May 31, 2012

Boeing Delivers 1st Space Launch System Hardware to NASA (Source: Boeing)
Boeing has delivered NASA three flight computer software test beds, the first critical element for flight software development in support of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). Flight software controls the launch vehicle during preflight tanking operations and in flight. The test beds were delivered on April 25, ahead of schedule, to the Software Development Facility at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. They are now being integrated with NASA's application software.

"These are the most capable flight computers ever developed for human spaceflight," said Dane Richardson, manager for the Boeing SLS Avionics and Software Team. "They have the highest processing capability available in a flight computer and triple modular redundant processors. The technology is proven from years of satellite applications, and it's reliable enough to take SLS beyond Earth's orbit." (5/31)

Blue Origin Completes System Requirements Review (Source: Blue Origin)
Blue Origin successfully completed a System Requirements Review (SRR) of its orbital Space Vehicle on May 15-16. Blue Origin is maturing the design of the Space Vehicle in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under the agency’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

The Space Vehicle will carry astronauts to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS). The innovative ‘biconic’ design is oriented vertically for launch and horizontally for reentry, affording the launch simplicity of a capsule coupled with the reentry advantages of a lifting body. This gives astronauts a larger accessible landing area from any single reentry point, which means more frequent opportunities to conduct an emergency return from the ISS and land safely in the United States, while lowering G-forces the astronauts experience on reentry. (5/31)

Milky Way Will be Hit Head-On (Source: Science News)
The monstrous Andromeda galaxy and the Milky Way are destined to hit head-on, not in a glancing blow, new observations from the Hubble Space Telescope show. By precisely locating the same stars in Andromeda in 2002 and then again in 2010, astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore have calculated how the galaxy has moved against the background of deep space — confirming that the galaxy’s sideways motion is but a fraction of the speed at which it’s hurtling toward the Milky Way.

Andromeda is 2.5 million light-years away and closing in on the Milky Way at 250,000 miles per hour. The cosmic collision will transform the heavens into a hallucinogenic swirl 4 billion years from now. Calculations suggest that the sun will be tossed out during this galactic mash-up, to drift erratically in the eventual single, large galaxy that will coalesce from the two. (5/31)

Garriott: Astronauts - American Heroes or Modern-day Meddlers? (Source: Huffington Post)
My astronaut father regularly tries to dissuade me from chiming in on politically-charged issues. It is advice I occasionally ignore. Yet, his rationale is usually right on target. He counsels me to let the true experts make the case, not the interested but less-informed opinion holders, like myself. He also notes that there is often nothing to be gained and much more to be lost by entering a contentious political debate. But there are a few times, when my interest level is piqued, my mastery of the knowledge is adequate and the fight worthy enough, such that I will jump in. Now is such a time.

Recently though there have been two incidents that are hurting America's Space Program and the global understanding of real science. So I feel obligated to express my opinion about when these heroes should NOT be listened to. First, there is the plan for NASA's future. Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan and James Lovell recently attacked NASA's new plan for space exploration as "grounding JFK's space legacy." They are wrong. They are stuck in old ways of thinking and not up to date on what is actually happening.

Second, a large number of astronauts co-signed a letter requesting that NASA not weigh in on human-caused climate change. Astronauts are like everyone else -- a few believe in space aliens and ESP, but most do not. Many are religious. Others are not. Some are Republicans. Some are Democrats. Climate change, the human impact on it, and what if anything can be done about it, is potentially the most important scientific issue of our generation. To have NASA stand on the sidelines of the climate debate (as these astronauts who signed this letter have recommended) would be folly. Click here. (5/31)

ATK and United Launch Alliance Successfully Test GEM-60 Motor (Source: ATK)
ATK and United Launch Alliance (ULA) conducted a successful cold-temperature ground test of a Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM-60) solid rocket motor used to boost ULA Delta IV launch vehicles. The main test objectives were measuring the rocket motor’s performance at cold temperatures, qualifying a new vectorable nozzle on the motor and verifying the performance of new nozzle insulation at the lowest range of operational temperatures. Additionally, the test provides qualification for transitioning nozzle manufacturing operations from an outside supplier to ATK. (5/31)

Earthrise Space Announces Boca Bearings as New Sponsor for Lunar X Prize Effort (Source: Omega Envoy)
Omega Envoy, the Florida team competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP), and its parent company, Earthrise Space Inc (ESI), are proud to announce that the team has secured a sponsorship from Boca Bearings to provide hardware for ESI’s lunar spacecraft. Boca Bearings, Inc. is an innovative bearing manufacturing firm focused on producing vehicle components that reduce resistance and conserve energy. Boca Bearings has agreed to provide bearings for ESI’s lunar rover – for both the prototype as well as the actual flight article. (5/31)

World-Class Telescopes in Hawaii Face Closure (Source: SkyMania)
Two major telescopes are facing an uncertain future after the UK today announced it is to withdraw funding from them. The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and United Kingdom Infra-Red Telescope (UKIRT), both in Hawaii, will be decommissioned and dismantled if other operators cannot be found to take them over. That is because the sites of the telescopes on the island of Mauna Kea have to be restored to their original condition under the terms of the lease that was granted when they were built.

The cash-strapped Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has decided to wind down astronomy on Hawaii as it becomes more involved with operations in Chile as part of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). UK astronomers will continue to have access to the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) on the Canary Island of La Palma to allow them to observe northern skies. (5/31)

Posey Congratulates SpaceX (Source: Rep. Posey)
“I congratulate SpaceX and all its employees for completing their mission to the International Space Station today,” said Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL). “This is an important achievement for both SpaceX and the commercial space industry and I’m excited about what the future will hold for space flight.” (5/31)

The "Birth of Commercial Orbital Spaceflight"? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Not to diminish SpaceX's accomplishment with its recent Dragon mission to the International Space Station, but I'm seeing a lot of hyperbole declaring this was the first commercial orbital space mission, or as one organization put it: "the birth of orbital commercial spaceflight". It certainly was a momentous commercial spaceflight, and SpaceX deserves tons of credit for its successful ISS rendenzvous and return, but commercial launches have been relatively commonplace for over two decades now. In fact, commercial launches outnumbered government ones at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in 1997. Sadly, our market share has evaporated since then.

In some ways, SpaceX's mission was actually less commercial than many others at the Cape. It was conducted for a government customer, whereas previous Atlas and Delta commercial launches have been for commercial satellite companies. But SpaceX is certainly now much better positioned to reclaim U.S. market share for commercial satellite missions (ULA seems to have abandoned that market), and is poised to usher in a new era of commercial human spaceflight...unless ULA or ATK end up capturing the flag. (5/31)

Science Funding and the Ideological Divide (Source: Roll Call)
There was a time, and it really wasn’t so long ago, that despite their differences, Democrats and Republicans could reliably agree on two policy judgments: Science plays a central role in building the nation’s future, and federal science support is required to achieve many key national goals. There were good reasons. Science had provided radar and nuclear weapons that won World War II. It had produced imaging technologies and myriad lifesaving drugs that helped diagnose and cure diseases. And it had generated game-changing technologies, such as the laser and large-scale integrated circuits, that propelled the American economy.

To be sure, the two parties disagreed on what the government should emphasize in its research portfolio. Democrats generally espoused a broad investment, focusing on strategic and applied programs. Republicans, for the most part, concentrated on long-term “basic research.” Nonetheless, Members of Congress found a way to bridge the ideological divide. None of them let conflicting philosophies become deal breakers when scientific research was at stake. But today, such support for anything on Capitol Hill is much harder to find.

Recent House votes on two amendments offered by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) may only be partisan shots across the science bow, but they cannot be ignored. In past years, his colleagues have rebuffed his attempts. This year, the balance began to tilt his way. His amendment to end NSF support for political science research passed, 218-208, with 27 Republicans voting against it and five Democrats voting for it. And although his other amendment failed, the nature of the vote count is significant. Far more draconian in its overall effect, that amendment would have reduced NSF’s 2013 spending by $1.2 billion, forcing NSF to slash its support for new competitive research proposals by more than 50 percent. The final vote was 121-291, with all the yea votes coming from Republicans. (5/31)

Lagardere Surprise No-Show at EADS Election (Source: Reuters)
French media magnate Arnaud Lagardere stayed away from his own election as the next chairman of Airbus parent EADS on Thursday, throwing an unexpected false note into a carefully arranged handover of control at Europe's top aerospace group. The surprise twist follows some delicate sparring over the control of one of Europe's most prestigious groups and threatens to sour efforts to establish a reputation as a routine company free of complex shareholding arrangements and in-fighting.

Although EADS shares were the strongest blue-chip performers in France in 2011 and rose further this year on the back of a boom in jetliner orders, any sign of a return to past management tensions risks sapping investor confidence, analysts said. "These things can't be ignored, even if we don't know the reason for it, the nuance is still noted," Jefferies aerospace analyst Sandy Morris said, referring to Lagardere's absence. (5/31)

Venus Transit May Boost Hunt for Other Worlds (Source: AFP)
Astronomers around the world will be using advanced telescopes to watch Venus cross in front of the Sun on June 5 and 6 in the hopes of finding clues in the hunt for other planets where life may exist. By studying the atmosphere of a well-known planet in this once-in-a-lifetime event, scientists say they will learn more about how to decipher the atmospheres of planets outside our solar system as they cross in front of their own stars.

"There are many, many of these events that are observed for distant stars. The thing is that stars are just points of light because we are so far away, so you can't actually see what is going on," Alan MacRobert, astronomer and editor of Sky and Telescope magazine, told AFP. However the transit of Venus, an event that will not happen again for another 105 years, or until 2117, offers a chance to practice decoding the atmosphere of a planet based on the impression it leaves on its star's light. (5/31)

FAA Seeks to Explore NextGen Incentives (Source: Aviation Daily)
The Federal Aviation Administration was scheduled to hold a public meeting this week for input on offering incentives to outfit aircraft with NextGen equipment. The incentives would apply to commercial and general aviation aircraft. "The FAA is examining various methods of reducing the government's risk and determining the extent of industry interest in the program," the FAA said. (5/31)

The Dragon Has (Splash) Landed (Sources: SpaceX, SPACErePORT)
This morning, at approximately 8:42 AM Pacific/11:42 AM Eastern, SpaceX completed an historic mission when the Dragon spacecraft splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja California. The landing accuracy was within one mile. After recovery by boats the vehicle is being transported back to California and will ultimately be shipped to SpaceX's Texas facility for disassembly of its engine components. (5/31)

ESA Eyeing Hodgepodge of Funding Sources To Save ExoMars Mission (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency (ESA) has found $450 million in likely new sources of funding for its ExoMars missions to Mars, a two-launch effort being hurriedly redesigned with Russia following NASA’s pullout, according to an ESA document summarizing the program’s status. Few of the funding sources are certain. Some of them require unorthodox methods that will need formal approval from ESA government ministers when they meet in November. The fresh ExoMars funding sources include ESA new-member fees from Poland and Romania, added investments from cash-strapped ExoMars backers and the Russian contribution of a third Proton rocket, this one for Europe’s mission to Jupiter in 2022. (5/31)

Dragon Undocks from Space Station for Return to Earth (Source: RIA Novosti)
The first private spaceship, the Dragon, undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday to head for the Earth, a spokesman for the Russian mission control said. He said the astronauts, Andre Kuipers and Joseph Acaba, detached the cargo craft, which will take back 600 kg of redundant items from the ISS to Earth, with the help of the station’s 17-meter crane Canadarm. The Dragon’s bell-shaped capsule is scheduled to plunge into the water about 400 nautical miles (740 km) southwest of Los Angeles. Three rescue boats will fetch the capsule while two special planes will be tracking the landing. (5/31)

NASA NuSTAR Telescope Set for June 13 Launch From Kwajelein (Source: Space News)
NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft has been mated to an air-launched Pegasus XL rocket awaiting integration with the carrier plane that will take it from California to an equatorial launch range in the Pacific Ocean for a June 13 launch. NuSTAR, an X-ray observatory that will study supermassive black holes, neutron stars, supernova remnants, and the sun, was to have launched in mid-March but was delayed for additional testing of the Pegasus rocket’s flight software. (5/31)

Of Alien Intelligence, The Supernatural And Divinity (Source: NPR)
Could we distinguish ultra-advanced aliens from gods? I know; it sounds like a preposterous question, but hear me out. Sci-fi classics, such as Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, explore precisely this idea, that highly advanced alien intelligences would be essentially indistinguishable from gods. This is not news, really, as it has already happened right here on Earth a few centuries ago.

When Europeans first arrived in the Americas, some natives took them to be gods. They looked and dressed strangely, had huge, powerful vessels that could travel vast distances, their origin was uncertain and they could kill from a great distance with weapons of fire. They could do things unimaginable to the natives, far away from their reality. In our case, "they" would be able to do things we couldn't dream of, such as dematerializing and teleporting to the other side of a wall or, possibly, the other side of the galaxy. They might be able to create new life forms in seconds, or read our minds. (5/25)

Should Humans Explore The Stars? (Source: NPR)
Last week I wrote about how ultra-advanced aliens would be virtually indistinguishable from gods. Today I want to take the opposite tack and argue for our cosmic loneliness and our role as space explorers. There are two schools of thought on what we should be doing in space. The first is that, from a cost-management and quick results perspective, robotic, unmanned missions are the way to go. The successes are many and notable: exploration of the outer planets of the solar system by missions such as Voyager I and II and, more recently, Galileo and Cassini.

There are many other examples that, indeed, we can learn a lot from sending machines into space. Apart from being cheaper, it is risk-free, at least when it comes to human life. The second school, enthusiastically supported by Neil deGrassse Tyson and many others, argues that humans must go to space. It's our prerogative as an intelligent species, our cosmic mandate. Children love it, and love science for it. Click here. (5/31)

Legardere Set to Pilot EADS (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The head of a French media empire is about to put on his flight suit for the parent company of Airbus—but questions remain about how he has piloted his own family business. On Thursday, Arnaud Lagardère is set to become chairman of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., adding a prominent new perch for the top executive of Lagardère SCA, the family media business that owns 7.5% of EADS. (5/31)

Missing NASA Equipment Found in North Texas (Source: WFAA)
It was a mystery worth millions, but now it has been solved. News 8 has learned that science equipment heading from Minneapolis to Palestine, Texas, that was missing for days was found Wednesday evening. Sources said the load worth millions was discovered in its trailer in Dallas. The location of the trailer has not yet been released, but we've been told all of the equipment should be inside, because a protective seal in the back of trailer remains intact. The equipment is part of a NASA-funded experiment. The truck carrying it left the University of Minnesota's School of Physics and Astronomy Friday, but never made it to Palestine. (5/31)

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