultless before its developers Reaction Engines Limited (REL) can unveil it at the Farnborough International Air Show. (4/28)

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