September 9, 2012

Obama Briefly Mentions Space in Space Coast Appearance (Source: Space Politics)
President Barack Obama spoke for over a half-hour late Sunday morning in a campaign appearance on the campus of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. However, those expecting him to spend some time talking about space, particularly contrasting his policies with those espoused by the Romney campaign, likely came away disappointed. Obama only briefly mentioned space in his speech, in reference to the creation of new manufacturing jobs in various industries:

"Here on the Space Coast, we started a new era of American exploration that is creating good jobs right here in this county. We’ve begun an ambitious new direction for NASA by laying the groundwork for 21st century spaceflight and innovation. And just last month, we witnessed an incredible achievement that speaks to the nation’s sense of wonder and our can-do spirit: the United States of America landing Curiosity on Mars. [cheers]

"So this is an example of what we do when we combine our science, our research, our ability to commercialize new products, making them here in America. So this is where we’ve got a choice: we could, as the House Republican budget proposes, cut back on research and technology. Or, we can continue to be at the cutting edge, because that’s what we’ve always been about. We can spark new discoveries, launch new careers, inspire the next generation to reach for something better." (9/9)

Does Triton Have a Subsurface Ocean? (Source: Space Daily)
Triton was discovered in 1846 by the British astronomer William Lassell, but much about Neptune's largest moon still remains a mystery. A Voyager 2 flyby in 1989 offered a quick peak at the satellite, and revealed a surface composition comprised mainly of water ice. The moon's surface also had nitrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide. As Triton's density is quite high, it is suspected that it has a large core of silicate rock. It is possible that a liquid ocean could have formed between the rocky core and icy surface shell, and scientists have investigated if this ocean could have survived until now.

Triton has a unique property among large solar system moons; it has a retrograde orbit. Planets form from a circumstellar disc of dust and gas that surrounds a young star. This disc circles the star in one direction, and thus the planets and their moons must also orbit in this same direction. These orbits are known as prograde, and a rogue object that orbits backwards is said to be in a retrograde orbit. The retrograde orbit of Triton means that it most likely did not form around Neptune.

This type of orbit would have raised large tides on the moon, and the friction of these tides would have caused energy to be lost. The energy loss is converted into heat within the moon, and this heat can melt some of the icy interior and form an ocean beneath the ice shell. The energy loss from tides is also responsible for gradually changing Triton's orbit from an ellipse to a circle. (9/9)

ESA Observatory Breaks World Quantum Teleportation Record (Source: Space Daily)
An international research team using ESA's Optical Ground Station in the Canary Islands has set a new distance world record in 'quantum teleportation' by reproducing the characteristics of a light particle across 143 km of open air. Funded by ESA, researchers from Austria, Canada, Germany and Norway transferred the physical properties of one particle of light - a photon - onto its 'entangled' partner via quantum teleportation, thereby bridging a distance of 143 km between the Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope on La Palma and ESA's Optical Ground Station on adjacent Tenerife. (9/9)

Medvedev to Chair Government Meeting on Spacecraft Quality (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will hold on Monday a government meeting dedicated to problems of the quality and reliability of Russian spacecraft. Specifically, it is planned to discuss practical aspects of the adoption of a new quality control system at all stages of the development, production and operation of spacecraft. The recent spacecraft failures demonstrate that the country’s space industry is facing profound problems.

At the previous such meeting on Aug. 14, the prime minister gave Russia’s Federal Space Agency one month to work out quality-improvement measures. Taking part in tomorrow’s meeting there will be Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Minister of Economic Development Andrei Belousov, Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov, Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, director of the Federal Space Agency Vladimir Popovkin, and top executive of leading sectoral enterprises. (9/9)

Mow Yard, Drop Off Kids, Take Drive on Mars (Source: New York Times)
Matt Heverly, 36, started a recent workday as any young father might: up at 5:30, gulping coffee, fixing a bottle for the baby. He threw on jeans and a T-shirt and drove his two sons to day care. He stopped to get the brakes on his Toyota checked and swung by the bank. Then he went to the office ... to drive a $2.5 billion robot on Mars.

Mr. Heverly leads a team of 16 drivers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory here. Together, they are responsible for steering a six-wheeled, plutonium-powered rover called Curiosity across the Red Planet’s Gale Crater. Equipped with futuristic tools like a laser that can vaporize rock, the 2,000-pound robot arrived on Mars on Aug. 6, and Mr. Heverly took the wheel — or computer keyboard, actually — on Aug. 22. (9/9)

India Launches Satellites in 100th Space Mission (Source: AP)
India has marked its 100th space launch, carrying French and Japanese satellites. ISRO said Sunday's launch of a French observation satellite and a Japanese microsatellite was a success. India has had an active space program since the 1960s and has launched scores of satellites for itself and other countries. In 2008, it successfully sent a probe to the moon that detected evidence of water on the lunar surface for the first time. The space agency plans to send a spacecraft to Mars next year. (9/9)

FAA Takes Environmental Look at SpaceX Plan (Source: Brownsville Herald)
SpaceX may be setting its sights on humankind’s final frontier — the cosmos — but the proposal to build a rocket launch site in Cameron County is raising questions among environmentalists about the fate of our original frontier — the Earth. For a proposal that presents the hope of economic progress for the region, conservationists likely could generate the biggest source of opposition, perhaps even its demise.

Or, they could play a decisive role in influencing and refining the proposal so that it addresses environmental concerns and alleviates the potential impact to nearby wildlife refuges, bays, tidal flats, beaches and ocean ecologies. Click here. (9/9)

Why Launch Near Wildlife Refuges? (Source: Brownsville Herald)
According to SpaceX, rocket launch sites require insulation from urban development, just as wildlife habitats do. Building in the middle of a refuge protects the launch site from encroaching development, which would threaten future operations. For example, during launches SpaceX must guarantee that a 1.5-mile radius around the rocket has been cleared of all unauthorized people, for safety.

That radius translates to a little more than 7 square miles, or 4,522 acres — though perhaps about a quarter to a third of that zone appears to extend into the Gulf of Mexico, according to a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department map. Had all that preserved habitat not existed, SpaceX well may have been forced to buy all the surrounding land just to enforce a “no-man’s land” around the launch pad.

However, it also might be highly unfeasible, if not impossible, for a private company to acquire enough land to create a proper buffer zone clear of populated areas without also being near protected habitat. More southerly sites are sought so that rockets can fire closer to the equator, providing additional speed as the earth rotates and creating a slingshot effect that saves fuel. (9/9)

State Records Don't Provide Complete Picture (Source: Brownsville Herald)
At the proposed SpaceX launch site at Boca Chica Beach, animal and plant species are not always well accounted for in state records. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has expressed concern about 31 species. Yet in the same document, the agency linked just five animals and one plant to a footnote that explains only those six have been shown by the state database to have been documented at or within 5 miles of the Boca Chica site. The animals are the jaguarundi, ocelot, piping plover, green sea turtle and peregrine falcon. The flower, lila de los llanos, is listed as a species of concern, but it is not endangered. (9/9)

Rocket Fuel is Nontoxic, Expert Says (Source: Brownsville Herald)
Many have wondered if, among the potential risks to the environment, the rockets’ plumes of smoke would be toxic to wildlife at Boca Chica. According to SpaceX, its Falcon 9 rocket features a different, safer fuel than some of the more familiar launch vehicles, such as NASA’s retired fleet of space shuttles. The Falcon 9 uses a refined kerosene-type fuel called RP-1, or rocket propellant 1, which SpaceX and the astronautics industry describe as nontoxic.

“Basically, it’s a hydrocarbon fuel, and hydrogen is typically about 13 to 14 percent of its mass. Being a hydrocarbon fuel, (com-bustion primarily) produces carbon dioxide and water vapor,” said Ashwanit Gupta, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland who has more than 35 years of experience in combustion engineering. (9/9)

Military Space Drives Israel Space Program for Now (Source: Space Quarterly)
Israel, a country of close to 8 million people with an approximate $80 million space budget, both civil and military, is ranked 9th in the world in the latest edition of Futron's Space Competitiveness Index. This, despite having less than 1/10th the GDP than four of the countries ahead of it and 1/5th of the other four. Israel is also part of a small exclusive group of nations that has the ability to both manufacture and launch its own satellites.

To say that Israel is punching above its weight is an understatement. How did it reach this status? Out of sheer necessity. Israel's space program dates back to 1961 when the National Committee for Space Research began developing a research and education plan as part of the newly created Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. It wasn't long though before the military took the lead in space activities. Click here. (9/5)

Schweickart: Obama's NASA Embarks on Ambitious New Direction (Source: Florida Today)
NASA can and should be challenged with historic goals and Americans should expect no less. In order for the U.S. to remain the leader in space development and exploration, and accrue the resultant benefits, we must continuously be moving the ball forward. As President Obama visits the Space Coast today, we are witnessing how his policies are bringing jobs to the area and new hope to the space community.

Florida’s Space Coast has become not just the launching pad for commercial rockets to the station and America’s launch pad for the largest heavy-lift rocket that NASA has ever built, but is now also a launching pad for new businesses and jobs of the future. In light of this leadership, Mitt Romney’s candidacy presents a stark choice. Romney claims to support the space program, but like many other issues this election, he fails to present Americans a plan for the future of NASA and the program that is forever etched in our nation’s history.

When it comes to NASA and space exploration, it is clear Romney is completely wrong on the issue and out of touch with the space industry. While Romney hasn’t presented a space plan, he has been unwavering in his support of a budget plan that slashes domestic investments and could require deep cuts in America’s space program. Click here. (9/9)

Denver's Metro State Launches Students on Commercial Path to Space (Source: Denver Post)
Denver's Metropolitan State University's program is positioning its students to capitalize on the aerospace industry's shift toward space commercialization, including the development of spaceports. University leaders are working closely with the team behind Colorado's spaceport effort as they seek to better align their missions.

With more NASA funds filtering into the private sector, Colorado is poised to reap a financial harvest. Ten of NASA's largest primary contractors have facilities in Colorado. Last year, NASA awarded $1.4 billion to aerospace companies in the state. There are 150 aerospace companies in the state and an additional 400 companies that provide services and support for those. (9/9)

Space Program Gave Us Stars with Right Stuff (Source: Tribune-Democrat)
Those of a certain age remember when our space program was in its infancy, in a tight race with the Soviet Union. NASA, put into place by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958, strove to fulfill President John Kennedy’s 1961 objective of putting a man on the moon by the end of that decade. The ensuing Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions fired the imaginations of Americans young and old as these brave men (and later also women) sat on top of those stories-high rocket ships that hurled them into space.

They were smart, brave individuals who possessed the ‘“right stuff” to get the job done. This past summer we lost two of these important astronauts and pioneers of the American space legacy: Sally Ride and Neil Armstrong. Ride, a physicist from Stanford University, became the first American woman to be launched into space, as well as the youngest (at age 32) American astronaut in space.

Later this summer we lost Neil Armstrong, forever remembered as the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong had a very diverse background as a Korean War pilot for the Navy, and later as a test pilot and aerospace engineer. During the Korean War, Armstrong flew nearly 80 missions, most during the first month of 1952, when he was only 21. Armstrong earned his flying license at age 15, before he even had his driver’s license. He was a true Boy Scout, in every sense of the word, rising to the rank of Eagle Scout, and paid tribute to his Scouting background during his flight to the moon. (9/9)

India: We Are Not Locked in a Space War with China (Source: Hindustan Times)
ISRO on Sunday denied it is locked in a space war with China and said its Mars Mission was aimed at learning more valuable lessons as a scientific community. "We never raced with anybody. In space, science drives technological development and that will subsequently result in developing an application," ISRO chief Dr K Radhakrishnan said in reply to a question from a reporter on whether India is locked in a space war with China.

He said the Mars Mission has a relevance and one may understand many problems, including methane (there). "The mission, approved recently by the Cabinet, is a challenge and ISRO is geared to face it," he said. Radhakrishnan said the Mars Mission is a time-bound program which would ensure development of new technology and applications. He said India is one among the top six countries to have a successful space program. (9/9)

Touring Spaceport America (Source: Spokesman-Review)
Standing under a blazing sun, on a wide, pristine, concrete runway shooting like an arrow across the high New Mexico desert, it occurred to me that so often travel is about visiting a place where something big happened in the past. Where, in some subtle or dramatic way, the world changed forever. It’s not often that you get there first. That you get a chance to stand where big things are going to happen, before history is made.

But now, 55 miles out of Las Cruces, New Mexico, another 30 miles beyond Truth or Consequences, a quirky little town so keen for a place on the big map it took the name of a television game show; on 18,000 acres of land adjacent to the White Sands Missile Range, country as wide and empty as anything can be, Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, is taking shape on the dry desert landscape. Click here. (9/9)

Spaceport Colorado Enters Fundraising Mode (Source: Denver Post)
The future of Spaceport Colorado — the proposed facility for the commercial space industry at Front Range Airport — is hinging on fundraising efforts that will be running at full throttle by the fall. The local spaceport idea was thrust onto the public stage last December when Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the state's support of the proposal.

"I would give our odds at about 90 percent that (Colorado's) spaceport will be up and running in about one year," said Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Since the announcement, Dennis Heap, executive director of aviation at Front Range Airport, has assembled a team of spaceport and aerospace experts to pull together a proposal for a FAA license. Spaceport Colorado would offer a horizontal launch site — something formerly unimaginable — that would facilitate space tourism, unmanned spacecraft and, eventually, global point-to-point travel.

Spaceport licenses cost $850,000, which Heap hopes will be both publicly and privately funded. His team has submitted a grant proposal for $200,000 with the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. If granted, that money will be used toward the cost of licensing. (9/9)

Aging, Obsolete Buildings Burden NASA (Source: Florida Today)
With thousands fewer people working on the space program, NASA centers across the country have unused and underused facilities. It's a challenge that has faced the agency for years. Facilities age, become obsolete, or just aren’t needed anymore. The retirement of the space shuttles aggravated the problem, leaving NASA with empty offices, labs, and test facilities too unique to be of use to anyone else.

Some spaces are hard to sell or lease because they are behind the secure gates of a government installation. Others have historic ties that prompt complaints from preservationists if demolished. Among the challenges: Even when not used, the government has to spend money to maintain the facilities or loses potential revenue if they can't be sold or leased. Internal and external audits have identified facilities NASA is paying to keep up even though they haven't been used in years.

NASA currently has some 5,000 buildings, with 44 million square feet, spread over more than 100,000 acres of land. "Over 80 percent of these facilities are 40 or more years old, and NASA faces a backlog of deferred maintenance totaling $2.5 billion," NASA’s Inspector General reported recently. That's not good at a time when the space agency does not have money to waste. (9/9)

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