July 13, 2012

Asteroid Named for US Gay Rights Pioneer Frank Kameny (Source: Washington Post)
A Canadian amateur astronomer has named an asteroid he discovered after U.S. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who died last year in Washington. Kameny, who earned a doctorate in astronomy at Harvard University, was an astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service in the 1950s but was fired from his job for being gay. He contested the firing all the way to the Supreme Court and later organized the first gay rights protests outside the White House, the Pentagon and in Philadelphia in the 1960s. (7/13)

"Big Bang or the Big Bounce?" --New Science Points to a Continuum (Source: Daily Galaxy)
The big bang may not have been the beginning of the universe, but merely the beginning of one of an infinite series of universes. Two fundamental concepts in physics, both of which explain the nature of the Universe in many ways, have been difficult to reconcile with each other. European researchers have developed a mathematical approach to do so that has the potential to explain what came before the Big Bang.

The big bang singularity --the single point from which the entire universe is supposed to have sprung-- is the major sticking point in the big bang theory; the calculations just can't account for such a singularity. Without evidence associated with the earliest instant of the expansion, the Big Bang theory does not provide any explanation for such an initial condition. According to Einstein’s (classical) theory of general relativity, space is a continuum. Regions of space can be subdivided into smaller and smaller volumes without end. (7/13)

Sun Uncorks X-Class Blast (USA Today)
NASA reports that a sizable solar flare has erupted from the center of the sun, with limited effects on Earth expected. The outburst of energy and X-rays is rated as an X1.4 class solar flare, in the most powerful class of such blasts. The space agency plans to update the first report, if needed, as the flare's trajectory becomes more clear.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory website reports that an outburst of charged particles, a coronal mass ejection, appears "Earth-directed" from the outburst, traveling at 850 feet per second. However early indications are that the CME will only graze Earth's magnetic field, with limited effects. (7/13)

Nano-Satellite Offers Best Hope for Australia's Future in Space (Source: SpaceRef)
A lightweight spacecraft with capabilities that punch above its weight could provide the perfect launching pad for a sustainable Australian space program, a leading engineer says. Dr Steven Tsitas from the Australian Center for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at UNSW has developed an innovative system design for a new shoebox-sized spacecraft that enables night imaging and agricultural monitoring missions previously requiring much larger crafts.

With the right instrumentation, the 8-kilogram spacecraft known as the 6U CubeSat can perform some of the commercial earth-observation missions of 'microsatellites' that weigh around 100 kg and are roughly the size of a washing machine, he says. Researchers in the US developed the original one liter-volume CubeSat for educational purposes. The modified 6U version is slightly larger and rectangular in shape, meaning it has considerably more payload capacity for the inclusion of advanced instruments and cameras. (7/13)

Ex-Google VIP Joins Private Moon Race Team (Source: Space.com)
A former Google bigwig has set his sights on the heavens, leaving the search giant to join a company that aims to provide commercial and scientific missions to the moon. Jimi Crawford, who had been engineering director for the Google Books project since 2009, has signed on with Moon Express. Crawford will serve as chief technology officer and software architect for the Silicon Valley firm, which is competing in the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million private race to the moon. (7/13)

ESA Moves Closer to Adding Another Member -- Poland (Source: Space Policy Online)
The European Space Agency (ESA) moved closer this week to adding another new member -- Poland. When all is said and done, Poland will become ESA's 20th member. The ESA Council approved Poland's accession to the ESA Convention on July 13. Poland now must go through an internal ratification process and then deposit its instruments of accession to the French government before it officially becomes an ESA member. However, it will participate in meetings of the ESA Council as an observer until then. It has been a "cooperating state" since 2007. (7/13)

NanoRacks Blames Training for Failure of ISS Experiments (Source: Space News)
An investigation led by Nanoracks' chief technical officer determined that some student-designed experiments delivered to the international space station (ISS) in May and returned to Earth in early July were never activated on-orbit due to a flaw in NanoRack’s astronaut training procedures. Jeffrey Manber, managing director of the Houston-based company, said in an email that NanoRacks will pay to refly the affected experiments.

The experiments in question were fluids housed in Teflon vials, known as MixStix, which fit in NanoLabs, the cubesat-size container that houses NanoRacks experiments. The payload was among the cargo Space Exploration Technologies’ Dragon spacecraft delivered to the ISS in late May. Once onboard the space station, an astronaut was supposed to start each experiment by flexing the tube to mix the fluids. “Previous crews were given on the ground review and personal interaction prior to launch,” Manber said. “For this mission, the astronaut received hardware training solely via video while on the space station. Clearly, there was a miscommunication." (7/13)

NASA Selects Space Launch System Advanced Booster Proposals (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected six proposals to improve the affordability, reliability and performance of an advanced booster for the Space Launch System (SLS). The awardees will develop engineering demonstrations and risk reduction concepts for SLS, a heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

"The initial SLS heavy-lift rocket begins with the proven hardware, technology and capabilities we have today and will evolve over time to a more capable launch vehicle through competitive opportunities," said William Gerstenmaier at NASA Headquarters. "While the SLS team is making swift progress on the initial configuration...we also are looking ahead to enhance and upgrade future configurations of the heavy lift vehicle. We want to build a system that will be upgradable and used for decades."

Individual awards will vary with a total NASA investment of as much as $200 million. Proposals selected for contract negotiations are: Northrop Grumman's "Subscale Composite Tank Set"; Aerojet's "Full-Scale Combustion Stability Demonstration"; Dynetics' "F-1 Engine Risk Reduction Task"; Dynetics' "Main Propulsion System Risk Reduction Task"; Dynetics' "Structures Risk Reduction Task"; and ATK's "Integrated Booster Static Test". (7/13)

ATK Offers Details on Liberty (Source: SPACErePORT)
ATK hosted a Twitter Q&A with Kent Rominger to shed light on the company's plans for Liberty, a crew/cargo launch system composed of a Shuttle-derived 5-segment solid rocket motor (as developed for Ares-1), an Ariane-5 upper stage, and an ATK-built composite space capsule with an integrated cargo module. ATK hopes to conduct a test flight in 2014 at KSC, followed by a first crewed test launch in late 2015.

Unlike the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters, the first stage will not be recovered "for economic reasons" (lending credence to suspicions that the Shuttle SRB recovery/refurbishment scheme was never really cost-effective). The Liberty first-stage will initially use steel casings instead of advanced composites, due to cost and schedule concerns. The capsule will initially splash down on water, but ground landings are being considered for later missions.

In addition to NASA Commercial Crew/Cargo missions, ATK hopes to field Liberty for launching satellites, stand-alone science/research missions, space tourism, "and maybe reality TV". ATK has selected a flight commander for the first crewed mission, but will wait until later to announce the commander's name. Rominger didn't answer my question about how competition affected ATK's costs for Liberty, versus the costs to NASA for a sole-source Ares-1. (7/13)

SpaceX Completes Dragon Design Review with NASA (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX has completed an important design review of the crewed version of its Dragon spacecraft. The concept baseline review presented NASA with the primary and secondary design elements of its Dragon capsule designed to carry astronauts into low Earth orbit, including the International Space Station. Through CCDev2, NASA is helping the private sector develop and test new spacecraft and rockets with the goal of making commercial human spaceflight services available to commercial and government customers.

In the June 14 review conducted at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., SpaceX provided details about each phase of a potential crewed mission. This included how the company plans to modify its launch pads to support such missions, Dragon's docking capabilities, the weight and power requirements for the spacecraft, and prospective ground landing sites and techniques. The company also outlined crew living arrangements, such as environmental control and life support equipment, displays and controls. (7/12)

Space Job Seekers Flood Sierra Nevada Event in Florida (Source: Florida Today)
Job hunters hoping for a shot at work on a next-generation human spacecraft resembling a miniature shuttle filled a hotel conference room and lined hallways Thursday morning in Cocoa Beach. “I’m encouraged there’s so many good and talented people available, but it’s sad that there are so many people that are looking for work that have been helping our nation’s space program in the past,” said Jim Voss, a former astronaut who heads development of Sierra Nevada Corp.’s winged Dream Chaser spacecraft. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to help a little bit.”

The Dream Chaser is among the private sector vehicles competing to fly NASA crews to the International Space Station by 2017. Sierra Nevada’s daylong job fair here was expected to draw hundreds of applicants, two days after several hundred attended another fair the company held in Houston. It came two months after the company visited Cocoa Beach with state officials to announce its intent to expand Florida operations. Voss said he was looking for 100 to 150 engineers, technicians and other personnel to help with spacecraft design work. (7/13)

Europe’s Next-gen Rocket Design Competition Included Surprise Finalist (Source: Space News)
Astrium Space Transportation and OHB AG will lead two consortia to perform a design of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle for the European Space Agency (ESA) following a bidding competition that included a surprise third bidder in Reaction Engines Ltd. of Britain. The British bidder, a company that for more than a decade has been designing a spaceplane using a radical new engine design for atmospheric and orbital flight, was not selected for what ESA calls its New European Launch Service.

But ESA, whose ESTEC technology directorate in Noordwijk, Netherlands, has been monitoring Reaction Engines’ work for the past couple of years, was sufficiently impressed with the proposal to ask its launcher directorate to engage with the company starting this month. Astrium Space Transportation is prime contractor for Europe’s Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket. Its consortium includes ELV of Italy, which is prime contractor for Europe’s new Vega small-satellite launcher. OHB of Germany is a major Ariane 5 supplier through its MT Aerospace division. (7/13)

NATO Inks Pair of Commercial Satellite Capacity Agreements (Source: Space News)
NATO is stepping up its purchase of commercial Ka- and Ku-band satellite capacity under two separate agreements with Avanti Communications of London and SES of Luxembourg, the two operators announced. Avanti will be providing Ka-band capacity under a Basic Ordering Agreement signed with the NATO Communications and Information Agency. The agreement sets pricing terms under which NATO and the alliance’s member nations may order satellite bandwidth from Avanti. (7/13)

Italian Space Agency Taps CGS To Design Optical Imaging Satellite (Source: Space News)
Italy’s CGS satellite manufacturer has won a follow-on contract to design an Italian-built high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite that the Italian government would operate for military and civil applications in tandem with its Cosmo SkyMed radar satellite constellation. Milan-based CGS, or Compagnia Generale per lo Spazio will perform an 18-month Phase B design of Italy’s OpSis system under contract a contract with the Italian Space Agency, ASI, valued at 13.5 million euros ($17 million). (7/13)

Commercial Spaceflight Shows Reignited Interest in the Air Launch System (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Virgin Galactic unveiled their new air launch system – called LauncherOne – this week, classing it as a “revolution” in space access for small satellites. However, the concept of carrying one’s rocket to a high altitude, prior to “dropping” the vehicle and lighting its engine, isn’t new, yet appears to be gaining renewed interest – with LauncherOne announced just half a year after another air-launcher, Stratolaunch, was revealed to the public.

Playing on the fundamental advantages air launching, such a concept offers a way of avoiding the earliest part of a launch vehicle’s flight regime, where a rocket suffers significant performance degradation. By the time the Space Shuttle had reached the conditions of an air launch system, it had already burned 25 percent of its propellent, yet it had only added 0.16 percent to its required kinetic energy.

This provides the example of the problem normal launch vehicles have to struggle with when leaving the ground, fighting against Earth’s gravity for the most part, in addition to atmospheric drag losses. The main losses are incurred during the first 10 km of ascent. “Gravity loss: At launch, ~80 percent of the rocket thrust is simply counteracting gravity rather than accelerating the vehicle,” the presentation noted by way of facts and figures. (7/13)

Russian Commission Approves New Space Station Crew (Source: RIA Novosti)
A Russian state commission on Friday gave the final approval for the main and backup crews of a new expedition to the International Space Station (ISS) ahead of their launch on July 15. The new crew comprises Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japan’s Space Agency (JASA) astronaut Akihito Hoshide. The backup crew includes Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn. (7/13)

Firefighters at Kennedy Space Center Protest Possible Pay Cuts (Source: CNN)
Drastic cuts to NASA's budget are threatening pay and benefits for Kennedy Space Center's fire and rescue personnel, workers said Thursday, sparking a union protest outside the space center. “We are here today to send a very poignant message to both the company G4S and NASA to keep their hands off what the fireman have already earned,” said Kevin Smith, president of Transport Workers Union Local 525. The union represents workers for G4S Government Solutions, formerly Wackenhut. It took over NASA's fire and rescue contract at Kennedy Space Center eight months ago. The workers are negotiating a new contract, which is to begin in December. (7/12)

Solar System Ice - Source of Earth's Water (Source; SpaceRef)
Scientists have long believed that comets and a type of very primitive meteorite called carbonaceous chondrites were the sources of early Earth's volatile elements -- which include hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon -- and possibly organic material, too. Understanding where these volatiles came from is crucial for determining the origins of both water and life on the planet. New research led by Carnegie's Conel Alexander focuses on frozen water that was distributed throughout much of the early solar system, but probably not in the materials that aggregated to initially form Earth.

The evidence for this ice is now preserved in objects like comets and water-bearing carbonaceous chondrites. The team's findings contradict prevailing theories about the relationship between these two types of bodies and suggest that meteorites, and their parent asteroids, are the most-likely sources of the Earth's water. Their work is published July 12 by Science Express. Click here. (7/12)

Original 1972 Space Shuttle Mockup Moved Outdoors for Display (Source: CollectSpace)
The original full-scale mockup of the space shuttle, which hasn't seen the light of day since the early 1970s, emerged from a warehouse into the California sun on Thursday to be put on outdoor display. The full-size wood and plastic model was transported on a flatbed truck the short distance from the building where it for decades served as a design and demonstration tool to an open-ended tent that was erected in a parking lot near the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, Calif.

The city-owned center, which was named for NASA's first space shuttle after it was lost during its re-entry from orbit in 2003, is a hands-on educational facility located on the same historic site where moon-bound Apollo capsules and shuttle orbiters were built. The mockup, which was moved Thursday without its one wing and tail section attached, was first created by North American Rockwell (now Boeing) as part of the company's bid to build the space shuttle fleet for NASA. (7/12)

Florida Governor Renews Focus on Aerospace After Farnborough Mission (Source: Sunshine State News)
Gov. Rick Scott recapped the recently completed economic development mission to England as a sign that Florida must remained focused on its aviation and aerospace industries that account for more than 2,000 companies and 83,000 workers. “Florida is clearly a national leader in aviation and aerospace, and in order to be competitive, we must remain focused on long-term results and growing this thriving industry in our state,” Scott stated in a release.

“At Farnborough, we laid the groundwork for building the relationships necessary for the future expansion of this industry that is so critical to Florida’s economy and job creation.” Scott met with business leaders from more than 40 aviation and aerospace companies while in London and at the Farnborough International Air Show as part of the Enterprise Florida team.

Acting as Florida’s marketing promoter, Scott noted that he met and invited British Prime Minister David Cameron and two members of British Parliament to visit Florida and “to see all that we are doing to create jobs and make Florida the No. 1 place for business,” Scott said. (7/12)

One-Stop Shop for NASA Technologies Available for Transfer (Source: NASA)
NASA recently released a new Web-based tool that provides the public, citizen inventors, and American businesses improved access to the agency's unique intellectual property assets that are available for technology transfer. I'm proud to say NASA is the first federal agency to have its complete intellectual portfolio available in one online location.

Through our technology transfer program, NASA has a legacy of providing public benefit from the research and development we do to explore space and improve aeronautics. Our technology transfer efforts continue to be forward leaning and innovative. We're committed to this robust program, and it's good for the nation. NASA designs technologies to solve difficult problems. Many of the same challenges we face here on Earth can directly benefit from space technology through the creation of commercial products and services. Click here. (7/12)

The Day Skylab Crashed to Earth (Source: History.com)
On July 11, 1979, the world watched as Skylab, America’s first manned space station, hurtled toward Earth. With the massive orbiter nearing re-entry, reactions on the ground ranged from fear to celebration to commercial opportunism. On the 33rd anniversary of Skylab’s fiery return to terra firma, find out more about the causes and fallout of the crash, as well as how NASA scrambled to cope with it. Click here. (7/12)

GMV Leads Satellite Navigation Project With South African National Space Agency (Source: SpaceRef)
GMV, a private, multi-national firm based in Madrid with U.S. headquarters in Rockville, Md., is leading a satellite navigation project in collaboration with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA). The project, SBAS Awareness and Training for South Africa (SATSA), will increase the technological navigation capacity in the South African region ultimately improving location identification and tracking capabilities for Safety-of-Life Services especially during emergency or disaster situations. (7/12)

Democrats Highlight Importance of Investments in NASA (Source: SpaceRef)
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing entitled, "Spurring Economic Growth and Competitiveness through NASA Derived Technologies." The purpose of the hearing was to highlight the direct economic and societal benefits that investment in NASA has generated and to examine how best to ensure that continued investments will maintain a pipeline for future economic growth.

Testifying before the Subcommittee were Dr. Mason Peck, Chief Technologist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Mr. George Beck, Chief Clinical and Technology Officer at Impact Instrumentation, Inc.; Mr. Brian Russell, Chief Executive Officer of Zephyr Technology; Mr. John Vilja, Vice President for Strategy, Innovation and Growth at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne; and Dr. Richard Aubrecht, Vice President at Moog Inc.

The technical challenges of NASA's space exploration, space science, and aeronautics missions have necessitated the development of unique skills and capabilities and required significant technological advances. These advances have contributed directly and indirectly to America's economic strength, capacity for innovation, and global competitiveness by permeating our everyday lives in ways that are not readily apparent to all Americans. Click here. (7/12)

Space Debris Damage Claims Will Increase (Source: AOL Money)
Forget flood insurance worries, space insurers face a potential black hole of claims from debris flying ten times faster than a bullet from a gun. According to a report from rocket and satellite insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS), titled Space Risks: A new generation of challenges, there could be 300,000 objects between 1cm and 10 cm, and 35 million objects smaller than 1cm causing billions of damage.

Space insurance has been big business since the first policy was underwritten in 1965. In 2011 insurance premiums for space risks were close to $800m with losses totalling approximately $600m. But now insurers are worried there's so much junk flying about claims could be on the rise. "The space around our planet is becoming increasingly congested," says Thierry Colliot, managing director of space insurance at Allianz.

Since space exploration began in 1957, objects have been left there by humans, ranging from used rocket boosters and defunct satellites to space exploration equipment that has got lost or exploded. "Today, the space debris situation has become irreversible," says Colliot. "The number of objects is now so high that it won't decay on its own through atmospheric drag. Instead, it's actually increasing as objects collide and produce fragments, which in turn collide in a runaway chain reaction." Click here. (7/12)

Space Junk: Ideas for Cleaning Up Earth Orbit (Source: Universe Today)
Space may be big — vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big — but the space around Earth is beginning to get cluttered with space junk. This poses a threat, not only to other satellites, space stations and missions, but to us here on Earth as well. While we wrestle with environmental issues posed by human activity on our planet, ESA’s new ‘Clean Space’ initiative aims to address the same issues for its missions, making them greener by using more eco-friendly materials and finding ways to cut down levels of space debris.

Last month ESA and Eurospace organized the Clean Space Eco-design and Green Technologies Workshop 2012 held in the Netherlands. Clean Space is a major objective of Agenda 2015, the Agency’s upcoming action plan. The aim was outlined by ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain: “If we are convinced that space infrastructure will become more and more essential, then we must transmit the space environment to future generations as we found it, that is, pristine.” Click here. (7/12)

Space Teams Plan Next Steps (Source: MSNBC)
Several space ventures have reported a variety of seemingly small steps that are moving them closer to giant leaps in spaceflight — including the rise of new made-in-the-USA spaceships and commercial missions to the moon.
Here's a smorgasbord of space developments (7/12)

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