May 2, 2012

Europe Picks Mission to Jupiter's Moons (Source: Physics World)
The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that a mission to Jupiter has beaten two other candidates to be the agency's pick for its first "large" class (L-class) mission. The €850m Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is expected to launch in 2022 and will travel to Jupiter and its moons. The 19 members of ESA's Science Program Committee opted for the craft during a meeting today in Paris following a recommendation from the ESA executive last month. The mission is the first L-class probe as part of ESA's Cosmic Vision 2015–2025 program. (5/2)

Giant Black Hole Shreds and Swallows Helpless Star (Source: Science)
Astronomers have spotted a star in another galaxy plunging toward a giant black hole and being ripped to shreds, sparking a flare so brilliant that observers detected it from a distance of 2.1 billion light-years. By watching the flare brighten and fade, scientists have achieved the unprecedented feat of reconstructing the life story of the doomed sun. "This is the first time where we're really seeing one of these events from start to finish," says astronomer Suvi Gezari. "What was so spectacular was the fact that we actually could figure out what type of star was disrupted." (5/2)

Keeping an Eye on Earth Is Getting Harder (Source: Science)
The ability of U.S. scientists to monitor changes in the planet's climate, natural hazards, and land surface continues to deteriorate, warns a report from the U.S. National Academies' National Research Council (NRC) that was released today. Aging satellites are being replaced too slowly, the report concludes, and by 2020 the country may have only 25% of its current observing capacity.

The new panel was asked to review progress since the NRC's decadal survey of NASA's Earth-observing satellite missions was completed in 2007. That survey cautioned that the U.S. observation program was at risk. NASA has attempted to uphold the priorities outlined in the decadal survey, the committee notes. But the observation network has suffered as long-running missions end and new missions are lost, delayed, or canceled. (5/2)

NASA: Competition at Core of Commercial Crew Program (Source:
NASA managers argued Tuesday a proposal by lawmakers to immediately select a single provider for commercial crew transportation services would undermine the agency's strategy of reducing the cost of space travel through private industry. Officials are in the middle of evaluating industrial bids for the commercial crew program's next phase, with a goal of selecting at least two companies by August to continue developing rockets and spacecraft for the next two years.

NASA plans to award multiple industry teams each between $300 million and $500 million under agreements set to run until at least May 2014. But a House budget bill would direct NASA to immediately choose one provider and sign a development contract. The House spending plan provides $500 million to NASA's commercial crew program in fiscal year 2013, which begins Oct. 1.

A Senate appropriations bill gives NASA a $525 million mark for commercial crew, but it does not call for a shift in procurement strategy. Both funding levels are less than NASA's request for $830 million in fiscal 2013. The Senate and House budgets must pass their respective bodies, and their differences must be sorted out in a conference committee. (5/2)

Gingrich's Moon Colony Plan Spoofed (Source:
The once presidential candidate hopeful Newt Gingrich, who officially dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination today (May 2), famously advocated establishing a moon colony as part of his plan for NASA. Now, to commemorate the suspension of his campaign, television Channel Comedy Central has released a spoof on the classic children's book "Goodnight Moon." Comedy Central presented the spoof, dubbed "Goodnight Moon Colony," as an image gallery of seven slides representing pages in the mock children's book. Click here. (5/2)

Space Telescope Technology Championed (Source: Aviation Week)
Science is always looking ahead to the next discovery, even as it answers the questions raised by the last one. Astronomers follow this pattern perfectly, and theirs is a high-stakes game because the instruments they use to push the boundaries of human knowledge are so expensive. That is doubly so for space telescopes, as anyone who has watched the ongoing struggle over the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is acutely aware.

NASA has labored mightily to maintain support for the gigantic infrared telescope in the face of cost overruns that threatened other valuable science, and schedule slips that have pushed its launch date out to 2018. So it is useful to look at the possibilities the JWST offers for the money. Click here. (5/2)

No Aliens on Mars? No Problem, We Will Look Elsewhere (Source: New Scientist)
In less than 100 days, the most ambitious Mars mission ever devised is due to land on the Red Planet. Mars Science Laboratory's main task is to search for signs of life, a $2.5 billion testament to our desire to know for sure whether we are alone in the universe.

Don't expect a straight answer. The search for life on Mars isn't black and white. Consider recent findings that Earthly bacteria can survive on Mars (see "Martian austerity no barrier to life"). This is a mixed blessing for alien hunters. It suggests Mars is habitable, and that any life that evolved there may be clinging on. But it also means any such discovery will be tinged with doubt. Unless Martian life is distinct from life as we know it, how do we rule out the possibility that it is actually from Earth? (5/2)

Sierra Nevada to Discuss Potential Florida Operations (Source: Florida Today)
Sierra Nevada Corp., one of the four companies developing spacecraft that could fly NASA crews to the International Space Station, will visit the Space Coast on Friday to discuss interest in locating operations on the Space Coast. Mark Sirangelo, the head of Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Space Systems, will join dignitaries including Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana and local economic development officials for an 11:30 a.m. event at the Cocoa Beach Hilton. Invitations distributed by Space Florida bill the event as the "Launch of Sierra Nevada Corporation in Florida."

Editor's Note: Although Sierra Nevada plans to launch their DreamChaser atop an Atlas-5 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, their plans may hinge on NASA's down-select for the Commercial Crew program. Congress wants NASA to select fewer contractors to provide this service. Boeing and SpaceX are both offering space capsules to do this, while Sierra Nevada is offering a winged spaceplane. Boeing and SpaceX have both invested in infrastructure at the Cape for their vehicles...this may be an opportunity for Sierra Nevada to demonstrate a similar commitment to the KSC-based Commercial Crew office. (5/2)

SpaceX Launch to Put NASA Strategy on Display (Source: Washington Post)
What SpaceX and NASA hope to do is part of a plan begun under President George W. Bush and enhanced by President Obama to turn travel to and from the space station into a largely private and less costly venture, freeing up NASA to plan for deep-space journeys to asteroids, the moon and ultimately Mars.

“It’s proving to be harder and more complicated and more expensive than [SpaceX founder] Elon Musk anticipated,” said Dale Ketcham of the Spaceport Research and Policy Institute at Central Florida University. “But it’s still more efficient than NASA.” The company and the space agency are “targeting” Monday for the launch, but more delays could crop up if the final data check turns up problems. “We’re going to check and double-check and triple-check before launch day,” said Kirstin Brost Grantham, a spokeswoman for SpaceX. (5/2)

DigitalGlobe Raises 2012 Revenue Forecast (Source: Space News)
Satellite imagery and services provider DigitalGlobe on May 1 said it has received formal word from its biggest customer, the U.S. government, that the company will receive its previously scheduled monthly payments for the fiscal year ending in September but that there is still no indication of what next year looks like. DigitalGlobe officials said that despite indications that the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) will be forced to make a sharp reduction to its payments for fiscal year 2013, the company is currently generating more revenue, not less, from the NGA than it had previously forecast. (5/2)

Innovation Showcase Offers $100,000 Prize to Most Promising Company (Source: TRDA)
On September 21, 2012, the Technological Research and Development Authority (TRDA), in cooperation with Space Florida, will host the second annual I2 Capital Acceleration Showcase. The I2 Capital Acceleration Showcase will feature business presentations from ten growth-oriented, venture-ready technology companies that will be selected to compete for a $100,000 prize sponsored by Space Florida.

The company presentations will be made to a targeted audience of venture capitalists, investment bankers, angel investors, government officials and economic development stakeholders. An additional ten companies will be selected to showcase their products in the I2 Showcase exhibition hall alongside the presenting companies. Eligible companies must provide a product or service in one of these industries: Aerospace/Aviation, Biotechnology, Medical Devices, Clean Technology, Alternative/Renewable Energy, Defense/Homeland Security, Software/IT, Simulation/Gaming, Internet/Mobile Apps, or Telecommunications. (5/2)

May 16 Minuteman III Launch From Vandenberg (Source: Launch Alert)
On May 16 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Air Force plans a Minuteman III test launch. The Defense Department may release some details about the launch a few days in advance. (5/2)

Britons Still Boldly Heading for the Stars (Source: Telegraph)
Last week, Britain celebrated 50 years in space with a conference commemorating its role in the world’s first international satellite, Ariel 1, and highlighting its future in everything from Earth Observation to planetary science. At the conference the European Space Agency signed a £245 million deal with UK industry to build the new Solar Orbiter spacecraft. In fact, space is one of the few areas that continued to grow during the economic downturn. “In the main, the industry didn’t see the recession at all,” says Richard Peckham, business development director for Astrium UK – Europe’s largest space company with two UK sites. (5/2)

Mom Stumbles Onto Meteorite Worth About $20,000 (Source: CBS Sacramento)
People from all over the world are in the tiny town of Lotus in El Dorado County looking for something that’s out of this world, but leave it to a stay-at-home mom walking her dog to find a precious meteorite. The rock Brenda Salveson found is 17 grams, equal to just over a tablespoon of sugar. But when it comes in the form of an asteroid, its weight has no boundaries. “I was lucky, blessed, good karma,” Brenda said. “It was sitting there at my toes like an Easter egg.” (5/2)

France Sees Integration Of ESA Into EU (Source: Aviation Week)
With French presidential elections underway, France's recently unveiled new space strategy is calling for a gradual integration of the European Space Agency (ESA) into the European Union as well as changes to ESA rules that could work to France's benefit. Higher education and research minister Laurent Wauquiez touted France's 16% increase in the civil space budget over the past five years and the belief that for every euro invested in space, 20 are generated in the wider economy. He said civil and military space spending combined is €2 billion ($2.6 billion) per year in France, where more than 12,000 people are employed in the space sector.

As the largest contributor to ESA, with €770 million in 2012, France reinforced its leadership in space with €540 million in public bond money devoted to studies of launch vehicles and satellite projects in recent years. But it is seeking a more federal approach through the EU to give European space the political legitimacy it has lacked in the global arena. Europe manages most space programs on an intergovernmental basis among ESA's 19 member states. Since the 1990s, however, the European Commission—the executive arm of the EU—has assumed a stronger role in European space. (5/2)

Space Rock Caught Some Dinosaurs Already in Decline (Source: AFP)
Large, plant-eating dinosaurs were already in decline by the time a space rock smashed into Earth 65 million years ago and ended the reptiles' long reign, a study published on Tuesday says. The findings by scientists in the United States and Germany do not dispute the mass extinction that so dramatically ended the Cretaceous era. But they suggest the dinosaur kingdom, or at least some of its species, was not struck down in its prime as is often hypothesized. (5/2)

Primary, Backup Crews of ISS Expedition Fly Out for Baikonur (Source: Itar-Tass)
The primary and backup crews of the long International Space Station expedition, the first this year, have left by two planes from Chkalovsky airport, located near Moscow, for Baikonur. Space crews traditionally fly by two planes. The plane with Russians Gennady Padalka, Sergei Revin and NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba took off from Chkalovsky airport at about 11:00 Moscow time. The Russian-American crew is expected to work aboard the station for four months and two weeks. (5/2)

Radiation Belt Storm Probes Arrive at Florida Spaceport (Source:
Twin NASA satellites designed to probe and predict changes in Earth's radiation belts arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, ready to begin several months of testing and assembly before lifting off on an Atlas 5 rocket in August. (5/2)

Black Hole Unleashes Extraordinarily Bright X-Ray Burst (Source:
A NASA space telescope has detected an incredible energy burst from a distant black hole, an explosion so intense that it boosted the black hole's X-ray brightness by at least 3,000 times, scientists say. The outburst came from a black hole in the spiral galaxy M83, about 15 million light-years away from Earth. Using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers found a new object, called an ultraluminous X-ray source (ULX), that emits more X-rays than most "normal" systems in which a companion star orbits around a black hole or neutron star, the researchers said. (5/2)

Prometheus Screenwriter: Humans Will Never Reach Another Star (Source: Forbes0
Jon Spaihts, known as the “go-to guy” for Hollywood sci-fi screenplays, says that for decades, science-fiction writers have overestimated our civilization’s future technological progression; it makes him a story teller by trade, but a pragmatist at heart. “Science fiction has taught us to see the universe as vastly smaller and less energetic than it is,” Spaihts said during a phone interview on Monday. “Space travel involves such mind-boggling distances and high energies that I think most people have no idea how difficult it is.” He paused for a moment. “My personal belief is that as much as I love science fiction, human beings will never reach another star.” (5/2)

Space Becomes the Final Frontier for Private Companies (Source: PolicyMic)
Although many of us do not see ourselves as consumers of what the space industry supplies, one day we will be, and the plethora of private companies preparing for the future demand work to our advantage. It’s simple competition. Competition drives quality up, prices down, and improves access. This logic may seem overly simple, but it is important to recognize the benefits we will receive, especially when we compare them to what could have been.

For the majority of America’s history, space exploration and development was handled solely by the federal government. Under this monopoly, competition only occurs when we are at war, either hot or cold. Going into the future, it is good for us to recognize that development, efficiency, and success are better driven by the private sector, especially during times of peace. Some argue that NASA was required to start the space industry in the U.S. I disagree, but regardless of which stance one takes, it still holds that from this point on the private sector and competition will enable us to conquer the final frontier. (5/2)

Spaceport America: Not Just Rich People in Space (Source: cnet)
When Spaceport America makes international news, it's often in conjunction with names like "Richard Branson," "Virgin Galactic," and "Ashton Kutcher." That celebrity shine is hard to ignore, but it's not the only thing happening at the spaceport. Virgin Galactic has already sold 520 tickets for its suborbital space tourism flights, expected to start in late 2013. I'm standing in front of the epically named Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space. It's a massive building that blends into the New Mexico desert from one side and reflects Spaceport America's 10,000-foot runway from the other.

I'm a part owner of the spaceport that is sprouting up out of the Jornada del Muerto (remember the Trinity Site location). As a tax-paying New Mexican, some of my state dues have gone to the $209 million price tag for this facility's first two phases of construction. Pretty much the only competition for air space around here is White Sands Missile Range.

When you combine 7,100 square miles of restricted airspace, a dearth of commercial aircraft, and 18,000 acres of state-owned land, you get the ideal spot for the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport. Chances are, if you plan to blast into space as a civilian tourist within the next few years, you'll be traveling to New Mexico to do it. A planned spaceport visitor's center should be up and running by late 2013 or early 2014. (5/2)

India Yet to Arrive on Military Satellite Scene (Source: Economic Times)
The launch of the Radar Imaging Satellite (Risat-1) is a major step forward for India but it must increase its capacity and launch many more satellites to be considered a serious player in making military satellites, says an official of a US-based space consultancy firm.

"Risat-1 represents another step forward for India. Its synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which enables imaging through bad weather conditions during both day and night, will assist Indian land management, agriculture monitoring and resource observation. The satellite mission is in keeping with India's traditional use of space assets for social benefit," said David Vaccaro, program manager at the Futron Corporation. (5/2)

Chilton, Chang Diaz, Precourt headed to Astronaut Hall of Fame (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Three more astronaut veterans — Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz and Air Force Col. Charlie Precourt — will be joining the Astronaut Hall of Fame Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. They’ll be inducted during 3 p.m. public ceremonies at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on State Road 405 east of Titusville. The trio will be the 80th, 81st and 82nd members of the Astronaut Hall of Fame. (5/2)

How Billionaire Asteroid Miners Make Money -- Without Mining Asteroids (Source: Forbes)
So when I had a chance to discuss the technology and business of asteroid mining with Chris Lewicki, the company's President and Chief Engineer, one of my first questions was about that statement - is it true that Planetary Resources is already making money? "That's correct," he said. "When we started the company, one of the first things we did was to identify the roadmap that would get us from now until we got to the asteroids. That way, we could identify who would be interested in the things we'd be developing along the way. We already have contracts with NASA, some private companies, and even a few private individuals. (4/30)

Venus to Appear in Once-In-A-Lifetime Event (Source: ScienceDaily)
On 5 and 6 June this year, millions of people around the world will be able to see Venus pass across the face of the Sun in what will be a once-in-a-lifetime It will take Venus about six hours to complete its transit, appearing as a small black dot on the Sun's surface, in an event that will not happen again until 2117. (5/1)

Falcon-9 Launch Could Slip Again, to May 10 (Source:
The long-awaited launch of a commercial cargo ship bound for the International Space Station almost certainly will be delayed from May 7 to at least May 10 and possibly longer, sources said late Tuesday, to give company engineers additional time to complete pre-flight tests and checkout. Multiple NASA sources said the current May 7 target had been ruled out, although there was confusion in some quarters as to whether there might be a slim chance of keeping on schedule if additional analyses could be completed in time. (5/1)

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