April 3, 2012

Plutonium to Pluto: Russian Nuclear Space Travel Breakthrough (Source: Russia Today)
A ground-breaking Russian nuclear space-travel propulsion system will be ready by 2017 and will power a ship capable of long-haul interplanetary missions by 2025, giving Russia a head start in the outer-space race. The megawatt-class nuclear drive will function for up to three years and produce 100-150 kilowatts of energy at normal capacity.

The new project proposes the use of an electric ion propulsion system. The engines exhaust thrust will be generated by an ion flow, which is further accelerated by an electric field. The nuclear reactor will therefore “supply” the necessary amount of electric power without unwanted radioactive contamination of the environment. Xenon will serve as the working body for the engines.

It is under development at Skolkovo, Russia’s technology innovation hub, whose nuclear cluster head Denis Kovalevich confirmed the breakthrough to Interfax. "At present we are testing several types of fuel and later we will start drafting the design," he said. While the engine is expected to be fully assembled by 2017 the accompanying craft will not be ready before 2025 former head of Roscosmos, Anatoly Perminov, said. Click here. (4/3)

Peter Marquez Answers: Why Spend on Space When We Have So Many Problems on Earth? (Source: Quora)
"So I was asked the same exact question when I worked for President Obama. I was tasked with writing and coordinating Obama's national space policy. I convened a senior-level meeting in the Situation Room - a meeting known as a "Deputies Committee" Meeting or a "DC". In a DC all the deputy secretaries of the members of the National Security Council, and other invited agencies, meet to discuss whatever the topic/issue is--in this case it was national space policy."

"One of the deputies asked the same exact question- why go do all this? Further, the question was- go find the answer and make it succinct enough to fit in a Presidential policy. Well, I've never made claims to being a smart person so the first thing I did is enlist a colleague of mine, who's a great space historian, and we started looking through the history books written on the space age to find an succinct answer. We could make all the arguments that Dr. Tyson and others make- but could we come up with an answer that was Presidential in tone and be clear and to the point?"

"So we looked and looked and finally we found that one of my predecessors at the NSC had been asked the same exact question by President Eisenhower. What my predecessor wrote was clear, to the point, and definitely Presidential in tone. We liked that quote so much that I included it as the very first line in President Obama's space policy. I put that quote in the second draft of the President's policy (out of 4 total drafts) and in the end President Obama signed the policy and it was released as the administration's position." Click here. (4/3)

Supermassive Black Holes Dine on Binary Star Systems (Source: SpaceToday.net)
Supermassive black holes found in the cores of many galaxies grow in mass by capturing single stars from binary star systems that pass close to them, astronomers conclude. In a study published in the latest issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, astronomers said the most likely way for black holes to grow to supermassive sizes, with masses millions of times that of the Sun, is by capturing members of binary star systems that pass close to the black hole. Binary systems are more effective than single stars, astronomers argue, because the combined mass of the binary system allows for a more efficient interaction. Astronomers noted their explanation remains theoretical, without observational evidence yet for this mechanism. (4/3)

Aurora Offers Spaceflight Training (Source: Hobby Space)
The Aurora Aerospace Training Center is conveniently located at St Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport in Florida. The airport is a short drive from Tampa International Airport and less than two hours by car from Orlando. Aurora provides L-39 jet training, personal zero-gravity flights, hypoxia training, vestibular testing, and medical certification.

Aurora Aerospace Chief Pilot and Chief Medical Officer Howard Chipman has over 30 years of flying experience and is a Certified Flight Instructor with Commercial, Multi-Engine, Glider, Instrument and L-39 Jet Ratings. He is also a Board Certified Emergency Physician. He has personally completed a variety of space flight training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia. Click here. (4/3)

Australian University Hopes to Produce Special Glass in Space (Source: QUT)
Dr Martin Castillo from Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) Science and Engineering Faculty, and researcher for the university's micro-gravity drop tower, has partnered with the U.S. Air Force to fund world-first research into the development of ZBLAN glass. Dr Castillo said the special glass will be the first QUT project to be launched into space.

"True ZBLAN glass fibers can only be made in the absence of gravity," he said. "This glass contains a variety of heavy metals that upon cooling create internal stresses which leads to crystallization of the material, an undesired property for glass. "The synthesis of this material in the absence of gravity has the ability to overcome this barrier." It is believed the glass could revolutionize the way we make fibers for telecommunications and medical imaging tools.

"Although this glass has been made in a few places, no one has yet figured out how to draw it into a fiber." Research will first be conducted at QUT's micro-gravity drop tower in an experiment that will see the glass undergo ~2.1 seconds of microgravity over a 21.3 meter drop inside a drag shield. Dr Castillo, who has previously worked for space programs in the United States and Japan, will then board NASA's parabolic flight plane, before launching the project into space via a United States Air Force suborbital mission by mid next year. (4/3)

NASA Responds to 60 Minutes Broadcast on Space Coast Post-Shuttle Woes (Source: NASA)
On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a story that captured some of what the space shuttle era meant to Florida’s Space Coast. Unfortunately, the piece also missed an awful lot of important context about the end of that era and where we’re headed from here. As a former shuttle astronaut and the Administrator of NASA, nobody has higher regard for the incredible men and women who worked on the Space Shuttle Program. And I certainly understand that for some of those men and women, this transitional period will not be easy.

But before we get to what we’re doing, it is important to remember the context of how we came to our current circumstances. After the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, the previous Administration decided in 2004 to end the Space Shuttle Program by 2010. President Obama decided to add two space shuttle missions to the program’s life, prolonging its retirement into 2011 and found a way to keep the International Space Station operating much longer into the future. This will allow for productive utilization of the ISS.

To get the best options on the table for the next era of American space exploration, the President convened an independent commission of experts. The committee found that the previous Administration's plan for exploration in the post-shuttle era was not viable under any feasible budget scenario. It was behind schedule, over budget, would have removed funding from the space station program in 2016 after its construction was completed, and would have widened the gap in time we relied on foreign countries for our human launch capabilities. Click here. (4/3)

Will NASA Ever Articulate a Mission for Human Spaceflight? (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Steve Squyres says he is not so much concerned about the viability of the Space Launch System, but rather its lack of a plan to develop the hardware needed to go along with the rocket or spacecraft. Like a rover for the Moon. Or life-support systems for going to an asteroid. And that’s one the of the dirty secrets of NASA’s current plan to launch a new rocket by 2021 or so: Under the current budget conditions — let alone a cut — there’s absolutely no money for actually building payloads, stuff to fly that will allow the space agency to go meaningful places and do meaningful things.

For Squyres, however, there’s a deeper, related problem: No clear mission-success statement. “It is harder than we would like it to be to clearly articulate to our stakeholders and to our workforce what the agency is trying to achieve. In the absence of that, it makes it harder to get the job done,” he said. Some hope that an upcoming study, likened as a decadal study for human exploration, will provide recommendations for spaceflight goals during the period 2014 through 2023. The study is due in August 2014.

That in and of itself presents a problem, beyond just having to wait two-plus more years for a long-range vision. By the summer of 2014, if re-elected, President Obama will have just over two years left in office and probably be disinclined to change the space program’s direction. Or if a Republican wins the White House, chances are he will have put his own stamp on the space program already, and the survey probably won’t have much effect. (4/3)

Who Controls the Moon Controls the Earth (1958) (Source: WIRED)
On Jan. 28, 1958, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Homer A. Boushey, Deputy Director of Air Force Research and Development, spoke before the Aero Club of Washington. Boushey warned the Aero Club of dire consequences should the Soviet Union seize control of the moon. He presented his speech four months after Soviet engineers had launched 83.6-kilogram Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, three months after they had launched the dog Laika on board 508.3-kilogram Sputnik 2, and three weeks after the failed U.S. launch of Vanguard TV-3. When Boushey is described in any detail, he is often portrayed as a strangelovian Cold Warrior. He is, however, better seen as an early U.S. rocketry and spaceflight proponent. Click here. (4/3)

Minotaur Mission Planned for Virginia Spaceport (Source: Orbital)
The U.S. Air Force has exercised an option order with Orbital Sciences Corp. for a Minotaur I space launch vehicle to support the ORS-3 “Enabler” mission for the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office of the Department of Defense. It will be launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) facility at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Virginia in 2013.

The Minotaur I is a four-stage solid fuel space launch vehicle utilizing Minuteman rocket motors for its first and second stages, reusing government-owned motors that have been decommissioned as a result of arms reduction treaties. To date, Minotaur I has conducted 10 missions with a 100% success rate, delivering 32 satellites into orbit, while the entire Minotaur product line has established a perfect 23-for-23 mission record.

Editor's Note: Minotaur missions are anticipated to be launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, as a result of Space Florida's successful bid for the "Spaceports-3" solicitation last year. Under Spaceports-3, eligible launch sites are selected as part of a competitive process for each Minotaur mission. It is unclear whether a Florida-based launch was proposed for this latest ORS-3 Minotaur mission. (4/3)

NASA and ATK Complete Milestone in SLS Development (Source: ATK)
NASA and ATK successfully completed the first test for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) booster program March 28 at ATK's Promontory, Utah, test facility. This demonstration was a key avionics and controls test designated Flight Control Test 1 (FCT-1) and included a fully integrated flight heritage thrust vector control (TVC) system with the new SLS booster avionics subsystem.

The avionics subsystem is responsible for booster ignition, nozzle steering and booster separation. This test will specifically focus on the avionics subsystem's ability to start-up, monitor, steer and shut down an SLS booster nozzle TVC system. This test marks the first time a new avionics subsystem interfaced with and controlled an previously developed TVC system, performing an SLS launch simulation. (4/3)

Astrotech Plans For Reverse Stock Split (Source: Astrotech)
Astrotech Corp. shareholders have elected six directors to the Company's Board of Directors. The Board of Directors now consists of Thomas B. Pickens III, Mark E. Adams, John A. Oliva, William F. Readdy, Sha-Chelle Manning and Daniel T. Russler, Jr. They also approved a reverse stock split of the Company's common stock in a ratio to be determined by the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is awaiting future business and financial results before determining whether and when to implement the reverse split. (4/3)

KSC Director Optimistic About Space Workforce in Brevard (Source: Florida Today)
Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana this morning updated the Brevard County Commission on developments at NASA and KSC. He said the center is turning the corner and will have a stable work force level of about 10,000 in the future, including civil service and contractor employees. There currently are about 8,000 people working at KSC. He said partnerships with private companies are the key to the future at KSC. "I really believe we have a great future," Cabana told the commissioners. (4/3)

Comet Wild2: First Evidence of Space Weathering (Source: Space Daily)
Manchester, UK (SPX) Apr 03, 2012 - The traditional picture of comets as cold, icy, unchanging bodies throughout their history is being reappraised in the light of analyses of dust grains from Comet Wild2. A team led by the University of Leicester has detected the presence of iron in a dust grain, evidence of space weathering that could explain the rusty reddish color of Wild2's outer surface. (4/3)

SLS Avionics Test Paves Way for Full-Scale Booster Firing (Source: Space Daily)
Huntsville, AL (SPX) Apr 03, 2012 - NASA has successfully tested the solid rocket booster avionics for the first two test flights of the Space Launch System, America's next heavy-lift launch vehicle. This avionics system includes electrical components for the SLS' solid rocket boosters, which provide propulsion to augment the core stage main engines of the rocket. (4/3)

What to Do With 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 Bytes of Astronomical Data Per Day (Source: WIRED)
Over the next 12 years, thousands of antennas will be built and installed across a 5,000-kilometer stretch of the southern hemisphere. Satellite dishes, tripod-like dipole antennas, and tiled circular stations will dot arid savannas and comprise the world’s biggest, most accurate radio telescope ever constructed: the Square Kilometer Array.

The ambitious project, which brings 67 scientific teams from 20 countries together, is the next big thing in global scientific collaboration. (To clarify, the antennas cover continent-wide distances, but it’s the signal-collecting area that is one square kilometer, the equivalent of a single dish with a square kilometer of surface area.) Like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the SKA is a multi-year, multi-billion dollar enterprise aimed at answering some of the most fundamental questions about deep time and the very nature of the universe.

According to Ronald Luijten, a senior manager at IBM’s Zurich Research Lab, “SKA is very similar to the CERN project in terms of the complexity of project itself, the size of the scientific community, and the global nature of the operation.” Despite these structural and cultural similarities, the SKA represents a new step in terms of data management and the complexities of project coordination. The instrument will generate an exabyte of data every day – that would be 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes – more than twice the information sent around the internet on a daily basis. (4/3)

Galileo’s Encrypted Signals Pass Verification Test (Source: Space News)
The encrypted signals intended for use by European military and civil government authorities as part of Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system have been validated aboard the first two orbiting Galileo satellites, the German-Italian joint venture company managing the constellation’s operations announced April 2. (4/3)

New Study Calls For Recognition of Private Property Claims in Space (Source: Space Daily)
A legal private property regime for real estate on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids could usher in a new era of space exploration at little or no cost to the U.S. government. As a Competitive Enterprise Institute study explains, space is rich in valuable resources. But without off-planet property rights, investors have little incentive to fund space transportation or development.

The author proposes that the U.S. begin to recognize off-planet land claims of claimants who A) establish human settlements on the Moon, Mars, or other bodies in the solar system; B) provide affordable commercial transportation between the settlement and Earth; and C) offer land for sale. These claim rights would transform human perception of space. Currently, the international community treats outer space as an off-limits scientific preserve instead of what it could be: a frontier of possibilities for exploration, resource development, and human settlement.

Many legal scholars claim that both the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) and the 1979 Moon Treaty outlaw private property claims in space. The author argues that the Outer Space Treaty only precludes land claims by sovereign nations - not by individuals or corporations. He also argues that the U.S. should repudiate the Moon Treaty (to which it is not a signatory), which does explicitly outlaw such claims. Advocates of the expansion of property rights off-planet have commended the release of a study that draws attention to the issue and provokes much-needed debate. (4/3)

Flashback 2008: Obama Urged to Address Treaty Gray Areas (Source: SPACErePORT)
Here's an item from a 2008 list of space recommendations to the campaign of then-Senator Barack Obama: "A series of U.N.-managed international treaties, based in part on maritime and Antarctic treaties, has guided international policies on the use of space. The Moon, for example, is treated similar to Antarctica in that no government may lay claim of ownership to it. Unfortunately, these policies discourage some commercial space ventures. Treaty changes that incentivize commercial lunar projects, asteroid mining, and other foreseeable activities could bring big private sector investments into the space business." (4/3)

NASA: Australia Has Key Role in Mars Mission (Source: AAP)
NASA administrator Charles Bolden, a veteran of four missions on the space shuttle a well as 100 combat missions during the Vietnam war, said Australia had played a critical role in the US space program since the days of the Apollo missions which placed the first man on the moon. Mr Bolden is in Australia for his first visit and the first visit of a NASA administrator since 1973. In Australia, NASA's principle outpost is the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station, an array of communications dishes located in rolling hills south of Canberra.

That's one of three NASA tracking facilities - the others are in the US and Spain - but one which is set to play a significant role in the next few years because the southern hemisphere will be better aligned with planetary orbits. Mr Bolden said Australia would play a major role in upcoming missions. "We have an ambitious program of exploration laid out that will involve everything that you have here," he said. (4/3)

UNC’s Students for the Exploration and Development of Space Host Space Symposium (Source: Daily Tarheel)
A little more than 200 people, mostly UNC students, spent Saturday with their heads above the clouds. UNC’s Students for the Exploration and Development of Space hosted their first symposium on Saturday, which included a visit from an astronaut, a planetarium show and speakers who discussed the future of space and the role North Carolina can play in it.

“North Carolina is poised to miss the next great leap in aviation,” said Jeff Krukin, aerospace and defense consultant and keynote speaker at the symposium. Krukin said North Carolina, famous for its role in aviation history, has the potential to become a center for commercial aerospace and aviation companies, but has not yet lived up to it. “It’s real money, real business, real things happening — but not happening here,” he said. (4/3)

Alabama Lawmakers Want to Escort Travelers Into Space (Source: WTOP)
Alabama lawmakers say they hope their state can be one of the first in the Southeast to complete a commercial spaceport to ferry travelers, tourists and cargo into space. Legislators from Alabama's state Senate and House of Representatives met in the joint committee room nicknamed "Star Wars" on Monday to announce that they would introduce joint resolutions to set up a panel to look at the possibility of bringing commercial spaceflight to the state.

If the panel does approve the idea, it could still be another four to six years before Alabamians could launch into orbit from their backyard, Dial said. Lawmakers would introduce legislation to allow the port to go forward. The FAA's Michael McElligott said the space industry was moving away from being controlled by the world's governments -- as it was during the space race -- more toward a commercial model. He said the administration would license a limited number of commercial spaceports. Discussions have not yet begun as to where such a spaceport would be sought in the state. (4/3)

Japan Rejects North Korean Launch Invite (Source: 9 News)
Japan has rejected an invitation from North Korea to send observers to a rocket launch that Tokyo and its allies say is a disguised missile test. "It is inappropriate that any Japanese officials participate in observing the launch," top government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said on Tuesday, confirming Pyongyang had invited observers from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). "Japan has asked North Korea not to launch a rocket," he said. (4/3)

Space Tourist is Just One Way to Describe Simonyi (Source: AP)
Charles Simonyi may still be described as a space tourist even though the Microsoft billionaire has no plans to take a third vacation on the International Space Station and hasn't hung out in outer space for a few years. He's still obsessed with space and is heavily involved in the Seattle Museum of Flight's new space gallery, which is named in the philanthropist's honor.

Since 2002, Simonyi has been running his own company called Intentional Software that specializes in creating industry-specific computer software, and he recently he took on a new title: book publisher. The son of a Hungarian physicist, the 63-year-old just made one of his dad's dreams come true by helping translate the senior Simonyi's epic about physics into English. (4/3)

Huntsville's US Space & Rocket Center Makes Travel List (Source: Huntsville Times)
Budget Travel magazine included the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in its 2012 list of 15 U.S landmarks every child should see before they turn 15. To be included on the "definitive" family vacation checklist, the landmark was required to be fun, educational and have universal appeal. Readers nominated 562 attractions and voted more than 138,000 times. The magazine used readers' votes along with factors, such as geographic and thematic diversity, to guide its selection process. The magazine automatically eliminated places that made its list last year. (4/3)

Future of Spaceflight Starts With Basic Space Training at NASTAR Center (Source: NASTAR)
The NASTAR Center, the premier commercial aerospace training and research center in the world, restructures its most popular space training course with updated material and content to better prepare upcoming commercial spaceflight participants for space. The course prepares prospective spaceflight participants for the acceleration forces, vibrations, sights, sounds, and expectations involved during coming commercial spaceflights.
Basic Space Training is an entry-level, two-day course which provides the core knowledge and skills necessary to introduce space travelers to suborbital spaceflight. Through a combination of academic instruction, hands-on exercises, and realistic simulated space flight exposures, participants will become safe, confident, and capable space passengers. Click here. (4/3)

King of Sweden to Inaugurate SpaceOps Conference (Source: SSC)
H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf will attend the opening ceremony of the SpaceOps 2012 conference in Stockholm, Sweden 11-15 June. The conference is organized jointly by SSC and the German space agency DLR and will be arranged in the new venue Stockholm Waterfront Congress Center. SpaceOps attracts experts, managers, technologists and scientists from space agencies, space industries and academia. It is estimated that 600 delegates from all over the world will take part in SpaceOps 2012. The theme of the conference, "For the benefit of our world", reflects the important role played by space technology in our daily lives and in research about the environment, climate and our future. (4/3)

GPS Interference Could Cause Issues with NextGen (Source: AIN Online)
The aviation industry's reliance on GPS will increase with the advent of NextGen. However, the weakness of GPS signals leaves them vulnerable to interference and jamming. Although jammers are illegal in the U.S. and the U.K., they can be purchased over the Internet for about $50. (4/3)

"Significant" Funding Cuts are Forecast to Hit Satellite-Imagery Firms (Source: Washington Post)
Satellite-imagery firms are preparing for federal funding cuts that may affect their ability to sustain themselves as they develop commercial markets. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency works with GeoEye and DigitalGlobe to supplement the images it gets from spy satellites, but the program may be hit hard in impending budget cuts, the agency says. (4/1)

Pegasus Launch of NASA X-ray Telescope Targeted for June (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
NASA's NuSTAR X-ray astrophysics observatory, grounded in March by concerns with its Pegasus rocket, will have an opportunity to launch in June from a remote Pacific military base. Engineering reviews of the air-launched Orbital Sciences Corp. Pegasus rocket continue, according to NASA, with officials focusing on software to be used by a new computer flying on the Pegasus for the first time. The reviews were not finished in time for the $165 million mission to be ready before the end of a launch window in late March. "We're still working on the flight software program," said George Diller, a spokesperson at the Kennedy Space Center. (4/3)

Physicists Hope to Find the Higgs Boson This Year (Source: Washington Post)
The Higgs boson is a scientific Loch Ness monster. Some people believe it exists, want it to exist and have seen small glimpses of evidence that suggests it exists. Some physicists predict that this is the year we find it. Still, after years of research and billions of dollars invested, we haven’t produced definitive evidence that the Higgs boson is real, leaving open the possibility that a decades-old, widely believed theory is completely wrong. For those who haven’t yet caught Higgs fever, here’s a brief background on the particle. (4/3)

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