August 3, 2012

Celebrate Curiosity's Landing with Special Mars-Themed Activities at KSC Visitor Complex (Source: KSCVC)
Last November, the public was invited to witness the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) as it began its nine month voyage to the surface of Mars. Now, as MSL prepares to make its historic landing on the red planet, guests are once again welcomed to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to share in a host of Mars-themed activities, exhibits and presentations, Friday, Aug. 3 through Monday, Aug. 6. Click here. (8/2)

Ariane 5 Performs 50th Successful Launch in a Row (Source: ESA)
Thursday marked the 50th successful Ariane flight in a row: an Ariane 5 was launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana to perform a dual deployment of two telecommunications satellites, Intelsat 20 and Hylas-2, into their planned transfer orbits. (8/2)

Crazy Smart: When A Rocker Designs A Mars Lander (Source: NPR)
Steltzner's path to becoming team leader for this new Mars lander was hardly direct. Unlike many successful engineers, he struggled at school. An elementary school principal told him he wasn't very bright. His high school experience seemed to confirm that. His father told him he'd never amount to anything but a ditch digger, a remark he still carries with him years later. After high school, the plan was to be a rock star. While he waited for stardom, Steltzner played bass guitar in Bay Area bands, watching his friends graduate and go off to college.

But then something happened. As Steltzner tells it, he was on his way home from playing music at a club one night when he became fascinated with the stars, especially the constellation of Orion. "The fact that it was in a different place in the sky at night when I returned home from playing a gig, than it had been when I'd driven out to the gig," he said. "And I had only some vague recollection from my high school time that something was moving with respect to something else, but that was it."

As crazy as it sounds, that experience was enough to motivate him to take a physics course at the local community college. That did it. He was hooked. The fog of sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifted. He had to know all about the laws that govern the universe. The rocker wound up with a doctoral degree in engineering physics. Click here. (8/3)

DirecTV Reports Its First Drop in U.S. Subscribers (Source: New York Times)
DirecTV on Thursday reported its first drop in net subscribers to its service in the United States, highlighting the challenges for pay television providers in a saturated marketplace. The company said that it more than made up for the decline by adding a record number of subscribers in Latin America. It lost 52,000 net subscribers in the United States in the second quarter, after having gained 81,000 a quarter earlier. Over all, DirecTV reported a 1.4 percent increase in net income, to $711 million in the second quarter of the year, from $701 million in the same quarter last year. (8/2)

Curiosity Rover Mission not About Martians (Source: Florida Today)
Let’s get this straight: NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory and its Curiosity rover are set to land early Monday on the most advanced, most ambitious and most adventurous mission ever sent to the red planet. And while the scientific return promises to be profound, there is one thing Curiosity won’t be looking for: Little Green Men. Or even tiny microbes for that matter. This mission is all about what planetary scientists call “habitability.” Scientists are trying to determine whether Mars ever harbored all the ingredients key to the formation of life.

This $2.5 billion lab’s instruments are the most sophisticated in the history of planetary space exploration. But they couldn’t distinguish pebbles from protozoa. “Curiosity is not set up to detect life directly,” said Steven Lee, deputy manager of Mars Science Laboratory surface operations. “Now if we come across a trilobite or a dinosaur bone, yes, that would be pretty definitive. But if life ever developed on Mars, it was most likely small, microbial life. So we’re not quite ready to make instruments small enough to do that detection directly on Mars.” (8/3)

What If the Curiosity Rover Finds Life on Mars? (Source:
If all goes as planned, NASA's Curiosity rover will touch down on Mars late Sunday night. Then, after a few weeks' respite, it will begin probing the subsurface soils looking for organic molecules that could be the detritus of ancient Martian life. A few billion years ago, vast oceans might have sloshed over the surface of the Red Planet, and a thick atmosphere probably enshrouded it. The liquids and gases have all but burned away by now, but any organisms Mars harbored in its ancient glory days would have left behind traces in the form of large, carbon-based molecules.

"Organic molecules can last for billions of years," explained Alexander Pavlov, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Any simple organic matter Curiosity digs up could have biological origins, but it could also have been generated through more mundane chemical processes. However, if the rover detects complex organic structures — the kind we find in living things, and practically nowhere else but Earth — these would be "a very strong indicator" of ancient life on Mars, Pavlov told Life's Little Mysteries. (8/3)

Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Win CCiCAP Awards (Source: Space News)
Boeing and SpaceX are the big winners in the third and final development round of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, garnering $460 million and $440 million, respectively, in government aid to complete and test astronaut crew taxis. Sierra Nevada Corp. netted $212.5 million in Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) funding. Bidders for the 21-month Space Act Agreements had to propose a complete system, including launch and crew vehicles, capable of carrying astronauts to and from the international space station. NASA wants at least one of these systems to be ready by 2017.

All three CCiCap winners have previously received NASA funds to work on elements of their crew transportation systems. Boeing is developing a space capsule called the CST-100, which the company plans to launch aboard the Atlas 5 rocket. Also planning to use an Atlas 5 is Sierra Nevada Space Systems, which is developing a lifting-body vehicle called Dream Chaser based on an old NASA design.

SpaceX is adapting its flight-tested Dragon cargo capsule for crewed missions, to be launched atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. Before any of these systems are cleared to carry astronauts, NASA will have to certify that they meet the agency’s safety standards. This work will be done under separate contracts to be awarded at or near the end of the CCiCap performance period. All three winners have said they can stage their first demonstration flights — which will not carry astronauts — by 2015 or 2016, depending on available funding. (8/3)

ATK Misses CCiCap Mark, Blue Origin Didn't Try (Source: Space News)
NASA’s CCiCap selections leave ATK, the longtime builder of solid-rocket motors for the now-retired space shuttle, without federal funding for its proposed Liberty crew transportation system. The Liberty rocket would have used an ATK-built solid-fuel core stage and the first stage of Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket as an upper stage. ATK proposed capping the rocket with a composite crew module. ATK was working with NASA through unfunded Space Act agreements to refine Liberty’s design.

According to sources in government and industry, Blue Origin, the secretive space startup bankrolled by founder Jeff Bezos, did not submit a CCiCap proposal. Blue Origin had been involved in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program since the first round of funding was awarded in 2010. The company has received a total of $25.7 million in NASA funding, some of which it put toward a crew escape system for its New Shepard vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing suborbital vehicle.

Editor's Note: ATK has repeatedly said it would proceed with Liberty development whether or not it wins NASA CCiCap funding. Blue Origin also is likely to continue developing its orbital launch system. So, we could still see five or more launch systems selling rides to NASA and other customers in coming years. (8/3)

Take the National Academies' Space Studies Board Survey on NASA's strategic Direction (Source: SpaceRef)
In the FY2012 appropriations bill that funds NASA, Congress requested an independent study of NASA's strategic direction. The study is being conducted by a committee of the National Research Council. The study statement of task directs the committee to "recommend how NASA could establish and effectively communicate a common, unifying vision for NASA's strategic direction that encompasses NASA's varied missions." Strategic direction can be thought of as the steps NASA needs to take over time to accomplish its vision and mission.

NASA's Strategic Direction Committee is reviewing a large amount of published material, including the law that created NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, most recently amended in 2010) and NASA's 2011 Strategic Plan, which begins with NASA's statement of its vision and mission. Click here to take the survey. (8/2)

Will Suborbital Space Travel Explode? It Depends (Source: Network World)
The FAA says that depending on a number of wide-ranging variables, the commercial use of reusable spacecraft that touch the threshold of space but don't actually enter it could grow significantly over the next ten years to be worth as much as $1.6 billion. But there are a ton of caveats. A study released this week funded by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation and Space Florida, and conducted by The Tauri Group stated that there are nine reusable spacecraft models being built by six companies - including Armadillo, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and XCOR -- currently in active planning, development or operation.

The capacity of these vehicles ranges from tens of kilograms to hundreds, with the largest currently planned capacity at about 700 kilograms. A number of these vehicles can carry humans, with current designs for one to six passengers, in addition to one or two crew members in piloted vehicles. Some vehicles will also launch very small satellites (under about 15 kilograms), the FAA stated. Vehicle launch types vary between vertical takeoff and landing and horizontally launched winged vehicles. Click here. (8/3)

India to Launch Three Satellites in September (Source: The Hindu)
India will launch three satellites in September and two more by the end of this year, said a senior official in Chennai. “We will be launching Spot-6, a French satellite and a small Japanese satellite on board PSLV-C21 (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) rocket, next month,” said P.S. Veeraraghavan, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Center. The third is a communication satellite — GSAT-10 – on-board Ariane rocket from Kourou in French Guiana. (8/3)

Atlas 5 Launch Slips to Aug. 14 (Source: Lompoc Record)
An Atlas 5 rocket’s next try for liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base won’t come until Aug. 14 at the earliest after mission managers were forced to scrub the first countdown. A new launch time was not yet available. The delay of more than a week gives Western Range crews more time to resolve a problem with instrumentation deemed mandatory for the flight. The problem popped up as the team counted down toward liftoff early Thursday at Space Launch Complex-3 on South Base, but could not be resolved before the launch opportunity expired. (8/3)

Congress Examines Suborbital Space Industry Regulation (Source: U.S. House)
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing entitled, “The Commercial Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicle Market.” The hearing examined the potential launch markets and applications for commercial suborbital reusable launch vehicles, the progress of some of the companies planning to offer suborbital services, the potential of these suborbital vehicles for scientific research, and the regulatory uncertainties that currently have the most impact on the emerging commercial suborbital space industry. Click here. (8/2)

Ex-Im Bank Puts $1.2 Billion Behind Two Satellite Projects (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Export-Import Bank has approved direct loans and loan guarantees for satellite telecommunications projects in Australia and Mexico, bringing to nearly $1.3 billion the bank’s satellite-sector financing so far for fiscal-year 2012 and equaling the total for all of 2011, the bank said. In a July 31 announcement, the Ex-Im Bank said it had approved a direct loan of $281 million to a subsidiary of NewSat of Australia, a startup satellite operator whose Jabiru-1 satellite is under construction by Lockheed Martin Space Systems. (8/3)

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