August 21, 2012

Astrobotic Wins NASA Contract for Lunar and Martian Cave Exploration (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Astrobotic has won a NASA contract to develop technologies for exploring caves on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Astrobotic was one of ten teams to be selected for Phase II awards from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. Planetary caverns and tunnels can provide shelter from micrometeorites, radiation, and thermal extremes for human and robotic explorers. They may be the best hope for habitation on the Moon. They could be the best place on Mars to find life.

Caves can provide a window into a planet’s past geology, climate, and even biology. Recently discovered skylights, formed by partial cave ceiling collapse, provide access to sub-surface voids. In a Phase I study for NASA’s NIAC program, Astrobotic developed several mission concepts and investigated key technologies for exploring these exciting planetary destinations. (8/21)

NASA, Maritime Administration Announce New Home For Liberty Star (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA and the Transportation Department's Maritime Administration (MARAD) signed a memorandum of understanding Aug. 21 to transfer NASA's solid rocket booster recovery ship, M/V Liberty Star, to the National Defense Reserve Fleet for use as a training vessel at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. With the end of the Space Shuttle Program, the two agencies worked together to ensure Liberty Star could continue service as a training vessel for midshipmen at the Merchant Marine Academy.

This agreement is mutually beneficial for NASA and MARAD. This ship will serve as a training vessel at the academy, providing significant merchant marine training value to Kings Point midshipmen as the vessel has dynamic positioning, modern towing capabilities and other features that will expand training opportunities. NASA will continue to have access to Liberty Star if the agency requires its use and it is available.

Liberty Star was launched in 1981 and served as one of two recovery vessels for retrieving the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters, which were jettisoned about 2 minutes after launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA still is working to identify a suitable new use for M/V Freedom Star, the other recovery ship. (8/21)

NASA Selects Space Station Integration Services Contract (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has selected Barrios Technology Ltd. of Houston to provide mission and program integration services for the International Space Station Program at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The two-year base contract is a small business set aside. It begins Oct. 1 and extends through Sept. 30, 2014. There are three potential two-year options valued at approximately $84 million and a provision for additional work not to exceed $50 million. The total potential value of the contract is $384.7 million. (8/21)

One Launch Prize Ends Without Winner, Another Gearing Up (Source: Hobby Space)
It appears there will be no winner of the purse of £9,999.99 (about $16000) for the N-Prize challenge to launch a payload of between 9.99 and 19.99 grams into orbit. There is now less than one month left in the (already extended) N Prize competition, and it is pretty clear that no team is ready to even come close to an attempt. It is worth running down the teams one more time, and showing that though no serious attempts were ever made, there has been some good to come out of the N Prize.

Founded by by Cambridge biologist Paul H. Dear in 2008, eventually over 40 teams from around the world signed up. If nothing else, the project succeeded in encouraging advanced amateur rocket development. Meanwhile, NASA opened the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge, which is being managed by Space Florida. The purse is $3M, which includes prizes of $1.5M for the winner and $1 million and $500,000 for the next two runners-up. The rules are not finalized but the payload looks to be at least 1 kg and not more than 10 kg and it must remain in space for at least one full orbit. Click here. (8/21)

The Solution to Sequestration Lies in Compromise, Obama Says (Source: The Hill)
Democrats and Republicans have to give up something to stop possible sequestration cuts, President Barack Obama said Monday in an interview. "Democrats have to understand we're going to need some additional spending cuts, and Republicans have to understand we're going to need some additional revenues," he said. (8/21)

U.S. Air Force Begins Using Boeing Surveillance Satellite (Source: Reuters)
The U.S. Air Force on Monday said it would begin operational use of a new Boeing surveillance satellite built to monitor debris and other satellites in space -- nearly two years after the satellite was first launched. Air Force Space Command said the new Space Based Surveillance Satellite system had achieved its initial level of capability and was ready to support U.S. military requirements after a delay linked to a piece of electronics on board.

The system is the only space-based sensor capable of detecting and monitoring debris, satellites and other space objects without disruptions from weather, atmospheric factors or the time of day that can limit ground-based systems. "This improved access to observe orbiting objects significantly enhances the ability to provide timely, critical information so desperately needed to support warfighter decision making," the Air Force said in a statement.

When the satellite was launched in September 2010, Boeing predicted it would be ready to perform its mission within 60 days, but its "initial operational capability" was delayed by problems with some onboard electronics. The problem occurred when the satellite traveled through the South Atlantic Anomaly, an area where the Earth's magnetic field is weakest and orbiting satellites are exposed to higher than usual levels of radiation. (8/21)

Curiosity's Russian Mars Water Sniffer Goes Online (Source: Space Daily)
A Russian neutron detector on board NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, designed to search for any water that might be bound into shallow underground minerals along the rover's path, was activated on Friday, the manufacturer said. "The first scientific information has been received about the substance of Mars and its radiation background in the landing area," the Russian Academy of Sciences Space Research Institute said.

The DAN detector, developed at the Space Research Institute under an agreement between NASA and Federal Space Agency Roscosmos, is Russia's contribution to the Mars rover. The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons instrument, or DAN, will scout for underground clues to a depth of about 50 centimeters. (8/21)

Curiosity's Israeli Refrigerator (Source: Israel National News)
NASA’s Curiosity rover, currently taking pictures on Mars, is using a refrigerator developed and manufactured in kibbutz Ein Harod (Ihud), in northern Israel. Ein Harod’s Ricor Cryogenic and Vacuum Systems specializes in cryogenic coolers, which are miniature refrigerators designed to reach extremely low temperatures, and are used for military, space and commercial applications. “Without our cooler, it would be impossible to determine the type of materials examined on Mars.” (8/21)

Is China Going to Blast Past America in Space? (source: Space Daily)
In recent weeks China has appeared prominently in the international media. To the layman it would seem that the Asian superpower is advancing its space technology and exploration program at warp speed and may overtake the American space program very soon. Most recently its Shenzhou-9 spacecraft successfully docked with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab. This was the country's first space flight with a female astronaut and its first docking in orbit.

But it would appear that China's space program still has a long way to go to catch up with the U.S. In fact, China has yet to build a reusable launch system, send astronauts beyond low earth orbit, walk on the moon or land a robotic spacecraft on an asteroid. Let's check China's space progress again in about 50 years. (8/21)

DARPA-Led Team Set To Demo Satellite Reuse (Source: Aviation Week)
With billions spent building, launching—and sometimes losing—geostationary (GEO) satellites, Pentagon researchers have begun a program to cut the cost, and risk, by reusing elements of retired spacecraft already in orbit. With the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) acting as system integrator, DARPA has assembled a broad-based industry team for its Phoenix program to demonstrate the salvage and reuse of components, such as large antennas, from dead satellites. An in-orbit test is planned in 2015-16.

“GEO satellites have an end-of-life because of running out of fuel, or solar panel degradation, or transponder technology becoming obsolete, but usually the antenna is perfectly OK,” says Seamus Tuohy, director of space systems for team member Draper Laboratory. “The concept is to scavenge a large aperture off a cooperative retired satellite, place it in GEO and construct the other satellite functions around it.”

Large antennas drive the size of satellites, and in turn rocket boosters, because there is a limit to how much they can be folded for launch. “The rule of thumb is 3:1. The largest launch vehicle available limits the largest size of aperture that can be deployed—the rest of the satellite can be pretty small,” says Tuohy. “Phoenix takes the driving determinant of satellite cost—the aperture—and uses it beyond its original purpose.” (8/20)

Fantastic Phobos (Source: Space Daily)
Some 135 years after its discovery, Mars' largest moon Phobos is seen in fantastic detail - and in 3D - in an image taken by ESA's Mars Express spacecraft as it passed just 100 km by. This view is much different to the faint object that astronomer Asaph Hall would have just been able to make out as he observed the Red Planet through the United States Naval Observatory's 66 cm telescope in 1877. Through this telescope he discovered Mars' smaller, outermost moon Deimos on 12 August and the larger, innermost moon Phobos on 18 August. Click here. (8/21)

Lockheed Martin To Build Spacecraft For InSight Mars Lander (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA's next Discovery mission. The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, led by principal investigator Bruce Banerdt of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and managed by JPL, will make the first ever measurements of the interior of Mars, providing insight into the evolution of the terrestrial planets.

Lockheed Martin in Denver will build and operate the InSight spacecraft. The cost of the mission, excluding the launch vehicle and related services, is capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars. "We are absolutely delighted to be a part of the InSight mission, and eager to get to work with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in moving this mission from the drawing board to the surface of Mars," said Lockheed Martin's Jim Crocker. "Exploration and discovery are fundamental to our progress, and we are very proud to play a role in making it happen." (8/21)

First Evidence Discovered of Planet's Destruction by Its Star (Source: Penn State)
The first evidence of a planet's destruction by its aging star has been discovered by an international team of astronomers. The evidence indicates that the missing planet was devoured as the star began expanding into a "red giant" — the stellar equivalent of advanced age.

"A similar fate may await the inner planets in our solar system, when the Sun becomes a red giant and expands all the way out to Earth's orbit some five-billion years from now," said Alex Wolszczan, an Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, University, who is one of the members of the research team. Wolszczan also is the discoverer of the first planet ever found outside our solar system. (8/21)

Atlas 5 Rocket @ 10 Years (Source:
Rocketing away on its maiden mission, an inaugural ascent loaded with a paying passenger, the Atlas 5 debuted 10 years ago Tuesday in a flight packed with compelling suspense. It was August 21, 2002, the Lockheed Martin-made booster was fueled up on its Cape Canaveral launch pad at Complex 41, counting down to blastoff at 6:05 p.m. EDT.

An immeasurable number of rehearsals, simulations and tests had exercised the team and hardware for months to ready the brand new rocket for its first trip to orbit. All of that effort would result in Atlas 5 launching precisely on-time at the opening moment of the window on the first attempt, a remarkable footnote for history that surprised even mission managers at the helm.

"3, 2, 1, and the RD-180 engine roars to life, and liftoff of the maiden flight of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket with the Hot Bird 6 spacecraft on board for Eutelsat of Paris, France," launch commentator Don Spencer belted from the broadcast booth at the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center. (8/21)

NASA Administrator to Announce Commercial Space Progress at KSC (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden on Thursday, Aug. 23, will visit at various locations in and around the agency's Kennedy Space Center to detail recent progress related to NASA's commercial spaceflight initiatives. Bolden and media will tour two locations on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station: SpaceX's facility at Space Launch Complex 40 and United Launch Alliance's Space Launch Complex 41, where the Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) spacecraft is on the launch pad. He will also visit the O&C Building to see the latest progress on NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. (8/21)

Darkness Ascending (Source: Space Review)
Recent declassifications by the NRO have shed new light on a number of early reconnaissance satellite programs. However, as Dwayne Day explains, there's still a lot to learn about some programs form that era that remain under wraps. Visit to view the article. (8/21)

Dwarf Planet, Dwarf Controversy (Source: Space Review)
Six years ago this month, the IAU approved a definition of the term "planet" that excluded Pluto, much to the dismay of many scientists and space enthusiasts. Jeff Foust reports that, today, there's still a debate about how a planet should be defined, although it doesn't weigh heavily among even those closely involved in that debate. Visit to view the article. (8/21)

India Announces a Mission to Mars (Source: Space Review)
Earlier this month the Indian government confirmed plans for that nation's space agency to send a spacecraft to Mars next November. Ajey Lele examines India's Mars mission plans and whether it makes sense for the country to cooperate with its regional space rivals on such a mission. Visit to view the article. (8/21)

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