May 30, 2012

NASA Research Instruments Go Missing in Trucking Mystery (Source: WFAA)
It’s a mystery worth millions. Science equipment is missing, en route from Minneapolis to Palestine, Texas. The equipment is part of a NASA-funded experiment. A truck left the University of Minnesota's School of Physics and Astronomy Friday, but never made it to Palestine. It was last seen at truck stops in Dallas and Hutchins. The truck driver has been found, but the cargo is missing.

The University of Minnesota's School of Physics and Astronomy is a key player in the $8-million experiment to launch a balloon telescope to study the origins of the universe. On Friday, the university hired Copeland Trucking to haul their experiment to NASA's balloon operations headquarters in East Texas. When Copeland Trucking could not reach the driver Monday, they sent a team to North Texas to find him and his multi-million-dollar haul.

His GPS showed his last known location at the Flying J truck stop on Interstate 20 in Dallas. Wednesday his cab was found at another truck stop just a few miles away. The driver was inside, but the trailer is still missing. If they don't get their telescope to Antarctica by August, the project may be doomed. (5/30)

Let's Mine Asteroids, For Science and Profit (Source: Nature)
It is often overlooked that one of the formal goals of the US space program, in addition to its scientific and strategic goals, is to advance the country's economic interests. The economic appeal of asteroid mining is clear: precious metals such as gold and platinum sell for around US$50,000 per kilogram. A smallish asteroid, about 200 meters across and rich in platinum, could be worth $30 billion.

There is, of course, more to it than just identifying such an asteroid, not least digging the material out with the help of robots and bringing it back to Earth (it is worth nothing in space). But greed is a powerful motivator to get things done. Asteroids are directly useful in a wide variety of sciences. The least-altered asteroids, the 'carbonaceous' ones, carry 4.5-billion-year-old messages from the period, lasting just a few million years, during which the pre-solar nebula condensed into planets. (5/30)

Early Explorers Will 'Live in Caves on Planets as We Make Baby-Steps Into the Universe' (Source: Daily Mail)
For almost all of humanity's existence, the idea of exploring the galaxy was just a far-off dream. But in the 50 years since we began conquering the pull of gravity and escaped our atmosphere, we have been able to dismiss get beyond the dreaming and discuss the practical ways we can settle on other worlds. As we take our baby-steps into the wider world, one suggestion is that we, in a sense, return to the Stone Ages - and use caves as our initial dwelling places.

The idea was given even more credence in 2007 when NASA captured images of 'skylights' on Mars - showing that caves do exist on the red planet, giving us four walls, a roof, and potentially even a fairly air-tight environment to set up a new home. NASA's images not only showed the caves, but thermal imaging implied the temperatures remain fairly constant both day and night, making them even more habitable to our first astronauts.
Caves have also now been discovered on the moon and on Jupiter's moon Titan - meaning that in time we may make an inter-solar-system neighborhood. (5/30)

FAA Awards Permit for SpaceShipTwo Flight Tests (Source: Flight Global)
The FAA has awarded a suborbital launch permit to Scaled Composites for testing its SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle on behalf of Virgin Galactic. The permit, for which Scaled submitted detailed flight plans and aerodynamic test data, is the only one of its kind for manned suborbital flights to date. "Scaled expects to begin rocket-powered, supersonic flights under the just-issued experimental permit toward the end of the year," according to Virgin Galactic. Virgin hopes to fly the first paying suborbital tourists in 2013. (5/30)

There’s More Star-Stuff Out There But it’s Not Dark Matter (Source: CSIRO)
More atomic hydrogen gas — the ultimate fuel for stars — is lurking in today’s Universe than we thought, CSIRO astronomer Dr Robert Braun has found. This is the first accurate measurement of this gas in galaxies close to our own. Just after the Big Bang the Universe’s matter was almost entirely hydrogen atoms. Over time this gas of atoms came together and generated galaxies, stars and planets — and the process is still going on. Astronomers want to understand where, when and how the atomic gas is transformed to better understand the Universe in which we live. (5/30)

Embry-Riddle Invites Public to Observatory to View Transit of Venus (Source: ERAU)
The Creekside Observatory at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus invites the public to view the transit of the planet Venus across the sun on June 5. The observatory is located at the southwest corner of the Lehman Engineering and Technology Building, 600 S. Clyde Morris Blvd., Daytona Beach, Florida.

The natural phenomenon can be seen from 6 p.m. until the sun sets just before 8 p.m. Venus will appear as a black circle moving slowly across the sun’s surface. The observatory will be open at 3 p.m., when the planets Jupiter and Mercury will both be visible. The last time Venus passed in front of the sun was eight years ago and it won’t happen again for another 105 years. (5/30)

Bezos Pursues Spaceflight (Source: The Nation)
Amazon's Jeff Bezos is experimenting with privately financed space flight though a venture called Blue Origin, which Forbes magazine called “notoriously secretive.” Like the Soviets, Blue Origin never announces its test launches beforehand, so it was only days later that the public discovered what caused a mysterious explosion in the sky over West Texas last year. Bezos recently donated Blue Origin’s first prototype to a Seattle museum.

There’s no word yet on whether Blue Origin’s flight crews will be unionized, but don’t count on it. He’s gifted and often inspiring, but Bezos--a libertarian--can also be ruthless and socially irresponsible in pursuit of his goals. A recent report in the Seattle Times noted that, unlike Microsoft and Boeing, Amazon gives virtually nothing to Seattle-area charities. (5/30)

Lampson a Step Closer to Returning to Congress (Source: Space Politics)
A two-time former member of Congress who has been active on space issues won a Democratic primary for another Texas district last night. Nick Lampson won the primary for Texas’s 14th congressional district along the Gulf Coast south of Houston, currently held by Ron Paul, who is retiring. (The Republican nominee will be determined in a July runoff election between Felicia Harris and Randy Weber.)

Lampson had served on the House Science Committee. The man who beat Lampson in the 22nd district in 2008, Rep. Pete Olson, won the Republican primary, putting him on track to win a third term this fall. The general election is shaping up to be a rematch of the 2010 campaign, with Kesha Rogers narrowly winning the Democratic primary. Rogers, who affiliates herself with Lyndon LaRouche, appears to be running again on the theme “Save NASA, Dump Obama”; her “Space Colonization & Planetary Defense” platform calls for, among other things, restoring full funding for the canceled Constellation program.

Last month, Chuck Meyer, a Republican candidate for the new 36th district, proposed special-purpose “Space Bonds” to fund NASA’s human spaceflight program as part of his candidacy. It apparently didn’t win over many voters: Meyer finished sixth in the GOP primary in that east Texas district. (5/30)

SpaceX Rocket Engine Choices Key to Future Success (Source: Flight Global)
As SpaceX competes for military, commercial and even manned launches, reliability will be key. If the competitors of SpaceX can point out regular launch failures then this might change the firm's prospects. The heavy-lift version of the Falcon 9 effectively has three standard Falcon 9 first stage rockets strapped together. While SpaceX points out the redundancy benefit of having so many engines in the case of any in-flight shutdowns, some may be fretful about having 27 liquid fuel Merlin 1D engines all firing at lift off.

For the most part, the fewer engines a launch vehicle has, the better is its reliability.and economics. So at first sight it is surprising that there are so many engines on the Falcon 9. In fact, the Merlin 1 engine was originally developed for the Falcon 1 small launch vehicle and is thus undersized even for the standard Falcon 9 resulting in the need for nine of them on the first stage.

With fewer larger rocket engines, a Falcon 9 and its Heavy derivative would probably become even more competitive and probably more reliable. As such, SpaceX is known to be considering a new larger engine dubbed Merlin 2. Nevertheless, for the time being, Musk and his rocket company is going with what they have. While Elon Musk many not have the optimum rocket engine, you can expect he will succeed given his track record to date. (5/30)

Preparations Underway for X-37B Landing at Vandenberg (Source: Launch Alert)
Preparations for the second landing of the X-37B, the Air Force's unmanned, reusable space plane, are underway at Vandenberg Air Force Base. While the exact landing date and time will depend on technical and weather considerations, it is expected to occur during the early- to mid-June timeframe. Space professionals from the 30th Space Wing will monitor the de-orbit and landing of the Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission, called OTV-2.

The X-37B launched March 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Since then, Vandenberg crews have conducted extensive, periodic training in preparation for landing. "The men and women of Team Vandenberg are ready to execute safe landing operations anytime and at a moment's notice," said Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander. (5/30)

Moon Express Announces Acquisition of Next Giant Leap, LLC (Source: GLXP)
Moon Express, Inc., a provider of commercial and scientific missions to the Moon, announced today that it has acquired Next Giant Leap, LLC of Colorado (NGL). The NGL acquisition by Moon Express will leverage and carry forward the substantial work done by NGL supported by its corporate partners, Sierra Nevada Corp., The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, MIT Space Systems Laboratory, Aurora Flight Services, Jolted Media Group, The Center for Space Entrepreneurship (eSpace) and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

Both Moon Express and NGL/Draper were selected by NASA in the fall of 2010 for commercial lunar data contracts worth up to $10M each. Moon Express and NGL are also both contenders for the $30M Google Lunar X PRIZE. As the fourth entrant to the competition, NGL engaged a consortium of highly reputable and experienced partners and became one of the most formidable GLXP contenders.

With the deep technical prowess and contributions of its partners, together with seed funding from the Colorado-based incubator eSpace, NGL was able to progress to a design solution for a lunar ‘hopper’ that attracted a $1M R&D commitment from Draper in 2011 to fund its own design and development of a guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) system testbed for use in Next Giant Leap's commercial lunar mission. (5/30)

Panetta: Congress Should Unite to Stop "Disastrous" Defense Cuts (Source: AIA)
The coming $500 billion in sequestration cuts to the defense budget would be "disastrous," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this week, and in a rare move he urged members of Congress to work together to find a fix. Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Panetta said lawmakers "have a responsibility to come together, find the money necessary to detrigger sequester." (5/30)

Debate Over Defense Bill Takes Shape (Source: The Hill)
The stage is set for fierce debate between the Republican-led House of Representatives and Democrat-led Senate over the defense-authorization bill, according to this analysis. The overall size of the defense bill will likely be the most contentious issue, but lawmakers are also expected to debate provisions on same-sex marriage, abortion and a proposed East Coast missile-defense shield. (5/30)

Embraer Sets Sights on North America for Growth (Source: Reuters)
Embraer CEO Frederico Curado says the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer is looking to North America for growth. "Reliance on the North American market is growing," Curado said. "Our expectation there is for growth this year, compensating the decline in Europe." In 2011, U.S. business accounted for 20% of net revenue at Embraer. (5/30)

Embry-Riddle to Access Flight-Tracking Data for NextGen Research (Source: ERAU)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and ITT Exelis have entered into a licensing agreement for Exelis to provide its real-time integrated Next Generation flight-tracking data for ERAU’s academic research and analysis. Embry-Riddle’s potential uses of the surveillance data may include the following:

The university’s researchers could analyze the information to enhance electronic flight management systems, giving pilots better situational awareness and conflict detection/resolution. Students could train more effectively to operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by flying dynamic missions in live traffic. Long-term studies of actual traffic patterns and procedures could improve the understanding of the effects of weather on the national airspace system (NAS) and how to integrate UAS and commercial spaceflight operations into the NAS. (5/30)

Sea Launch Begins Countdown for Intelsat-19 Launch (Source: Sea Launch)
The Sea Launch and Energia Logistics teams have initiated the automated L-72 hour launch countdown sequence at its equatorial launch site on May 28th, in preparation for the launch of the Intelsat-19 communications satellite. Liftoff is planned at the opening of a 120-minute window, beginning at 22:23 Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) on Thursday, May 31. (5/30)

NASA Announces 2012 Aeronautics Scholarship Recipients (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 25 students to receive the agency's Aeronautics Scholarship for the 2012-2013 school year. This scholarship program, which is in its fifth year, is designed to aid undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in fields of study related to aeronautics and aviation. Recipients were selected from hundreds of applications to the program. The students will have the opportunity to intern with NASA researchers and work on developing technologies for managing air traffic more efficiently; reducing aircraft noise, fuel consumption and emissions; and improving safety.

This year's recipients are enrolled at universities in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Texas. Editor's Note: The Florida student is Jacob Hall, from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. (5/30)

Europe Seeks Right Mix of Public, Private Funding for Imaging Satellites (Source: Space News)
Astrium Services’ decision to invest $400 million of its own money to build two follow-on Spot optical Earth observation satellites resulted from unique circumstances and should not be viewed as the beginning of a trend in Earth observation, a senior Astrium official said. Jean-Michel Darroy, director general of Astrium Geo-Information Services France, cautioned governments that they should not count on the private sector to invest in Earth observation satellites without substantial government support. (5/30)

Planetarium Planned for Arecibo Observatory (Source:
Home to the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory is one of Puerto Rico's top attractions, receiving around 100,000 visitors each year. Plans to build a state-of-the-art planetarium and hotel are likely to increase the number of visitors to this high-tech facility. While boosting tourism, the new development will also be promoted for its educational value, with funding for the project coming from several public universities and government agencies. (5/30)

Sierra Nevada Completes Four Dream Chaser Milestones for NASA (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada announces that the Dream Chaser Space System has successfully completed four additional NASA Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) Program Milestones. The four Milestones included: Separation System Testing, Flight Article Main Landing Gear Drop Testing, Captive Carry Interface Testing, and a Captive Carry Flight Test Readiness Review. (5/30)

SpaceX Success Brings Astrobotic Closer to Moon Mission (Source: Pittsburgh Business Times)
Watching the historic launch and docking of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon capsule was a particularly exciting time for the team at Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology Inc. “Every successful launch they have puts us one step closer to our moon landing,” he said just hours after the Dragon capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station on Friday.

Astrobotic is Carnegie Mellon University spin-out that aims to complete the first privately funded lunar mission. The company’s Polaris vehicle is slated to reach the moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. That mission is slated for October 2015. (5/30)

Kennedy to Chair Virginia Chamber of Commerce Spaceport Subcommittee (Source:
The Virginia Chamber of Commerce has selected Wise County Circuit Court Clerk Jack Kennedy to chair the chamber transportation committee’s spaceport subcommittee to advocate commercial space policy at the state and federal levels. Virginia Chamber President Barry E. DuVal appointed Kennedy to communicate with the chamber’s 13,000 membership about progress being made at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island and to advocate pro-space policy within the Virginia business community.

Kennedy serves on the board of directors of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. He chairs the strategic planning committee and serves on the personnel committee as it transitions to a fully operational spaceport operated by Virginia at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Accomack County. (5/30)

Public Input Sought on Southern Spaceport America Road (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The Bureau of Land Management will host an open house public forum to field comments and suggestions as part of an Environmental Assessment to analyze the potential effects from construction and operation of a 26-mile southern road from Doña Ana County to the Spaceport America facility. (5/30)

What Role Will Russia Play in the Space Century? (Source: RBTH)
As technology develops and private companies expand into intergalactic travel, vacationing and working in space seems to be less and less far-fetched. According to Sergei Zhukov: "The world economy is becoming more and more dependent on the intensity of space activities. The market for space technology production and services is variously estimated at between $300 billion and $400 billion a year... [Russia's] share is traditionally high – 33 to 40 percent – in orbiting payloads, but that segment is small, about $3 billion a year."

"Russia has virtually no legislation on commercial space activities. The federal law on space activities was passed in 1993 and has since been amended and supplemented many times but it remains basically a framework law. Private interests simply do not understand what rules to play by and businessmen are afraid to invest in the sector. And there are many restrictions, such as on high-resolution space photographs and on obtaining licences for space activities." Click here. (5/30)

Soviet Moon Lander Discovered Water on The Moon in 1976 (Source: MIT Technology Review)
The possibility of water on the moon has excited scientists and science fiction fans for decades. If we ever decide to maintain a human presence on the moon, clear evidence of water will be an important factor in the decision. In recent years, that evidence has begun to mount. The data comes from several sources. First there was the pioneering Clementine mission in 1994, America's first return to the moon in twenty years.

One of the least known missions is the Soviet Luna-24 sample-return mission which landed on the lunar surface in August 1976. This drilled some 2 meters into the lunar surface, extracted 300 grams of rock and then returned to Earth. An impressive feat by any standards but one that has been largely forgotten in the west.

A Soviet team analyzed the sample and found unambiguous signs of water in the rock--they reported that water made up 0.1 per cent of the sample's mass. In 1978, they published the result in the Russian journal Geokhimiia. This journal also has an in English language version but it was not widely read in the West. (5/30)

Back-to-Back Asteroids Harmlessly Fly Past Earth (Source: AP)
A newly discovered small asteroid has harmlessly zipped close to Earth — just as scientists expected.
The 16-foot-long space rock, discovered on Memorial Day, passed by early Tuesday at a distance of 8,950 miles from the Earth's surface. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which tracks such flybys, said the asteroid — dubbed 2012 KT42 — was the sixth closest asteroid approach. It was the second asteroid encounter this week. On Monday, another asteroid, measuring 69 feet across, flew by at a distance of 32,000 miles. (5/30)

Shelby Disses SpaceX Success (Source: Wall Street Journal)
some of NASA's most outspoken congressional critics remain opposed to private spaceflight, which they fear could threaten jobs and contractors in their home states. Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who has been among those most opposed to NASA's outsourcing drive, said over the Memorial Day weekend that "SpaceX has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to launch a rocket nearly three years later than planned." (5/30)

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