October 18, 2013

Rover Swallows 1st Mars Sample, Finds Odd Bright Stuff (Source: Space,com)
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has swallowed its first tiny bite of Martian soil, after standing down for a spell while scientists checked out some strange bright bits in the dirt. The rover ingested the minuscule sample — which contains about as much material as a baby aspirin on Wednesday. The soil has been successfully delivered to the rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin. "We are crossing a significant threshold for this mission by using CheMin on its first sample," said John Grotzinger.

The sample that found its way into CheMin came from the third scoop of soil Curiosity dug up at a site dubbed "Rocknest." The first scoop was discarded after being used to scrub out the rover's sampling system, to help ensure that no Earth-originating residues remained. Work at Rocknest slowed after Curiosity dug its second scoop on Oct. 12, when researchers noticed oddly bright flecks at the bottom of the hole. The team dumped the scoop out, worried that it might contain debris that had flaked off Curiosity.

They already knew that some tiny rover pieces are littering the Martian ground, after spotting a bright shred of what appears to be plastic on Oct. 7. Team members have since identified five or six other such bits, which may have fallen off Curiosity's sky-crane descent stage during landing on Aug. 5. Curiosity scientists now believe the bright soil flecks are indeed indigenous to Mars. They could be minerals that are part of the soil-forming process, Grotzinger said, or reflective surfaces created by the cleaving of ordinary dirt. (10/18)

Aerojet Awarded Green Propulsion Demo Mission Contract (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Aerojet will demonstrate a reduced toxicity monopropellant blend that offers improved performance and simplified handling processes over hydrazine, the traditional propellant choice for spacecraft. Under contract to Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., Aerojet will perform the technology demonstration mission, known as the Green Propellant Infusion Mission, or GPIM, for NASA’s Space Technology Program. (10/17)

68 Nobel Prize-Winning Scientists Endorse Obama’s Science Policies (Source: Center for American Progress)
The Center for American Progress Action Fund received an open letter co-signed by 68 Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, and medicine. The letter strongly endorses President Barack Obama’s science policies. “America’s economic future,” the letter begins, “depends on our ability to continue America’s proud legacy of discovery and invention.”

In the letter the Nobel Prize-winning scientists contrast President Obama’s programs to train young Americans in science and technology, strengthen science-based decisionmaking in government, and increase investments in science and innovation, with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s budget proposal, which would slash these investments.

Indeed, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan, which Gov. Romney endorsed, would invest fully one-quarter less in nondefense research and development compared to the president’s plan. Spanning several generations, the Nobelists are themselves fine examples of how public investments in science lead to a substantial return on our nation’s investment. Click here to see the letter. (10/18)

Garver: Fomenting Commercial Spaceflight Industry is a Top NASA Priority (Source: Space News)
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said jumpstarting a domestic human spaceflight industry is among the agency’s highest priorities, and cited current programs for delivering crews and cargo to the international space station as tangible progress toward that goal. Speaking Oct. 17 at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, Garver counted the commercial crew and cargo programs among NASA’s most important accomplishments since she and her boss, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, arrived in July 2009.

Spurring a private U.S. commercial spaceflight industry “is one of our absolute goals,” she said. Garver’s remarks, delivered with just a couple of weeks ahead of the U.S. general elections, would appear to contradict the sentiments of one prominent lawmaker whose support for the commercialization program is based solely on its potential to restore independent U.S. crew access to the space station. (10/18)

Cutting NASA Funding is Insulting to Americans (Source: Daily Cardinal)
A few days ago, a man with a balloon set the world record for the highest altitude skydive ever attempted. Fast forward a few days and this man, Felix Baumgartner, is now a household name. Watching it myself, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching something akin to the moon landing of 1969; it’s a frontier that no one’s explored before. Being sponsored by a private company doesn’t take away from the fact that so much of the technology employed in the venture was developed in the first place by NASA.

It’s a little confusing to me, then, why a federal program that produces so much in terms of useful technology and research, to say nothing of the sheer wonder and inspiration, is being considered for the massive spending cuts it is. In America, there are two reasons for disliking NASA as I see it. Number one: we’ve already gone to the moon, so nothing else needs doing for a while. Number two: Other countries are catching up with us in capability in space, so they’re not efficient enough.

Both of these positions advocate for cutting NASA’s budget since it’s seen as ineffective and useless as a government agency. May I say here that these people are largely missing the point of our space program. Yes, Russia is now ferrying our astronauts to the Space Station due to the discontinuation of the space shuttle program. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have both expressed concerns about this and the fact that China is eyeing a moon landing while we haven’t done so in decades. Therefore, NASA is ineffective and its funding should be cut by $1.5 billion, right? They couldn’t be more wrong. (10/18)

How Point-to-Point Spaceflight Could Leave Spaceport America Behind (Source: SPACErePORT)
Suborbital space tourism, launching "spaceflight participants" to the edge of space for a glide-flight back to the same spaceport, is a potentially lucrative market for the handful of companies now pursuing it. But some see this as a passing fad, a developmental phase en route to a much larger market for global point-to-point spaceflight. The suborbital vehicles we see under development today would become museum pieces, making way for spacecraft capable of powered landings at distant destinations.

Aside from vehicle technologies, one prerequisite for a robust point-to-point market is a network of spaceports, located strategically near major population centers and with easy connectivity to airports and other transportation modes. Several emerging spaceports are focusing on point-to-point spaceflight, including in Jacksonville and on Florida's Space Coast, Front Range in Colorado, Ellington Field in Houston, and others in the U.S. and overseas.

The folks at Spaceport America should be concerned as they watch the industry evolve in this direction. Located hundreds of miles from any major metropolitan area, with little connectivity to other high-speed transport modes, Spaceport America offers little that would make it attractive as a point-to-point destination. And with very limited potential to support orbital vertical-launch vehicles, Spaceport America's long-term fate could be sealed before their first Virgin Galactic flight occurs. (10/18)

Orbital’s Cygnus Debut Pushed to March or April (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. on Oct. 18 said its new Antares rocket will not launch its Cygnus cargo freighter on a demonstration flight to the international space station until around March or April, assuming that two preceding rocket tests occur without a hitch. In a conference call with investors, Orbital officials did not attribute the fresh delay of the NASA-funded program, of three or four months compared to its last quarterly update, to any particular event.

In recent months the company has restructured its relationship with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Va., becoming a supplier to the spaceport rather than a partner in the new facility’s development. Antares will launch from that facility. As part of that transaction, Orbital booked $25.6 million in revenue from the sale of infrastructure at the Wallops facility.

A successful engine-firing test will lead to the preparation of a full Antares rocket for a test flight, without the Cygnus cargo vehicle, in December. Thompson said the demonstration flight to the international space station, this time with Cygnus, would then occur late in the first quarter of 2013 or early in the second quarter, depending on the station’s traffic schedule and on Antares’ status. (10/18)

Violent Origin of Saturn's Oddball Moons Explained (Source: Space.com)
Saturn's icy medium-size moons were born when a few much bigger satellites collided to form the ringed planet's huge moon Titan, a new study suggests. The Saturn system started out with a family of several relatively large moons like the Galilean satellites of Jupiter (Ganymede, Europa, Callisto and Io), according to the new theory. But things changed with a few dramatic moon mergers, which created the Titan we know today and shed enough material to form satellites such as Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea and Iapetus, researchers said.

"We think that the giant planets got their satellites kind of like the sun got its planets, growing like miniature solar systems and ending with a stage of final collisions," lead author Erik Asphaug, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement. "In our model for the Saturn system, we propose that Titan grew in a couple of giant impacts, each one combining the masses of the colliding bodies, while shedding a small family of middle-sized moons," Asphaug added. (10/18)

Commercial Space sector Set to Hop Aboard (Source: Florida Today)
Florida is taking steps to profit from what a top state space development official predicted would be a boom in commercial space business as reduced federal spending forces the government to rely more on the private sector. "It’s time now for greater commercial reliance in this industry,” said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida. He said the worldwide commercial space industry, estimated to be worth $280 billion, and associated space technologies can spawn thousands of new businesses, and Florida is well-positioned to grab its share.

DiBello spoke as part of the “Space Launch and Commercial Space” panel at the fifth annual Wernher Von Braun Symposium this week at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The event brought together several hundred space and aerospace leaders to discuss U.S. space policy and the outlook for manned and unmanned space exploration. Click here. (10/18)

Ariane 5 To Launch Two Indian Satellites Next Year (Source: Space News)
Europe‘s Arianespace launch consortium, continuing its long successful contract relationship with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), will launch two Indian satellites — one for meteorology, one for telecommunications — in mid-2013, Arianespace announced Oct. 17. The contract announcement came less than three weeks after Europe‘s Ariane 5 ECA rocket placed ISRO’s 3,400-kilogram GSAT-10 telecommunications satellite into geostationary-transfer orbit. (10/18)

Iran Capable of Launching Nano-Satellites Weighing Below 10 kg (Source: Xinhua)
Iran Space Agency (ISA) Director Hamid Fazeli said the Islamic republic has the capability to launch nano-satellites weighing below 10 kg into space. Some of Asian countries and an Austrian university have announced readiness to set their satellites into orbit using Iranian space shuttles, Fazeli was quoted as saying. He said Iran is among a handful of countries in the world that are capable of developing satellite-related technologies. (10/18)

Demand Big for Suborbital Space Travel (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
A recently released market analysis concluded there will be a healthy demand for suborbital space travel over the next decade, but officials with companies pioneering the new industry say that actual demand will be better gauged after the first successful launches. One of the companies pioneering suborbital space tourism is British mogul Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which tentatively plans to launch its first two-stage flight to the edge of space in December 2013. Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant at the state-financed Spaceport America under construction in southern Sierra County.

Virgin Galactic, so far, has received deposits of $67.5 million for the $200,000 ticket to the edge of space from 546 people from 50 countries, said Carolyn Wincer, head of the travel and tourism department for Virgin Galactic. Wincer spoke Tuesday at the eighth annual International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.

Those ticket-buyers, Wincer said, do not fall into a homogeneous demographic category, and not all are millionaires or even necessarily adventurers, but they can be described as “early adopters,” people willing to try a new technology and place their trust in a pioneering company. What will broaden the market for suborbital space flight beyond those early adopters, said John Kelly, manager of NASA Dryden’s Flight Opportunities Program, is the success of early flights. Wincer agreed. “To really change the game for us, we need a space flight,” she said. (10/18)

White Sands Leader Vows at Symposium to Renew Cooperation with Spaceport (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
First impressions can mean a lot, and those were favorable for Army Brig. Gen. Gwen Bingham and Lori Garver at Wednesday's International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight. Bingham had never been in New Mexico until becoming WSMR's commander — she spoke of White Sands as if she was a born-and-bred native. "White Sands is a national treasure," Bingham said. "It's a phenomenal asset that includes two states and five counties.

Oh, and she didn't forget the only two places in the U.S. that have unrestricted air space from the ground to infinity in space are the White House and White Sands Missile Range. White Sands is the birthplace of America's rocket and aerospace program. It began there, with Von Braun and other scientists and rocketeers, in 1945. Bingham added that isn't about to change anytime soon. She said an updated Memorandum of Understanding between WSMR and Spaceport America will be completed and signed next year. She also hinted that commercial space crews could begin training at White Sands by 2015. (10/18)

Alabama Rocket Maker ULA Blasts Through Milestones (Source: WAFF)
Rocket maker United Launch Alliance, which manufactures Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles in Decatur, is marking an important step forward in U.S. space flight and ULA's role in it. NASA said that ULA has finished up a year-long study, part of the process to help establish that ULA's Atlas V rocket will be safe for manned space missions. It's a big step towards the Atlas V becoming the next launch vehicle to take astronauts into orbit - and beyond.

"We still are innovating in this country," said Dan Caughran, ULA  Director of Production Operations. "I think manned missions, early test manned missions, could be as early as late 2016 into 2017." The news comes as ULA formally unveils its new exhibit at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. (10/18)

Wayne Hale Underscores Need for Spaceport America Liability Law (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Wayne Hale understands as well as anyone both the potential for commercial space flight, and the obstacles to success. Hale is a former program manager for the space shuttle program. He was shuttle flight director for 40 shuttle missions, and was deputy associate administrator of strategic partnerships in NASA's Space Operations Mission Directorate when he retired in 2010. He is now a consultant for a private aerospace services company in Colorado.

During his keynote speech Tuesday at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, Hale stressed the importance of legislation to provide limited liability protection to parts suppliers at Spaceport America if we are to successfully compete with other states in the still-developing industry of commercial space flight. "The most important thing we can do is remind (legislators) the state has made this huge investment," Hale said. "If you're not careful, you can lose that business to states that have friendlier laws." (10/18)

Huge Moon-Forming Collision Theory Gets New Spin (Source: Space.com)
The moon did indeed coalesce out of tiny bits of pulverized planet blasted into space by a catastrophic collision 4.5 billion years ago, two new studies suggest. The new research potentially plugs a big hole in the giant impact theory, long the leading explanation for the moon's formation. Previous versions of the theory held that the moon formed primarily from pieces of a mysterious Mars-size body that slammed into a proto-Earth — but that presented a problem, because scientists know that the moon and Earth are made of the same stuff. (10/18)

NOAA: GOES-13 To Return to Service Oct. 18 (Source: Space News)
A malfunctioning U.S. weather satellite whose primary instruments were switched off in mid-September is slated to return to full service Oct. 18, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said late Oct. 16. On Sep. 25, operators switched off the sounder and imaging instruments on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-13, citing "data quality issues." In an Oct. 16 press release, NOAA said the malfunction was due to "a vibration from aging lubricant in the sounder instrument." (10/18)

Space Executives Discuss Commercial Space's Potential on Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
Despite hopes to restore massive government spending for the aerospace industry, the trajectory of Brevard County’s space industry likely will be guided by this concept: commercial. “There is going to be less (government) spending in the future, no doubt about it,” U.S. Rep. Bill Posey said Wednesday at an Aerospace and Defense Roundtable in Melbourne.

Roundtable participants were from Harris Corp., Lockheed Martin, Space Florida, United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, ATK Aerospace Group and the University of Central Florida. However, at the meeting, the most impressive numbers were announced by Scott Henderson, director of mission assurance and integration for SpaceX, the first commercial company to launch a capsule to the International Space Station. The California company plans six launches in 2013, eight in 2014 and 10 in 2015.

Military and aerospace companies in Brevard are fearful that the sequester budget cuts, which could go into effect after Jan. 1, could drain their budgets deeply and disrupt the focus of the U.S. space industry. “Nobody has painted a scenario for when the bubble bursts,” Posey said. “It’s just not specific. That’s the scariest thing.” Posey’s opponent in the November election, Shannon Roberts, a Democrat, said she also supports NASA’s three-pronged plan of commercialization, deep space exploration, and research and development. (10/17)

SpaceX Plans Dragon Abort Mission From Florida in 2013 (Source: SPACErePORT)
SpaceX plans two Dragon abort tests to qualify the vehicle's abort system prior to carrying astronauts. The first test will be in 2013 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, where SpaceX is building a pad that would "launch" the Dragon over the Atlantic from atop a mock-up Falcon-9. In 2014, the company will test one atop an actual Falcon-9 during a mission from the Cape. (10/17)

Jupiter Photos Reveal Big Changes on Planet (Source: Space.com)
Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, has made some dramatic transformations in recent years, a new study reveals. Huge belts in the giant planet's atmosphere have changed color, radiation hotspots have faded and flared up again, and cloud levels have thickened and dissolved, all while space rocks have been hurtling into it the gas giant, astronomers said.

"The changes we're seeing in Jupiter are global in scale," Glenn Orton, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement today (Oct. 17). Orton and his colleagues have been snapping infrared images of Jupiter from 2009 to 2012 and comparing them with amateur astronomers' visible images. (10/17)

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