May 8, 2012

Key Lawmaker is Not Sold on Missile Tracking Constellation (Source: Space News)
The chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee has recommended putting the brakes once again on the Pentagon’s long-deferred plans to develop a constellation of missile tracking satellites. In marking up the 2013 defense authorization bill, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) recommended providing $50 million for the Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS), a constellation of low-orbiting satellites that would track ballistic missiles as they coast through space. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) requested $297.4 million for the program, which has struggled to win congressional support since it was first proposed a few years ago. (5/8)

Figueroa Rules Out Another NASA Mars Rover Before 2020 (Source: NASA)
NASA will not be able to send another rover to the martian surface before 2020 under current budget plans, the head of a panel charged with evaluating the agency’s Mars exploration options said May 8. “A stationary lander might be possible in 2018,” said Orlando Figueroa, NASA’s former Mars czar and chairman of the Mars Program Planning Group. “A mobile lander, a rover, doesn’t fit in the budget we have available.”

An orbiter, on the other hand, “we can almost do very quickly,” Figueroa said during a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council planetary science subcommittee. NASA says it will spend $700 million to $800 million on Mars Next Decade, for which the earliest launch opportunity is 2018. If NASA skips the 2018 launch opportunity and spreads the funding over two additional years, it could pay for a rover, Figueroa said. (5/8)

How Telerobotics Could Help Humanity Explore Space (Source:
Advances in telerobotics are in high gear here on Earth, enabling scientists to plumb the deepest oceans, extract resources from dangerous mines and even carry out high-precision surgery from thousands of miles away. Now researchers are considering ways to adopt and adapt telerobotics for more far-reaching duties — in outer space. The ability to extend human cognition to the moon, Mars, near-Earth objects and other accessible bodies remotely could curb the challenges, cost and risks of deep-space exploration, some scientists say. (5/8)

Monster Sunspot Threatens to Unleash Powerful Solar Flares (Source:
An enormous sunspot group has taken shape on the surface of the sun, hinting that our star may soon start spouting off some powerful storms. The huge sunspot complex, known as AR 1476, rotated into Earth's view over the weekend. It measures more than 60,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) across, researchers said. Scientists with NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory mission, a space-based telescope watching the sun, dubbed the solar structure a "monster sunspot" in a Twitter announcement. (5/8)

Secret Air Force X-37B Space Plane Mission a 'Spectacular Success' (Source:
The U.S. Air Force's secretive robotic X-37B space plane mission continues to chalk up time in Earth orbit, nearing 430 days of a spaceflight that — while classified — appears to be an unqualified success. The space plane now circuiting Earth is the second spacecraft of its kind built for the Air Force by Boeing’s Phantom Works. Known as the Orbital Test Vehicle 2, or OTV-2, the space plane's classified mission is being carried out by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. (5/8)

Join the "Target Asteroids!" Project (Source: Sky& Telescope)
Nowhere else in science is the partnership between professionals and amateurs closer than in astronomy — and that's especially true when it comes to observing asteroids. These days backyard observers worldwide routinely track them during stellar occultations, take follow-up images of close-approaching objects, and even compute precise orbits with use-at-home software.

As they ramp up for send their next spacecraft to an asteroid, NASA scientists have put out the call for observers to help categorize a particular class of primitive, carbon-rich objects that hold clues to much of the solar-system's history. The mission is called OSIRIS-REx, short for "Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer." (5/8)

Is Our Time in Outer Space Finally at-Hand? (Source: IEET)
Obayashi Corp has announced it will construct a space elevator capable of shuttling passengers 36,000 kilometers above the Earth by 2050. Last week it was asteroid mining, as Peter Diamandis and his partners showed us their bold new venture, Planetary Resources, aiming eventually to start harvesting trillions of dollars worth of materials that would then no longer have to be ripped out of Mother Earth.

This glimpse of a vigorously bold and can-do future provoked The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart to comment, “Do you know how rarely the news in 2012 looks and sounds how you thought news would look and sound like in 2012?” to fervent approval from his audience. Having worked in this area 30 years ago, I was thrilled to see this forward-looking initiative finally get rolling in my lifetime. Oh, but also… to see it completed… (5/8)

NASA Heavy Lift Rocket On Track for 2017 Debut (Source: WKMG)
NASA is making swift progress on a new super rocket for human expeditions beyond Earth orbit, and officials said Tuesday the agency is on track to launch a first unmanned test flight in late 2017. "We're making steady progress and we're hitting our marks as we go," said Todd May, manager of the Space Launch System Program Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "We're pleased to report that we're on track for 2017." NASA is designing and developing a new rocket system to launch its Orion multipurpose crew vehicle on missions to the moon, Mars, asteroids and other interplanetary destinations. (5/8)

Shuttlebration to Mark Arrival of Space Shuttle (Source: Friendswood News)
Sharing the ongoing story of human space exploration is about to get a major boost with a new Space Shuttle visitor experience coming soon to Space Center Houston. When the full-scale Shuttle Orbiter replica arrives June 1, it will kick off “Shuttlebration Weekend” to celebrate the opening of a new era in space exploration, outreach and education.

“NASA’s Space Shuttle changed the way we all think about space, making it more accessible, understandable and useful,” said Richard Allen, president of Space Center Houston. “It is our intent to continue that legacy with this exciting new attraction, which will offer a one-of-a-kind visitor experience that will engage, educate and inspire the next generation of explorers.”

Once it is fully installed and prepared for visitors, the public will be able to go inside the full-size replica as part of a behind-the-scenes look at life inside the Space Shuttle, an experience that will only be available at Space Center Houston. (5/8)

Thank You, Space! How NASA Tech Makes Life Better on Earth (Source: PC World)
Last month, residents of Washington, DC and New York City watched as two Space Shuttles were ferried to their final homes. Even though these orbiters are no longer in service, humans now have a permanent home in space via the International Space Station, and over 500 people from almost 40 countries can say they have flown in space. But for the 6.8 billion residents of Earth who’ve yet to reach orbit, what benefits of space exploration do we see on a daily basis? What do US citizens get from our space agency, NASA?

The short answer is: quite a lot. Let’s take a look at where NASA funding--at present, less than 0.5% of the US federal budget--shows up in our daily lives, and beyond. Even more fun than a NASA database enumerating technologies, NASA City is an interactive site where you can explore spinoffs of space exploration, and see how they trace back to our homes and cities. As the site's slogan puts it, “Space is everywhere you look.” (5/8)

Embry-Riddle Student’s Study of Hurricanes in Space Wins National First Prize (Source: ERAU)
Emily Hyatt, an engineering physics undergraduate student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, has won first prize in magnetospheric physics in a student research contest sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Community Coordinate Modeling Center (CCMC), which conducts research in space science and develops new space weather models. Her competitors included Ph.D. students from around the country.

Hyatt used simulations to calculate the location, size and travel time of the Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability (KHI), huge magnetic hurricanes in space that can break through Earth’s magnetic barrier and spill solar wind plasma into our planetary “backyard.” They can cause auroral ionospheric disturbances similar to the Northern Lights. The phenomenon may also explain the loss of atmosphere on Mars. (5/8)

NASA Commercial Partner SpaceX Completes Crew Accommodations Milestone (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX has finished an important evaluation of a prototype Dragon spacecraft designed to carry people into orbit. This key milestone is part of SpaceX's partnership with NASA under a funded Space Act Agreement to advance the design of crew transportation vehicles. The primary goal of the tests was to determine whether the layout will allow astronauts to maneuver effectively in the vehicle. Several veteran space shuttle astronauts and NASA engineers conducted the evaluation during a pair of two-day-long reviews. (5/8)

ATK Plans Liberty Update (Source: Hobby Space)
ATK will be making a major announcement and providing updates on its Liberty System, which provides the safest, most reliable capability to launch crews to low earth orbit for commercial space. The announcement will be made at the SpaceCraft Technology Expo in Los Angeles, California during the Liberty session. One year ago ATK introduced the Liberty Launch Vehicle as a provider for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Since that time the Liberty team has accelerated system development, working closely with NASA under a Space Act Agreement through the Commercial Crew Program. (5/8)

Three Finalists Remain in Space Needle's 'Space Race' (Source: KING5)
None had ever sky dived before, but you'd never know it by watching the five finalists from across the country floating in an indoor skydiving venue. They are the handful of some 50,000 people who originally applied for the chance to travel into space on a private vehicle to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Seattle Space Needle. Sadly, two would be eliminated as they raced the clock to spin, touch walls and collect floating toys while "free falling" in a wind tunnel. Going on to Tuesday's challenge wre Lauren Furgason of Seattle, Sara Cook of Washington DC, and Gregory Schneider of Tucson. (5/8)

First Two South Africans Pay for Flight Into Space (Source: Pretoria News)
What do Ashton Kutcher, Nasa scientists and two intrepid South Africans have in common? They’re all interested in exploring the last frontier: space. The two South Africans have paid for trips with Virgin Galactic, the “space tourism” branch of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which only last week announced it had appointed SA’s first accredited space agent, Vanessa Rothery, of Joburg. (5/8)

Shuttles’ Retirement Marks the Next Era of Exploration (Source: The Hill)
As the Space Shuttle Discovery and the other orbiter vehicles of NASA’s storied Shuttle fleet are transferred to museums around the country, it should be understood that NASA has entered a new era of exploration — one that holds great promise for our nation.

We’re implementing the bipartisan space exploration plan that President Obama and Congress approved and making great progress. We’re ending the outsourcing of work on America’s space program and bringing these jobs back to the United States with our commercial space program. We’re developing a heavy-lift rocket to take us farther into space than ever before, and a deep space crew capsule to transport our astronauts, and we’re keeping on track the most sophisticated science telescope ever constructed to help us reveal the unknown. (5/8)

NASA's John Olson Headed to Office of Science and Technology Policy (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA's John Olson will be on detail to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) starting on 21 May 2012. He'll be there for anywhere between 1-3 years as the Assistant Director for Space and Aeronautics in the Executive Office of the President, replacing Damon Wells. Olson currently serves as Director, Strategic Analysis and Integration Divison (SAID) and Director, Mission Support Services Office (MSSO) at the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. (5/8)

JSC Runs Simulations as Orion Heads to KSC (Source:
Preparations for Orion’s first journey into space are accelerating, as flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) fire up the former Shuttle Flight Control Room (FCR) for mission simulations, while Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) engineers finalize the vehicle’s baseline construction, ahead of shipping Orion to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for outfitting. (5/8)

Trio of Twisters Spotted on Mars (Source: MSNBC)
It's eerie enough to see one whirlwind swirling across the Martian surface, but three? Get out your 3-D glasses and spot the three dust devils rising from Amazonis Planitia, as seen by the high-resolution camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These mini-twisters are analogous to the dust devils that are whipped up on sunny afternoons on Earth, due to the rise of hot air through a low-pressure pocket of cooler air above it. In February, the Mars orbiter spotted a couple of prominent examples of the phenomenon that rose as high as 12 miles into the Red Planet's thin atmosphere. These three dust devils aren't nearly as big, but seeing them simultaneously in one 3-D picture gives you an idea just how active the wind patterns on Mars can get. Click here. (5/8)

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