July 23, 2012

Russian Space Agency Considers Jupiter Mission (Source: Space Daily)
The European Space Agency (ESA) is starting preparations for a mission to Jupiter. The Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) project, approved for implementation in 2022, is to explore the giant planet and its icy satellites: Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Russian scientists are considering the possibility of participating in the mission, but the implementation of these plans depends on the previous planetary program.

Russia is interested in the JUICE project to some extent, and two years ago, when the EJSM project was under development, Russian scientists suggested joining the program with their spacecraft aimed at landing on Europa. At the same time, the Russian mission was mainly interested in the NASA spacecraft aimed at Europa's preliminary exploration.

In its present condition, JUICE does not include the spacecraft's long stay near Europa. That is why Russia has to review the plan of the mission: it should either send a spacecraft to conduct research on the spot, or to send a mission to Ganymede, which is considered to be less promising from the point of view of finding traces of life or conditions for its existence there. (7/23)

Astrium's SPOT 6 Ready for Launch Campaign (Source: SpaceRef)
SPOT 6, the brand new Earth observation satellite built by Astrium, Europe's leading space technology company, is now ready for launch. It will be transferred in the coming days from the Astrium Satellites facility in Toulouse (France) to the Satish Dhawan Space Center in India where it will be integrated with the PSLV launcher that will carry it into orbit.

SPOT 6 is a high resolution optical Earth observation satellite. Like its twin SPOT 7, which is slated for launch early 2014, SPOT 6 will have a 60-km swath width and produce imagery products with a resolution down to 1.5 metres. SPOT 6 and SPOT 7 will ensure service continuity from the SPOT 4 and SPOT 5 satellites, which have been operating since 1998 and 2002 respectively. (7/23)

Excalibur Almaz Mission to L2 (Source: Citizens in Space)
Buckner Hightower of Excalibur Almaz spoke at the Frontiers of Flight Museum and revealed interesting details of Excalibur Almaz’s plans and status. Excalibur Almaz has completed all of its scheduled milestones with NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Development program. EADS Astrium developed a service-module concept for the four Russian TKS capsules Excalibur Almaz has acquired. He said Excalibur Almaz is prepared to step in and replace one of the primary CCDEV partners, if unexpected difficulties arise, but EA’s primary focus is no longer on the International Space Station or Low Earth Orbit.

Excalibur Almaz is now focusing on cislunar flights. The company wants to place one of its two Salyut-class Almaz space stations in a halo orbit around the Earth-Moon L2 point, on the far side of the Moon. L2 would be the farthest human beings have ever ventured from the surface of the Earth. The Almaz space station was originally designed as a military reconnaissance station, which could photograph the Earth and return photos with small ejectable reentry capsules. As a result, the Almaz space station has a 2-meter telescope which could be used to study the Moon and the ability to eject small landers to the lunar surface.

The station is designed for a crew of six, but Excalibur Almaz would reconfigure it for a crew of five. This configuration would allow for a three-week mission at L2. Excalibur Almaz believes a mission to L2 could generate $900 million in revenues. That includes three seats which would be sold to sovereign government or private space explorers for $150 million apiece, delivery of satellites to L2 for $75 million apiece, delivery of small payloads to the lunar surface for $350 million apiece, and $32 million for naming rights. (7/23)

Confronting the Universe in the 21st Century (Source: Space Review)
Why has humanity's expansion into space gone so slowly, if it's even going forward at all? Sylvia Engdahl argues that this slow pace may be a sign of unconscious trepidation by humanity about what might be out there in that unknown universe. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2125/1 to view the article. (7/23)

Commercialization or Normalization? (Source: Space Review)
The concept of commercial crew transportation has attracted a lot of attention, especially now as industry and others await NASA's latest round of awards for this effort. Wayne Eleazer concludes that this "new" approach reflects a normalization towards how other kinds of launches have been, and should be, procured. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2124/1 to view the article. (7/23)

Telstar and the Transparency of Space Success (Source: Space Review)
Monday marks the 50th anniversary of a historic live television link between the US and Europe via the Telstar satellite, inaugurating a new era in satellite communications. Jeff Foust discusses how the biggest lesson of that milestone is that the most successful space technologies can often be the least visible and appreciated ones. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2123/1 to view the article. (7/23)

New NASA Supercomputer Facility Set to Advance Earth Research (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA soon will open a new chapter of discovery using enhanced Landsat Earth-observing data in a state-of-the-art, high-performance computing and data access facility called NASA Earth Exchange (NEX). This new facility is a virtual laboratory that will allow scientists to tackle Earth science challenges with global high-resolution satellite observations.

After extensive development and testing, NASA is making the NEX facility available to the research community for further research and development. With NASA's state-of-the-art supercomputing capacity, researchers can use NEX to explore and analyze large Earth science data sets in hours rather than months. Scientists can produce complex, interdisciplinary studies of world phenomena and sharetheir findings instantly on the NEX platform. (7/23)

Daredevil Descents: Free-Falling From Space (Source: New Scientist)
From his vantage point, Nick Piantanida could see a sight few people have seen. Pulling back a padded curtain, he gazed out from his open gondola at the curve of the great ball on which we live. He marvelled at the strange colour gradient running from the blue of the troposphere to the deep indigo of the stratosphere to the empty blackness of space. Piantanida hung precariously from a gigantic but incredibly fragile plastic balloon, his spacecraft nothing more than a welded aluminium cage with styrofoam walls.

He was preparing for the final act of a great drama three years in the making. He'd risen to an altitude of 37.6 kilometers in just a couple of hours, and now he was higher - kilometers higher - than any human had ever been. But Piantanida had a problem: he couldn't decouple his oxygen supply from the onboard tank. He was tethered fast to his gondola on the edge of space. They decided to pop the ballon and abort the mission. That was in 1966.

Later this year, if all goes well, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner will become the first man in almost 50 years to achieve what Piantanida was trying to do. Baumgartner will ride a helium balloon to the rarified region above 99 per cent of Earth's atmosphere and free fall into history. But the saga of high-altitude parachuting is about more than just dreams and records. It is a fascinating but largely unknown story of ingenuity, technology and pure guts. Click here. (7/23)

U.S. Bank Helps Fuel Future Space Flight as Bank behind SpaceX (Source: CNBC)
Bankers joined scientists on the edge of their seats in May as the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully berthed with the International Space Station. The SpaceX Dragon was the first privately-owned spacecraft in history to deliver supplies to the Space Station astronauts. U.S. Bank was the first lender and bank partner of SpaceX. With a senior credit facility that supports their day-to-day business, U.S. Bank will continue to support SpaceX as they expand private space flight, delivering supplies to the space station in the years following the retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle program. (7/23)

Sally Ride, First U.S. Woman in Space, Succumbs to Cancer (Source: Space News)
Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman to fly in space, died July 23 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to a statement issued by her San Diego-based science curriculum company Sally Ride Science. She was 61. The Los Angeles native joined NASA in 1978 as an astronaut candidate and flew her first space shuttle mission in June 1983 as a mission specialist. She flew again in 1984 and was training for a third flight when the Space Shuttle Challenger accident occurred in January 1986.

She served on the presidential commission investigating the accident and was later assigned to NASA headquarters, leaving the agency in 1989 to join the University of California, San Diego. In 2009, Ride served on the Review of United States Human Space Plans Committee, a panel chartered by President Barack Obama and led by former Lockheed Martin Chairman Norm Augustine to review NASA’s plans for building an outpost on the Moon. In a statement released by the White House, the president called Ride “a national hero and a powerful role model.” (7/23)

Former Pratt & Whitney Exec Joins Aerojet as President (Source: Aerojet)
Aerojet announced today that Warren M. Boley, Jr., will be joining Aerojet as its President, effective August 20, 2012. Boley succeeds Scott J. Seymour, Aerojet President since January 2010, who will continue in his role as GenCorp President and Chief Executive Officer. As Boley transitions into his new role, Seymour will work with him to assure a smooth transition across the portfolio of Aerojet programs and customers. Aerojet is headquartered in Sacramento, California.

Boley has considerable experience in the aerospace and defense industry, spending 27 years with the Pratt and Whitney business unit of United Technologies Corporation (UTC) where he held numerous leadership positions of increasing responsibility, including President of the Military Engines Division. Boley most recently served as a director for Boley Tool and Machine Works, Inc. (7/23)

Black Sky Training Begins Development of Rocket Trainer (Source: BST)
Florida-based Black Sky Training has begun to build its rocket powered flight trainer. After 6 years in development, BST’s pilot training course for rocket powered flight has been reviewed by the FAA and is now awaiting the prototype, and airworthiness certification to allow BST to receive a required Letter Of Deviation Authority. The LODA will allow BST to train student pilots for flight on board a rocket powered aircraft. The vehicle combined with an approved TCO is the linchpin in a rocket powered type rating.

BST spokesman David Allen told the gathering at BST’s California office that they have already signed contracts for the building of the first of 3 different training vehicles. Completion of these vehicles including the certification flights, are scheduled for this time next year. “We at Black Sky Training are excited about the future of Commercial Space travel. So many good companies have put so much into building dependable, safe vehicles for Space Tourism, and now with a standardized training program near completion, the traveling public can be assured of safe and comfortable rides to the Black Sky.” (7/23)

New Biomarkers Honed to Help Search for Life on Earthlike Exoplanets (Source: Scientific American)
Expectations are running high that some time next year astronomers using NASA's Kepler spacecraft will announce the discovery that planet hunters have been waiting for: the first Earth-size exoplanet found in a region around a sunlike star where life could flourish. That exoplanet will almost certainly lie too far from Earth to be scrutinized, but it will nonetheless throw into high gear a search for the fingerprints of life—the chemical compounds that could indicate whether an exoplanet in the habitable zone, the life-friendly region where liquid water can survive, actually harbors life.

But even as researchers are gaining a deeper understanding of the bio-signatures that may be present in exoplanetary atmospheres, scientists face a roadblock. A proposed NASA mission called the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF), designed to search for these compounds among planets orbiting nearby stars—those that lie about one hundredth the distance of the orbs Kepler can find—lost its funding in 2007 amid rising costs for the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's successor. Click here. (7/23)

Blindness, Bone Loss, and Space Farts: Astronaut Medical Oddities (Source: WIRED)
Though astronauts have been flying above the Earth for more than half a century, researchers are still working to understand the medical toll that space takes on travelers’ bodies and minds. Astronauts must deal with a highly stressful environment, as well as weakening bones and muscles and the ever-present dangers of radiation. If people are ever to venture far from our home planet, such obstacles will need to be overcome.

Humans are adapted to living with the constant pull of the Earth’s gravity. Astronauts may seem carefree while floating around in the weightless environment aboard rockets and space stations. But like teenagers, their bodies experience all sorts of awkward changes. Some of the long-term problems, such as bone loss and radiation exposure, seem to put the kibosh on plans for regular interplanetary travel, at least for now. But medical researchers at places like the National Space Biomedical Research Institute are looking for ways to counteract and cure these ailments. Click here. (7/23)

NASA Successfully Tests Hypersonic Inflatable Heat Shield (Source: NASA)
A large inflatable heat shield developed by NASA's Space Technology Program has successfully survived a trip through Earth's atmosphere while traveling at hypersonic speeds up to 7,600 mph. The Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) was launched by sounding rocket at 7:01 a.m. Monday from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The purpose of the IRVE-3 test was to show that a space capsule can use an inflatable outer shell to slow and protect itself as it enters an atmosphere at hypersonic speed during planetary entry and descent, or as it returns to Earth with cargo from the International Space Station. (7/23)

ExoMars Program Gathers Strength as Russia and Europe Collaborate (Source: Space Daily)
The Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency (ESA) are expected to sign an agreement on the implementation of the second stage of the ExoMars program in the fall of 2012. Under the agreement, the 2018 mission should see Russia fulfill more than 50 percent of the volume of work pertaining to the program. (7/23)

National Science Foundation Will Advance the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (Source: Space Daily)
With approval from the National Science Board, the NSF will advance the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) to the final design stage. This action permits the NSF Director to include funds for LSST construction in a future budget request. To be located in Chile, the LSST is a proposed 8-meter wide-field survey telescope that will survey the entire sky approximately twice per week, delivering a large and comprehensive data set that will transform astronomical research.

The LSST was the first-ranked ground-based large initiative in the 2010 National Academy of Sciences decadal survey in astronomy and astrophysics. The project is a partnership among the NSF, the Department of Energy (DOE) and a number of private contributors. (7/23)

Outlook Dims for Quick Sequestration Solution (Source: The Hill)
Political watchers say there's a shrinking likelihood of a bipartisan solution to pending sequestration defense cuts before the November election. They say the campaign rhetoric between both parties is intensifying, making it unlikely a deal will be struck to halt $500 billion in cuts. (7/23)

House-Approved Defense Budget Tops Spending Limits (Source: Defense News)
The House-approved Pentagon base budget of $518 billion for 2013 is less than originally proposed by a House panel, but it will still top the limits imposed by the Budget Control Act, experts say -- and if the rules aren't revised, would result in another sequester action. That's because the types of defense spending covered by the act also are included in programs in other agencies and altogether, they top the act's cap for defense. (7/20)

Makeover of Defense-Export Rules is Picking Up Steam (Source: National Defense)
The effort to improve the way defense firms apply to sell overseas is ramping up, as key improvements such as making export licenses paperless are put in place. Pressure is building to make it easier for U.S. contractors to export nonweapons items such as brake pads without an export license, but experts say there is resistance among some lawmakers to the changes. (7/23)

Aerojet’s Parent Company Bids $550 Million for Rival Rocketdyne (Source: Space News)
Aerojet parent company GenCorp. Inc. has signed a definitive agreement to buy Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne from United Technologies Corp. for $550 million. GenCorp intends to finance the acquisition of Aerojet’s chief liquid-propulsion rival with a combination of cash on hand and issuance of debt. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne provides the main propulsion systems for the Atlas and Delta launch vehicles. The company also is under contract to provide the core engines for NASA’s Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket currently under development.

Buying Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne would nearly double the size of GenCorp’s propulsion business. GenCorp said it expects the deal to close in the first half of 2013, assuming federal regulators approve the deal. Editor's Note: Earlier reports hinted at another group of investors that were poised to buy PWR. Seems like there were multiple suiters. One big question for Florida is whether this will impact PWR's presence in West Palm Beach and at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (7/23)

GeoEye To Merge with DigitalGlobe (Source: Space News)
The two principal providers of commercial Earth observation satellite imagery to the U.S. government have agreed to merge in a deal that makes DigitalGlobe the buyer and GeoEye – which had tried to buy DigitalGlobe two months ago – the target. Under the terms of the agreement, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe will offer shareholders of Virginia-based GeoEye Inc. the equivalent of $20.32 per share.

That represents a 34 percent increase over where GeoEye was trading on July 20, but a sharp drop from the company’s trading levels before the U.S. government hinted that a $7.3-billion, 10-year contract that the two companies are sharing would be cut substantially. DigitalGlobe said it has secured a $1.2 billion funding facility from Morgan Stanley and The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ to refinance the combined debt of GeoEye and DigitalGlobe. (7/23)

Portal 2 Space: Video Game Character Launched Aboard Japanese Craft (Source: CollectSpace)
An American video game company has revealed there is an unauthorized stowaway on board the Japanese spacecraft now in Earth orbit on its way to the International Space Station (ISS). "Wheatley," the orb-shaped robotic companion from Valve Software's 2011 popular game "Portal 2," is flying aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) that launched on Friday (July 20) to resupply the space station. The character, in miniature two-dimensional (2-D) form, is soaring through real space thanks to an unnamed NASA worker. (7/23)

Grunsfeld: NASA's Mars Program Remains Strong (Source: USA Today)
While we have great respect for Marc Kaufman's expertise as a space journalist, his Wednesday Forum piece, "NASA's retreat from Mars" leaves a false impression. Over the past 50 years, NASA has overcome many technological and funding obstacles in its path to achieve great things. And despite our constrained budget environment, over the last four years, the Obama administration has proposed a record four-year investment of more than $74 billion in NASA to maintain America's leadership in space, and spur scientific and technical discovery here on Earth.

Our Mars program remains strong with the Curiosity rover set to land within weeks, MAVEN preparing to launch next year, and our Opportunity rover still operating on the planet's surface eight years after its arrival. And later this year, additional ambitious options for Mars robotic exploration will be unveiled. As Kaufman notes, the U.S. is the only nation to conduct successful missions on the surface of Mars. Far from retreating, we're advancing our best talents toward exploring the Red Planet with Curiosity and forging the path for future human Mars exploration. (7/23)

US, Chinese Scientists Discuss Space Collaboration At Cospar 2012 (Source: Asian Scientist)
After many years, U.S. and Chinese space scientists finally shook hands during a closed door session and decided to explore ways of collaborating in the field of space sciences and technology. The U.S.-China meeting, about which many were unaware of, took place while many other scientists were busy making presentations on Wednesday evening. The meeting was open to only a few invitees. But strangely the venue was a room which allowed many curious delegates to watch the presentations by peeping through the windows.

American scientists who were unable to participate the session, but who were familiar with what happened at the important meeting, said it took place in a congenial atmosphere and attempted to explore some areas of possible exploration. They said that the discussions were extremely preliminary, and emphasized that it will be a positive step if the U.S. and China joined hands to explore the stars.

According to them China’s achievements in space need not be viewed as a threat. The apprehensions that if the U.S. joins hands with China, it would be to the latter’s advantage politically and scientifically is baseless. They said that China’s progress should be viewed as an area for future collaboration. The meeting is significant as the U.S. officially banned any space co-operation with China in 2010. Prior to the ban, NASA administrator Charles Bolden had visited China and tried to explore ways of collaborating. (7/23)

The Best Space Station Video? (Source: NBC)
New Mexico time-lapse videographer Knate Myers has created a four-minute video of Space Station images featuring multicolored auroral displays, glorious night passes over the world's cities, flashes of lightning and the heavenly whirl of the stars above. Far from detracting from the scene, the space station's solar arrays and other hardware add a sense of perspective in the foreground. Click here. (7/22)

Space Debris on the Rise as Satellite Launches Increase (Source: National Defense)
As the number of satellites being launched into space has grown, so has the amount of dangerous orbital debris circling the globe, a new report found. The amount of space junk has increased by 7.8 percent since 2010, according to the Space Security Index 2012, a report produced by the Secure World Foundation, a Colorado-based private organization that promotes space sustainability. Meanwhile, 2011 saw the largest deployment of new spacecraft in a decade.

“The total amount of human-created space debris in orbit continues to grow and is concentrated in the high value orbits where space assets are primarily located,” the report said. “In recent years awareness of the space debris problem has grown considerably, in part because various spacecraft have been hit by pieces of debris, intentional debris generating events have occurred, and satellites have collided with one another.”

On a positive note, the number of fragmentation events — when one object collides with another and creates debris, is on a downward trend — and is at its lowest numbers since 2002. Space debris can come from rocket booster stages that are released and from pieces of hardware. Collisions often cause considerable space debris fragmentations. While some debris will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate, some will remain in orbit. (7/20)

Huntsville Church Celebrates 'Lunar Communion' (Source: Gadsden Times)
Congregants of a Huntsville church snacked on Moon Pies and Tang before heading into the sanctuary to commemorate an astronaut's "lunar communion" 43 years ago. On July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin took communion on the moon during one of NASA's lunar missions. Pastor Dale Clem of Monte Sano United Methodist Church in Huntsville says his church is one of two that commemorates the event. The Presbyterian church that Aldrin attends in Houston is the other one. (7/23)

Brick Paver Project Seeks to Restore Cape Canaveral's Lighthouse (Source: AmericaSpace)
One of the most iconic structures at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) is the station’s light house. In 2011 the former commander of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Brigadier General Ed Wilson, initiated the brick walkway project. Each brick will be personalized with the proceeds going to both restore the historic site.

The first bricks will be placed at the base of the monument and then stretch out around the adjacent oil house. Eventually the bricks will surround the location and each will be inscribed to show the names of individuals, families and organizations that paid the $150 per brick. For those that want to include their friends or family members on their brick – no problem. Each brick can be comprised of as many as three lines. Each line can be as long as twelve characters. This will allow as many as three different groups on each brick. This should bring the cost down per individual to $50. (7/23)

Atlas V Changes for Human Spaceflight (Source: SEN)
NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have been reviewing changes that will be needed to prepare the company's Atlas V rocket for human spaceflight. The rocket is being modified to carry humans into space - and must therefore meet with more stringent safety standards than those required for unmanned launches. To assess the required modifications, engineers from ULA have been working closely with NASA technical experts and commercial crew partners, such as Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation.

The key modifications needed to meet NASA's Human Spaceflight Certification include the upper stage rocket needing two engines rather than the single engine currently used. The onboard flight computers will also need to be programmed to provider greater control of the flightpath into orbit. Sensors will be added to the rocket to detect emergency situations for the crew and the launch pad will be modified to allow crew to board the spacecraft. (7/23)

Neuroscientist Helping Astronauts Sleep Better (Source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
A new sunrise takes place every 90 minutes. Docking maneuvers sometimes occur at odd hours. Then there's that feeling of apparent weightlessness. No wonder astronauts aboard the International Space Station can have a hard time getting a good night's sleep. Now, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University is among those working on a solution: light.

George C. Brainard is advising NASA as it prepares to replace the aging fluorescent lights on the station with high-tech LED fixtures. The lights, which received the agency's go-ahead earlier this year, can be adjusted to enhance or relax an astronaut's state of alertness at the appropriate time of day. Click here. (7/23)

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