November 13, 2012

Dark Energy Map Puts the Squeeze on Dark Matter (Source: Guardian)
The influence of mysterious 'dark energy' has been mapped far into the distant past of the universe. But it seems dark energy's gain may be dark matter's loss. There is more movement in the universe than astronomers can explain. The galaxies are spinning more quickly than expected, while space itself is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, which is something astronomers thought was simply impossible until they discovered it in the mid-90s.

Clearly, something is missing from our knowledge of the cosmos. Rather than tinker with the gravitational theories of Newton and Einstein to cause more movement from the matter that we know exists, most astronomers prefer to believe that the universe is made up predominantly of invisible matter and energy. They call them dark matter and dark energy to reflect the fact that these mysterious substances do not interact with light and therefore cannot be directly seen. Click here. (11/13)

Changes In Upper Atmosphere Could Worsen Orbital Debris (Source: Aviation Week)
Growing concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s upper atmosphere from human activities can be expected to induce a gradual contraction of the thermosphere, a change that will lower the drag on satellites but also diminish a natural destructive force for the re-entry of man-made orbital debris. A study from a U.S. and Canadian science team led by the Naval Research Laboratory offers the first direct evidence that CO2 emissions from human activity are rising to the highest reaches of the atmosphere, including the thermosphere, or above 90 km altitude. (11/13)

Waterworlds: The Search For Life in the Outer Solar System (Source: America Space)
Until relatively recently, it was thought that the best, or perhaps only, place to look for life elsewhere in the solar system was Mars. The other inner planets were much too hot while the outer gas and ice giants were far too cold – the chances of any kind of life being found, even microbes, was considered extremely unlikely at best. That view, however, is now starting to change. The more that various space probes have studied some of the far-off worlds in the outer solar system, the more it has become apparent that the conditions for life (at least as we know it) could indeed exist on some of them. Click here. (11/13)

Russia May Increase Number of GLONASS Satellites to 30 in 2 or 3 Years (Source: Itar-Tass)
The number of functioning units of the GLONASS satellite navigation system may increase to 30 in the next two or three years, said Grigory Stupak. "The immediate plans are to bring the cluster to 30 units deployed in additional planes," Stupak said, "research, feasibility and modeling will be completed this year. To implement this plan, only a political decision will be needed."

To ensure the effective operation of all 30 units, Russia will have to develop a new interface to receive the signal from all the 30 satellites. The equipment currently in use can only work with 24 GLONASS satellites. The increase in the number of functioning GLONASS satellite will enhance the performance characteristics of this navigation system by an order of magnitude. (11/13)

Arianespace Launches European, Brazilian Telcom Sats (Source: Aviation Week)
European and Brazilian telecom satellite operators have new spacecraft in orbit following their dual launch Nov. 10 on an Ariane 5 from the Guiana Space Center near Kourou, French Guiana. Launched in the European launch service provider Arianespace’s 52nd consecutive mission success were Eutelsat 21B and Star One C3. Liftoff came at 4:05 p.m. EST, and both spacecraft achieved their geostationary transfer orbits. (11/13)

Smith Seen as Favorite for House Science Chairmanship (Source: Space News)
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is likely to become chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee when the new Congress convenes in January, a pair of sources said. Of the three Republican lawmakers seeking the position, “Rep. Smith is the odds-on favorite,” a former Republican congressional staffer said on the day before the House Republican Conference is expected to begin leadership elections for the incoming 113th Congress.

Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) are competing against Smith for the position, but one House aide said Nov. 9 that the contest was “not even close.” Enough members of the House Republican Steering Committee, the party body responsible for making committee appointments, have privately expressed a preference to give Smith the gavel, this aide said. (11/13)

House Passes Extension of Launch Liability Indemnification (Source: Space Policy Online)
The House passed H.R. 6586 on Tuesday, extending for two years the government's authority to indemnify launch services companies from third party claims for certain amounts of money resulting from launch vehicle accidents. The current authority expires on Dece. 31, 2012. The bill was not controversial. Only five Members -- four Republicans and one Democrat -- were on the House floor to speak about the bill. All supported it. 

The main theme was that the U.S. launch services industry needs a level playing field in order to successfully compete with other countries that indemnify their companies. Under current law, launch services companies must purchase insurance to cover the Maximum Probable Loss as calculated by the FAA to cover claims from the general public in case they or their property are damaged by a launch failure. The government covers claims between $500 million and $2.7 billion. The company must cover claims above that.

The $2.7 billion limit is adjusted for inflation based on the original law that created this authority in 1988.  It started at $2 billion. In supporting the bill, Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL), the only Democrat to speak on the bill, said that he hoped that the next time Congress revisits the provision it will take a look at how the taxpayer's exposure is growing.  He also pointed out, however, that the provision has not cost taxpayers a single penny in third-party claims so far. (11/13)

$200M 'Embezzled' Through Glonass Contractor (Source: Space News)
A major space industry contractor stole 6.5 billion rubles ($200 million) in federal funds earmarked for the troubled Glonass satellite navigation system, Moscow police said. Managers at Russian Space Systems used various schemes, including fly-by-night companies, to embezzle money meant for maintaining and upgrading Glonass, Russia's GPS-like network. The sum is three times the size of an estimate offered earlier, which was itself several times larger than a figure announced in June, when police first announced an investigation into the firm. (11/12)

New Dawn Debacle Hasn't Dampened Investor's Interest in African Satcom (Source: Space News)
The South African investment group that recently cashed out of the New Dawn joint venture with satellite fleet operator Intelsat said it remains committed to providing commercial satellite communications in Africa despite the collapse of the venture. Convergence Partners said it was failure of the New Dawn satellite’s C-band antenna to deploy in orbit, and not African market conditions, that caused the Convergence Partners-led group to sell its remaining stake in New Dawn to Intelsat.

Intelsat is now sole owner of the New Dawn satellite, located at 32.8 degrees east. The Orbital Sciences-built satellite was launched in April 2011 and failed to deploy its C-band antenna, scuttling much of its business case in Africa. Intelsat subsequently filed and received an insurance claim for $118 million for the anomaly, and said it would lose part of up to $310 million in C-band orders it had booked for the spacecraft. New Dawn continues to operate its Ku-band broadcasts, but this is not enough to sustain the joint venture. (11/12)

Virtual Reality 'Beaming' Technology Could Transform Exploration (Source: Space Daily)
Using cutting-edge virtual reality technology, researchers have 'beamed' a person into a rat facility allowing the rat and human to interact with each other on the same scale. The research enables the rat to interact with a rat-sized robot controlled by a human participant in a different location. At the same time, the human participant (who is in a virtual environment) interacts with a human-sized avatar that is controlled by the movements of the distant rat.

"The process demonstrated here not only shows the range of our technology, but also provides a new tool for scientists, explorers or others to visit distant and alien places without themselves being placed in any kind of danger, and importantly, to be able to see animal behaviour in a totally new way - as if it were the behavior of humans," said MIT's Mandayam Srinivasan. (11/12)

Space Coast Legislators Will Lead Legislature After 2014 Session (Sources: St. Augustine Record, SPACErePORT)
Space Coast Republican Steve Crisafulli finds himself unexpectedly as next in line to be House speaker after the GOP caucus unanimously chose him to replace the defeated Rep. Chris Dorworth in the line of succession. Crisafulli, of Merritt Island, was chosen Monday by the caucus to be speaker-designate in the coming two years, which means he’ll follow incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford in November of 2014, assuming Crisafulli remains in office and Republicans, as expected, keep control of the chamber.

Meanwhile in the Florida Senate, Sen. Andy Gardiner is in line to serve as Senate President beginning in November 2014. Like Crisafulli's district in the House, Gardiner's district includes the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. This might result in a particularly productive series of legislative sessions for the state's space industry beginning in 2015. Editor's Note: Crisafulli is related to Jim Crisafulli, director of the Hawaii Office of Aerospace Development, the chief proponent of Hawaiian spaceport efforts. (11/13)

Chinese Moon Success Would Reduce X-Prize Money (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Attention, Google Lunar X Prize competitors! China is looking to take $5 million out of one of your pockets. And they may not be anything you can do about it. China has announced definitive plans to launch its Chang’e-3 lunar mission during the second half of 2013. The mission includes a lander as well as a six-wheeled rover that will explore the lunar surface.

If the mission is successful, then the first prize in the  Google-sponsored private moon race will decrease from $20 million to $15 million. There are also a $5 million second prize and several bonus prizes for achievements on the lunar surface. Given what is currently known about the GLXP competitors, it seems unlikely that any team is in a position to beat the well-funded Chinese program to the moon by the end of next year. (11/13)

Arianespace's Fourth Kourou Soyuz Mission Readied for Fueling (Source: SpaceRef)
The dual-use, very-high-resolution Pleiades 1B satellite payload for Arianespace's fourth Soyuz mission from French Guiana is ready for fueling, marking a new step in the preparation campaign for its nighttime launch on November 30. Built by EADS' Astrium division for the French CNES space agency, Pleiades 1B has completed initial checkout in the Spaceport's S1B clean room facility, and has now been moved to the larger, multi-bay S5 payload processing center for the loading of its onboard propellant. (11/13)

Map of Universe: 11 Billion Years Ago (Source: Reuters)
An international team of astronomers has produced the first map of the universe as it was 11 billion years ago, filling a gap between the Big Bang and the rapid expansion that followed. The study shows the universe went through a phase roughly three billion years after the Big Bang when expansion actually started to slow, before the force of so-called 'dark energy' kicked in and sent galaxies accelerating away from each other.

Much is known about the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang from studies of its afterglow in the cosmic background radiation, and its accelerating expansion over several billion years can be seen with a look at the way distant galaxies are moving. "Only now are we finally seeing its adolescence... just before it underwent a growth spurt," said Mat Pieri at the University of Portsmouth in Britain, one of the authors of the study. (11/12)

NASA Instrument On Commercial Sat To Track U.S. Air Pollution (Source: Aviation Week)
A $90 million instrument mounted on a commercial communications satellite in geostationary orbit will monitor air pollutants over North America beginning in 2017, the first step toward what researchers hope will be a global network of pollution monitors in space. NASA selected the Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (Tempo) instrument proposal from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory from among 14 submitted for the first Earth Venture Instrument award. (11/12)

Bill To Extend U.S. Launch Indemnity Slated for Vote in House (Source: Space News)
The U.S. government’s commercial space-launch indemnity regime, under which it assumes liability for launch-related damages that exceed the $500 million threshold, would remain unchanged through 2014 under a bill to be considered Nov. 13 by the U.S. House of Representatives. The six-line bill (H.R. 6586) was introduced in the House Nov. 9 by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee. Other than extending the sunset date, the bill makes no changes to the U.S. government’s commercial launch indemnification program, which is set to expire Dec. 31. (11/12)

More Investment Needed for Oklahoma Space Agency Liftoff (Source:
Thirteen years ago state lawmakers made an investment to start a space industry in Oklahoma that, so far, hasn't taken off. Now, almost $30 million later, some say it doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell it's time to pull the plug on our space agency, The Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority. But others say it's not a good idea to quit now because the industry is about to take off. Click here. (11/12)

Triumph of His Will (Source: Esquire)
For his entire life, Elon Musk has bent people to his insatiable will. Most recently, he's co-opted NASA. And now we'll see whether he's a) the visionary who forces americans to become explorers again, or b) a man so distracted by vision that his life's work is a series of brilliant disappointments. Click here. (11/13)

Wallops Expansion Good News (Source:
The Eastern Shore of Virginia is in an enviable position. Its NASA Wallops Flight Facility is receiving multiple weekly calls offering new business opportunities, which is an indication of the facility’s tremendous potential for jobs and economic development. Unfortunately, they are currently being turned away for lack of space.

The Accomack County Board of Supervisors, in a wise move, has authorized certain actions that are expected to lead to development of the first phase of Wallops Research Park by 2014, including applying for a $4 million grant from the Virginia Transportation Partnership Opportunity Fund to build a taxiway connecting the research park to NASA runways. Click here. (11/13)

Satellites and Space Debris Disrupted by Climate Change (Source: LA Times)
Climate change from greenhouse gas emissions might threaten spacecraft as well as people, a scientists suggested, providing direct evidence that carbon dioxide from human activity is affecting the outermost portion of the Earth's atmosphere. A research team led by John Emmert of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory described a new method for quantifying increases in carbon dioxide in the hard-to-measure portion of the upper atmosphere known as the thermosphere, which can't be reached by balloons and aircraft.

In that region, more than 50 miles above Earth's surface, carbon emissions cause cooling rather than warming because carbon dioxide molecules collide with oxygen atoms and release heat into space. Because such cooling makes the planet's atmosphere contract, it can reduce drag on satellites and debris that orbit the earth, possibly having "adverse consequences for the orbital debris environment that is already unstable," the researchers wrote. (11/13)

DARPA Enlists Amateur Astronomers to Track Space Junk (Source: NBC)
Tracking the thousands of tiny objects cluttering up Earth's orbit is becoming an expensive proposition for the military. To save money and improve their coverage, they're soliciting help from amateur astronomers worldwide. The DARPA-funded SpaceView project hopes to organize the astronomy community into an extension of the U.S. Air Force’s own sky-watchers, the Space Surveillance Network.

There are estimated to be around half a million bits of space junk in orbit, but even with 29 space-monitoring sensors at their command, the Space Surveillance Network can only track the biggest 30,000 or so. Deploying a dozen more sensor arrays and facilities would be expensive, so they're outsourcing junk tracking — to pretty much anyone who wants to help. Lt. Col. Travis Blake, the Air Force officer overseeing the program, explains here. (11/13)

Mars Orbiter Running on Backup Computer (Source:
NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, the longest-working craft ever sent to the red planet, has switched to a backup set of equipment after engineers noticed degradation in the probe's primary navigation unit, the space agency announced Monday. In the last few months, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory noticed data indicating the Odyssey spacecraft's primary, or A-side, inertial measurement unit was wearing out.

The unit contains a spinning gyroscope and senses changes in the orbiter's orientation, enabling precise pointing of Odyssey's communications antenna, solar arrays and science instruments, according to JPL. Managers decided to transition Odyssey to a backup main computer and associated B-side systems, including a separate inertial measurement unit, before the A-side unit failed. (11/12)

Minuteman Launch Scheduled for Nov. 14 in California (Source: Launch Alert)
An operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is scheduled for Nov. 14 between 1:44 a.m. and 7:44 a.m. from North Vandenberg. The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

Editor's Note: I understand that yet another Mintaur (Minuteman-based) rocket launch is now planned from the Wallops Island spaceport in Virginia. Space Florida has thus far not secured a Minotaur launch from Launch Complex 46 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, although they won a "Spaceports-3" task-order contract from the Air Force to accommodate such launches. (11/12)

Editorial: Misguided Guidance (Source: Space News)
The U.S. government tends to say the right things on the subject of leveraging private-sector capabilities to get the most out of each dollar spent on space, but its actions often tell a different story. The latest case in point is U.S. Defense Department guidance for commercial satellites with so-called hosted payloads operating in military frequencies. The guidance, issued in September by the Pentagon’s chief information officer, imposes restrictions that are antithetical to what hosted payload agreements are supposed to be: government-commercial partnerships.

It would require, for example, satellite operators to obtain Pentagon permission to move their own satellites, or to lease — or even acknowledge the availability of — capacity in military frequencies to an allied government. Satellite owners also would be held financially accountable if a hosted payload experiences radio frequency interference — as many commercial and even government satellites do, from time to time — and in the event of bankruptcy they would effectively have to give the Pentagon final say in the disposition of their assets.

The guidance, which industry officials complain was developed without commercial-sector input, roughly coincides with news of Intelsat’s plan to sell UHF capacity aboard its planned IS-27 satellite to the government of Italy. Intelsat invested its own money in that payload in hopes of attracting U.S. military customers that have been facing a shortage of UHF capacity, but was forced to look elsewhere for business after being rebuffed by the Pentagon. (11/12)

A Glimpse at a Gateway (Source: Space Review)
Recent articles in the news media suggest that NASA is studying new architectures for human space exploration that could make use of a "gateway" station at a Earth-Moon Lagrange point. Jeff Foust reports on the some technical details about those ongoing NASA studies provided at a recent conference. Visit to view the article. (11/12)

Addressing the Challenges of Space Debris: Defining Space Debris (Source: Space Review)
One of the major challenges for dealing with space debris is that there's no acceptable definition of just what it is. Michael Listner offers one potential legal definition of space debris and the rationales behind its provisions. Visit to view the article. (11/12)

Space Funding via Public Engagement: Uwingu Launches a New Way (Source: Space Review)
With potentially more than 100 billion extrasolar planets in our galaxy, astronomers face a challenge: how to name them all? Alan Stern and Geoff Marcy describe an approach they're supporting to not only meet that challenge, but also at the same time fund other space science research. Visit to view the article. (11/12)

Branson Visits Mojave, Renames Spaceship Company (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Sir Richard Branson dropped into his Mojave-based Virgin Galactic space company as part of a visit to the Los Angeles area. He toured the extensive facilities and met informally with his Mojave-based workforce now numbering more than 175. Sir Richard announced to staff that Virgin Galactic’s Mojave-based sister organization, The Spaceship Company, which will manufacture and assemble a fleet of commercial space vehicles, is to be renamed and brought under the Virgin Galactic brand. (11/12)

Private Mars Missions? The CubeSats-to-Mars Program (Source: Space News)
We have reached a turning point in space exploration. Private-sector Mars missions — or possibly public-private partnerships — may be viable in the near future. Missions based not on a profit model but on passion for exploration, understanding Mars and advancing the state of the art of space technology could drive private financial resources. This could make private-sector missions a reality by the middle of this decade.

NASA’s significant budgetary cuts will likely slow future Mars missions. In an effort to find innovative ways to re-engage the public and secure public support, NASA’s Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) recently reviewed over 400 Mars mission proposals. The quality and diversity of proposals were impressive. A wide range of approaches for robotic exploration of Mars were discussed, including, but not limited to, orbiters, rovers, balloons, airplanes and hoppers. Many of these proposals were highly innovative and efficient in design and cost.

One potential approach to martian exploration is the CubeSats-to-Mars concept proposed by a group of organizations including Busek Co. Inc., Explore Mars Inc., United Launch Alliance LLC, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems LLC and California Polytechnic State University. Click here. (11/12)

Britain Readies 4th Skynet for Dec. Launch (Source: Space News)
The fourth and likely the last of Britain’s Skynet 5 military telecommunications satellites, Skynet 5D, is scheduled to arrive at Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in South America by mid-November to prepare for a Dec. 19 launch aboard an Ariane 5 ECA rocket. Riding with the 4,900-kilogram satellite will be Mexico’s Mexsat 3 telecommunications satellite, a small example of Skynet 5’s status as a military satellite at home in the commercial world. (11/12)

ESA Plans Bedrest Study (Source: ESA)
Why are 12 volunteers about to spend 21 days in bed, lying with their heads tilted below the horizontal? Their experience will help to understand and address changes in astronauts’ bodies in space as well as in bedridden people on Earth. Far from being a period of rest and relaxation, the volunteers in this bedrest study will undergo regular and intensive daily activities, including tests and examinations.

They will not be allowed to get up, not even once, for a breath of fresh air, a change of scenery, a shower or to use the toilet. The volunteers are expected to repeat their 21-day ordeal twice in the space of one year. As we age, our bodies lose bone density and muscle strength. Astronauts in space suffer similar changes but at a much faster rate than on Earth. Finding ways to combat this process is important to space agencies, hospital patients and everyone who plans on growing old. (11/12)

Iran Proposes ECO States to Jointly Build Telecom Satellites (Source: Xinhua)
Iran proposed the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) member states to start joint production of telecomm satellites. Addressing a meeting of ECO states' communication and information technology ministers, Iran called for  "studies over the possible grounds for building and manufacturing telecommunication equipment and use of common know-how for designing and building joint telecommunication satellites to be sent to the orbits of the member states."

The ECO is an intergovernmental regional organization established in 1985 by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey with the aim of promoting economic, technical and cultural cooperation among the member states. Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan later joined the organization. (11/12)

Orbcomm Lines Up for Falcon-9, Despite Launch Anomaly (Source: Aviation Week)
Satellite messaging services provider Orbcomm will be the second customer to launch atop the new Falcon 9 rocket that SpaceX is developing to deliver commercial telecom satellites to geostationary orbit. Orbcomm Chief Executive Marc Eisenberg said the New Jersey-based company has full confidence in SpaceX despite the loss last month of its prototype second-generation, messaging-service satellite, OG2.

SpaceX is working on a complete overhaul of the medium-lift rocket, dubbed Falcon 9 v1.1, that will feature new and more powerful Merlin 1D engines, extended fuel tanks, a wider payload fairing and a new configuration for the rocket’s nine engines. Eisenberg says Orbcomm expects to launch eight OG2 satellites by mid-2013 as the primary mission on the second flight of Falcon 9 v1.1, with plans to loft another 10 spacecraft the following year. (11/12)

Over One Hundred Briz-M Fragments Litter Circum-Terrestrial Space (Source: Interfax)
The number of fragments, which littered circum-terrestrial (near Earth) space after the explosion of the Briz-M rocket stage, has topped a hundred, the United States Strategic Command's (USSTRATCOM) website said. As of November 12, U.S. specialists have located and catalogued 110 fragments of the Russian booster responsible for the unsuccessful launch of the Express-MD2 and Telkom-3 satellites in August. (11/12)

Saudi Arabia to Launch Two Satellites (Source: RIA Novosti)
Saudi Arabia is set to launch two indigenous satellites with a precision navigation system within the next few years, Prince Turki Bin Saud Bin Muhammad said. The satellites - Saudisat 4 and Saudi GEO 1 - will be launched in 2013 and 2015, respectively, said Turki, who is vice president for research institutes at King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology. The two satellites will be equipped with highly sensitive devices and cameras for conducting various scientific experiments. (11/12)

NASA's SEV: Spacecraft For Asteroid Missions Revealed (Source:
A mockup of NASA's next generation moon rover, the Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV), on display at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The SEV has since been converted into a wheel-less vehicle designed for visiting asteroids. Click here to see it. (11/12)

Amateur Astronomer Locates Missing Near Earth Asteroid (Source: Space Safety)
Amateur astronomer Erwin Schwab was determined to find it. The potentially hazardous asteroid 2008SE85 had disappeared shortly after its September 2008 discovery by the Catalina Sky Survey. Following a few observations in October 2008, the asteroid had seemingly disappeared, predictions for its orbit clearly inaccurate. But in September 2012, Schwab finally located the lost space rock.

Schwab found the asteroid about 2 degree from its predicted location.  His hunt was sponsored by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Situational Awareness program. The discovery became official when it was acknowledged by the US-based Minor Planet Center. Asteroid 2008SE85 is 500 m in diameter and is not expected to strike Earth in the near future, as confirmed by the new observations. The object’s orbit has now been recalculated so it can be tracked in future. (11/13)

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