July 14, 2012

ESA Learns From British Space Strategy (Source: Aviation Week)
The European Space Agency is emulating the emphasis on collaboration with the private sector adopted by the U.K. Space Agency that was stood up last year. Britain has long been a second-tier player to ESA relative to its economic strength in Europe. U.K. contributions to ESA programs lag far behind those of France, Germany and Italy. For a time it looked like Britain might fall behind Spain in funding European space.

But a few years ago the British view of the space sector changed. Instead of being seen as a playground for dilettante engineers, space is now viewed as an economic engine in a nation that badly needs one. Following two years of strategic investment, including a national space technology program funded at £10 million ($15.5 billion) and the creation of the U.K. Space Agency in 2011, London is seeing results. (7/14)

EADS Astrium Models Secure Military Satellite (Source: Flight Global)
EADS Astrium (OE13) showed a model of what it claims is the world's most sophisticated satellite for secure military communications. The company's Paradigm business already has three in geostationary orbit, with a fourth currently in testing in Toulouse before it is shipped to the European Space Agency's launch center in Kourou, French Guiana, for a November or December Ariane 5 flight to complete the constellation. (7/14)

Astronauts Address ISU Students (Including Chinese 'Students') in Florida (Source: America Space)
Appearing before about 140 International Space University (ISU) students from 31 countries, eight astronauts who have flown in space stressed “uncompromised excellence” in diverse fields as the key to participating in new space projects including possible selection as future astronauts. Headquartered in Strasbourg, France, the ISU is conducting its summer program this year in connection with the Florida Institute of Technology and the Kennedy Space Center where the forum was held. The session was moderated by former astronaut. Robert Cabana, KSC director.

Among the ISU attendees, who were mostly 20 something’s, were about 20 Chinese “students” who averaged 31 years old. These were known Chinese low or mid-level space program managers like those who have traditionally attended ISU sessions for years. They were undoubtedly soaking up as much American space experience as they could. But at KSC they were not shown any hardware or facilities beyond what an international tourist is allowed to see here daily, although their U.S. guides were more knowledgeable about KSC facilities as well as tech transfer limitations. (7/14)

We Should Send Humans to Mars—but Not Let Them Land (Source: Popular Mechanics)
As humanity’s reach extends into the universe, there’s an ongoing argument among space exploration buffs: Should humans, or robots, explore the solar system and beyond? At the recent SETIcon II science and sci-fi conference, planetary scientists, a commercial space entrepreneur, and a veteran astronaut tackled the question. Surprisingly, they agreed that the best possible option is one that will never be a reality: sending humans to explore planets like Mars but not letting them put their feet on the ground.

Robots clearly rule the day. For now, the only carbon-based life-forms in space are the handful of astronauts who man the International Space Station in shifts, while robots rove all over the surface of Mars, zip around Saturn and its moons, and are on their way out of our solar system. "Most of what we do in space could be done better with robots," says Cynthia Phillips, a planetary geologist at the SETI Institute. (7/14)

Does E.T. Have a Home to Phone? (Source: Medill)
Yale astronomer Debra Fischer compares planet-hunting in the 1990s to stamp collecting – finding whatever happens to come your way. But now NASA’s Kepler mission means scientists can focus their search, locating life-sustaining planets by the dozens. The quest for intelligent life beyond our world has pestered humanity for centuries. But the Kepler mission offers a way to actually answer the question. NASA launched the Kepler Space Observatory into Earth orbit in 2009. It has since found 2,321 exoplanet candidates, meaning planets that orbit other stars in our galaxy.

The discoveries leave all of us wondering if one of those hosts intelligent life, which begs the question: What comes after Kepler? Kepler has given scientists mountains of data to sort through in three years of planet hunting and is expected to run through 2016. The spacecraft finds exoplanets by observing stars and looking for planets passing across them, creating a kind of shadow. Scientists then study light curves in Kepler’s data, looking for more signs of a planet orbiting another star. (7/14)

How the Lunar X Prize Is a Preview of the New Space Age (Source: Popular Mechanics)
The teams of the Lunar X Prize aren't headed to the moon until 2015, but they're already selling out their cargo room. Is this a sneak peek of a vibrant commercial space industry to come? "Our first mission payload is oversubscribed and our second is fully subscribed," said Alan Stern, director of the Florida Space Institute and chief scientist for the Google Moon Express team. "There are a number of market segments for commercial lunar travel."

Stern and his fellow X Prize teammates are hoping that the demand for access to their experimental lunar lander is a hint at things to come. According to Alex Hall, senior director of the Google Lunar X Prize, Stern's team was not the only one whose phones rang off the hook after announcing room for payloads on their mission. "What's interesting about the discussions in Europe is, because of the way payloads get funding, there are a lot of research institutions that basically have stuff sitting on the shelf," she says. (7/14)

Who's in Charge if We Find Life on Mars? (Source: Wall Street Journal)
If all goes well next month, Curiosity, NASA's latest mission to Mars, will land in the Gale crater, a 3.5-billion-year-old, 96-mile-wide depression near the planet's equator. Out will roll a car-size rover to search for signs of life, among other things. It will drill into rocks and sample the contents, using a mass spectrometer, a gas chromatograph and a laser spectrometer. In the unlikely event that the project finds evidence of life, then what?

In particular, who is in charge of deciding what we should do if we encounter living Martian creatures? Alexander Pavlov of NASA and colleagues have calculated that simple organic molecules, such as formaldehyde, could survive as little as 2 inches below the surface of Mars, while in young craters more complex molecules like amino acids could be found at such depths. But none of this would be actual life. Even a promising fossil would leave doubts about whether anything still lives on the red planet. So the day when the discovery of Martian life is announced is still a very long way off.

But perhaps it's time to start thinking about what should happen on that day. In some ways it is bound to be an anticlimax. Like the announcement of the Higgs boson last week, however magical the moment may be in historical terms, it will not affect most people's daily lives. We can celebrate, congratulate, revel in the detail and philosophize on the meaning, but earthly life will continue as if little had happened. (7/14)

Mississippi Senator Backs NASA Plan to Use Mississippi Rocket Test Stand (Source: AP)
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) says he supports a proposal from NASA to rehabilitate and reuse the B-2 rocket test stand at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Cochran says NASA proposes to spend $12 million initially on the project. He says the test stand would support NASA's Space Launch System program. Cochran, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, says Stennis is the only facility in the country capable of testing NASA's new heavy-lift vehicle that will replace the space shuttle.

Stennis has been conducting testing on the J-2X rocket engine, which would provide upper-stage power for NASA's SLS. Cochran says the decision to reuse the B-2 test stand followed an SLS program evaluation of the costs and benefits of options for required testing of SLS engines. (7/14)

India Set to Give Go Ahead for Mars Mission (Source: Times of India)
India is all set to give the go-ahead for an ambitious mission to Mars, expected in November next year, a top Space Department official said. "A lot of studies have been done on the possible mission to Mars", the secretary in the Department of Space and chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation K Radhakrishnan, told reporters here. "We have come to the last phase of approvals", he said.

"And I am sure that, maybe soon, we will be hearing an announcement on the Mars mission". According to ISRO officials, a significant amount of work on the planned Mars mission has been completed and scientific payloads have been short-listed. The project report for Indian Mars orbiter mission has been submitted for government approval. The mission envisages launching an orbiter around Mars using Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-XL). (7/14)

Air Force Deferral of Last DMSP Upends Plan for Launching ICESat 2 (Source: Space News)
A U.S. Air Force decision to defer, until 2020, the launch of an aging weather satellite has scuttled NASA plans to fly a high-priority climate change research satellite as a co-passenger, according to a senior NASA official. NASA had hoped to launch the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat 2) in 2016 together with the Air Force’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) F20 aboard an Atlas 5 rocket. (7/13)

Earth's Water Piggybacked on Asteroids, Not Comets (Source: New Scientist)
Whether comets or asteroids were the source of Earth's water has long been the subject of debate. Now an analysis of the composition of meteorites suggests the water did not originate in the outer solar system, a finding that favors asteroids as the vehicle for its arrival. Both asteroids and comets are found in a region of the solar system known as the asteroid belt. However, comets with their icy tails would have been born in the chillier region of space between Saturn and Jupiter and then migrated into the asteroid belt. (7/14)

When Curiosity Almost Took Men to Mars (Source: Discovery)
A September 1967 proposal outlines a possible triple-flyby mission that would send a spacecraft to Venus and Mars on. Based on the geometry of the planets -- taking advantage of optimal alignment -- the ideal launch date for this mission was May 26, 1981. The spacecraft would launch towards Venus, reaching the planet on Dec. 28. It would whip around and head for Mars, making its contact on Oct. 5, 1982. The inbound leg of the journey would take it back by Venus on March 1, 1983 before returning to Earth on July 25. The mission would last 790 days. Click here. (7/14)

7 Sights From a Jungle Spaceport Launch (Source: Popular Mechanics)
There are places in the world that just belong on the cover of a science-fiction novel. Take, for example, the spaceport in French Guiana, where Arianespace regularly launches satellites into geosynchronous orbit. You have all the imagery for a 1960s paperback—gleaming white rockets rising under bright plumes of flame and tearing away from the green depths of a primitive jungle, watched by a gallery of media moguls, sweat-soaked French Foreign Legionnaires, a multinational mélange of anxious engineers, and scores of locals who directly or indirectly depend on the success of the event. Click here. (7/13)

Penny4NASA Targets Congress (Source: Penny4NASA)
Penny4NASA was behind the recent "We The People" petition asking President Obama to seek annual funding for NASA that is approximately one percent of the entire federal budget. Here's the noncommittal response provided by the Obama administration. Now Penny4NASA is targeting Congress...

"In order for us to be successful in our campaign, we need our democratically elected congressional representatives on our side! Through your campaign contributions we have been able to bring you this service! Use the tool below to write to all of your representatives all at once, and then tell your friends about it." Click here. (7/14)

United States Rocket Academy Welcomes XCOR Aerospace to Texas (Source: USRA)
The United States Rocket Academy welcomed this week's announcement that XCOR Aerospace will establish a new Commercial Space Research and Development Center in Midland, Texas. "Texas is on the verge of becoming the Space State," said United States Rocket Academy chairman Edward Wright. "XCOR will be the fourth company testing fully reusable suborbital rocketships in Texas." The United States Rocket Academy, a Texas-based nonprofit that promotes citizen science and space exploration, has already acquired a contract for 10 flights on the XCOR Lynx.

Armadillo Aerospace and Blue Origin are already testing rocketships at Caddo Mills Airport near Dallas and Corn Ranch in West Texas. SpaceX will begin testing its reusable rocketship at McGregor, Texas near Waco shortly. The XCOR Lynx will be the next step forward for Texas: a piloted rocketship which will carry humans as well as experiments. "Suborbital rocketships will revolutionize human spaceflight, just as microcomputers revolutionized computing," Wright said. "This move will place Texas at the center of that revolution." (7/13)

GeoEye Signs Two New Seven-Figure GeoEye-1 Imagery Contracts (Source: GeoEye)
GeoEye, Inc. has signed seven-figure agreements with two international partners in the Middle East and Asia for both the renewal and expanded use of GeoEye imagery products. The Middle East affiliate has signed a new agreement for access to GeoEye-1 sub half-meter imagery, which is the highest resolution commercial imagery available globally. This affiliate has had an ongoing agreement with GeoEye for IKONOS satellite imagery collection and distribution since 2000.

The agreement with the government customer in Asia renewed their access to GeoEye-1's highly precise imagery products. This customer has had an agreement in place for GeoEye-1 satellite imagery collection since 2009. Both partners have indicated they will integrate GeoEye-1's high-resolution imagery with their own systems to support regional security and peace missions. (7/13)

Why Curiosity Needs to Dig Deep for Organic Molecules on Mars (Source: WIRED)
When NASA’s next Mars rover, Curiosity, enters the martian atmosphere in the wee hours of Aug. 6 (EDT), it will run a gauntlet of mechanical operations and physical hurdles during the aptly named “7 minutes of terror.” But once the rover starts roving and the landing engineering team has retired to the south of France in celebration, the science team will begin its own period of anxiety: weeks, months, and possibly years of searching for organic molecule paydirt.

The astrobiological consensus regarding the search for organics and potential life on Mars is that the subsurface holds the greatest potential, both for any active biology and ancient biomolecules that could still be recognizable. After all, the modern martian surface is a pretty miserable place to be a microbe: a cool -58 degree average temperature and not a drop of water to be found. (7/13)

Chinese Astronauts in Good Shape After Return (Source: Xinhua)
The three astronauts who went on the country's first manned space-docking mission last month said on Friday that they are in good health as they recuperate from their 13-day stay in space. The trio made their first public appearance since returning to Earth on June 29. They have been under quarantine the last two weeks as they rested. (7/14)

New Japanese Office Will Act as 'Control Tower' for Space Policy (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
A new space strategy office established within the Cabinet Office on July 12 will promote commercial use of Japan’s rocket and satellite technologies. Responsibility for Japan’s space program has been divided between several ministries, including the science ministry, but Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who has a strong interest in the area, pushed for the creation of the coordinating body. An immediate focus for the Space Policy Unit will be promoting development of a new positioning satellite system, called the quasi-zenith satellite system, to be launched in 2018, and promoting that technology among Asian nations. (7/13)

Warner Brothers Television Gives One Lucky Fan a Trip to Space on XCOR's Lynx (Source: SpaceRef)
In what will certainly go down as the ultimate Comic-Con giveaway, Warner Bros. Television awarded one lucky fan of The Big Bang Theory a truly out-of-this-world trip ... INTO SPACE aboard XCOR Aerospace's Lynx RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicle) at the show's panel session at Comic-Con.

In The Big Bang Theory's season five finale, Caltech engineer Howard Wolowitz is launched into space aboard a Russian Soyuz space capsule. During the show's Comic-Con panel session, Helberg was asked whether he would ever entertain a visit to space. When XCOR's Searfoss, in a surprise appearance, offered the very real opportunity to actually take a trip outside the earth's atmosphere on their suborbital spacecraft, series co-creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre suggested it be given to one of the show's fans in attendance. The lucky fan holding the golden ticket was Mercedes Becerra of Paso Robles, Calif. (7/13)

IRVE 3 Test Flight Campaign Underway at Wallops Island Spaceport (Source: Spaceports Blog)
The Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) is the third in a series of suborbital flight tests of this new technology. The test article is scheduled to launch from the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore July 21, 2012 aboard a NASA Black Brant XI suborbital sounding rocket between 8 and 11 a.m.

After launch the rocket will climb 287 miles (462 kilometers) into the skies over the Atlantic Ocean. The IRVE-3 will separate from the sounding rocket, its aeroshell will get pumped full of nitrogen and then the inflated heat shield and payload will plummet back through Earth's atmosphere. Cameras and instruments will transmit pictures and data to researchers in the Wallops control room. (7/13)

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