October 3, 2012

NASA's Curiosity Rover Checks-In on Mars Using Foursquare (Source: Spaceref)
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover checked in on Mars Wednesday using the mobile application Foursquare. This marks the first check-in on another planet. Users on Foursquare can keep up with Curiosity as the rover checks in at key locations and posts photos and tips, all while exploring the Red Planet. "NASA is using Foursquare as a tool to share the rover's new locations while exploring Mars," said David Weaver at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This will help to involve the public with the mission and give them a sense of the rover's travels through Gale Crater." (10/3)

Engineers Test Rotor Landing for Capsules (Source: NASA)
A team of researchers brought a pair of scale model space capsules to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to try out a rotor system that could be used in place of parachutes on returning spacecraft. The design would give a capsule the stability and control of a helicopter, but would not be powered. Instead, the wind passing over the rotors as the capsule descends would make the blades turn, a process called auto-rotation that has been proven repeatedly on helicopters but never tried on spacecraft.

"The purpose of the testing we're doing here is to study how to get the rotor starting to spin," said Jeff Hagen, an engineer at JSC. "We're trying to build as much of that story as we can." With team members spread out at different levels of the VAB, Jim Meehan stood at the 16th level of the cavernous VAB, about halfway up to where the two-pound model capsule hung on a line 480 feet above the concrete floor. Holding a helicopter radio-control unit, he remotely changed the rotors' pitch and slowed the fall four times as the unpowered craft landed on a stack of foam. (10/3)

Singer Sarah Brightman Outbids NASA for Space Tourist's Seat (Source: ABC)
Singer Sarah Brightman, of "Phantom of the Opera" fame, will be the next tourist in space, sometime in 2014 or 2015. To get her seat she had to pay the Russian space agency more than the $51 million NASA budgets on average to send its astronauts to the station. To maintain its presence in orbit when Soyuz seats are limited, NASA had to agree to commit at least one of its astronauts to spend a year in space, instead of the six months they currently stay. Brightman's trip will be announced in Moscow on Oct. 10. (10/3)

Where Obama and Romney Stand on Space Exploration (Source: Space.com)
The first televised debate in Denver between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will cover domestic policy — including, perhaps, the two men's visions for America's space program. The differences between Obama and Romney are relatively clear in some arenas, such as tax policy and the role and size of government. But it's tougher to assess how their space plans stack up, in large part because Romney has offered few details at this stage.

Indeed, Romney says those details will be worked out later, after consultation with a broad range of experts in the space community. "He will bring together all the stakeholders — from NASA, from the Air Force, from our leading universities, and from commercial enterprises — to set goals, identify missions, and define a pathway forward that is guided, coherent, and worthy of our great nation," the Romney campaign wrote in a space policy paper issued late last month. With that important caveat noted, here's a brief look at the stated space priorities of Obama and Romney, and where each may take the nation's space program over the next four years. Click here. (10/3)

Speed of Universe's Expansion Measured Better Than Ever (Source: Space.com)
The universe just got a new speeding ticket. The most precise measurement ever made of the speed of the universe's expansion is in, thanks to NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, and it's a doozy. Space itself is pulling apart at the seams, expanding at a rate of 74.3 plus or minus 2.1 kilometers (46.2 plus or minus 1.3 miles) per second per megaparsec (a megaparsec is roughly 3 million light-years). If those numbers are a little too much to contemplate, rest assured that's really, really fast. And it's getting faster all the time. (10/3)

Alien Comet Cloud Spotted Around Faraway Star (Source: Space.com)
Comets detected around other stars appear strikingly similar to the most primitive comets in the solar system, researchers say. The discovery suggests that matter around distant stars mixed in ways similar to the solar system in its youth, scientists added. Astronomers have detected thousands of alien planets orbiting distant stars. In addition to these exoplanets, scientists have begun discovering vast clouds of extrasolar comets, including balls of ice and rock that may be pelting these far-off worlds.

Researchers think massive numbers of comets bombarded Earth billions of years ago, delivering not only the water that now makesup the oceans,but potentially the organic ingredients of life. To learn more about alien comets, astronomers focused on the Beta Pictoris system, about 63 light-years from Earth. Beta Pictoris is a young (12 million years old) analog of the solar system: Its star has a disk of debris around it full of small grains of dust, and at least one planet relatively close it, about 10 times the distance from the Earth to the sun (10 astronomical units, or roughly 930 million miles  – 1.5 billion kilometers). (10/3)

Lost in Migration: Earth's Magnetic Field Overdue a Flip (Source: Reuters)
The discovery by NASA rover Curiosity of evidence that water once flowed on Mars - the most Earth-like planet in the solar system - should intensify interest in what the future could hold for mankind. The only thing stopping Earth having a lifeless environment like Mars is the magnetic field that shields us from deadly solar radiation and helps some animals migrate, and it may be a lot more fragile and febrile than one might think.

Scientists say earth's magnetic field is weakening and could all but disappear in as little as 500 years as a precursor to flipping upside down. It has happened before - the geological record suggests the magnetic field has reversed every 250,000 years, meaning that, with the last event 800,000 years ago, another would seem to be overdue.

"Magnetic north has migrated more than 1,500 kilometers over the past century," said Conall Mac Niocaill, an earth scientist at Oxford University. "In the past 150 years, the strength of the magnetic field has lessened by 10 percent, which could indicate a reversal is on the cards." While the effects are hard to predict, the consequences may be enormous. The loss of the magnetic field on Mars billions of years ago put paid to life on the planet if there ever was any, scientists say. (10/3)

Boeing Gets Most Money With Smallest Investment (Source: Aviation Week)
Boeing got high marks in the competition for an integrated commercial crew launch system with its CST-100 capsule, a bare-bones vehicle designed to reach the International Space Station on battery power after launch with an Atlas V. With CCiCap, NASA gave the aerospace giant the largest share of the $1.1 billion in seed money available. But the $460 million award came with a warning that Boeing's corporate commitment to the project is weak, leaving “an increased risk of insufficient funding” over the life of the Space Act agreement.

Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier, who heads NASA's human spaceflight mission directorate, discounted Boeing's low investment in his selection of the CST-100 for CCiCap funding. “While this was only one of 13 goals, I did consider it,” he writes in his formal source-selection document. “However, Boeing met all of the other goals and had a strong technical design; therefore, I did not find the lack of significant corporate financial commitment to be a major discriminator in my assessment.” (10/3)

SpaceX Dragon to Carry 23 Student Experiments to Space Station (Source: NASA)
Twenty-three microgravity experiments designed by participants of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program (SSEP) will become part of space history Oct. 7. They will be launched to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon. Twelve of the SSEP experiments are getting a second flight opportunity. They were delivered to the space station on a SpaceX demonstration mission in May, but were not completed.

The other 11 experiments are new. Each experiment will study the effects of microgravity on physical, chemical and biological systems. The students have been immersed in every facet of research, from defining investigations to designing experiments, writing proposals, and submitting to a formal NASA review for selection of flight experiments. The 23 experiments represent more than 7,000 students and almost 2,000 proposals. (10/3)

Even as ATK Streamlines, More Layoffs Loom in 2013 (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
Utah aeronautical contractor Alliant Techsystems says it has streamlined its process of making booster rockets, while also acknowledging Tuesday that it will have to lay off more workers early next year. The company will be reducing the number of its employees by an untold number in February in response to its anticipated workload, said Charlie Precourt, ATK’s vice president and general manager for the Space Launch System (SLS).

Although Precourt would not say how many job losses there will be, he insisted they are not part of the stream of layoffs that occurred in the past 3 ½ years, which were largely related to the end of the space shuttle program and resulted in more than 2,000 employees being cut. He added that ATK employees already know about the pending layoffs. Precourt also said the upcoming reduction was not a part of the company’s recent effort to streamline its manufacturing of rocket boosters, a process it calls "value stream mapping." (10/3)

Space Station to Dodge Astro-Junk (Source: RIA Novosti)
The International Space Station (ISS) will make a maneuver to a new orbit on Thursday to avoid debris from a Japanese satellite, a Russian Flight Control Center representative told RIA Novosti on Wednesday. "The maneuver is planned for 7.22 a.m. Moscow time," the source said, adding the danger from the fragments will be closest at 12.31 p.m. The size of the fragment cloud is not known. A Russian Zvezda service module will help make the maneuver, the source said. The decision to make the move is a provisional one and may be changed, Flight Control added. (10/3)

Space Station Won't Need to Move to Avoid Debris (Source: AP)
Russia's Mission Control Center said Wednesday it dropped an earlier plan to move the International Space Station into a different orbit to avoid possible collision with space debris after additional calculations showed that there was no such threat. Mission Control Center said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that a fragment of space debris would fly by too far to pose any danger to the space outpost, so a plan to fire booster rockets to carry out the maneuver on Thursday at 07:22 a.m. Moscow time (0322 GMT) was canceled. (10/3)

Lengthy Ariane Standoff a Threat to European Space Program, OHB Says (Source: Space News)
Satellite and rocket-component builder OHB of Germany on Oct. 3 warned that mounting German frustration with France about the future of Europe’s Ariane launch vehicle could undermine Europe’s space program if it is not resolved. OHB Chief Executive Marco R. Fuchs said the German government’s decision to back an upgrade of the current heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket instead of an immediate move toward a next-generation vehicle is not just a tactical move that can be traded away in negotiations with France. (10/3)

ATV Re-enters over Pacific Following Late Departure (Source: Space News)
Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV)-3 unmanned cargo vehicle re-entered Earth’s atmosphere early Oct. 3 and broke apart in a predetermined uninhabited corridor over the southern Pacific Ocean, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Oct. 3. The vehicle, which during its six months at the international space station delivered fuel and supplies and performed nine reboosts to raise the orbit of the 400,000-kilogram orbital complex, spent an unusually long time lingering in orbit following its Sep. 28 undocking because of regulatory requirements on ship safety. (10/3)

Double Black-Hole Discovery Changes Picture of Globular Star Clusters (Source: NRAO)
Hiding in a clump of stars 10,000 light-years away are two small black holes, slowly sipping their stellar prey. But the black holes shouldn’t be there — at least, not both of them. The snacking pair disobeys prevailing theories that predict the survival of only one black hole in M22, a globular cluster of stars. And, like cockroaches and rats, observing two means the cluster could contain many, many more small black holes — perhaps as many as 100, a team of astronomers reports. (10/3)

ATK Gets Big Thank-You, Bigger Check from NASA Officials (Source: KSL TV)
NASA is giving a big pat on the back — and a big chunk of money — to the rocket builders at ATK. It involves work the company is doing to achieve the next giant leap into space, much farther than humans have ever gone before. And it may start with a steppingstone beyond the far side of the moon. ATK is adapting the company's old space-shuttle boosters to lift long-range vehicles into space. NASA has already kicked in more than $200 million for ATK's work on the so-called "Space Launch System."

ATK is contracted to perform two static ground tests and two test flights in the next decade. This week, NASA kicked in an additional $51 million, which ATK will use to develop a more advanced version of the booster and to conduct one additional test flight. About 600 workers at ATK are focused on the project.

According to ATK officials, employees came up with 400 significant improvements, resulting in a 46 percent reduction in the time required to refurbish used space shuttle boosters and make them ready for flight. "The country is asking us to do a lot more for less," said Alex Priskos of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, "and you guys have been amazing in the way you have stepped up to it." (10/3)

ISS CubeSat Deployment October 4 (Source: Southgate)
The deployment of five CubeSats from the International Space Station (ISS) should take place on Thursday, October 4 at 1435 UT. It is planned to broadcast the deployment live on the web. October 4 is also the 55th anniversary of the launch of the first satellite Sputnik 1. Four of the CubeSats carry Amateur Radio payloads, they are F-1, FITSAT-1, WE-WISH and TechEdSat. (10/1)

China's Chang'e Missions - to the Moon and Beyond (Source: SpaceRef)
China's Chang'e-2 satellite is the second lunar exploration mission for China and considered as the forerunner satellite of the Lunar Exploration Program. This program features three phrases: lunar orbit, landing on the moon, and sample return. Phase 1 was successfully completed with the launch of Chang'e-1 in 2007, which explored the lunar surface, Phase 2 is underway involving the lunar orbiter Chang'e-2, launched on 1 October 2010, almost exactly three years after the launch of the first lunar orbiting mission.

It is the forerunner of Chang'e-3, which will land on the Moon with a lunar rover. A main task of Chang'e-2 is to demonstrate the key technologies as much as possible to reduce the risks during the Chang'e-3 moon landing. Chang'e-4 will follow Chang'e-3. On 8 June 2011, Chang'e-2 left lunar orbit for the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrangian point, where it will stay until the end of 2013, reaching L2 on 25 August 2011, and becoming the first object ever to reach the L2 point directly from lunar orbit. (10/3)

China and Europe Taking Navigation Dispute to the ITU (Source: Space News)
China and Europe have agreed to take their dispute over satellite navigation frequencies to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by the end of this year, a senior European Commission official said. The agreement, reached during a Sep. 20 summit in Brussels, Belgium, between China and the 27-nation European Union, may be a last-ditch attempt to resolve an issue that has been a thorn in the side of Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation program for years.

Because it has festered for so long, it may be too late to do much about the problem given the state of development of both sides’ satellite systems. Europe’s Galileo constellation of medium Earth orbit satellites has two spacecraft in orbit and two scheduled for launch in mid-October. The program is slated to launch six more in 2013, with at least four more to follow by the end of 2014.

China’s Beidou system, which employs satellites in medium Earth, geostationary and inclined geostationary orbit, has 11 satellites in orbit and began initial operations in December. By the end of 2012, the system will be able to provide positioning, navigation and timing services for a wide swath of the Asia-Pacific region, according to the China Satellite Navigation Office. (10/2)

ISS Partners Plan Yearlong Mission to Orbital Station (Source: RIA Novosti)
Space agencies participating in the International Space Station project have agreed to launch an experimental yearlong endurance mission in 2015, Russia’s Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said on Tuesday. The mission will feature a two-man crew and will be twice as long as typical six-month trips. “The principal decision has been made and we just have to coordinate the formalities,” the head of Roscosmos manned space missions Alexei Krasnov said.

“Two members of the international crew, a Russian cosmonaut and a NASA astronaut will be picked to carry out this yearlong mission,” the official said. Krasnov added that a scientific program for the marathon mission had already been tailored. “If the mission proves to be effective, we will discuss sending year-long missions to ISS on a permanent basis,” he said. (10/2)

ITU Taking Steps To Verify Satellite Slot Compliance (Source: Space News)
The international body charged with regulating access to satellite orbital slots and broadcast frequencies has opened a dialogue with satellite tracking station owners to verify satellite operators’ respect for the rules, a regulatory official said. The effort is not expected to put real teeth into the regulatory power of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), at least not in the short term.

But ultimately it could at least permit the Geneva-based organization to see whether satellites registered on its books are actually where their government sponsors say they are. The ITU in recent years has begun to take steps to assure that so-called paper satellites — those existing in the registry, but nowhere else — are scrubbed from the books to make room on the geostationary arc for real satellite networks. (10/2)

NASA Seeks Biology Experiments for ISS (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA invites scientists from around the country to submit proposals to perform biological research aboard the International Space Station. The NASA Research Announcement (NRA), “Research Opportunities in Space Biology,” opened Sep. 30. This NRA challenges scientists to propose experiments that could provide answers to questions about how life adapts and responds to microgravity.

Selected investigators will have the opportunity to take advantage of new cell, plant and animal research facilities being developed for the space station. Proposals should demonstrate benefits to astronauts living and working in the harsh environment of space during long-duration missions. They also should improve medicine and health care for humans on Earth. (10/2)

Geopolitics Could Ignite Space Flight (Source: Murpheesboro Daily News Journal)
In a presidential election year, the U.S. space program seems to have received almost no mention in the campaigns, except that Newt Gingrich, in his race for the Republican nomination, generally received ridicule for suggesting establishment of a moon base.

Rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union accelerated U.S. development of its manned space program, and China now is seeking a greater presence in space with the launch of its own space laboratory and unmanned missions to the moon and deep space. Perhaps some good ole geopolitics on Earth will help raise the space program on the nation’s agenda. (10/3)

Vega Suffered Telemetry Outage in First Flight (Source: Space News)
The otherwise successful inaugural flight of Europe’s Vega small-satellite launcher in February featured a loss of telemetry during the rocket’s crucial fairing-jettison phase as the ground-telemetry station was blinded by the rocket’s plume, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said Oct. 1.

The anomaly — apparently the only notable problem during the flight — will force Vega managers to either switch ground-telemetry stations for future flights, or change Vega’s launch path to permit the current tracking station to capture the telemetry. The change in flight paths likely would force a redesign of one or more of the rocket’s fuel tanks to permit a longer burn to compensate for the less-ideal trajectory. (10/3)

Are Those Spidery Black Things On Mars Dangerous? (Source: NPR)
You are 200 miles directly above the Martian surface — looking down. This image was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Jan. 27, 2010. (The color was added later.) What do we see? Well, sand, mostly. As you scroll down, there's a ridge crossing through the image, then a plain, then dunes, but keep looking. You will notice, when you get to the dunes, there are little black flecks dotting the ridges, mostly on the sunny side, like sunbathing spiders sitting in rows. Can you see them? Click here. (10/3)

To People Who Say We Need to Focus on Earth's Problems Before Spending on Space (Source: Bill Dunford)
“Why are we spending money and effort on space exploration when we’re facing so many issues here at home? We shouldn’t go into space until we solve all our problems..."  Okay. Let's solve our down-to-Earth problems... Clickc here. (10/3)

UK Design to 'Harpoon' Old Satellites (Source: BBC)
UK engineers are developing a system to harpoon rogue or redundant satellites and pull them out of the sky. It is a response to the ever growing problem of orbital junk - old pieces of hardware that continue to circle the Earth and which now pose a collision threat to operational spacecraft. The harpoon would be fired at the hapless satellite from close range. A propulsion pack tethered to the projectile would then pull the junk downwards, to burn up in the atmosphere. (10/2)

New Roles Eyed For Europe’s Versatile Cargo Tug (Source: Aviation Week)
After four years of flawless performance shuttling cargo and fuel to the Space Station, Europe's most sophisticated spacecraft appears destined to serve as a subsystem aboard NASA's next deep-space exploration demonstrator.
As the third of five Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs) completes its six-month mission at the ISS, two additional ATVs are slated to launch in 2013 and 2014. Production of the vehicle-—arguably one of Europe's most forward-looking and successful technological feats—-has already ceased, with no clearly defined follow-on in the works.

Rather than evolve the Astrium-built spacecraft to conduct even more technologically challenging missions, for now the European Space Agency (ESA) is proposing to use ATV-derived technology in a propulsion module that will power NASA's Orion Multipurpose Crew Exploration Vehicle (MPCV), an in-kind contribution valued at roughly €450 million ($580 million) that would cover Europe's share of ISS common operating costs through 2020. (10/1)

Huntsville Space Conference Should be Rich in Detail (Source: Huntsville Tiimes)
The agenda of this year's 5th annual Von Braun Space Symposium in Huntsville this month is full of the managers who make things go in the commercial and government sides of America's space programs. The event sponsored by the American Astronautical Society runs Oct. 15-18 at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. More than 300 have already registered. (10/2)

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