November 24, 2012

Curiosity Result Could Confirm Mars Life, Says Levin (Source: New Scientist)
As space fans anticipate news of organic molecules from the Mars Curiosity rover – cryptically teased by the mission's chief scientist, John Grotzinger – there's one man who is even more excited than most. Former NASA researcher Gilbert Levin says that a positive sign of organics by Curiosity would confirm his claim that NASA has already seen evidence for life on Mars – from an experiment called Labeled Release aboard the Viking mission.

If Curiosity has found evidence for organics, as many are hoping, "that removes the last barrier to my interpretation of the Labeled Release results, and leaves us free and clear", Levin said. Though the prospect of new Curiosity findings have set the internet abuzz, nobody from NASA has yet said publicly what they are. (11/23)

European Data Relay Satellite System Approved (Source: Xinhua)
The European Space Agency (ESA) on Friday announced the design of the first commercially-operated data relay satellite system has been completed and approved. This fast-tracks the launch of the service to its first customer, the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative of the European Union.

A design review board of senior members from the ESA, Astrium and the German Aerospace Center approved Europe's data relay satellite system (EDRS) design: from the satellites to the support that will be required from the ground. EDRS will deliver services to the scientific community by providing a telecommunications network that is fast, reliable and seamless, making real-time information from satellites available on demand.

It is being built through a public-private partnership between ESA and Astrium Services, using payloads carried by two satellites in geostationary orbit, hovering 36,000 km above the equator, where their speed matches Earth's rotation. Data transmitted from satellites in lower orbits to either of these EDRS payloads can then be relayed to the ground. (11/24)

Earth, Mars May Share Primordial Water Source, Chondritic Meteorites (Source: Aviation Week)
In their earliest eras, the Earth, Mars and the solar system's other rocky planets drew water from the same source, chondritic meteorites -- not usually credited comets, suggest recent studies of two primitive space rocks of Martian origin. The findings also suggest the Earth and Mars evolved quite differently, supporting wider evidence of a significant surface  water presence in the distant Martian past that disappeared over time along with a more substantial atmosphere. (11/23)

SpaceX Engine Probe Delays January Flight (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX has delivered a Falcon 9 rocket to Cape Canaveral while continuing an engine-problem investigation that will delay the booster’s planned launch from mid-January to early March. Company and NASA engineers are still sorting out what caused one of nine Merlin engines to shut down early during the Oct. 7 launch of a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station.

The NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee also learned at its Nov. 14 meeting about several anomalies the Dragon spacecraft experienced during its first commercial resupply mission to the station. The Dragon slated to fly NASA’s second commercial resupply mission, now tentatively targeted for March 1, is expected to be delivered to the Cape next month. (11/23)

Rocky Exoplanets May be 'Squishy' Worlds (Source: Discovery)
Planets beyond the solar system that are bigger than Earth but smaller than gas giants like Neptune could have oceans of liquid metal and life-protecting magnetic shields. Under the heat and pressure that exist inside super-Earths, magnesium oxide and other minerals commonly found in the rocky mantles of the terrestrial planets, transform into liquid metals, laboratory tests show.

Scientists zapped a piece of magnesium oxide with high-powered lasers to simulate the heat and pressure that would exist on planets roughly three to 10 times as massive as Earth. They discovered that the clear ceramic mineral first morphed into a solid with a new crystal structure, then completely transformed into a liquid metal. In that state, the liquid mineral may be able to sustain a physics phenomenon called a "dynamo" action, which is responsible for generating magnetic fields. (11/22)

A Crewed NASA Mission to the Far Side of the Moon (Source: SEN)
The USA's present roadmap to space for humans includes a return to the Moon, a visit to an asteroid and eventually a landing on Mars. But a free-thinking group of space scientists have proposed a novel alternative early mission to NASA - a journey to a region of space beyond the far side of the Moon.

Their concept would involve flying the agency's planned new Orion space capsule to a spot known as the lunar L2 (Lagrange) point - a location where the combined gravity of the Earth and Moon allows a spacecraft to sit permanently above the lunar far side. The mission would be a testing ground for NASA to discover more about long-duration missions away from Earth before astronauts venture further into deep space.

Such a mission would take Orion's astronauts 65,000 km beyond the Moon - 15 per cent further away from Earth than the Apollo crews journeyed - and they would spend nearly three times longer in space than the later 12 day Apollo missions. (11/24)

Duma Ratifies Russian-Belarusian Agreement on Cooperation in Space (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia’s State Duma has ratified an intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Belarus on cooperation in the peaceful use or orbital space. Dmitry Sablin, first deputy chairman of the Duma committee for the CIS, said the document is called upon “to pool the two countries’ efforts in the implementation of bilateral space projects... Russia and Belarus will have an opportunity to design joint programs of training the personnel, exchanging specialists, using ground facilities and the system of control over space objects.” (11/24)

FAA Withdraws Rule for Amateur Launch Licensing (Source: Aviation Week)
In what amounts to a memo from the Office of Sanity, the FAA is withdrawing a previously published direct final rule that would have allowed launch operators that conduct certain amateur rocket launches to voluntarily apply for a commercial space transportation license or experimental permit. According to the agency’s Nov. 14 notice, it received “several adverse comments” on its Aug. 22 regulation.

To be sure, the licensing would have been voluntary, and it was proffered as one way to support larger launch operators that, under contract with NASA, were required to obtain an FAA launch license. But commenters pointed to issues with the potential cost to small businesses and the government, both in terms of the resources necessary for preparing and evaluating applications and in conditional payment of excess claims commonly referred to as “indemnification.”

Others vociferously doubted whether amateur rockets could ever meet higher, Class III requirements, whether applying those requirements to smaller Class I vehicles made sense or was necessary, and whether safety issues were created. Nevermind, says FAA. (11/23)

Isle of Man Space Company Teams Up for Lunar X-Prize (Source: BBC)
A Manx space company has teamed up with another in Israel in an attempt to win an international Moon explorer prize. Odyssey Moon Ltd has linked up with SpaceIL to compete in a competition with a prize of $30 million. The Google-sponsored Lunar X-Prize will be fought over by 29 teams from 17 different countries.

The prize will go to the builders of the first robot to send back video as it travels more than 500 metres of the Moon's surface. The presence of Odyssey Moon on the Isle of Man is thought to be one of the reasons behind a recent assessment showing the island to be the fourth most likely nation to return to the Moon. (11/23)

Musk Comments on Stratolaunch Involvement (Source: NewSpace Watch)
During a recent talk in the UK, Elon Musk was asked about SpaceX's involvement with Stratolaunch Systems. SpaceX is supposed to supply a variant of the Falcon rocket to be air-launched after dropping from the Stratolaunch carrier aircraft. Musk said that this is "certainly not one of our main initiatives" and that there are "likely to be some changes in that program" but he can't comment about this. (11/24)

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