August 25, 2012

NASA Launching Mini Satellites Powered by Nexus One Phones (Source: Tom's Hardware)
NASA is taking the cheap but effective route by launching 4-inch satellites using Android phones as the on-board computer. Brilliant. They'll reportedly be powered by Google's Nexus One smartphones and include external batteries, an external radio beacon, and a watchdog circuit that will monitor the system and reboot the Android smartphone if necessary.

On Friday NASA said its cube-shaped, pre-Borg-like satellites are part of the PhoneSat Project aimed to make extensive use of commercial-off-the-shelf components, including an unmodified, consumer-grade smartphone. A small team of engineers is working on the project at the agency's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., and are taking the same "release early, release often" smartphone route with the small spacecraft.

"Out of the box, smartphones already offer a wealth of capabilities needed for satellite systems, including fast processors, versatile operating systems, multiple miniature sensors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers, and several radios," NASA said. By using only commercial-off-the-shelf hardware and keeping the design and mission objectives to a minimum for the first flight, the team was able to build each of the three prototype satellites in the PhoneSat project for $3,500. (8/25)

Another Scrub Pushes Atlas Launch to Thursday, After Hurricane (Source:
After thunderstorms scrubbed this morning's countdown, the Atlas 5 rocket will be rolled back from the launch pad to its assembly hangar on Sunday to avoid the threat of high winds buffeting Cape Canaveral in the coming days as the wide swath of Isaac, now a tropical storm but expected to develop into a hurricane, skirts by Florida. Launch will be postponed until next Thursday, Aug. 30, at 4:05 a.m. EDT (8/25)

Obama: Armstrong One of America's Greatest Heroes (Source:
President Barack Obama hailed the late astronaut Neil Armstrong as one of the greatest of American heroes, "not just of his time, but of all time." The first man to walk on the moon, Armstrong died Saturday at the age of 82. In a statement issued by the White House, Obama said Armstrong and the rest of the crew carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation when the Apollo 11 mission traveled to the moon in 1969.

"They set out to show the world that the American spirit can see beyond what seems unimaginable — that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible. And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten," Obama said. (8/25)

Romney on Armstrong: an "American Hero" (Source: Miami Herald)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says astronaut Neil Armstrong is an "American hero." Romney told reporters Saturday that Armstrong's death was "very sad." In a subsequent statement, the Republican says the first man to walk on the moon takes his place in the "hall of heroes."

Romney notes that he met with Armstrong "a few weeks ago." And he says that Armstrong's passion for space, science and discovery will inspire him for the rest of his life, adding "the moon will miss its first son of earth." Armstrong died Saturday from complications following cardiovascular procedures. He was 82 years old. (8/25)

From One Former Astronaut to Another (Source: Miami Herald)
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson weighed in Saturday afternoon on the death of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. "Neil Armstrong understood that we should reach beyond the stars. His 'one giant leap for mankind' was taken by a giant of a man," Nelson said. Nelson was the second sitting member of Congress selected and trained by NASA for a space mission, and he's widely viewed as a supporter of Florida's space program. (8/25)

Neil Armstrong, First Moonwalker, Dies (Source: NBC)
Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died Saturday, weeks after heart surgery and days after his 82nd birthday. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, and he radioed back to Earth the historic news of "one giant leap for mankind." He spent nearly three hours walking on the moon with fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. Armstrong and hiw wife, Carol, married in 1999, made their home in the Cincinnati suburb of Indian Hill, but he had largely stayed out of public view in recent years.

In May, Armstrong joined Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida to support the opening of The National Flight Academy, which aims to teach math and science to kids through an aviation-oriented camp. (8/25)

Stormy Weather Prompts Saturday Scrub of NASA Launch (Source: Aviation Week)
Efforts to launch NASA's twin Radiation Belt Storm Probe mission spacecraft were scrubbed for a second time early Saturday by the threat of off shore thunderstorms. A third attempt to launch the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 401 rocket carrying the two 1,400 pound probes from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., was re-scheduled for Sunday at 4:07 a.m., EDT, the start of a 20 minute window.

Forecasters offered a 40 percent chance of favorable weather for the attempt. Stormy conditions to the south and east of Cape Canaveral on Saturday violated launch weather rules for lightning and flight through cumulus clouds. Wind gusts associated with Tropical Storm Isaac and cloud cover will be a concern on Sunday. Saturday's countdown reached a prolonged four minute hold without technical issues. The scrub was called as the 20 minute launch period expired. (8/25)

Colorado Scientist Wants Funds for Space Exploration (Source: Canadian Business)
Historically, U.S. space exploration has depended almost solely on NASA for funding, which left missions — and the researchers behind them — at the whim of the Congressional budgetary process. Boulder planetary scientist Alan Stern said he's tired of weathering the federal funding storm — the 2013 budget proposed by President Barack Obama would cut funding for planetary sciences by 20 percent — and he's guessing he's not alone.

Stern is spearheading an effort to supplement government funding for space exploration, research and education with privately raised money through a new company dubbed Uwingu, which is Swahili for "sky." The plan is to sell "space-related products" — the exact nature of which have not yet been unveiled — and to use the proceeds to fund grants for space science.

Stern said Uwingu already has one product largely developed and ready to go, but before the company officially launches, it needs to raise $75,000 to cover its initial expenses. To do that, Uwingu has turned to the crowd-funding website Indiegogo, where the company had already taken in more than $25,000 as of Friday. The campaign ends at midnight Sep. 14. (8/25)

UCF Seeks Director For Space Institute (Source: UCF)
The Florida Space Institute (FSI) of the University of Central Florida (UCF) seeks applications and nominations for its Director. FSI’s charter is to support space research, development, and education activities within UCF and the broader State of Florida, and secondarily to support the development of Florida’s space economy—-civil, defense, and commercial.

Applicants should have a PhD or equivalent experience, and demonstrated leadership and management ability, effective interpersonal skills, national and international recognition, a record of winning competitively funded space funding, an entrepreneurial mindset for building organizations, and past experience in academic programs. Review of applications will begin Oct. 1 and will continue until the position is filled. Applicants should apply on line at before Oct. 1 and refer to position number 37346.

Please direct any questions to the current FSI Director, Dr. S Alan Stern, at 303-324-5269 or More information about FSI can be found here. (8/24)

Spaceport Bill to Get Second Look (Source: Las Cruces Bulletin)
When an interim legislative committee meets in Truth or Consequences next week, backers of legislation to expand spaceport liability protection will get another shot at convincing lawmakers that it’s needed. Previously, the Legislature passed liability protection for flight operators such as Virgin Galactic protecting the company from being sued by passengers or their families for a mishap – excluding negligence – during a rocket-propelled ride into suborbital space.

But states competing with New Mexico for the emerging private space flight market – including Texas, Colorado, Virginia and Florida – have extended that liability protection to companies in the supply chain for the operators, such as the rocket engine manufacturers. A bill was introduced in the last legislative session to expand protections to space flight operator suppliers, but it died in committee under pressure from trial lawyers.

Rep. Joseph Cervantes, a trial lawyer, said the interim committees on water and court issues will meet soon to debate the issue. The difficulty for many lawmakers, Cervantes said, is that the state is already investing $209 million into the construction of Spaceport America in the remote desert between T or C and Las Cruces. Other important industries in the state, such as auto dealers, don’t enjoy immunity from lawsuits, he said. “We have to ask ourselves at what point do we as a society decide what industry deserves a level of protection against injury lawsuits,” Cervantes said. (8/25)

Cleveland Indians, NASA, John Glenn Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Mercury Flight (Source: Cleveland Indians)
The Indians will welcome NASA and U.S. Senator John Glenn to Progressive Field on Sunday, August 26 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Glenn’s orbital Mercury Flight. The festivities will include an on-field celebration of Glenn’s historic flight before the 1:05 p.m. game vs. the New York Yankees. Glenn will also be on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. (8/25)

Alcoa and Aluminum Again Advance Space Exploration (Source: Alcoa)
Curiosity is made mostly of aluminum, which makes the craft light, durable and fast. Incorporated into the assembly of Curiosity are high-strength precision aerospace fasteners manufactured by Alcoa Fastening Systems in California. Inconel 718 bolts and standard hexagon nuts produced at Alcoa’s Newbury Park facilities and Keensert Inserts manufactured at Alcoa’s Torrance plant were used in the construction of the rover. (8/25)

Space Elevator Ideas Rising Again (Source: NBC)
The space elevator concept has had its ups and downs — but this year, it looks as if the concept's proponents are definitely trying to push the “up” button again. There’s a new Kickstarter project, aimed at setting the stage for a lunar space elevator. Space-elevator backers are trying to restart a competition for ultra-strong tethers. And a Japanese company has pledged to get the thing built … by 2050. But veterans of the movement say one big thing is required: a revolution in materials science, and specifically carbon nanotubes. Or maybe boron nitride nanotubes.

"The materials are still the long pole in the tent, and I don't see the government getting interested in it," Bryan Laubscher, the founder and president of Odysseus Technologies, told me today. "That's disappointing to me." Laubscher and other space-elevator advocates will take stock of the past year's ups and downs at the annual International Space Elevator Conference, running from Saturday through Monday at Seattle's Museum of Flight. (8/24)

Senator Mark Warner Discusses Virginia Experiments Planned for Space Station (Source: Spaceports Blog)
Southwestern Virginia students will be placing space science experiments on the International Space Station in 2012 and 2013, U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), a member of growing influence on the Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Science & Space, discussed these projects being planned with the National Center for Earth and Space Science and Nanoracks, LLC, under a commercial Space Act Agreement with NASA. Russell County Public Schools will be the first school in Virginia to place an experiment on the orbiting outpost this year.

Jack Kennedy forged an MOU in late 2011 between the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council, who are assisting in funding, and Nanoracks, LLC, the commercial carrier provider, to pursue the student-driven space science experiments. Warner has been an advocate for the Virginia spaceport on the Commerce Committee and a friend of the emerging commercial spaceflight industry in his first four years on Capitol Hill. The soon-to-be Senior Senator from Virginia will wield more influence over science and space authorization in the next Congress. (8/23)

Orbital Sciences Gears Up for Commercial Cargo (Source: Spaceports Blog)
NASA is still waiting for Orbital Sciences Corp. to wrap up its COTS demonstration program. Orbital holds a $1.9 billion contract to make eight deliveries to the space station with its Cygnus space freighter and Antares launcher. Orbital has two flight demonstrations scheduled: the Antares maiden flight, in which the rocket will carry a ballast payload; and a mission with the full Antares/Cygnus stack. These demonstrations are scheduled for October and December, 2012 the company says. (8/24)

Virginia Suborbital Launch Delayed Again by NASA (Source: Virginian Pilot)
A suborbital rocket set to launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility has been postponed again, this time due to the presence of boats in the Atlantic Ocean. NASA will not attempt the launch on Saturday because of the weather forecast. No determination has been made on a new date. (8/24)

Astronomers Find Rare, Second Kind of Supernova (Source: LA Times)
Astronomers have for the first time observed a nova-producing system turn into a supernova, a finding that indicates the universe has more than one way to create a nova. A normal Type Ia supernova is a rare event, occurring perhaps once or twice every century. The type of supernova observed by a team of astronomers led by astronomer Ben Dilday of UC Santa Barbara is estimated to occur about one time in every 1,000 supernovae.

The findings are important because supernovae are generally all considered to have the same intrinsic brightness, making them what astronomers call "standard candles" used for estimating distances across the cosmos. If some supernovae have different brightnesses because they have a different origin, that could lead to errors in distance measurements. (8/24)

Finnish Devices Provide Glimpse into Conditions on Mars (Source: YLE)
Equipment supplied by Finland as part of the unmanned mission to Mars appears to be working flawlessly. Part of the Curiosity rover’s bundle of equipment includes pressure and temperature measurement devices developed by the Finnish Meteorological Institute FMI. The devices have relayed their first set of findings back to earth from the surface of the red planet.

The mechanisms will measure the pressure of atmospheric gases as well as on the surface and gauge the temperature on one of Earth’s closest galactic neighbors. According to the readings provided by the equipment, pressure in the planet’s gas ring varied from 6.9 and 7.8 millibars between August 15 and 18, matching researchers' expectations. (8/24)

The Complicated Rules That Govern the Naming and Mapping of Celestial Bodies (Source: Slate)
Christening celestial bodies—-or their features—-and figuring out their coordinates can spark conflict among normally level-headed scientists. The team behind NASA’s Dawn mission, which is mapping the asteroid Vesta, is embroiled in a dispute with the International Astronomical Union, the body that handles space nomenclature, among other things. You may remember the IAU from space’s last big definition battle, over whether Pluto is a planet.

The IAU and the Dawn team are at odds “over which coordinate system to use, and where to place the prime meridian from which longitude will be measured.” The Dawn team thinks that its preferences improve the mapping of Vesta, but the IAU does not want to budge from the guidelines it set before the NASA mission began.

The IAU’s rules have also plagued the Curiosity mission to Mars. For instance, the Curiosity folks wanted to name a mountain in the Gale crater after Robert Sharp, a geologist who died in 2004, but the IAU rules state that “large features such as mountains” have to bear Latin names. Officially, the mountain is now known as Aeolis Mons, though the Curiosity team continues to call it Mount Sharp informally. (8/24)

International Cooperation In Space Must Be Expanded (Source: Aviation Week)
To most people, the term “international space cooperation” involves national governments or their agencies, as exemplified by the International Space Station. But transnational commercial cooperation has been a driving force in space from the beginning of the Space Age. It has become more and more important as national budgets have tightened. Indeed, for over two decades, annual revenues from commercial space activities have far outstripped the total of government space budgets, both civil and military.

Governments have been slow to capitalize on this trend. There are still a number of initiatives that involve interaction among space agencies, with companies serving only as contractors. However, some recent roadblocks could seriously impede the pursuit of intergovernmental space programs. The most visible was the budget-motivated withdrawal of the U.S. from the ambitious European ExoMars missions and the subsequent financial difficulty the European Space Agency has experienced, even with the entry of the Russians. (8/24)

Poor Execution Cited as Factor in EELV Cost Growth (Source: Space News)
The Pentagon’s acquisition czar cited a contracting arrangement that offers little incentive to control costs as a contributor to soaring prices on the program that launches the vast majority of U.S. government satellites. In a July 12 letter to lawmakers, DOD acquisition official Frank Kendall said the projected cost of the Air Force EELV rocket program over 150 missions has more than doubled since 2004, to nearly $70 billion.

The primary drivers of the cost growth are unstable demand, international market vagaries and industrial base issues, he said. Kendall also said he has taken over milestone decision authority for the EELV program from the Air Force. Milestone decision authority refers to the authority to determine when a program is ready to move from one phase of development to the next.

The purpose of Kendall’s letter was to recertify the EELV program as required by U.S. law for defense systems whose acquisition costs rise by 25 percent or more. Continuation of the EELV program is justified because, among other things, it is essential to national security, there are no immediately available alternatives, and the latest cost estimates are reasonable, he said. (8/24)

House Committee Accuses Air Force of Not Allowing Competition for Launch Contracts (Source: AllGov)
Two of the nation’s largest defense contractors have enjoyed a virtual monopoly over the launching of Air Force satellites into orbit. But a bipartisan effort in the U.S. House seeks to end the sweetheart deal and open up opportunities for smaller commercial rivals. United Launch Alliance has handled all of the Air Force’s satellite launches for six years. The armed service wants to extend this arrangement for another five years and $19 billion.
But two lawmakers object to the cost as well as allowing Lockheed and Boeing to dominate satellite launches. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) and ranking member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) are complaining that the arrangement with United Launch Alliance lacks competition “and is unable to compete internationally due to high costs.”

Rogers and Ruppersberger want the Air Force to consider two other companies, SpaceX and Orbital, before awarding the next launch contract. They also called on Congress to eliminate a taxpayer-financed subsidy of $100 million per launch to ULA to cover maintenance and overhead. (8/24)

NOAA Finalizes JPSS-1 Contracts Totaling $655.5 Million (Source: Space News)
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will pay industry $655.5 million to build the second of five spacecraft the agency will use to collect weather and climate data as part of a $12.9 billion polar-orbiting satellite program scheduled to run through 2028.

The spacecraft, essentially a clone of the Suomi NPP satellite that launched in November, is called JPSS-1, after the Joint Polar Satellite System project of which it is a part. JPSS-1 is slated to launch in fall 2017 aboard a Delta 2 rocket from Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (8/24)

Which Telescopes Could Lose Out in Astronomy's Big Budget Crunch? (Source: CS Monitor)
For astronomers in the United States it's déjà vu with a wrenching twist – the possible closure of some of the most heavily used observatories the federal government funds. In 1995, the prospect of flat federal science budgets prompted calls to privatize or close workhorses such as the Kitt Peak Observatory near Tuscon, Ariz. That would ease the squeeze on other big-ticket observatory projects in the pipeline, the argument went.

Seventeen years later, telescopes at Kitt Peak, which avoided previous appointments with a broker, are again the budgetary bulls-eye. This time the fiscal picture is far more bleak, and the projects in the pipeline are more ambitious. Thus, a panel advising the National Science Foundation (NSF) has recommended that the agency writing the checks for publicly supported observatories divest itself of six facilities as quickly as possible over the next four years. Click here. (8/24)

The Politics of the Curiosity Rover (Source: WNYC)
The timing of NASA's Curiosity rover landing on Mars, coming two months after China's first manned spacecraft docking and three months before a heated U.S. election, has analysts debating both the domestic and international political repercussions of American space exploration. While China's scientific leaps and bounds are impressive in their own right, the consensus in the scientific community is that a serious space rivalry with the Chinese remains lightyears away.

As the Chinese rush to make up for lost time, Curiosity delivers a more potent message to the international community: the U.S. is still in the space game, and we're doing more than you. "This is something you can use in speeches to talk about American exceptionalism," says Dr. Howard McCurdy, a space policy expert and professor of public affairs at American University.

The Martian landing actively demonstrates that American innovation can continue to thrive despite lagging test scores and extreme budget cuts. In addition to the huge engineering achievement of landing a laboratory on a planet known to "eat spacecraft," said McCurdy, the recent mission to Mars is a "benign but informative way of demonstrating military and technological prowess." (8/24)

NASA'S 2013 Lunabotics Competition Open For Registration (Source: NASA)
NASA is accepting applications from teams of U.S. and international undergraduate and graduate students for the fourth annual Lunabotics Mining Competition. The event will be held at Kennedy Space Center in Florida May 20-24, 2013. Participants in the competition will design and build a remote controlled or autonomous robot. During the competition, the teams' designs, known as lunabots, will go head-to-head to determine which machine can excavate and deposit the most simulated lunar dirt within 10 minutes.

Registration is limited to the first 50 teams submitting applications. The competition is designed to engage and retain students in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines critical to NASA's missions. For information on the competition and to apply online, click here. (8/24)

GSLV With Indian Cryogenic Engine Set for 2013 Launch (Source: Deccan Chronicle)
The Indian Space Research Organization is all set to launch a GSLV rocket with an indigenously built cryogenic engine next year. ISRO chairman Dr K. Radhakrishnan said that the Organization planned to launch Geo-Stationery Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with India’s indigenous cryogenic engine in the beginning of next year.

“A lot of ground tests have already been conducted and we need to do two more major ground tests, scheduled from September to November, this year. Once the tests are successful, the cryogenic stage will be integrated into the GSLV vehicle for the 2013 launch,” he said. Asked about India’s mission to Mars, Dr Radhakrishnan said that the mission would be ready for launch next year. (8/24)

NASA Exercises Third Facility Operations Contract Term Period (Source: NASA)
NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi has exercised award term Period 3 of its Facility Operating Services Contract (FOSC) with Jacobs Technology Inc. of Tullahoma, Tenn. The FOSC provides a broad range of services to support NASA missions and more than 30 resident agencies sharing and using Stennis facilities and services. This cost-plus-incentive fee award term is valued at $51.8 million. It is the third of seven award term periods following the three-year base period. (8/24)

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