November 28, 2012

Beyond 2012: Why the World Won't End (Source: NASA)
Dec. 21, 2012, won't be the end of the world as we know, however, it will be another winter solstice. Contrary to some of the common beliefs out there, the claims behind the end of the world quickly unravel when pinned down to the 2012 timeline. Click here. (11/13)

Acting FAA Chief Clears a Hurdle in Nomination Process (Source: Washington Post)
Michael Huerta's nomination to lead the FAA was approved by a Senate committee in July, but Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., had said that he would block the five-year appointment until the outcome of the presidential election Nov. 6. A spokesman says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, now hopes to add the nomination to a package that could be passed by the end of the congressional session. Huerta has served as acting FAA administrator since the former chief resigned last year. (11/26)

Soyuz Ready for Friday Launch of Pleiades 1B at Kourou (Source: Space Daily)
Arianespace's fourth Soyuz for launch from the Spaceport in French Guiana is now undergoing final checkout for a November 30 evening liftoff following installation of its Pleiades 1B observation satellite atop the medium-lift vehicle. Pleiades 1B's mating with Soyuz occurred during the second half of yesterday, only hours after this Russian-built vehicle was rolled out to the launch pad. (11/27)

Russia to Design Satellite for Brazil (Source: Space Daily)
The Russian space agency Roskosmos has been in talks to create a communication and remote sensing Earth satellite for Brazil. According to Roskosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin, Russia has signed a corresponding agreement with Brazil. Two Roskosmos representatives are already in Brazil working to implement the agreement, Popovkin said. (11/28)

Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Make Parts From Moon Rock (Source: WSU)
Imagine landing on the moon or Mars, putting rocks through a 3-D printer and making something useful – like a needed wrench or replacement part. "It sounds like science fiction, but now it's really possible," says a researcher at Washington State University. Amit Bandyopadhyay and a group of colleagues recently published a paper in Rapid Prototyping Journal demonstrating how to print parts using materials from the moon.

In 2010, researchers from NASA initiated discussion with Bandyopadhyay, asking if their research team might be able to print 3-D objects from moon rock. Because of the tremendous expense of space travel, researchers strive to limit what space ships have to carry. Establishment of a lunar or Martian outpost would require using the materials that are on hand for construction or repairs. That's where the 3-D fabrication technology might come in. (11/28)

Most Energetic Quasar Discovered (Source: Cosmos)
A quasar five times more powerful than any previously observed to date – with an energy output at least two trillion times that of our Sun – has been discovered, astronomers announced. Quasars – of which about 200,000 are known – are the brightest objects in the universe, believed to be young galaxies from when the universe was around 1–4 billion years old.

As well as being extremely bright – which makes them easier to see than other distant galaxies – quasars emit enormous amounts of kinetic, or moving, energy, powered by mass spiralling into the supermassive black hole at their centers. The researchers found that the quasar’s energy outflow is five times more powerful than the previous record holder. (11/28)

Smith Wins Chair of U.S. House Science Committee (Source: Science)
Maybe the tie put him over the top? Yesterday, the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives recommended that Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) become the next chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Smith made his case for the job wearing "a tie decorated with planets and spaceships," according to The Hill newspaper—-a sartorial nod to the panel's oversight of NASA and other space-related research.

The recommendation, expected to be approved today in a vote of all House Republicans, means that Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI) fell short in his bid for a second stint as the panel's chair. A third candidate, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), failed for a second time to gain the gavel. Smith will formally take his new post in the Congress that begins in January. (11/28)

Climate-Change Skeptic Smith Will Seek "Unifying Mission" for NASA (Source: Huffington Post)
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a skeptic of man-made global warming, is set to take over the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in the 113th Congress. Smith recently told Science Insider that as chairman of the committee that, among other tasks, oversees funding for NASA, he would like to see the space agency pursue a "unifying mission."

"Even though it has been almost 40 years since man last set foot on the moon, we should continue to shoot for the stars," Smith said. "And we can help future generations get there by encouraging kids to study in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). If America is going to remain competitive in today's global economy, we need to remain innovative and focused on exploring science and expanding new technologies." (11/28)

Europe has Right Stuff to Take NASA Back to Moon (Source: New Scientist)
An uncrewed NASA spacecraft will fly to the moon in 2017 and a crewed mission will go into lunar orbit in 2019, according to NASA's new partner in human space flight, the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA will develop a service module for NASA's Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, which is designed for deep space missions. ESA will base the service module on its Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), a drone that carries supplies to the International Space Station.

The new service module will be a stumpy, cylindrical unit that will sit behind Orion's pointy crew capsule. Its job is to provide the fuel, breathable air, solar electricity and the maneuvering systems Orion will need for an extended space flight. "Orion's first mission in 2017 will be an unmanned moon flyby mission. The second crewed mission, yet to be confirmed by NASA, will go into lunar orbit," says Nico Dettman. (11/28)

Humans Head for Moon's Orbit – and Beyond (Source: New Scientist)
"I just have to say pretty bluntly here: we've been there before." So said President Obama in 2010 as he ruled out a return to the moon. But there are signs on the NASA grapevine and from the world of commercial space flight that humans are once more headed that way.

A NASA crewed mission to lunar orbit could focus on exploring the moon's far side and testing technologies to speed up exploration of Mars and other planets. Unfettered by the demands of state funding, a private mission may attempt something even more novel.

Since Obama's speech, there have been hints that NASA might be changing its tune. Rumor has it that the agency plans to build a hovering moon base about 60,000 kilometers above the moon's far side at a Lagrange point, where the pull of Earth's gravity cancels out the moon's. From this point – called L2 – astronauts would steer rovers round the surface in close to real time, much cheaper than actually landing on the moon. (11/28)

Space Stars: Lockhart, Shatner, Wheaton Videos Celebrate NASA Spinoffs (Source: NASA)
June Lockhart, William Shatner and Wil Wheaton are the latest entertainment icons featured in new public service announcements that highlight how some of NASA's outstanding accomplishments in space are used to improve our life on Earth.

Spanning generations of silver screen and television portrayals of humanity's exploration of space, the accomplished actors talk about how science fiction has become science fact, resulting in new commercial products and services that are tangible returns on investments in space technology. Much of the technology we rely on daily was developed by NASA for space exploration and then adapted or enhanced for use here on Earth. This includes many technologies used in schools, homes, cars, computers and American industry. Click here. (11/28)

Skylon Spaceplane Engine Concept Achieves Key Milestone (Source: BBC)
The UK company developing an engine for a new type of spaceplane says it has successfully demonstrated the power unit's enabling technology. Reaction Engines Ltd (REL) ran a series of tests on key elements of its Sabre propulsion system under the independent eye of the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA's experts have confirmed that all the demonstration objectives were met.

REL claims the major technical obstacle to its ideas has now been removed. "This is a big moment; it really is quite a big step forward in propulsion," said Alan Bond, the driving force behind the Sabre engine concept. The company must now raise the £250m needed to complete the next phase of development. (11/28)

Optical Comm Receives Some Research Funding (Source: Aviation Week)
Deep-space exploration depends on more than big rockets and sophisticated spacecraft. Without some way to receive information from the instruments and astronauts we send beyond the Moon, there isn't much point in going in the first place. Today, deep-space data travels in the form of radio waves that need a global network of huge tracking antennas to catch their digital whispering. There is another way: high-bandwidth laser light with small optical telescopes.

The higher the frequency, the more information that can be packed into a signal, and light beats radio hands-down in that department. Two space experiments in the works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and a third at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are set to send laser test signals from space beginning next summer. (11/26)

ILS Alleges Ex-CTO Created Shell Companies To Bilk Firm (Source: Space News)
Commercial space launch services provider International Launch Services (ILS) is alleging that its former chief technical officer set up shell companies that billed ILS for thousands of hours of work that he actually performed as an ILS employee. Virginia-based ILS is further alleging that the actions of the former employee, James M. Bonner, violated the U.S. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

In documents submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, ILS says Bonner, who was fired in August, conspired with a friend, Thomas J. Dwyer, to create two fictitious companies that billed ILS for safety-related analysis. ILS is majority-owned by Moscow-based Khrunichev Space Center, which is the principal builder of the Proton heavy-lift launch vehicle.

Lawyers for Bonner and Dwyer, along with their two affiliated companies, have asked the court to reject the idea that what they did rises to the level of a RICO charge, saying that ILS is attempting to portray a “garden variety” violation of fiduciary duty as a federal crime. It was only when Bonner made errors in recording the transactions that ILS became aware of the fraud and confronted Bonner in August. Click here. (11/28)

New Mexico Spaceport Tax Pays $1.9 Million to Local Schools (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
Local schools received about $1.9 million from a Spaceport America sales tax over the past year — money officials said pays for a host of science, math and aerospace activities for students. LCPS officials said they've invested dollars in expanding learning, inside and outside the classroom, including through robotics competitions and summer programs and a pre-freshman engineering program. Also, a portion of dollars have gone toward teacher training to boost the numbers of Advanced Placement courses, they said. (11/28)

Sea Launch to Provide Backup Launch Service for AsiaSat (Source: Sea Launch)
Sea Launch and Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co., Ltd. (AsiaSat) have entered into an option agreement covering
launch services utilizing the Sea Launch Zenit 3SL launch system. The agreement provides an option which AsiaSat may exercise for the launch of a future AsiaSat satellite on Sea Launch. Sea Launch will provide AsiaSat with an integrated schedule assurance plan in support of AsiaSat’s satellite deployment plan. (11/28)

Space Industry Gears Up Crew Training (Source: AOPA)
A crowded field of contenders is vying to produce commercial spacecraft in the next few years, and those spacecraft will need pilots. Training has already begun. The National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center has added spaceflight training to its aviation programs for both government and commercial operators. The company announced in October that FAA safety approval has been granted for its altitude chamber, able to subject participants to pressure altitudes up to 100,000 feet.

The FAA previously approved the spaceflight simulator used in the NASTAR Center’s astronaut training programs, and the company has already trained 250 “spaceflight participants” to date, including 115 future Virgin Galactic flight crew members (astronauts). “This has become quite an emerging industry,” said Brienna Henwood, director of space training and research for the NASTAR Center. With commercial space companies planning to begin flight testing in 2013 and 2014, “we’re already having a lot of people knock on our door.”

Among those knocking are companies like XCOR Aerospace, Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic to train crews and passengers, or “spaceflight participants,” and researchers seeking to experiment in microgravity. In addition to these suborbital efforts, Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada Corp. each landed a share of a $1.1 billion NASA grant announced in August to develop orbital craft capable of carrying humans to the International Space Station, with flights expected in 2017. (11/28)

China Launches Chinasat 12 Communication Satellite (Source: TelecomPaper)
China has launched its Chinasat 12 communication satellite into space, reports Xinhuanet. Conditions of the satellite are normal after it was launched from the Xichang spaceporrt. It has reached a preset orbit, according to a monitoring centre based in Xi'an. Chinasat 12 was manufactured by Thales Alenia Space and it was launched by the Long March-3B carrier rocket. The satellite, the thirteenth commercial orbiter operated by the China Satellite Communications, will provide telecommunications services for customers in Asia, Africa and Europe. (11/28)

NASA Confirms Nano-Sat Challenge Cancellation (Source: NewSpace Journal)
NASA originally announced the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge in July 2010 and, in November of last year, selected Space Florida to manage the program. The goal was to foster the development of very small launch vehicles that could launch nanosatellites, including individual cubesats, thus providing more flexibility than existing secondary launch opportunities. NASA confirmed that it was canceling the competition for the reasons suspected by Space Florida's Percy Luney, namely, the development of SWORDS and ALASA.

The NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) performed a study of ongoing nanosat launcher efforts. “The study identified more than 15 efforts under way and concluded that other than the teams selected for ALASA and SWORDS, the companies lacked experience in designing, developing, or operating launch vehicles and none of the companies seemed to be sufficiently capable of self-financing to deliver the target capability (at approximately $1 million per launch) in the next 3-5 years,” he said. (11/28)

Pilots & Cosmonauts: Russia’s Sidelined Elites (Source: RIA Novosti)
Alisa, a 12-year-old girl from St. Petersburg, wants to be a military pilot. No one has the heart to tell her that the Russian Air Force does not accept girls. If it is any consolation, one of Russia's top gun schools, the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy, for the last three years, has not accepted boys either, as it languishes crippled by a massive reorganization that has been lambasted by many active and retired pilots.

Sometimes even existing opportunities go untapped: the first ever open cosmonaut recruitment drive in Russian history, which wrapped last month, only had some 300 applicants, compared to 6,000-plus at NASA’s most recent drive in 2011. Military pilots and cosmonauts have been a staple of Russia’s national elite since the Soviet era, but both occupations fell on hard times these past two decades, and their prestige has plummeted.

The most pressing issue – that of underfunding – has been at least partially fixed in recent years by Vladimir Putin’s increasingly tech- and army-conscious administration. But money alone cannot deliver professional management or a clear strategy, both of which remain lacking in Russian military aviation and, to a lesser extent, the space industry. (11/28)

Found: Misplaced Minnesota Moon Rocks (Source: Collect Space)
Five small fragments of the moon, which were collected at Tranquility Base 40 years ago and gifted to the people of Minnesota, have been found by the National Guard. The small lunar stones, which are better described as dust and pebbles rather than moon rocks, were discovered as they were originally presented: embedded inside an acrylic button and mounted to a wooden podium with a Minnesota state flag that also flew to the moon in 1969.

"The Apollo 11 moon rocks were found amongst military artifacts in a storage area at the Veterans Service Building in St. Paul," said Army Maj. Blane Iffert, the former state historian for the Minnesota National Guard. The Minnesota moon rocks are one of approximately 185 such lunar sample displays that were presented to each of the states, United States' territories and to foreign nations as a goodwill gesture following the return of the the Apollo 11 crew. (11/27)

Do Missing Jupiters Mean Massive Comet Belts? (Source: ESA)
Using ESA’s Herschel space observatory, astronomers have discovered vast comet belts surrounding two nearby planetary systems known to host only Earth-to-Neptune-mass worlds. The comet reservoirs could have delivered life-giving oceans to the innermost planets. In a previous Herschel study, scientists found that the dusty belt surrounding nearby star Fomalhaut must be maintained by collisions between comets.

In the new Herschel study, two more nearby planetary systems – GJ 581 and 61 Vir – have been found to host vast amounts of cometary debris. Herschel detected the signatures of cold dust at 200ÂșC below freezing, in quantities that mean these systems must have at least 10 times more comets than in our own Solar System’s Kuiper Belt. (11/27)

Sri Lankan Satellite Launched in China (Source: Business Standard)
China on Tuesday successfully launched Sri Lanka's first ever communications satellite. Supreme Sat I was launched from the Xichang spaceport and will be positioned above Sri Lanka in the geo-stationery orbit at 87.5 degrees east approximately 36,000 kms above surface of earth. Rohitha Rajapaksa, the youngest son of the Sri Lankan President played a key role in the launch which is a Sri Lanka-China joint venture. (11/27)

Early Spacesuit Vacuum Test Goes Wrong (Source: Space Safety)
What happens when a spacesuit depressurizes in vacuum? In 1966, NASA spacesuit technician and test subject Jim LeBlanc found out. Suited up in an early Moon suit prototype, he entered a triple-doored vacuum chamber. Then, his pressurization hose somehow became disconnected and LeBlanc became the only person to survive near-vacuum pressures when his suit dropped from 3.8 psi to 0.1 psi in 10 seconds.

“Essentially, he had no pressure on the outside of his body and that’s a very unusual case to get,” explains Cliff Hess, the supervising engineer. “There’s very little in the medical literature about what happens when you have that. There’s a lot of conjecture, that your fluids will boil.”

“As I stumbled backwards, I could feel the saliva on my tongue starting to bubble just before I went unconscious and that’s the last thing I remember,” recalls LeBlanc. The chamber – which would normally take 30 minutes to repressurized – was blasted back to atmospheric pressure in 87 seconds. Amazingly, LeBlanc survived with just an earache to show for his ordeal. (11/28)

Balloon Test Shows Space Tourism on the Horizon (Source:
Not all space tourism is rocket science. A newly successful test of a balloon could allow paying human customers to enjoy stunning Earth views and the weightless astronaut experience by 2014. The test balloon carried a humanoid robot up to an altitude of almost 20 miles (32 kilometers) on Nov. 12 — just a few miles shy of where skydiver Felix Baumgartner leaped from during his "space dive" in October. Startup Zero 2 Infinity wants to eventually offer hours of flight time for space tourists to do whatever they want in a near-space environment.

The Spanish company already has waitlist customers who paid an early deposit of almost $13,000 (10,000 euros) as the first installment out of a total ticket price of $143,000 (110,000 euros). It has also attracted funding from the world's second-largest balloon manufacturer, Spain's third-largest bank, and several angel investors by proving its concept step-by-step and by relying on proven helium balloon technologies. (11/27)

Big Curiosity Rover Discovery is a Big Misunderstanding (Source: Mashable)
When Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger sat down with NPR on Nov. 13, it was to discuss the rover’s mission on Mars. But when the interview aired last week, it was just one quote on soil samples that made headlines: “This data is gonna be one for the history books.”

It didn’t take long for Twitter, Facebook and even other news organizations to pick up the quote. Similar to a childhood game of “Telephone,” that statement ballooned into one of the week’s biggest stories: After just a few months on Mars, the Curiosity rover had made, in the NPR reporter’s words, an “earth-shaking” discovery. One so big that NASA had to quadruple-check the results.

That rumor, however, isn’t exactly accurate. The quote heard around the world came shortly after Grotzinger explained that NASA had just received the initial data from Curiosity’s first soil experiment using a new Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which is capable of identifying organic compounds. (11/27)

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