April 10, 2012

Russia Postpones Luna-Glob Moon Mission (Source: Xinhua)
Russia's Luna-Glob moon mission will see its first moon landing in 2015, a year later than originally planned, the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences said Tuesday. "We are planning to make the first moon landing on its South Pole in 2015 with a Luna-Glob landing module," Lev Zelyony, director of the institute, told reporters, adding that the next space vehicle, an orbital Luna-Glob vehicle, would fly in 2016. (4/10)

'Coronal Cells' Spotted in Sun's Atmosphere (Source: WIRED)
A solar researcher has spotted a hitherto-unreported feature of the Sun's atmosphere, giving us an insight into the star's magnetic structure. Neil Sheeley at the Naval Research Laboratory was examining the daily images sent back from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory satellites when he saw a pattern of cells -- with bright centers and dark boundaries. That's normal on the surface of the Sun, but it hasn't previously been documented in its corona, which is normally dominated by loops and holes. (4/10)

Astrium Awarded European Space Agency Contract for Ariane 5 ME (Source: Astrium)
Worth €112 million, this contract will enable the design of the Ariane 5 ME’s new sub-systems. Ariane 5 ME will decrease by 20% costs per kilo carried, thanks to performance earnings of 20% for the same price as the A5 ECA launcher. The final development phase is set to be given the go-ahead at the next ESA Ministerial Council meeting, scheduled for November 2012. (4/10)

SXC Sells First Ticket in Germany (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Space Expedition Curacao (SXC) announces that its first German ticket to space was sold to Dr. Jos Gal, a dentist, consultant and adventurer from Heidelberg. The forty-year old German earned himself a reputation as a top dentist and is proud to be the first German to go into space with SXC. Dr. Gal is the founder of Germany’s first five-star dentist practice. He has joined our Founder Astronaut program and will be flying into space with SXC in 2014. Space Expedition Curacao also announces a unique cooperation with, among others, Henning Richard Haltinner, private concierge & luxury lifestyle expert; one of the first German agents to be selling tickets for SXC. (4/10)

Cobham Again Bids To Acquire Danish Antenna Builder (Source: Space News)
Britain’s Cobham plc on April 10 said it is willing to pay nearly $320 million to purchase the 74.4 percent of satellite communications terminal builder Thrane & Thrane of Denmark that it does not already own to create what it said will be the world’s biggest satellite antenna business. It said it is willing to settle for a lesser stake in Thrane if the Danish company’s shareholders do not all rally behind Cobham’s bid. (4/10)

Sat Watchers: North Korea Lying About Rocket Launch (Source: WIRED)
North Korea claims that its impending satellite launch, scheduled for this week, is merely a mission to study the country’s “distribution of forests” and weather patterns. But after analyzing the satellite’s potential flight paths, a network of amateur and professional spaceflight specialists have concluded that Pyongyang’s claim is all but impossible. In order for the North Koreans to get a weather or observation satellite into the proper orbit, these experts say, Pyongyang would have to risk the early stages of its rockets dropping on its neighbors’ and allies’ heads.

“I believe that the most reasonable interpretation is that they are lying about this being a satellite launch, which has been betrayed by the incompetence of their propagandists in over-reaching in their cover story,” longtime satellite watcher Ted Molczan noted. The Pyongyang regime has a long history of malarkey, of course. After its last satellite, the Kwangmyongsong-2 (Bright Star 2), plopped into the Pacific Ocean minutes after liftoff, North Korea swore that the thing was in orbit and transmitting “immortal revolutionary paeans” back to Earth. But this time, the debunking appears to be underway even before the rocket takes off.

North Korea published the intended flight path of the rocket that would attempt to take the 1,000-kilogram Bright Star 3 satellite into space. As part of a standard warning to the region’s shipping and airline companies — known as a “notice to airmen” or “NOTAM” — Pyonyang said the booster rocket would fly due south, ejecting its first stage just west of South Korea and its second just east of the Philippines. One small problem: The flight path published in North Korea’s “NOTAM” and its promised sun-synchronous orbit don’t match up. (4/10)

Stennis Space Center in Mississippi Launches New Visitor Center (Source: Times-Picayune)
A new $30 million museum and visitor center at the Stennis Space Center east of Slidell is opening to the public on Thursday, a day after dignitaries are supposed to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Hancock County, Miss., site. Leaders hope that the 72,000-square-foot Infinity Science Center at Stennis will become a major tourist attraction for the Gulf Coast, offering to the region a measure of what similar buildings at Johnson Space Center and Kennedy Space Center have to the areas surrounding Houston and Cape Canaveral, Fla., respectively. (4/10)

Astro-H Agreement Signed with JAXA (Source: ESA)
An agreement was signed by ESA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for cooperation on Astro-H, an important mission that will provide a unique opportunity for probing extreme phenomena in the Universe. Astro-H will study astrophysical objects including black holes and neutron stars, explore the non-thermal Universe, and investigate the large-scale structure of the Universe and its evolution. (4/10)

How Dark Matter Interact with the Human Body (Source: Technology Review)
One of the great challenges in cosmology is understanding the nature of the universe's so-called missing mass. Astronomers have long known that galaxies are held together by gravity, a force that depends on the amount of mass a galaxy contains. Galaxies also spin, generating a force that tends to cause this mass to fly apart.

The galaxies astronomers can see are not being torn apart as they rotate, presumably because they are generating enough gravity to prevent this. But that raises a conundrum. Astronomers can see how much visible mass there is in a galaxy and when they add it all up, there isn't anywhere enough for the required amount of gravity. So something else must be generating this force.

One idea is that gravity is stronger on the galactic scale and so naturally provides the extra force to glue galaxies together. Another is that the galaxies must be filled with matter that astronomers can't see, the so-called dark matter. We know that whatever dark matter is, it doesn't interact very strongly with ordinary matter, because otherwise we would have spotted its effects already. So although billions of dark matter particles must pass through us each second, most pass unhindered. Every now and again, however, one will collide with a nucleus in our body. But how often? Click here. (4/10)

Some Issues With SpaceX's Texas Spaceport Plan (Source: SPACErePORT)
As the FAA prepares to assess the feasibility of a Texas Gulf Coast spaceport for SpaceX, several challenges are sure to be uncovered. Until SpaceX develops and licenses its reusable first-stage concept, launching from southern Texas would offer limited orbital inclinations due to stage-drop issues and overflight of international populated areas. High-inclination missions to the International Space Station would not be possible due to these overflight issues, and equatorial payload deliveries may require thread-the-needle trajectories between Mexico and Cuba, which could pose foreign regulatory issues. Click here for an updated map.

Falcon-9 launches from Florida dropped their first-stage engines into the Atlantic about ~725 miles downrange. This distance can be adjusted with different elevation trajectories (higher elevation = nearer stage drop). Some Falcon-Heavy stage drops could be further out if one of the three core segments is ignited after liftoff. Clearing the stage-drop areas of international maritime traffic could be a challenge. Most of the current U.S. oil drilling platforms in the Gulf are to the north of the likely launch range area, but the U.S. and Mexico are both planning new drilling operations that could be within the launch range.

In addition to these maritime issues, there are several major high-altitude air traffic routes between Latin America and the U.S. that would have to share the airspace (though perhaps at lower altitudes) with SpaceX. And the northeastern Gulf of Mexico airspace is currently used by the U.S. military's Gulf Test Range. International overflight issues will be difficult to overcome. Russian launches from Baikonur have long rained debris on a region in Siberia that is about 1,000 miles downrange from the Baikonur spaceport. (4/10)

Brownsville in Running for Commercial Spaceport (Source: Brownsville Herald)
Brownsville already has the Gateway International Bridge, but could soon be the new gateway to outer space. Cameron County is one of three sites being considered for Space Exploration Technologies,’ or SpaceX’s, launch of the Falcon 9 vehicle and other commercial space vehicles. The area under consideration is the eastern end of State Highway 4, about three miles north of the Mexican border on the Gulf Coast, which is about five miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island.

The BEDC has been working with Gov. Rick Perry’s office and SpaceX in luring the company to South Texas. Should the company decide to build such a launch site in Brownsville, it could cut the area’s unemployment rate by at least 1 percent, Salinas said. City and county officials have been working with SpaceX for more than a year and have pretty much kept the project under wraps until Monday. The Brownsville-Cameron County area is the only site in Texas under consideration, Salinas said. The other two sites are in Florida and Puerto Rico. (4/10)

Loral To Host NASA Laser Com Payload Aboard Commercial Satellite (Source: Space News)
A yet-unselected commercial telecommunications satellite to be built by Space Systems/Loral will carry a NASA laser-optical communications terminal as a hosted payload in 2016 under an agreement with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Under the agreement, Goddard will build a laser communications relay demonstration (LCRD) terminal that will fly aboard a commercial telecommunications satellite that Palo Alto, Calif.-based Space Systems/Loral said could be launched in 2016. (4/10)

NASA Invites Students to Design Technologies for Deep Space (Source: Washington Post)
NASA is inviting college students to design technologies that can be integrated into a habitat in which future astronauts could live and work in deep space. The offer is called the 2013 Exploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge, and it is an effort by the space agency to promote science learning and help inspire a new generation of creative engineers.

The challenge asks students to submit, by May 2, applications that show plans for the design, manufacture, assembly and testing of an inflatable loft that can be incorporated into an existing NASA-built operational hard-shell prototytpe. This year, students can choose from projects that include photovoltaic solar arrays, a workstation to support human-robotic collaboration or a telepresence and holodeck conceptual system. (4/10)

Sergei Khrushchev to Speak on Space Race at New England Air Museum (Source: Mass Live)
Sergei Khrushchev, son of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, is coming to the New England Air Museum to talk about the Space Race, the competition between the Soviet Union and the United States for supremacy in space exploration. Khrushchev will speak at a dinner event on April 28. (4/10)

Editorial: Society Needs Space Exploration (Source: Daily Toreador)
On a recent episode of the hit British automotive show “Top Gear,” host James May travelled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to drive NASA’s Space Exploration Vehicle, or SEV. May drove the SEV around a mock lunar surface and was so astounded by the technology and innovations in the vehicle that he called it the best car he had ever driven. This is quite the statement coming from someone who gets paid to regularly drive around in Bugattis and Aston Martins. One problem: the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 canceled the moon missions that the SEV was meant for.

Ever since the heady days of the Apollo program and Neil Armstrong’s one small step, the United States has been the global leader in space exploration and travel. Unfortunately, we are slowly, but surely, losing our grip on this title. How did we get to this point? Much of the problem comes from budget cuts. Twenty years ago, NASA’s budget represented about 1 percent of the entire federal budget. Today, NASA’s budget is half that amount. Click here. (4/10)

Giant Telescope May Get Two Homes (Source: Nature)
With the battle to host the world’s most powerful radio telescope growing increasingly acrimonious, the project’s leaders are considering whether to divide the spoils. The $2.1-billion Square Kilometer Array (SKA) would open a window on the early Universe. As yet, international partners have not committed to covering the hefty price tag. But if the project goes ahead, it would bring a flood of funding, prestige and scientific opportunities to one of the two competing teams: South Africa or joint bidders Australia and New Zealand.

Last month, after considering the scientific merits of the two sites, the SKA Site Advisory Committee concluded that South Africa offered marginally better opportunities. Since then, the already-intense lobbying from both sides has increased, with politicians from each country insisting that they would prevail. Now, the SKA management board has asked a new scientific panel to determine whether the telescope, made up of 3,000 15-meter-wide dish antennas and many more simpler antennas, could be divided between the two proposed sites. (4/10)

Musk Sees SpaceX IPO in 2013 as SolarCity Awaits Lease Review (Source: Bloomberg)
Elon Musk, who leads Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), said an initial public offering of SolarCity Corp. may occur this year after a review of accounting, with an IPO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. probable in 2013. Plans to sell shares in SolarCity, which leases rooftop solar-power systems, won’t advance until “additional clarity on the accounting” for those leases is provided by auditors and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Musk said in an April 5 interview. (4/10)

Could Legal 'Loophole' Lead to Land Claims on Other Worlds? (Source: MSNBC)
For 45 years, an international treaty has barred countries from laying claim to the moon and other celestial bodies — but some policy analysts say private ventures might be able to stake their claims, and they want Congress to create a legal framework that takes advantage of the "loophole." The concept was unveiled last week by Rand Simberg, an adjunct scholar at the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, and it aims to take advantage of the same market incentives that drove the settlement of the American frontier.

The way Simberg sees it, the lack of property rights in space "partially explains why we have not developed the next and, in a sense, last frontier — space." The inability to claim sovereignty over other worlds goes back to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. A hundred countries, including the United States and all the other spacefaring nations, are parties to that treaty. (4/10)

Editorial: How the U.S. Can Lead the Way to Extraterrestrial Land Deals (Source: WIRED)
The basic idea is nothing new. In his book Unreal Estate: The Men Who Sold the Moon, Virgiliu Pop tracked hundreds of outer-space property rights claims over thousands of years, from individuals, kings, and countries, under various theories of law. All have failed the test of time. The negotiators of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty knew that such claims would never stop unless the countries agreed once and for all that: “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

But wait, Simberg and others argue that Article II of the Treaty only prohibits national appropriation, leaving individuals free to do whatever they want in space. Well, not so fast. Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty states: "States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty."

Launching states are required to ensure that their nationals conduct activities in conformity with the provisions of the Treaty. There is, therefore, no way that the U.S. could confer the kind of private land grants Simberg proposes. The “loophole” simply doesn’t exist. Even if the U.S. withdrew from the Treaty in order to implement such land grants, what would stop the Chinese from adopting domestic legislation that went further? Click here. (4/10)

Rapidly Spotting Major Earthquakes Using GPS (Source: Physics World)
Researchers in California have developed a system that can rapidly determine the size of an earthquake and the extent of its impacts within a fault zone, including its potential for triggering a devastating tsunami. The researchers have used the system – which is based on GPS measurements – to accurately model two historic earthquakes in Japan and northern Mexico. (4/9)

SPACE PROGRAM Returns to Park Avenue Armory (Source: Broadway World)
This May, Park Avenue Armory and Creative Time join forces with artist Tom Sachs to launch the next flight of his SPACE PROGRAM with an unprecedented four-week mission to Mars, all within Park Avenue Armory’s soaring 55,000-square-foot drill hall. Following his 2007 mission to the moon, Sachs and his team take audiences to the further reaches of the solar system with an installation of dynamic and meticulously crafted sculptures.

Using his signature bricolage technique, Sachs fashions aeronautical equipment and the world of another planet out of simple materials—foam-core, hot glue, plywood, and other standard materials that have been salvaged or are readily available from D.I.Y. catalogues. With painstaking detail, he creates elaborate spacecraft, exploratory vehicles, a Mission Control, launch platforms, and a Mars landscape, recasting the Wade Thompson Drill Hall as an immersive space odyssey at an ambitious scale. (4/10)

Space Station Used for Ardbeg Distillery Experiments (Source: BBC)
Experiments using malt from the Ardbeg distillery on Islay are being carried out on the International Space Station to see how it matures without gravity. Compounds of unmatured malt were sent to the station in an unmanned cargo spacecraft in October last year, along with particles of charred oak. Scientists want to understand how they interact at close to zero gravity. NanoRacks LLC, the US company behind the research, has said understanding the influence of gravity could help a number of industries, including the whisky industry, to develop new products in the future. (4/9)

ULA Continues Transition Back Into the Human Spaceflight Arena (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) – best known in recent years for their high-end payload launch services – are continuing their transition back into Human Space Flight operations. With an early history in human launches stretching back to safely sending astronaut John Glenn into space, ULA’s Atlas V is the preferred launch vehicle for several Commercial Crew suitors. The formation of ULA’s Human Launch Services organization will focus USA's efforts to support NASA and its partners in the development of capabilities to deliver American astronauts to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and human exploration beyond Earth orbit (BEO). Click here. (4/9)

Space and NASA: The Truth (Source: Huffington Post)
We have taken a step back from the cosmos. In the '60s and '70s, however, cold war nationalism fueled a space race that brought humans into earth orbit and then to the moon in less than a decade. But we soon discovered the Soviet space program was more interested with creating a space station that would orbit the Earth rather than reaching the moon. We followed suit and turned our backs to the moon and any hope of traveling beyond it. Robots and probes aside, we have given up on traveling through the depths of space and trekking new worlds.

Performing experiments on a space station orbiting the Earth or traveling a few miles above the stratosphere in a privately-built spaceship do not constitute true space exploration. Today, our government -- and many others -- does not see the importance of traveling into the cosmos; thus, they underfund and neglect the space agencies.

Ever since the dawn of man, we have had a frontier to explore, and an instinctual and economical need to explore it. In this age, that frontier is space -- there is no doubt we humans will be a space-faring species, but it is our current generation that will decide whether we will remain Earth-bound for only a few more decades or many more centuries. (4/9)

Editorial: Mars Can Wait. Oceans Can't (Source: CNN)
While space travel still gets a lot of attention, not enough attention has been accorded to a major new expedition to the deepest point in the ocean, some 7 miles deep -- the recent journey by James Cameron, on behalf of National Geographic. The cover story of the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs lays out the "Case for Space." "60 Minutes" recently ran a story about the dire effects on Florida's space industry of scaling back our extraterrestrial endeavors. Newt Gingrich gained attention earlier this year by calling for building a permanent base on the moon. And President Obama has talked of preparing to eventually send Americans into orbit around Mars.

Actually, there are very good reasons to stop spending billions of dollars on manned space missions, to explore space in ways that are safer and much less costly, and to grant much higher priority to other scientific and engineering mega-projects, the oceans in particular.

The main costs of space exploration arise from the fact that we are set on sending humans, rather than robots. The reasons such efforts drive up the costs include: A human needs a return ticket, while a robot can go one way. Space vehicles for humans must be made safe, while we can risk a bunch of robots without losing sleep. (4/9)

US Space Companies Prepare for Space Station Docking (Source: BBC)
Two US rocket companies are readying the first private space missions to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX and Orbital both have multi-billion dollar NASA contracts to supply cargo to the station, filling the void left by the retirement last year of the space shuttle. California-based SpaceX has set the pace so far, having successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule into orbit, and safely returning the capsule to Earth, in December 2010.

Orbital Sciences Corporation is still to test fire its Antares rocket, and its Cygnus capsule has yet to make it to space. But the company is now looking to move quickly, with a static launch test and a first launch into orbit scheduled for the summer, and a possible rendezvous with the ISS in the autumn. Frank Culbertson, a former astronaut and senior vice president at Orbital, admits it does feel a bit like a race. "A little bit. They actually started the development of their system about a year-and-a-half before us, but we're almost neck-and-neck in terms of who's going to launch next, who's going to get to the station first. (4/9)

NASA Releases New Open Government Plan (Source: NASA)
NASA has released version 2.0 of its Open Government Plan, which includes a flagship initiative to build a new web architecture and a renewed focus on open data sharing, open source development and a variety of technology acceleration efforts. The plan also features a directory of more than 100 participatory, collaborative and transparent projects, offering citizens opportunities to understand, support and engage with the agency. Throughout the next year, NASA will continue to add projects to the directory. (4/9)

Hutchison & Nelson: America About to Lift-Off to a Spectacular New Future (Source: Sacramento Bee)
Recently a group of Cub Scouts visited the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The youngsters had a memorable adventure, riding on a Lunar Rover model, scrambling around in a mock-up space capsule, and quizzing retired astronauts about living in zero gravity. At one point, one of the boys asked, "Why has America given up on space flight?" The answer, of course, is that we're not giving up on space flight.

This Cub Scout's question illustrates the need to call attention to America's exciting plans for human space exploration.We particularly need to capture the imaginations of our young people, if they are to aspire to be the scientists and explorers of the future. The priorities that Congress and the White House established in the landmark 2010 NASA Authorization Act set an achievable, long-range plan for America to write the next great chapter in space exploration and to create exciting new commercial ventures in low-Earth orbit. Click here. (4/9)

A Turning Point at Mars (Source: Huffington Post)
Historians often refer to key periods in time as "inflection points" -- times when the course of human events began to veer away from one particular direction toward another. The history of space exploration is replete with such turning points: the launch of Sputnik, the first Apollo Moon landing, and the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger are among the most well known.

Today, NASA's highly-successful robotic solar system exploration program, and the Mars exploration program in particular, is on the brink of its own major inflection point. The time has come, from both a scientific and exploration standpoint, for NASA to embark on a robotic mission to bring rock and soil samples back from Mars, but the Agency -- and the administration -- appear to be shying away from the challenge. Will the balance tip toward progress and discovery, or delay and stagnation? Click here. (4/9)

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