October 16, 2012

CNES, ASI Favor Solid-Rocket Design For Ariane 6 (Source: Aviation Week)
If things had gone according to plan, Europe would be flying a more powerful and efficient version of its Ariane 5 rocket today, one that could compete in the commercial market without public subsidies, and development of a next-generation launcher would be well underway. Instead, the Ariane 5 suffered a serious failure in 2002 that slowed plans to boost its performance and shelved what were mostly French ambitions to start work on a less costly successor.

An evolution of the Ariane 5 ECA that now delivers roughly half of the world's communication satellites to orbit each year, the enhanced Ariane 5 ECB would have entered service in 2006. But it was 2008 before the European Space Agency (ESA) approved low-level funding for early development. The project was rebranded the Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (Ariane 5 ME), and the money—roughly €300 million—started to flow, most of it going to Ariane 5 prime contractor Astrium Space Transportation's facility in Bremen, Germany. (10/16)

At Pluto, Moons and Debris May Be Hazardous to New Horizons (Source: APL)
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is now almost seven years into its 9½-year journey across the solar system to explore Pluto and its system of moons. Just over two years from now, in January 2015, New Horizons will begin encounter operations, which will culminate in a close approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, and the first-ever exploration of a planet in the Kuiper Belt.

As New Horizons has traveled through space, its science team has become increasingly aware of the possibility that dangerous debris may be orbiting in the Pluto system, putting the spacecraft and its exploration objectives into harm’s way. “We’ve found more and more moons orbiting near Pluto — the count is now up to five,” says Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission. “And we've come to appreciate that those moons, as well as those not yet discovered, act as debris generators (10/16)

Nearest Star Has Earth Mass Planet (Source: Space Daily)
European astronomers have discovered a planet with about the mass of the Earth orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri system - the nearest to Earth. It is also the lightest exoplanet ever discovered around a star like the Sun. The planet was detected using the HARPS instrument on the 3.6-meter telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. The results will appear online in the journal Nature on 17 October 2012. (10/16)

Kepler's Exoplanet Survey Jeopardized by Two Issues (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
NASA's Kepler space telescope, a sleuth with electronic eyes, needs an extra four years to meet its goal of finding an Earth-sized planet in habitable zones around other stars, but a critical hardware failure aboard the probe this summer has managers worried the mission could end at any time. Two issues with Kepler have the attention of scientists and engineers.

On July 14, one of the spacecraft's four reaction wheels stopped due to increasing friction. The spinning masses control Kepler's orientation in space and keep the telescope locked on to target stars. Borucki said engineers will ensure Kepler's three active reaction wheels stay warm and alternate their rotation between clockwise and counter-clockwise directions. Officials believe the measures will help the wheels remain healthy.

Although Kepler's 95-megapixel digital camera is plenty sensitive, bands of noise appear in raw imagery streaming down from the telescope. Scientists have devised complex algorithms to remove the meaningless data. And despite the best estimates of scientists before Kepler's launch, most of the sun-like stars in Kepler's field-of-view show more variability than projected. Coupled with the noisy data derived from technical causes, the variability issue means astronomers need more data to confirm a dip in a star's luminosity is from a transiting planet. (10/16)

Computer Models of Earth's Climate Change Confirmed on Mars (Source: Reuters)
Computer models have accurately forecast conditions on Mars and are valid predictors of climate change on Earth, U.S. and French astronomers said on Tuesday. These computer programs predicted Martian glaciers and other features on Earth's planetary neighbor, scientists found.

"Some public figures imply that modeling of global climate change on Earth is 'junk science,' but if climate models can explain features observed on other planets, then the models must have at least some validity," lead researcher William Hartmann said. The team's findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's planetary sciences division in Reno, Nevada. (10/16)

Aerospace Roundtable Discussion Planned with Rep. Connie Mack (Source: SPACErePORT)
The Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast will host an October 19 roundtable discussion in Titusville with Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL). Rep. Mack is running against U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) in the 2012 election. The roundtable event will focus on opportunities and challenges within the aerospace and defense industries. This policy forum will center on the substantive transition in the aerospace industry, as well as the looming threat of sequestration for the defense industry, both of which have the potential for extreme effects on our economy.

Mack, the son of former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III and husband of U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), represents a Gulf Coast district far from the Space Coast, and his stance on the space program is unclear. Mack was the only Florida Congressman who voted against passage of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that backed development of the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, along with reliance on commercial companies for transportation to and from the international space station. (10/16)

USA to Cut More Jobs in Houston (Source: Houston Business Journal)
United Space Alliance’s next round of Houston-area job cuts will take place around the end of the year. United Space Alliance will cut about 35 to 45 jobs at four locations in Harris County, according to Workers’ Adjustment and Retraining Notification paperwork filed with the Texas Workforce Commission earlier this month. The WARN letter says the company expects the cuts to be permanent. (10/15)

Australia's Free Ride is Coming to an End (Source: The Conversation)
At some point in the next few months, Australia will get its first national space policy. This document will help mark a new era in Australia’s contribution to space-related endeavours, not least how we approach issues of defense and security. For many decades Australia has played a role in international space-based security, assisting various nations with their operations – without exercising any real control or influence. But the introduction of a national space policy could well be a catalyst for change. (10/16)

Baumgartner Skydive: One Rather Helpful Leap for Space Tourism (Source: Telegraph)
Even the most hardened thrill-seeker might have been expecting to read Felix Baumgartner’s obituary by now. After all, there were a myriad of gruesome ways in which the Austrian daredevil could have expired: an unscheduled, premature plunge if the fragile, relatively untested helium balloon in which he was ascending had been punctured; a pinprick tear in his spacesuit that would have caused his blood to boil in the thin, unforgiving air of the stratosphere; an uncontrolled “death spin” as he plummeted more than 24 miles to Earth; or losing consciousness during the supersonic descent and becoming unable to open his parachute.

Instead, on Sunday night, Baumgartner broke three aviation records – for height reached in a balloon, for highest skydive, and above all for the speed with which a human being has fallen, reaching 833 mph, or Mach 1.24. Perhaps most significantly, however, he kept the dream of space as a playground alive. It is no coincidence that, as Baumgartner coolly touched down in the New Mexico desert and dusted himself off, some of the first congratulatory messages came from retired and serving astronauts. Click here. (10/16)

Changing Orbit: NASA Commercializes Space Travel, Focuses on Exploration (Source: Daily Orange)
The SpaceX rocket launched a new era in space travel last week when it became the first official commercial space flight to travel to the International Space Station. Last week’s launch was the first official flight, but a test run without cargo was completed five months earlier to ensure the mission would be successful.

Achille Messac, department chair for mechanical and aerospace engineering, said in an email that commercializing space flight is a huge development for the industry. “This is a truly exciting time for a new generation of aerospace engineers,” he said. “Things are much more fluid in the commercial sector. Much more is possible.” The new commercial vehicles will be cheaper, reusable and more reliable, Messac said.

In the past, NASA’s primary role was exploration. Now that the industry has been commercialized, NASA is able to narrow its focus. It can now prioritize exploration, as seen in its recent launch of the rover Curiosity to explore Mars, Ballmer said. Cathryn Newton, professor and dean emerita of earth sciences, said commercializing space flight was a logical progression. (10/16)

Editorial: Space Exploration Has a Future (Source: The MSU Reflector)
One of the more controversial issues in science policy over the past decade has been the privatization of space exploration. There has been a general shift from NASA being in charge of every aspect of American spaceflight to private companies developing their own rockets and following the market to participate in space flight.

Just last year, the Obama administration decided to shut down the shuttle program, permanently retiring the remaining four shuttles to museums around the country. The goal of this move was not to cripple American ingenuity or science, but actually to avoid expensive cost overruns which were common in the shuttle program and to promote the private sector’s growth in aerospace industry.

My dream is one day rockets or spaceships of some sort will lift off every hour, taking miners up to scour the asteroid belt and taking valuable resources to bases on the moon and in stable orbits around Earth and possibly Mars. It is not too far-fetched, and even with a little hitch like a dip in government funding, space exploration does not look like it is going anywhere but up anytime soon. (10/16)

Space is the New Black (Source: Canberra Times)
Space is hip again. Whether it's a Felix Baumgartner skydiving his way past the sound barrier – setting Twitter and YouTube on fire – or the space shuttle Endeavour pulling big crowds in the streets of Los Angeles, the final frontier is back in vogue. Just as families the world over gathered around the box and wireless for the 1969 moon-landing, Baumgartner's 38.6-kilometer freefall had us staring in jaw-dropping awe at screens.

The space trend has been growing since August – coincidentally, the same month astronaut Neil Armstrong died – when the SUV-sized Curiosity rover made a "death plunge" to the surface of Mars, slowing from 21,600 km/h to zero in seven minutes. The hair-raising landing appeared live on the twin screens at Times Square in New York, and was streamed to Xbox 360 dashboards worldwide. (10/16)

Join Europe's Space Conversation (Source: SpaceRef)
Think you know how space affects you each day? You might - but you might not. Explore Down2Earth, ESA's new online challenge, and join Europe's space conversation. It's a crucial discussion and your voice is welcome. Using a series of intriguing questions, ESA's new Down2Earth website presents 20 challenging questions illustrating how space benefits us daily right here on planet Earth. Down2Earth provides surprising answers showing how space technology and applications, knowhow and research - 'rocket science' - help to boost our quality of life, reduce pollution, increase economic opportunity or improve public health, among many more. Click here. (10/16)

Rocket Scientist Finds New Passion in Small Business (Source: Voice of America)
Boston native Steve Davis is a key member of the SpaceX team that made history earlier this year by becoming the first private company to fly to the International Space Station. The California-based company reached another milestone this month by successfully launching its first cargo supply mission to the orbiting lab on behalf of NASA. After joining SpaceX as its 14th employee, Davis moved to Washington, where he became its director of advanced projects and discovered a new passion. The 33-year old rocket scientist-turned entrepreneur shares his story in this week's 'Voices of America' profile. Click here. (10/15)

In Space: An Odd Obama Success (Source: USA Today)
When SpaceX's "Dragon" capsule docked with the Space Station last week, one angle was surprisingly underplayed: The SpaceX success is also a success for the Obama administration's space policy. Since Barack Obama took office in 2008, U.S. space policy has shifted in a surprisingly free-market direction. Despite the Obama crowd's general enthusiasm for big government, where space policy is concerned they've taken a decidedly different approach: Instead of building its own rockets, the government is now buying launch services from private companies that are largely free to build their own rockets and choose their own approaches.

There's nothing new about this idea. The federal government did the same kind of thing in the 1920s with air mail contracts, and that program -- along with wind tunnels and other R&D assistance provided by NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics -- did a lot to establish U.S. dominance in civil and military aviation in the 20th Century. I wrote articles and position papers advocating such an approach more than two decades ago.

But now that it's happening under the Obama administration, some conservatives are criticizing them. This led space expert (and former congressional staffer) Jim Muncy to comment "Democrats don't think that capitalism works within the atmosphere, and Republicans apparently don't think it works above it." But, in fact, capitalism works everywhere. (10/15)

Suit Built for Free Fall From Space May Not Have Future at NASA (Source: KHOU)
Felix Baumgartner survived his record breaking leap from 24 miles above Earth on Sunday thanks in part to a special pressurized suit that experts say could help save the lives of future astronauts—except NASA is not interested. Baumgartner leapt from 128,000 feet, falling through the near vacuum at speeds exceeding 800 miles an hour. "He is a brave man, clearly, to have done what he has done. But this project is anything but a daredevil act," said Dr. Leroy Chiao.

Dr. Chiao works with the Baylor College of Medicine Center for Space Medicine where some of the testing was done on the high tech suit worn in the jump. So does Dr. Jon Clark, who lost his wife Laurel when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas in 2003. All along the team has said this is not a stunt. It is research on the pressurized suit, something that could help protect our astronauts in the future. Click here. (10/15)

Senator's Waste Investigation Lists $1 Million Spent for Mars Food (Source: Examiner)
It likely will be decades before an American astronaut sets foot on Mars, but NASA officials are spending almost $1 million a year researching the best food for the Red Planet's first visitors from Earth. So far, scientists at Cornell University and the University of Hawaii have used the NASA funds to create recipes for Martian pizza and about 100 other dishes to be consumed on a mission that likely won't happen before the year 2030, according to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK.

"You don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize the millions of dollars being spent to taste test Martian meals that may never be served is lost in a black hole," an unimpressed Coburn said. The Martian culinary research is conducted under NASA's Advanced Food Technology Project, which was singled out in the 2012 edition of Coburn's annual "Wastebook" chronicle of the 100 worst examples of wasteful and unnecessary federal spending he and his staff uncovered in the past year. (10/15)

Blue Origin Completes Rocket Engine Thrust Chamber Test for NASA (Source: NASA)
NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partner Blue Origin has successfully fired the thrust chamber assembly for its new 100,000 pound thrust BE-3 liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen rocket engine. As part of Blue's Reusable Booster System (RBS), the engines are designed eventually to launch the biconic-shaped Space Vehicle the company is developing.

The test was part of Blue Origin's work supporting its funded Space Act Agreement with NASA during Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2). CCDev2 continues to bring spacecraft and launch vehicle designs forward to develop a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability that ultimately could become available for the government and other customers. (10/15)

Privately Funded Asteroid Hunting Telescope Clears Review (Source: Aviation Week)
The B612 Foundation has completed an independent program concept and implementation review of the Silicon Valley nonprofit’s proposed asteroid-hunting Sentinel Space Telescope, according to Mission Director Harold Reistema. The first privately funded deep space mission, Sentinel is a five-plus-year initiative to detect and track near Earth asteroids (NEAs) that pose a future collision threat.

The ambitious project, which will rely on an equally challenging fund-raising campaign to meet a price tag estimated at “several hundred million dollars,” is headed toward a system requirements review in the second quarter of 2013 and a target launch in 2017-2018, Reitsema told an Oct. 11 teleconference.

“We have a real concept now for how we want to do the mission,” says Reitsema, a former director for science mission development at Ball Aerospace of Boulder, Colo., Sentinel’s prime contractor. “Ball has helped put together a very good mission design based on previous missions that have successfully flown in space, retiring a lot of the development effort.” Those projects include NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes. (10/15)

Yes, the Space Jump Mattered (Sources: Mashable, NASA Watch)
So pay no attention to the naysayers. This was just as giant a leap as it felt. It reminded us that making a taller iPhone does not have to be the ultimate ambition of the technically minded. We can dare to look up from our Star Trek-inspired smartphones, gaze at the heavens, and dream of doing things that seem completely ridiculous. (10/15)

Commercial and Personal Spaceflight Event This Week in New Mexico (Source: ISPCS)
The International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) is the most relevant, high-value commercial space conference of the year, featuring the industry’s top thought leaders and cutting-edge technologies with commercial applications for military, scientific and personal spaceflight. Each year, through two high-impact days of dynamic dialogue and collaboration, ISPCS focuses the direction of the industry, fuels demand for its products and services, and ultimately, increases the momentum of commercial space. (10/15)

Sanctions: Eutelsat Drops Iranian Channels (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on Oct. 15 said it has stopped carrying channels from Iran’s state broadcaster following sanctions on Iran imposed by the European Union and a judgment from the French government broadcast regulator. In a statement, Paris-based Eutelsat said it and Arqiva, a satellite services provider, agreed to stop transmissions from Eutelsat’s Hot Bird satellites of channels from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). (10/15)

Tiniest Alien Solar System Discovered: 5 Packed Planets (Source: Space.com)
The most crowded alien planetary system found yet possesses five worlds all orbiting a star at least 12 times closer than Earth does the sun, researchers say. Investigators discovered these exoplanets using NASA's pioneering Kepler space observatory. The orbiting telescope has detected more than 2,300 potential alien worlds since its March 2009 launch. It searches for these planets by observing more than 160,000 stars simultaneously, looking for small dips in stars' brightness due to orbiting worlds passing in front of them. (10/15)

Moon Water Mystery: Scientists Point to Solar Wind as Origin (Source: Space.com)
Glass beads within moon rocks suggest that water seen on the lunar surface originates from the solar wind, researchers say. These findings suggest that other airless bodies in the solar system may also possess water on their surfaces, investigators added. Arguments raged for years as to whether the moon harbored frozen water or not. Recent findings confirmed that water does wet the moon, although its surface remains drier than any desert on Earth.

"With the cost of $25,000 for taking one pint of water to the moon, it is essential that we develop processes of producing water from the materials on the moon," said the study's lead author, Yang Liu, at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. "This is paramount to human settlement of the moon in the near future." "This water would be of most value as rocket fuel — liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen," Liu added. "Until the recent discovery of water in and on the moon, this was going to be a very energy-intensive endeavor to separate these elements from the lunar rocks and soil. (10/15)

Could a Moon of Uranus Harbor an Underground Ocean? (Source: Nature)
Since 2005, astrobiologists have considered Enceladus a possible haven for life, after the Cassini mission found that the icy moon of Saturn shoots out plumes of water through fissures in its crust. But planetary scientists Elizabeth Turtle of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and Julie Castillo-Rogez of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are now turning their eyes to an even more distant Solar System locale: Ariel, a moon of Uranus that they think could also harbour an underground ocean.

Like Enceladus, Ariel’s surface appears relatively blemish free, with few large craters, as if recent activity had erased or buried older pockmarks. Flow-like features on Ariel suggest icy volcanism may have been responsible for the facelift, as it has on Enceladus. But in the frigid depths of the outer Solar System, what could maintain an ocean beneath the surface of Ariel?

The flexing of Ariel due to the gravitational tug of others moons—is five times greater on Ariel than Enceladus. In addition, both moons contain a relatively large amount of rock, which generates heat through the decay of radioactive elements within it. Heat from the rock would increase the internal temperature of Ariel to the point where ice would be soft enough to respond to tidal flexing, Castillo-Rogez says. Although the Uranian system is colder than of Saturn system, the Uranian moons are more likely to have captured impurities that would decrease the melting temperature of ice. (10/15)

Does CCAFS Have a Moon Tree? (Source: SpaceKSC)
In January 1971, Apollo 14 launched from Kennedy Space Center. Among the items onboard were hundreds of tree seeds in the personal kit of Command Module pilot Stuart Roosa. Because Roosa remained in the Command Module while his two crewmates descended to the lunar surface, the seeds never actually were on the Moon. But they came to be known as Moon Trees. Five different seeds were flown — Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood, and Douglas Fir. The seeds were given to the U.S. Forest Service, which distributed them across the nation and around the world.

Accurate records of their distribution were not kept, so their whereabouts are largely unknown. One Moon Tree is a sycamore at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Last week, I was approached by a local space historian who told me that another sycamore Moon Tree was planted at what is now the Space Florida complex outside Gate 1 of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. He said a plaque was once in front of this tree to note its historical significance, but that the plaque has disappeared. Click here. (10/15)

No comments: