June 5, 2012

Success of Virgin Galactic Test Flights Will Affect Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
The regulatory environment for private space flights like Virgin Galactic's, according to those in the industry, can make or break the viability of the business model behind many private space ventures. But the government and the companies know an accident, or even a near accident, threatening people and property will get incredible scrutiny. The success of these private endeavors will impact Florida’s Space Coast, even though they’re happening elsewhere. More flights are going to open the industry to new ideas, new companies and new reasons to go to space.

The launch sites, expert personnel and the tradition here is going to attract some of that business. So, every new venture’s success is a win for space flight. And, every win for space flight is good for Brevard County’s long-term future as a space gateway. (6/4)

Smooth Moves: How Space Animates Hollywood (Source: ESA)
If you’ve been to see Wrath of the Titans, then you’ve watched it in action. A computer programmer is using software he developed to control spacecraft to help animators make more realistic computer games and movies. Originally designed to help guide satellites, the software now helps computers to render human movements smoothly and realistically.

The software was originally intended to guide spacecraft that use ‘control moment gyroscopes’ for attitude control. They consist of spinning flywheels, tilted using gimbals, to produce torque that can turn a spacecraft. The best-known application of these gyroscopes is the International Space Station, which has four big units. (6/5)

Masten Comments on Eastern Range Coordination (Source: Space Review)
“I don’t know if an all-amateur do-it-yourselfer could ever get something to orbit,” said Dave Masten, the founder of Masten Space Systems who previously was involved in an amateur rocketry group, the Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society. Dealing with the bureaucracy of launch ranges alone would be a challenge for amateurs, as Masten said his company has struggled with the bureaucracy of the Eastern Range for upcoming suborbital flights of the company’s vehicles from Cape Canaveral. “There’s really some serious challenges there.”

Editor's Note: That's an interesting comment from Dave Masten about the Eastern Range. I understood that Masten's delays at the Cape had nothing to do with Range coordination, and that the Air Force has been ready for Masten flights for a long time. I had heard that Masten flight delays at the Cape have been to be due to the company's own internal delays. (6/5)

The Big Machine That Could Lead to Fusion-Powered Spaceships (Source: Popular Mechanics)
The thrusters we’ve used to visit the moon are no good for traveling to Mars—-they simply can’t carry enough fuel. But one of the new ways NASA is exploring for sending astronauts into deep space just got a boost. Jason Cassibry, an engineer at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, thinks nuclear power may be the answer. "If you took 1 kilogram of fusion fuel and burned it, it would exceed the energy of 1 kilogram of petroleum by at least a million times," he says.

Cassibry estimates that 30 to 40 years from now pulsed-fusion-propulsion systems—which would use small nuclear explosions to generate thrust—could carry humans on a round-trip journey to Mars in just six months, as opposed to two or three years in a rocket-based craft. Yes, viable fusion technology has always seemed 5 or 10 or 50 years away. And the concept of pulsed-fusion propulsion is several decades old but still speculative—it’s low on NASA’s "Technology Readiness" scale. But that may change soon: The University of Alabama recently acquired a powerful new machine that will enable researchers to put pulsed-fusion ideas to the test. Click here. (6/5)

Nothing Like a Shuttle to Bring Out the Crowds (Source: Bay Area Citizen)
Shuttlebrations just don’t come our way very often, and about everyone in the Bay Area lined up to see our newest resident, the Space Shuttle replica, now at Space Center Houston. Thousands more lined the shores of Clear Lake, from the Kemah Boardwalk to Seabrook to Nassau Bay, all wearing big smiles and waving as the massive shuttle sailed by. (6/5)

NASA, State Department and Veteran Affairs Innovation Initiative Host Open Source Summit (Source: NASA)
Registration for the second Open Source Summit, hosted by NASA, the U.S. State Department and the Veteran Affairs Innovation Initiative to advance the use of open source software in government, is under way. The summit will convene leaders from government and industry as well as software practitioners to discuss the development, release and use of open source software, which is characterized by a collaborative development process and free user access. (6/5)

NASA Joins Girl Scouts Celebrating 100 Years of Inspiration and Empowerment (Source: NASA)
NASA will mark the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America by hosting a Girl Scouts Rock@NASA event from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. June 8. NASA and the Girl Scouts share a common goal to encourage and educate young girls about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in exciting and innovative ways. The Girl Scouts began in 1912 with only 18 girls. Today, there are 3.2 million girls and adults who are members. In 100 years, the organization has graduated more than 59 million women in the United States. (6/5)

Do Solo Black Holes Roam the Universe? (Source: Science)
Even gravitational monsters can get the heave-ho. Two mysterious bright spots in a disheveled, distant galaxy suggest that astronomers have found the best evidence yet for a supermassive black hole being shoved out of its home. If confirmed, the finding would verify Einstein's theory of general relativity in a region of intense gravity not previously tested. The results would also suggest that some giant black holes roam the universe as invisible free floaters, flung from the galaxies in which they coalesced.

Although loner black holes may be an entity that has to be reckoned with, they would still be rare, notes theorist Laura Blecha of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Blecha, along with observational astronomer Francesca Civano of Harvard-Smithsonian and their colleagues took detailed x-ray observations of the distant galaxy CID-42, nearly 4 billion light-years from Earth. The team focused on the region after a Hubble Space Telescope survey revealed two compact visible-light sources within the starlit body: one of them at or near the galaxy's center, the other offset from the core. (6/5)

NASA Has a Mission for Grounded Spy Telescopes (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
A National Reconnaissance Office telescope built in secret to collect intelligence for the U.S. government could be the linchpin in NASA's quest to build a satellite to detect extrasolar planets and study the nature of dark energy, the mysterious force driving the expansion of the universe. Scientists say their hoped-for Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST, is a promising candidate to use the spy hardware, which NASA officials said is qualified for the rigors of launch and spaceflight.

"When I first heard about this, my jaw dropped," said David Spergel, a researcher at Princeton University and co-chair of the National Research Council's Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics. Spergel and other scientists helped NASA verify the suitability of the spy telescopes, which were designed to look down on Earth, for the very different mission of peering into the cosmos.

NASA took ownership of two optical telescopes in August 2011, but the space agency did not reveal the transfer until Monday, when officials briefed the astrophysics science community and stories appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. (6/5)

Donated Satellites Could Enable Cheaper Dark Energy Mapper Mission — If NASA Had the Money (Source: Space News)
A pair of Hubble-sized telescopes given to NASA by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) could shave a quarter-billion dollars and years of development time off of the next big NASA astrophysics mission, agency officials said. However, NASA will still have to find the money to develop a mission around NRO’s gifts, and to build the instruments necessary to turn the NRO hardware into working space telescopes. Much of the funding NASA could use for that is tied up with the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, a long-delayed budget-busting astrophysics flagship that is not scheduled to launch until 2018. (6/5)

Russia, EADS to Build Space Plant by 2015 (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia’s Energia and EADS Astrium will build a joint venture in Russia in about two years, Energia head, Vitaly Lopota, said. The joint venture will manufacture optical, electronic, radar surveillance systems and communication satellites, and will be an equal partnership combining “the competitive advantages of our organizations,” he said. “It is important for us that everything there is up to the finest international standards,” the Energia chief added. The facility will be based in Korolyov, just outside Moscow, he said. (6/5)

Do Budget Cuts Mean and End to Flagship Programs? (Source: Space Quarterly)
The Obama Administration's decision to cut NASA's planetary exploration budget for FY2013 and beyond generated howls of protest. The action forced the United States to shelve planned cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) on two Mars probes in 2016 and 2018 that were the beginning of a string of missions to fulfill the holy grail of Mars scientists - returning a sample of Mars to Earth for analysis.

As the weeks have passed, however, the news turns out to be not nearly as dire as first imagined. While the future of Mars cooperation with ESA remains unclear, a smaller U.S. mission in 2016 is a possibility and NASA is working to define a mid-sized mission that it hopes to launch in 2018 or 2020. (6/5)

Loral Evaluating Solar Array Deployment Delay (Source: Loral)
Loral is evaluating a delayed South solar array deployment on a satellite that it built for Intelsat S.A., which was launched early Friday morning. The satellite successfully deployed its North solar array according to plan and all other subsystems are nominal. The satellite is in a secure configuration in its geostationary transfer orbit while SS/L and Intelsat pursue corrective actions. Loral is also evaluating what effect this event may have, if any, on other satellites under construction. (6/5)

Space Code Key to Protecting U.S. Space Interests (Source: WPR)
The Obama administration, supported by the U.S. military, is currently trying to negotiate an International Space Code of Conduct to protect the space environment. To gain support for the effort, the administration will have to overcome objections from some members of Congress, who often cite the ambitious and supposedly aggressive nature of Chinese space activities as the reason why the U.S. should not agree to international accords regarding space.

The United States has the most space assets in orbit -- and is the most dependent on them -- but it is not the only country with space capabilities. Sustaining the space environment for the peaceful use of all depends on the equivalent of air-traffic management in space: avoiding incidents that could degrade, damage or destroy space assets and the information they provide. And like air-traffic management, managing assets in space is a task that one country cannot manage alone. (6/5)

White House To Reconsider Commercial Space Imagery Policy (Source: AOL Defense)
The White House plans to reconsider the existing policy governing the use of commercial imagery by the Pentagon and the intelligence community, raising even more questions about the direction of the commercial imagery market. The head of space policy at the National Security Council, Chirag Parikh, is reportedly leading the effort. Several government sources familiar with the effort were careful to point out that while the policy would certainly be reviewed there was no firm commitment to change the existing policy. (6/5)

Pegasus XL Rocket Departs Vandenberg for Kwajelein Launch (Source: Lompoc Record)
A small rocket and its NASA telescope will depart Vandenberg Air Force Base today, but not in the traditional way for a satellite traveling to space. The air-launched Pegasus XL rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. is affixed under the belly of a modified L-1011 Stargazer that was scheduled to depart about 1 p.m. today from Vandenberg’s airfield. The launch location is more than 4,000 miles southwest of the Central Coast. Today’s flight will come after crews worked through the weekend, rolling out the rocket and satellite across the base to the airfield. Technicians then attached the winged Pegasus rocket under the aircraft. (6/5)

Rogozin Talks Up New Spaceport Plan (Source: RIA Novosti)
State investment in the creation of a cosmodrome in the Amur Region is comparable in scale to the first Soviet long-term plan for the electrification of Russia, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. Rogozin inspected the construction site near the closed city of Uglegorsk by helicopter, and laid a wreath at the monument of first cosmonaut, Yury Gagarin, prior to holding a closed-doors meeting about reform of the space industry.

Rogozin, a Deputy Premier with responsibility for the defense and space industry sectors, said the Vostochny spaceport will not only contribute to the development of the space industry, but also support the growth of the Amur region and the Far East, he said. (6/4)

Editorial: The End Isn’t Near (Source: MetroWest Daily News)
For those of you who took the news hard that the world will not end this December, NASA has new hope and an approximate date — 4 billion years from now. That’s when the Milky Way galaxy — that’s us — will collide with the Andromeda galaxy, which is about the same size and age as our own, almost twins astronomers say. Scientists have long seen Andromeda heading in our direction, at approximately 1.2 million miles an hour, really crawling in terms of space speed, but figured that it would miss or only graze the Milky Way.

But among the many breakthrough discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope is that Andromeda will indeed plow into the Milky Way. Said Roeland van der Marel, an astronomer with the institute that operates the Hubble, “This is pretty violent as things go in the universe. It’s like a bad car crash in galaxy-land.” (6/5)

Asteroid Weighs In Prior to Spacecraft Visit (Source: Astronomy Now)
Scientists have used an innovative technique that combines radar and infrared measurements in order to weigh the asteroid 1999 RQ36, the target for an ambitious NASA mission to return a sample of its regolith. Celestial bodies can be weighed if there is gravitational interplay between them and another body; however this method cannot be implemented for asteroid 1999 RQ36.

"This asteroid is not a binary system (as far as we know), and it is not big enough to perturb other natural bodies," explains Steve Chesley from JPL's Near-Earth Object Program Office. "Thus there is no way to use gravity perturbations to estimate the mass in this case." 1999 RQ36 is the target for NASA's OSIRIS-Rex, a sample return mission due to launch in 2016. When OSIRIS-Rex reaches its destination in 2019, it will be able to measure the space rock's mass from the way in which the gravity tugs on the spacecraft.

Such a technique has already been implemented many times, and can even detect subtle variations in mass on a body. NASA's dual GRAIL craft are currently using this method to produce a high resolution gravity map of the Moon. However, not all bodies in the Solar System have the luxury of a spacecraft visit in order to determine their mass, and even though 1999 RQ36 has one on the cards, it is still useful to know the mass prior to the arrival of OSIRIS-Rex. (6/5)

Iran's New Space Center to be Launched (Source: Xinhua)
Iran's Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that Iran's new space center, named Imam Khomeini Space Center, will be launched in the future. This new space center which is 80 percent complete will be used for sending satellites made by Iran and other Muslim countries into space, Vahidi was quoted as saying on Saturday. The Iranian scientists and experts from the Aerospace Industry Organization of the Defense Ministry, will send into orbit new generation of the Islamic Republic's satellites from this center," said the minister. As the first step, Vahidi said, the Tolou (dawn) satellite will be launched into orbit from the Imam Khomeini space center in the future, according to the report. (6/5)

NASA Expects Quick Start to SpaceX Cargo Contract (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
The top NASA manager in charge of the agency's commercial cargo transportation program hailed SpaceX's demonstration flight to the International Space Station as a success and indicated approval for continued resupply missions under a $1.6 billion contract would be a mere formality. The Dragon spacecraft made an on-target splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, ending a nine-day mission that set out to prove the capsule's ability to safely reach the space station, deliver supplies, and return equipment to Earth.

The SpaceX-owned spacecraft will be the only vehicle in the space station's fleet of resupply freighters able to return to Earth intact with cargo. Other robotic cargo spacecraft built in Russia, Europe and Japan dispose of trash and burn up in the atmosphere. Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA's commercial cargo development program, said the flight looked to be 100 percent successful. (6/5)

Boulder Team to Work on Space-Food Project (Source: Colorado Daily)
Space food is poised to evolve from dehydrated fruits and vegetables strapped to serving trays with Velcro to fresh produce -- including strawberries, bell peppers and lettuce -- grown in an on-board garden partly tended by robots who can take commands from Earth. And a team of University of Colorado students, with the help of faculty experts, has been selected by NASA to help develop the technology behind the next generation of cosmic cuisine for astronauts on long-term missions, such as the 80-million-mile trek to Mars. (6/5)

Enterprise Damaged on Barge Journey (Source: New York Post)
Uh, oh, better get Maaco. The space shuttle Enterprise was involved in a fender bender when its wing struck a piling as it was being moved by barge in Jamaica Bay, officials said yesterday. The retired NASA spacecraft was traveling to a Jersey City marina on Sunday for a brief stay when its right wing tip was damaged by wooden pilings under a railroad bridge a few hundred yards from the Cross Bay Bridge.

“A sudden microburst of wind, measured at 35 knots, caused the...protective [foam] layer of the wing tip of the Enterprise to graze the protective wood piling bumpers in the water,’’ said Luke Sacks, a spokesman for the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, where the shuttle is headed. “There was no damage to the bridge and light cosmetic damage to the protective layer.” He said the accident would not impact the shuttle’s delivery. An engineer aboard the barge transporting the craft to Weeks Marina called its passage by the bridge “narrow, with only a few feet clearance on each wing tip.” (6/5)

Private Sector Propulsion (Source: Boston Globe)
If a private rocket docks in space, can anyone hear the noise? That was the operative question as Dragon, the capsule manufactured by the company SpaceX, delivered a few odds and ends to the International Space Station and returned safely to the confines of earth late last week. Privately built and operated, it was the first of its kind. It will not be the last.

Rockets don’t capture America’s imagination the way they did during the Apollo era. But the concept of privately funded space travel has, understandably, raised a few eyebrows. In any other country, and in the minds of many Americans, such an achievement was unimaginable. Making widgets is one thing, this thinking goes, but only governments can do the big stuff. Roads, bridges, airports, and even spaceships are the province of the politician, the bureaucrat, and the taxman. Click here. (6/5)

Blue Origin Completes System Requirements Review of Reusable Capsule (Source: Flight Global)
Commercial space company Blue Origin has completed the system requirements review (SRR) of its reusable Space Vehicle, which will earn the company $900,000 from NASA. The company, founded by internet billionaire Jeff Bezos, is building Space Vehicle under a milestone-based contract with NASA, one of four awarded under the second round of commercial crew development (CCDev2) contracts.

CCDev was conceived to develop crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS). Currently, the only human-rated transportation is provided by the Russian Soyuz, for which Roscosmos charges $60 million per seat. NASA will award $900,000 to Blue Origin for hitting the checkpoint. The Space Vehicle (as it is formally named), a biconic capsule, will initially launch aboard the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V, but Blue Origin plans to launch using its own launch vehicle. The company is also building a reusable suborbital vehicle called New Shepherd, at least one of which was built and flown. (6/5)

No Intelligent Aliens Detected in Gliese 581 (Source: Discovery)
SETI astronomers have eavesdropped on an alien star system thought to contain two "habitable" worlds in the hope of hearing a radio transmission from an extraterrestrial intelligence. Sadly, there appears to be no chatty aliens living around the red dwarf star Gliese 581.

In results announced last week by Australian SETI astronomers, Gliese 581 was precisely targeted by Australian Long Baseline Array using three radio telescope facilities across Australia. This is the first time the technique of very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) has been used to target a specific star in the hunt for extraterrestrials, so although it didn't turn up any aliens, it is a proof of concept that may prove invaluable for future SETI projects. (6/5)

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