August 2, 2012

Boeing, SpaceX to Split $1 Billion NASA Award (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Boeing and SpaceX on Friday are expected to win the bulk of as much as $1 billion in federal awards to spur development of next-generation manned spacecraft, according to industry officials. The decision, which is expected to be disclosed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, caps three years of efforts by NASA to foster so-called space taxis, commercially-owned and operated vehicles intended to shuttle crews to and from the International Space Station. (8/2)

Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada to Win NASA Backing for Spaceships (Source: NBC)
Teams headed by the Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada will be receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from NASA over the next 21 months for further development of spaceships capable of transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station, knowledgeable sources told NBC News. NASA is to make the official announcement of the winning commercial teams on Friday morning — but NBC News' Cape Canaveral correspondent, Jay Barbree, received word from two sources who were informed of the decision in advance, on condition of anonymity. The sources did not discuss how much money any of the companies would be receiving. (8/2)

Father of GPS Accused of Conflict of Interest (Source: Nature)
Any battle over use of the electromagnetic spectrum is likely to provoke intense interest among physical scientists. Now a senior engineer at Stanford University in California is set to trigger discussion after being rapped by the NASA inspector-general for advising one company that its wireless networking plans might interfere with global positioning system (GPS) devices when he had a financial interest in a GPS service provider. (8/2)

Falcone LightSquared Conflict Complaint Rejected by NASA (Source: Bloomberg)
NASA’s inspector general dismissed a complaint by Philip Falcone’s LightSquared Inc. that the vice chairman of a panel advising the U.S. government on the company’s proposed broadband network had conflicts of interest. Bradford Parkinson’s participation in meetings of a NASA-supervised committee at which LightSquared’s plan was discussed didn’t conflict with his role as a board member of Trimble Navigation Ltd. (TRMB) (TRMB), a maker of GPS-enabled equipment, Paul Martin, the space agency’s Inspector General, said in a report released today. (8/2)

Astronaut Memorabilia Bill Markup Postponed (Source: Space Politics)
The full House Science Committee was scheduled to hold a markup session on two pieces of legislation Thursday morning, including HR 4158, a bill that would allow pre-Shuttle-era astronauts to retain ownership of some items from the missions they flew on that are in their possession. However, the committee has postponed the markup, with no new date announced. With Congress going on summer recess at the end of this week until the second week of September, it will likely be a while before the committee has another opportunity to consider it. (8/2)

Lampson’s Opponent Selected in Texas (Source: Space Politics)
When Nick Lampson, a former congressman who once chaired the space subcommittee of the House Science Committee, won the Democratic primary for the 14th congressional district south of Houston in May, he didn’t know who his Republican opponent would be, since no candidate won a majority of the vote. Now he knows who he’ll be running against: Randy Weber defeated Felicia Harris in the Republican primary runoff Tuesday night. Weber had the support of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), who currently holds the seat but is retiring. Weber’s campaign website is silent on space issues, at least so far. (8/1)

UK Space Agency to Lose its Head in November (Source: Flight Global)
It has been announced that the Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, David Williams, will be leaving in November to become Group Executive of Australia's national science agency, the Information Sciences at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Williams was appointed Director General of the British National Space Center (BNSC) in May 2006, and became the Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency on its creation in April 2010. (8/2)

DirecTV Profit Buoyed by Latin America (Source: Wall Street Journal)
DirecTV Group Inc.'s second-quarter earnings edged up as the satellite-TV provider added a record number of net subscribers in its Latin America business, which saw double-digit revenue growth. Latin America has become DirecTV's main source of growth as its U.S. markets attract fewer new customers. (8/2)

First Iridium Next Satellites To Launch on Dnepr Rocket (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services operator Iridium Communications on Aug. 2 said it has rearranged the launch profile for its 72-satellite Iridium Next constellation to give its primary launch services provider, SpaceX, more time to prepare for the initial mission. Iridium said the new scenario reduces the total Iridium Next launch cost by a net $15 million and should have no effect on the in-service date of the second-generation system.

Iridium in mid-2010 signed a $492 million contract with SpaceX to launch the operational Iridium Next satellites nine at a time aboard eight Falcon 9 rockets between early 2015 and 2017. The restructured contract calls for seven Falcon 9 rockets, each carrying 10 Iridium Next satellites, to be launched beginning in mid-2015 and ending about 24 months later.

Iridium said it is saving $39 million by ordering seven rockets instead of eight. Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said during the conference call that the new calendar also gives SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rocket is still in its infancy in terms of launch record, more time to digest its already large manifest of customers. (8/2)

Iridium Announces Second-Quarter 2012 Results (Source: Iridium)
Iridium Communications Inc. reported its net income was $17.7 million for the second quarter of 2012, as compared to $11.7 million for the second quarter of 2011. Net income increased 51 percent year-over-year, benefitting from a $6.6 million reduction in depreciation expense due to an extension of the estimated useful life of the Company's current satellite constellation.

Iridium reported second-quarter total revenue of $97.3 million, which consisted of $68.5 million of service revenue and $28.8 million of equipment, engineering and support revenue. Total revenue grew 1 percent versus the comparable period of 2011, while service revenue increased 5 percent from the year-ago period. Service revenue, which represents primarily recurring revenue from Iridium's growing subscriber base, was 70 percent of total revenue for the second quarter of 2012 as compared to 68 percent in the year-ago period. (8/2)

Russia, UK Discussing Space Projects – Putin (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia and Britain are discussing a number of space projects, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday. “We plan to launch several British satellites,” Putin said while summing up his short visit to London. “We would like to receive a positive response to the deployment of a Glonass [Russian satellite navigation system] station here, in Britain, to make the signal for Europe even more precise.” “We also have opportunities of military and technical cooperation, which is good both from the viewpoint of the economy and political trust,” he said. (8/2)

Launch Industry Chasing Smallsat Business (Source: Aviation Week)
If all goes as planned, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V will lift off from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., later this week with a classified National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload on board. Already tucked into a special carrier suspended from a helium tank in the rocket's upper stage, right next to the RL-10 engine, are 11 tiny satellites riding to orbit as secondary payloads. Some of the cubesats are flying NRO missions, but four were built at U.S. universities by engineering students and all of them were integrated into their spring-loaded deployers at California Polytechnic State University.

Cal Poly developed the Poly-PicoSatellite Orbital Deployer (P-POD) used by most cubesat builders these days. Essentially square tubes that eject as many as three 10 X 10 X 10-cm cubesats at once, P-PODS can be tucked into extra space on any launch vehicle's upper stage where they don't get in the way of the primary mission.

In the NRO launch, NASA's Office of Education arranged for the university cubesats to fly on the Atlas V Aft Bulkhead Carrier developed with funding from the NRO Office of Space Launch. The civilian space agency finds rides to orbit for student-built spacecraft under its Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program, which sends the educational tools to space at essentially no cost to the schools that built them. (8/2)

Dust Dominates Foreign Aerosol Imports to North America (Source: NASA)
NASA and university scientists have made the first measurement-based estimate of the amount and composition of tiny airborne particles that arrive in the air over North America each year. With a 3-D view of the atmosphere now possible from satellites, the scientists calculated that dust, not pollution, is the main ingredient of these imports.

According to a new analysis of NASA satellite data, 64 million tons of dust, pollution and other particles that have potential climate and human health effects survive a trans-ocean journey to arrive over North America each year. This is nearly as much as the estimated 69 million tons of aerosols produced domestically from natural processes, transportation and industrial sources. The results were published Aug. 2 in the journal Science. (8/2)

NASA, Louisiana Renew Partnership With National Center For Advanced Manufacturing (Source: NASA)
NASA and Louisiana leaders Thursday committed to a five-year extension of their partnership in the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing (NCAM). NCAM is a principal NASA resource in Louisiana that supports aerospace manufacturing research, development and innovation critical to the goals of the nation's space program.

NCAM was formed in 1999 and includes NASA, NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, the state of Louisiana and the University of New Orleans. This new agreement will expand the NCAM partnership to include Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, which has engineering and research capabilities that can assist NCAM in fulfilling the nation's aerospace technology needs. (8/2)

Drilling Discovers Ancient Antarctic Rainforest (Source: Bangkok Post)
Drilling of the seabed off Antarctica has revealed that rainforest grew on the frozen continent 52 million years ago, scientists said Thursday, warning it could be ice-free again within decades. The study of sediment cores drilled from the ocean floor off Antarctica's east coast revealed fossil pollens that had come from a "near-tropical" forest covering the continent in the Eocene period, 34-56 million years ago.

Kevin Welsh, an Australian scientist who travelled on the 2010 expedition, said analysis of temperature-sensitive molecules in the cores had showed it was "very warm" 52 million years ago, measuring about 20 degrees Celsius (68 F). "There were forests existing on the land, there wouldn't have been any ice, it would have been very warm," Welsh told AFP of the study, published in the journal Nature. (8/2)

Ariane Rocket with Two Satellites Lifts Off (Source: AFP)
An Ariane 5 rocket carrying two telecommunication satellites launched from the Kourou space centre in French Guiana on Thursday, an Internet broadcast by European operator Arianespace showed. The fourth Ariane 5 launch this year, and the 208th overall, began at 5:54 pm. It will eventually place into orbit two geostationary telecommunication satellites -- Intelsat-20 for international satellite operator Intelsat, and HYLAS 2 for European operator Avanti Communications. (8/2)

History Littered With Failed Mars Probes (Source: Reuters)
NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter was about a week away from wrapping up an 11-month journey to the Red Planet in 1999 when engineers noticed a problem - the spacecraft, designed to study Mars' environment, was not where it was supposed to be. The gap grew alarmingly over the next few days. On September 23, Climate Orbiter began the brake to enter Mars' orbit as planned, but disappeared behind the planet 49 seconds early, severing radio contact with Earth. It was never heard from again.

Launching probes to Mars is not for the faint of heart. Out of the 40 spacecraft dispatched to the Red Planet, only 14 lived to fulfill their missions. History is not on NASA's side, though the United States has fared far better than Russia when it comes to Mars exploration. Out of 19 attempted missions, Russia and the former Soviet Union have had only a few partial successes.

Launch failures claimed nearly half of Russia's probes, including the ambitious Phobos-Grunt sample return mission last year. Other spacecraft sailed blindly past Mars or burned up in the planet's atmosphere during landing attempts. Newcomers Japan and China have fared no better. Only Europe, which operates the Mars Express orbiter, has had beginner's luck on Mars. (8/2)

Russia's 48 Progress Sprint to the ISS a Success (Source: Aviation Week)
Russia’s Progress 48 mission one day sprint to the six person International Space Station has concluded with success. The unpiloted resupply capsule and its nearly three ton payload carried out a successful automated docking with the ISS Wednesday at 9:18 p.m., EDT, or less than six hours after the Progress 48 lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan: an ISS first.

The linkup, 250 miles over the Pacific Ocean west of South America, unfolded 7 minutes ahead of the forecast, or an elapsed time of 5 hours, 43 minutes. The four orbit journey served as a test flight for a possible Soyuz crew transport mission to the ISS with three passengers. A crew follow on is likely at least a year away, Dina Contella, NASA’s current ISS lead flight director, said shortly before the lift off. (8/2)

SpaceX Spends 320 Times Less on Building the Dragon Than NASA Does on the Orion (Source: PolicyMic)
The news about Dragon's successful design review came only a couple weeks after NASA had news of its own with the unveiling of the Orion capsule in its early stages. Built primarily by Lockheed Martin (but to NASA specifications, in contrast to the Dragon capsule which is fully developed by the private sector), the olive drab hull was shown off at the Kennedy Center surrounded by NASA employees and congressmen.

The capsule is scheduled to make its first unmanned flight in 2014, with the Space Launch System (the rocket for taking Orion to the moon or beyond) scheduled to test launch in 2017. It is good to see NASA on track for some big spaceflight milestones once again. But despite the progress, something stands out as a problem: The total NASA funding for the CCDev2 program was around $270 million. That’s $270 million for the development of four different vehicles to bring people into orbit. NASA will then have to pay per flight once the vehicles are functional, but it’s still not bad. Especially when compared to the Orion capsule.

Compared to the SpaceX CCDev2 program, the Space Launch System that Orion is a part of is expected to cost $38 billion. Between $17 to $22 billion is needed just for development. That is 80 times the cost of the development of four manned crew vehicles by the private sector, i.e. 320 times more per vehicle. Now, I understand that creating a system to go to the moon is much more complicated and expensive than going to orbit. But 320 times more? I think not. Editor's Note: Seems like including the SLS rocket in this comparison is not appropriate. (7/19)

Google Maps Partners with NASA at KSC (Source: YouTube)
With its seaside location and unique facilities steeped in history, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida boasts amazing views typically seen only by employees and astronauts. Now space enthusiasts around the world can take a virtual walk through the transfer aisle of the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building, stand at the top of Launch Pad 39A, and more, thanks to a new partnership between Kennedy and Google Maps with Street View. Click here. (8/2)

Atlas 5 Launch Delayed Until Friday (Source: Santa Maria Times)
An Atlas 5 rocket’s launch attempt from Vandenberg Air Force Base was scrubbed early today with the team now aiming for departure early Friday morning. The new planned time for blastoff from Space Launch Complex-3 on South Base is 12:27 a.m. Friday, officials said. The delay was blamed on a problem with Western Range instrumentation deemed mandatory for the rocket launch due to safety reasons. (8/2)

Futron Study Shows Further U.S. Competitive Decline in Space (Source: Parapolic Arc)
The U.S. remains the top dog in space, but it is losing its competitive advantage as the nation’s space program undergoes a series of major transitions while other nations, in particular China, improve their space capabilities. So says Futron’s 2012 Space Competitiveness Index, which was released on Wednesday. It’s the fifth anniversary edition of the report, and the fifth year in a row in which Futron has documented America’s declining lead in space.

Perhaps to offset that depressingly familiar conclusion, Futron has spiced up the report by adding five emerging space powers to the 10 nations it normally analyzes. The additions include Argentina, Australia, Iran, South Africa and Ukraine. They join the usual suspects: United States, Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Canada, India, Brazil, Israel and South Korea. Click here. (8/2)

After Curiosity, a Dead Zone in Mars Exploration (Source: Popular Mechanics)
As the world watches for the Curiosity rover’s arrival, scientists and Mars exploration boosters wonder if Curiosity will turn out to be our high-water mark—the last in the U.S.’s long run of exploration triumphs on Mars. Just as Curiosity is ready to begin its years-long trek, the Obama administration is scaling back NASA’s planetary exploration and Mars programs. The White House’s 2013 budget would trim spending on Mars exploration and planetary science by 20 percent.

In February, the U.S. pulled the plug on a Mars Sample Return mission with the European Space Agency—an ambitious project that planetary scientists ranked as the top priority for robotic Mars exploration. Examining Martian rocks and soil in terrestrial labs will answer many questions about Mars’s geologic past, its ability to sustain life forms, and what chemical or physical hazards astronauts could someday encounter.

The White House and its Office of Management and Budget view Mars Sample Return as unaffordable and refused to commit to building an orbiter and a return vehicle for the mission. The effects of NASA’s withdrawal were immediate, though: The Europeans have solicited Russian help in building and launching their own rover mission, called ExoMars. Click here. (8/2)

Boeing Delivers 2nd Intelsat 702MP Satellite to Sea Launch Home Port (Source: Boeing)
Boeing recently completed shipment of the second of four 702MP satellites for customer Intelsat S.A., paving the way for a third quarter 2012 launch of another member of the medium-power satellite family Boeing introduced in 2009. The Intelsat 21 satellite will be carried into orbit by a Sea Launch AG Zenit 3SL rocket. (8/1)

Pentagon Official Details Effects of Possible Sequestration Cuts (Source: Defense News)
Military service members might not get health care services, buildings could face delays in getting repairs, and training budgets could be slashed under sequestration cuts to defense, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told members of the House Armed Services Committee this week. Reductions in training hours, he said, would mean "lower readiness" for the military. (8/1)

GOP, White House are at Odds Over Defense-Cut Details (Source: AP)
GOP lawmakers say the White House is making political moves by not providing details about how sequestration could take place and by advising defense firms they don't have to file layoff notices. While President Barack Obama has said the cuts would spare military personnel, the administration has told federal agencies they don't have to change their spending now because sequestration if it occurs wouldn't take place until January. (7/31)

New Submarine Missile Test Facility Planned at Spaceport (Source: Space Florida)
The Navy Strategic Systems Program at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) will refurbish and update a 1950s-era submarine missile test complex. The new Strategic Weapons System Ashore (SWS Ashore) facility at CCAFS Complexes 25 and 29 will provide the U.S. Navy with a single, land-based facility for testing submarine missile systems. Launch Complexes 25 and 29 were originally constructed for the first Fleet Ballistic Missile test launches in the 1950s, and use of the locations was discontinued in the 1970s.

When the new work is finished, the complexes will support testing systems found in the current Ohio-class submarine as well as systems under development for the Ohio replacement submarine. Currently, missile launch systems, fire control, guidance and navigation, and the missiles themselves are all tested separately by the Navy at various locations across the U.S. through computer simulation. By bringing systems together in one location, the Navy will be able to test interactions between system components using the same hardware and software found on the submarines.

Stationary, inert missiles outfitted with electronic monitoring equipment will be used for the testing, and the test facility is not intended to be used for actual missile launches. Space Florida and the EDC of Florida’s Space Coast have been working with the U.S. Navy for more than a year to secure CCAFS decommissioned launch complexes as the location for this test facility. Today, Space Florida has committed to providing $5 million in capital improvements over three years to the demolition and rebuild of the site. Space Florida and the EDC anticipate 100 jobs may be created within three years as a result of the project. (8/2)

Two Buildings at NASA Glenn Research Center Up for Auction (Source: Crain's Cleveland Business)
The General Services Administration, the federal government's purchasing and property arm, has announced it will auction two low-rise buildings on the campus of NASA Glenn Research Center. GSA has launched the bidding at a sweet and attention-getting $200,000. That is a swell price for two buildings, of 160,000 and 40,000 square feet, on nearly 10 acres with proximity to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and the Grayton/Interstate 480 interchange. GSA said in a news release that it seeks fair market value for the property. (8/1)

Hatch Must Wait for Spaceport Visitor Center; T or C Site OK'd (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The location of one of two welcome centers for Spaceport America was approved Wednesday by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. It will be in Truth or Consequences. But a proposed site for a second center in Hatch will have to be reassessed after the NMSA board of directors determined it did not adequately meet the criteria in the Welcome Center Site Selection request for proposals. The NMSA board had no problem approving the site in T or C. (8/2)

After Moon, India Reaches for Mars (Source: Hindustan Times)
Forget the stars, India is now shooting for Mars. The country's most ambitious space program yet - a satellite voyage to the red planet - is likely to be given a go-ahead by the government on Friday. In Friday's meeting, the union cabinet will consider a proposal to send an unmanned Mars orbiter spacecraft to study the planet next year.
The cabinet proposal comes days before NASA's newest interplanetary rover is expected to land on the planet on August 6. However, the Indian spacecraft will not land, but only roam in its orbit. The spacecraft will be launched during October-November 2013. It will enter the Mars orbit by September 2014. (8/2)

Antares Scheduled for Two Flights in 2012 (Source: DelMarVaNow)
Orbital's Antares rocket is scheduled to make two flights before the end of the year, according to an updated schedule. A static fire test at Wallops of Antares' first stage is set for late August or early September, with the test flight of the rocket scheduled for October. A demonstration mission to the International Space Station under COTS, when the rocket will carry the Cygnus spacecraft that will rendezvous and berth with the space station, will be in December, according to the latest schedule. The first mission to actually supply cargo to the space station is slated for the first quarter of 2013. (8/2)

NASA Chief Technologist Praises KSC Advances (Source: NASA)
A heat shield partially made from Martian or lunar soil, lighting that lets plants grow in space and specialized containers that keep astronauts from getting infected by biological experiments were some of the ideas shown to NASA's chief technologist during his two-day visit to laboratories at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Although known for pioneering tools and techniques to prepare payloads and launch spacecraft successfully, the space center and its partner Space Florida also operate labs for scientists performing cutting edge research in other fields.

"It's very exciting to be here at Kennedy Space Center because one of the best parts of my job is thinking about the future," said Mason Peck, NASA's chief technologist. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to do this in the first place." Peck, who has been in his NASA post for six months, has been visiting NASA centers across the nation to see up-close what developments are under way. The trips are important for a variety of reasons, but Peck said there is a certain element of fun in seeing such things, too. Click here. (8/2)

Continuing-Resolution Likely to Fund NASA in Early 2013 (Source: NASA)
"The agreement reached by House and Senate leadership to fund the government through the first quarter of 2013 is a welcome development, and we are encouraged that both sides have agreed to resolve this issue without delay. The President has made clear that it is essential that the legislation to fund the government adheres to the funding levels agreed to by both parties last year, and not include ideological or extraneous policy riders. The President will work with leaders in both parties to sign a bill that accomplishes these goals." (8/1)

At Old Mine, Hopes Of Striking Gold With Dark Matter (Source: NPR)
In Lead, S.D., a steel cage drops almost a mile below ground into the Sanford Underground Laboratory. It's formerly the deepest underground gold mine in North America, and when it closed a decade ago, state officials hoped that an underground science laboratory along with on-site university classes could spur economic development. That hope may soon be realized, alongside an even bigger goal: South Dakota is about to enter the global race to prove the existence of dark matter, which some scientists theorize makes up a good chunk of the universe. Click here. (8/1)

Chiropractic Included in Panel Addressing Health Concerns of Astronauts (Source: FCP)
Prior to advancing its human spaceflight sector, NASA addressed the heightened risk of musculoskeletal injuries threatening astronauts, and discussed its concerns during a Spinal Deconditioning Injury Risk Summit. Among experts invited to the Summit was University of South Florida’s John Mayer, D.C., Ph.D., a supporter of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP), who believes chiropractic care represents advancement in prevention and protection protocols.

“It is crucial that NASA continues to aggregate data and develop strategies to mitigate this problem. More times than not, this initial breakdown leads to other debilitating health concerns, such as disc herniation – an ailment space crews are five times more at risk for than average individuals.” “Deconditioning -- the breakdown of the spine’s musculoskeletal support system – is a very common and serious condition occurring in astronauts,” says Dr. Mayer at the University of South Florida. “It is crucial that NASA continues to aggregate data and develop strategies to mitigate this problem. (8/1)

JPL Infographics Site Wants You and Your Creativity (Source: NASA JPL)
JPL Infographics, a newly launched website and resource database from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is inviting space aficionados and graphic wizards to take on a visual challenge by grabbing NASA data and transforming them into a scientific work of art. The website provides extensive collections of NASA science and mission data, graphics and space images that members of the public can download and use to create their own infographics - creative illustrations of complex data. Click here. (8/1)

Florida Project Among NASA Advance Concepts Selected for Funding (Source: NASA)
The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program is proud to announce its 2012 awards. NIAC has selected eighteen new NIAC Phase I awards, and ten new Phase II awards based on earlier Phase I studies. These proposals have been selected based on the potential of their concepts to transform future aerospace missions, enable new capabilities, or significantly alter and improve current approaches.

Each Phase I study will receive approximately $100,000 for one year, and each Phase II study will receive approximately $500,000 for two years. These studies will advance numerous innovative aerospace concepts, and help NASA achieve future goals. Among the 2012 Phase I Fellows is Gecheng Zha of the University of Miami. Zha will focus on "Silent and Efficient Supersonic Bi-Directional Flying Wing". Click here to see the entire list of funded projects. (8/1)

Is There a Virtual Mars in Our Future? (Source: NBC)
Imagine a day when virtual reality gets so good that you could take a computer-generated walk on the Martian surface, right here on Earth. Or imagine having a space station in Martian orbit that can control robots down on the Red Planet in real time, just as today's drone pilots control winged robots that are flying half a world away.
Science fiction? Today, yes. But someday, it could be science fact. At least that's the way Caltech astronomer George Djorgovski and other virtual-world researchers see it.

"We can actually create immersive data sets with the Mars exploration rovers," he told me. "We're certainly going to try to do that with a limited number of data sets from Curiosity as well. ... People are on board to take what Curiosity does, and try to create the best we can in terms of immersive data sets, to demonstrate their value and power. And maybe as the mission goes on, we'll have opportunities to create richer and richer data sets." Click here. (8/1)

Progress Transport Ship Blasts Off From Baikonur (Source: Itar-Tass)
This year’s third Russian Progress transport ship blasted off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, August 1.
“The Soyuz-U carrier rocket with the spaceship Progress M-16M was launched precisely as scheduled at 23:25 Moscow time,” according to the Mission Control Center. In six hours, the transport ship will bring more than 2.6 tons of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). (8/1)

Cubesat Planet-Finder In The Works (Source: Aviation Week)
A $5 million cubesat is definitely top of the line, but not when it is being developed to perform work similar to that underway on the $600 million Kepler planet-finder mission. A group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing a cubesat dubbed ExoplanetSat to evaluate whether any Earthlike planets found circling bright, relatively nearby stars have orbits that would permit spectral analysis of their atmospheres.

While the cost of the first planet-finding cubesat taking shape at MIT is high, its developers hope to be able to build enough of them to bring down the unit cost. Restrictions imposed by the tiny space available inside the 3U cubesat—measuring 30 X 10 X 10 cm—limit each to observing one exoplanet, so a “swarm” of “dozens” of spacecraft watching the same number of different stars would be needed, says Sara Seager, a professor of planetary science and professor of physics at MIT who is key to the work. (8/1)

Rocketry Seen Hitting Development Limits (Source: Aviation Week)
Progress in new U.S. launch systems has slowed because rocket technology has virtually reached its limits and the time is ripe for the privately funded development of an all-new, liquid-fueled engine in the 500,000-lb.-thrust class, according to Antonio Elias, head of advanced programs at Orbital Sciences Corp. Elias says the physics of chemical rocket propulsion makes a Moore’s Law-type improvement rate impossible for engine development. “What makes Moore’s law possible is that there is tremendous headroom in the fundamental physics of micro-electronics. We have several flips to go before we start hitting the uncertainty principle.”

Elias adds that when it comes to launch vehicles there are two main measures of progress: specific impulse (ISP), which rates overall rocket efficiency, and mass fraction, which is the mass of the vehicle’s propellant divided by the total mass of the rocket. “We have reached 98% to 99% in both areas in rocketry.” Compared to the rapid rate of apparent progress in other technologies, particularly consumer electronics, the pace of rocket technology improvement seems sluggish at best. “That’s what the public doesn’t understand. They don’t see us advancing at the same rate,” Elias says. (8/1)

NASA Chief: U.S. Won't Go It Alone on Manned Mars Mission (Source: USA Today)
U.S. astronauts won't land on Mars by themselves but with international partners in the 2030s, NASA's chief said Wednesday. NASA chief Charles Bolden focuses on Mars as the "ultimate destination for now" for human space exploration. "I have no desire to do a Mars landing on our own," Bolden said. "The U.S. cannot always be the leader, but we can be the inspirational leader through international cooperation" in space exploration.

Obama administration plans are for the $17.7 billion space agency to land an astronaut on an asteroid in 2025, then go to Mars by the middle of the 2030s. The mission inevitably will be international, as will any future human landings on the moon, Bolden said. "We already have gone there first," he said. (8/1)

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