November 6, 2012

New Google Mars Has More Coverage, More Detail (Source: WIRED)
Google Mars has been available since 2009 as part of the free downloadable Google Earth. It allows viewers to zoom around the Red Planet in much higher resolution than the simpler browser version and will even render certain locations in 3-D. You can reach it by clicking the little orange Saturn-shaped button at the top of the screen in Google Earth.

Most areas of Google Earth are covered at a resolution of about 50 feet per pixel. Previously Google Mars had nowhere near this level of detail except in small patches covered by the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which can see down to about 12 inches per pixel. Google has now updated their Mars coverage by including large swaths from the Context Camera (CTX) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. CTX offers great details with around 20 feet per pixel. (11/6)

Intelsat Files Insurance Claim over IS-19 Solar-Array Issue (Source: Space News)
Satellite operator Intelsat on Nov. 5 said it had filed an insurance claim for the partial loss of power on its IS-19 satellite, which entered service in August with a solar array that proved difficult to deploy and suffered permanent damage when it finally opened following its launch in June. One industry official said the claim is for about $84 million, which represents 28 percent of the full $300 million insurance policy Intelsat took out on IS-19.

Intelsat declined to disclose what it is claiming to insurers as a loss, a figure that in any event will be subject to negotiations with underwriters before a final amount is determined. IS-19 is functioning in orbit and its power loss is only marginal for the moment, but it is expected to aggravate as the satellite remains in orbit for a planned 15 years. IS-19 manufacturer Loral and launch service provider Sea Launch AG continue to investigate what caused the solar-array deployment anomaly but have yet to issue a formal assessment. (11/6)

Will Suborbital Spacecraft Make Spaceflight Too Easy? (Source: Citizens in Space)
Of all the objections to suborbital spaceflight, this might be the silliest. In 2010, the National Academy  of Sciences produced a report entitled Revitalizing NASA’s Suborbital Program: Advancing Science, Driving Innovation, and Developing Workforce. Despite the title, the report largely ignored the development of commercial suborbital spacecraft.

Most of the 87 pages were devoted to sounding rockets, high-altitude balloons, and an assortment of NASA aircraft including the WB-57, the ER-2, the 747-based SOFIA astronomical observatory – even the DC-8. Suffice it to say, the report stretched the definition of “suborbital” as much as it could be, and then some.

The report did devote a scant four pages to the emerging suborbital spaceflight industry, however. It did not directly mention or endorse NASA’s Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program but did recommend that NASA “continue to monitor commercial suborbital space developments” – better than nothing. Click here. (11/4)

GeoEye Reports Third Quarter 2012 Earnings Results (Source: GeoEye)
Total revenues were $87.1 million for the third quarter of 2012, a $1.3 million increase from the third quarter of 2011. Net income available to common stockholders for the third quarter of 2012 was $7.6 million, compared to $11.7 million for the third quarter of 2011. When adjusted for transaction costs related to the combination with DigitalGlobe, net income available to common stockholders for the three months ended Sept. 30, 2012, was $12.0 million. Operating profit was $15.2 million for the third quarter of 2012. (11/6)

Election Could Impact Kansas Cosmosphere (Source: Universe Today)
While the nation is polarized between choosing Barack Obama or Mitt Romney as the next American president, voters going to the polls in Hutchinson, Kansas, a city of 40,000, will have another matter to weigh during elections today. Along with their ballot, residents will consider whether the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center will continue to receive funding from city coffers. Since it represents 18% of revenues for the science museum, Cosmosphere president Jim Remar says his colleagues have been paying close attention. (11/6)

Election Result May Not Affect NASA Much (Source:
The outcome of the presidential election is unlikely to have a profound impact on the future direction of American spaceflight and exploration, experts say. While Republican candidate Mitt Romney has revealed few details about his space plans, a Romney Administration probably wouldn't dramatically alter the path NASA is currently pursuing under President Barack Obama, according to some observers.

"There are unlikely, as a result of the election, to be seismic changes," said space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University. In 2010, President Obama directed NASA to work toward getting astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, then on to the vicinity of Mars by the mid-2030s. To reach these deep-space destinations, the agency is developing a huge rocket called the Space Launch System and a crew capsule called Orion. NASA hopes the SLS-Orion combo will begin launching astronauts by late 2021. (11/6)

Space Telescope to Get Software Fix (Source: Nature)
Since its launch in 2008, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has trained its detectors on the most violent regions in the cosmos, recording some of the highest-energy photons known — γ-rays billions of times more energetic than visible light. But to astronomers’ chagrin, the most revealing photons have sometimes slipped through. Long-standing but little-publicized software problems, and insufficient memory in one of the detectors, have clouded the vision of the world’s leading γ-ray telescope to the highest-energy γ-rays.

The flaws do not seriously threaten the satellite’s observations at low energies. But they have hampered studies at energies greater than 10 billion electronvolts (GeV), which could yield clues to dark matter and the powerful stellar explosions known as γ-ray bursts, says particle physicist Bill Atwood at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of the Fermi team who helped to design the craft’s instruments. (11/6)

Doubt Cast on Fermi's Dark Matter Smoking Gun (Source: New Scientist)
It was hailed as a smoking gun for dark matter, raising hopes that we might finally pinpoint the particle that is thought to make up 80 percent of the mass in the universe. But purported evidence of dark matter interactions in the center of our galaxy may not be as solid as hoped.

Christoph Weniger was able to analyse publicly available data from 3.5 years of telescope observations. Other physicists looked at the same data and agreed that a Fermi gamma ray signal was strong enough not to be a random fluctuation. Either the telescope was behaving oddly, or it was seeing dark matter particles with energies of 130 GeV. "If the latter is true, it would dwarf the Higgs boson discovery," wrote physics blogger Jester. 

The team had to reprocess their data from the galactic center to account for a glitch caused by a damaged instrument on the telescope. That revealed that the signal had shifted from 130 to 135 GeV. What's more, that signal had faded to statistical insignificance. The signal also showed up in the ring of gamma rays around Earth, but it seems to account for only half of that detected from the galactic centre, and there is no good way to explain why it is there. (11/6)

Propellentless Space Propulsion Research Continues (Source: Aviation Week)
Chinese scientists appear to have validated a propellentless space propulsion technology previously branded as impossible. Based on earlier British research, it is averred that the EmDrive concept provides sustained thrust at low cost and weight, but this has yet to be accepted even as a workable theory by the wider propulsion community.

The EmDrive story started in 2001 when engineer Roger Shawyer set up Satellite Propulsion Research (SPR) to exploit his new concept in electrical propulsion. He was helped by a modest grant from the U.K.'s now defunct Trade and Industry Department. Click here. (11/6)

Monster Asteroid 'Pinged' as it Buzzes Earth (Source: Discovery)
As the U.S. consumed itself in campaigns and ballots, scientists using NASA's 70-meter wide Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, released images of something that should put all of our Earthly politics into perspective. Over three days, Goldstone "pinged" a 1.6-kilometer (1-mile) wide asteroid that approached our planet from Oct. 28 to Oct. 30. The huge space rock, called 2007 PA8, was 9 million kilometers (5.6 million miles) from Earth on Oct. 30. It made closest approach on Nov 5. (Monday), coming within 17 times the Earth-moon distance (4 million miles or 6.5 million kilometers). (11/6)

Comet Breaks Apart Before Astronomers' Eyes (Source:
A comet is falling apart on its trek through the inner solar system, and astronomers have a ringside seat for all the dramatic action. Amateur and professional astronomers have been following Comet Hergenrother for several weeks, noting some impressive outbursts of comet dust as it passed through our neck of the cosmic woods. Now it appears that the icy wanderer's days may be numbered. (11/6)

Surprising 'Mini' Supermassive Black Hole Found in Unlikely Home (Source:
Using NASA's Chandra X-Ray space telescope, astronomers have discovered one of the smallest supermassive black holes in middle of an unlikely host galaxy. The little monster was spotted in NGC 4178, a spiral galaxy about 55 million light-years from Earth that is quite flat and lacks a concentration or bulge of stars at its center. (11/6)

Examining the “Why” and “How” of Space Exploration (Source: Space Politics)
Regardless of the outcome of today’s election, there will be some key challenges for space policy in the next four years. Can NASA’s current approach to human spaceflight and space exploration be sustained given the nation’s fiscal challenges? If not, what should replace it? At a forum last week on Capitol Hill organized by the Marshall Institute, panelists offered their own prescriptions for a revamped, more sustainable approach to space exploration.

“Right now, I fear that our national leadership is on the verge of canceling all deep space human exploration,” warned Charles Miller, president of NextGen Space LLC and the former senior advisor for commercial space at NASA. “We are on the edge of a cliff. No matter who wins, we are probably looking at a return to a Clinton-era policy where human spaceflight is the ISS and only the ISS. Deep space exploration is on the verge of being deferred for another decade as a luxury we can’t afford.” Click here.

Putin Fires Defense Minister in Corruption Scandal (Source: Defense News)
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 6 fired his defense minister over a corruption scandal, the most dramatic change to the government since he returned for a third Kremlin term amid rising discontent. Putin replaced Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov — who had been implementing an unpopular but Kremlin-backed military reform — with Moscow region governor and former emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu.

Analysts said that the sacking of a top official who had enjoyed Putin’s unconditional support was aimed at instilling fear in the elites as the Russian strongman struggles with the worst political crisis of his almost 13-year rule. Putin said Serdyukov, one of three people in Russia with access to nuclear launch codes, had been relieved of his duties so that a thorough investigation can proceed into a suspected $100 million property scam at a defense ministry holding company. (11/6)

NASA Postpones November 7 Rocket Launch from Wallops (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has postponed the test flight of a commercial suborbital rocket scheduled for November 7 from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia because of expected poor weather in the region the next few days. The new launch date is no earlier than Saturday, November 10, between 6 and 9 a.m. EST. The rocket to be launched is the Ventions VR-1 from Ventions LLC. (11/6)

Uwingu Unveils Planet-Naming Initiative (Source: Uwingu)
With your help we're building a list of names - a baby book of names - for Astronomers to use to identify the worlds they're finding orbiting alien stars. Names can be up to 50 characters (latin letters only), from any language or culture, and can be anything the average grandmother would be proud to hear her grandchild say (so please, no profanity). Nominate names for 99 cents each. Click here. (11/6)

NASA Will Text You Whenever Space Station Passes Overhead (Source: ars technica)
For the last dozen years the International Space Station has grown considerably, to the point where it's now the third-brightest object in the sky, meaning that you don't have to have any sort of equipment to view it—you simply have to know when to look up. Now, NASA is making knowing when to look up a bit easier. If you go to its Spot the Station site, you can register to have e-mail alerts sent to you whenever the facility is due to pass overhead. Click here. (11/6)

FAA Taps Harris Corp. for Key NextGen Systems (Source: AIN Online)
The FAA launched the second and third major acquisitions of the NextGen ATC modernization effort, naming Harris both to replace existing point-to-point voice switches with a networked system and to build a nationwide air/ground data communications (data comm) network.

In late August, the FAA awarded Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris an overall 15-year contract with options, worth potentially $291 million, under the National Airspace System Voice System (NVS) program. The program calls for replacing 17 different voice switches at ATC facilities with an Internet Protocol-based voice communications network. On September 20 the agency awarded Harris a seven-year, $332 million contract under the Data Comm Integrated Services (DCIS) program. The contract includes 10 one-year options that would extend the program to 2029. (11/3)

Lockheed May Cut Jobs, but Won't Issue Layoff Notices (Source: Panama City News Herald)
Lockheed Martin has said that if sequestration goes forward, it may eliminate 10,000 jobs. However, the company has decided that it will not issue layoff warning notices ahead of sequestration, following the Obama administration's guidance that such notices weren't necessary. (11/5)

Landmark for NASA's Mini-BWB, the X-48C (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA's blended wing-body Boeing X-48 has passed to 100-flight mark, a new high point for unmanned X-planes. The 100th flight was logged at Edwards AFB, California, on October 30, on the aircraft's eighth flight as the X-48C. One of two built for Boeing by Cranfield Aerospace in the UK, the 21ft-span X-48 is an 8.5% dynamically scaled model of a blended wing body (BWB) design. The aircraft flew 92 times as the three-jet X-48B, to evaluate the low-speed flight-control characteristics of a large flying-wing airliner. (11/5)

Two-Thirds Think Obama Better Suited to Handle an Alien Invasion (Source: SpaceRef)
According to a new U.S. extraterrestrial survey from National Geographic Channel, more than 80 million Americans are certain that UFOs exist. In fact, many believe in tangible proof that aliens have landed on Earth and think that government officials are involved in covering up paranormal activities. Moreover, most citizens would not mind a minor alien invasion, because they expect these space-age visitors to be friendly.

Survey results also reveal that more than one-third (36%) of Americans believe UFOs exist. More than one in 10 (11%) are confident that they have spotted a UFO, and one in five (20%) know someone who claims to have seen one. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans think Barack Obama would be better suited than fellow presidential candidate Mitt Romney to handle an alien invasion.

In fact, more than two in three (68%) women say that Obama would be more adept at dealing with an alien invasion than Romney, vs. 61 percent of men. And more younger citizens, ages 18 to 64 years, than those aged 65+ (68% vs. 50%) think Romney would not be as well-suited as Obama to handle an alien invasion. (11/6)

Navy Reviewing Hypersonic Vehicle Technologies (Source: Examiner)
The High Speed Weapons Office of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division is interested in reviewing technologies, in both the concept and development phases, which will enable/enhance the operation and survival of two classes of hypersonic vehicles, according to a Special Notice released through the Federal Business Opportunities website on Friday. The first concept is a rocket boosted hypersonic glider (Mach 8-10) and the second concept is an airbreathing cruise vehicle (Mach 5-6). (11/2)

Spaceflight Incidents and Close Calls in Human Spaceflight (Source: Space Safety)
This remarkable graphic keeps track of all safety issues that have occurred from the beginning of manned spaceflight through today. The graphic is the responsibility of the Flight Safety Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to, as they put it “provide continuing visibility of the risks inherent with space exploration and provide engineers with a summary of past experience. It is hoped this information will be used to learn from the past and make present and future missions safer.” The latest version is always available from the NASA Human Spaceflight Reader's Room. Click here. (11/6)

How Astronauts Vote From Space (Source:
Call it the ultimate absentee ballot. NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station have the option of voting in the Nov. 6 presidential election from orbit, hundreds of miles above their nearest polling location. Astronauts residing on the orbiting lab receive a digital version of their ballot, which is beamed up by Mission Control at the agency's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. Filled-out ballots find their way back down to Earth along the same path.

"They send it back to Mission Control," said NASA spokesman Jay Bolden of JSC. "It's a secure ballot that is then sent directly to the voting authorities." This system was made possible by a 1997 bill passed by Texas legislators (nearly all NASA astronauts live in or around Houston). It was first used that same year by David Wolf, who happened to be aboard Russia's Mir space station at the time. (11/5)

Artist: Why I've Built My Own Satellite (Source: New Scientist)
The technology-obsessed artist has built his own satellite, but is finding it much harder to sell T-shirts to pay for the launch. It will communicate down to Earth and people can talk to it using amateur radio equipment. Anyone can send it a message, which it will transmit in Morse code using LED lights bright enough to be seen from Earth with bare eyes or binoculars. "I'm trying to raise the attention of the general public about the space program, and give them a chance to look at the sky one more time." Click here. (11/6)

MDA Pposts $41.2M Third-Quarter Profit (Source: Vancouver Sun)
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. said Monday it earned $41.2 million in its latest quarter as revenue slipped nearly six per cent. The technology company said the profit amounted to $1.30 per diluted share for the quarter ended Sept. 30 compared with a profit of $39.3 million or 95 cents per diluted share for the third quarter of last year when the company had more shares outstanding. Revenue totalled $171.4 million, down from $181.5 million. (11/6)

Saudi- KSA to Launch Two Satellites (Source: Mena FN)
Saudi Arabia will launch two satellites in 2013 and 2015 as part of a space science development strategy, Prince Turki bin Saud bin Mohammed, KACST vice president for Research Institutes told the 2nd Saudi International Space and Aeronautics Technology Conference yesterday. He said SAUDISAT4 and SAUDI GEO1 equipped with highly sensitive devices and cameras would conduct various scientific experiments. The Space Research Institute at King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology has already launched 12 satellites from Baikonur space station in Kazakhstan for communication and other purposes. (11/6)

Spaceport America Launch Deemed "Partial" Success (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The 17th vertical launch since Spaceport America's inception took place when Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace sent up what it calls a "STIG-B" rocket. Spaceport officials announced the launch on Monday, describing it as "partially successful." The rocket didn't reach its target altitude, but otherwise, the launch went well, said Bill Gutman, Spaceport America's technical director.

"It was partially successful because it didn't achieve the desired altitude, but everything on the rocket worked exactly like it was supposed to," he said. "I'd say it was 75 percent successful." The vehicle fell short of its 62.1 mile-high — or 100-kilometer — goal, according to the spaceport. Spaceport America Executive Director Christine Anderson said the company will still glean useful information about its vehicle.

The launch was the second FAA-licensed flight for Spaceport America, officials said. The rocket, which is still in its developmental phase, is meant to eventually help carry satellites and passengers to suborbital space. Armadillo Aerospace has carried out seven launches at Spaceport America. The company paid $10,000 to the spaceport for use of its facilities this weekend, Anderson said. (11/6)

SpaceX Test Fires Grasshopper Again (Source: Space News)
SpaceX flew its experimental Grasshopper vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing rocket for the second time, according to footage of the test posted by company founder Elon Musk Nov. 3. The Nov. 1 Grasshopper flight was the “[f]irst flight of 10 story tall Grasshopper rocket using closed loop thrust vector & throttle control,” Musk said in a Nov. 3 Twitter message. The note contained a link to a video of the flight, which took place at the company’s McGregor, Texas, rocket test facility.

Grasshopper burned its single Merlin 1-D engine for eight seconds in the Nov. 1 flight, boosting the craft about 5.4 meters above the ground. The latest Grasshopper hop appeared to be an interim step toward the vehicle’s next major milestone: a hover test at 30.5 meters. SpaceX publicly announced plans for the hover test in a press release after Grasshopper’s first flight in September. (11/5)

NASA Outlines SLS Mobile Launcher Umbilical Plans (Source:
Continuing toward a debut of late-2017, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is one step closer to that ultimate goal as the U.S. space agency continues to baseline the plans for the umbilical arms and connections to the new Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) from its Mobile Launcher (ML). Planned are a total of eight umbilicals for SLS: the Launch Abort System ECS, the SM Umbilical 1 (for ECS and Avionics), the iCPS (Interim Cryogenic Propulsive Stage) Umbilical, the Core Stage  (CS) Intertank Umbilical (for CS avionics and gaseous hydrogen venting), two Tail Service Masts (TSMs), and two Aft Skirt Umbilicals (for the Solid Rocket Boosters). (11/6)

Atlantis is Centerpiece of $100 Million Exhibit to Open in July 2013 (Source: KSCVC)
Space Shuttle Atlantis arrived at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to begin its new mission as the dramatically displayed centerpiece of a $100 million exhibit scheduled to open in July 2013. Atlantis will be moved into the building and raised 36 feet off the ground over the next month. The complex operation will include rotating the shuttle about 43 degrees so that it will be showcased on an angle as if it were in space – only as the astronauts from its 33 missions have had a chance to see it. When it is displayed, its payload bay doors will be open and the Canadarm (robotic arm) extended. Click here. (11/6)

AFRL Targets Launch of Orbital's Eagle Spacecraft Platform for 2015 or 2016 (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) plans to conduct an initial test flight of an experimental spacecraft, dubbed Eagle, that can hold multiple payloads in various orbits in fiscal year 2016, according to a service official. The initial test flight of an experimental spacecraft platform that Orbital Sciences Corp. is building for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is targeted for launch aboard an Atlas 5 or Delta 4 sometime between late 2015 and late 2016, according to an Air Force official. (11/6)

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