December 10, 2012

Spacetime Ripples on the Horizon? (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Scientists might be closer to detecting one prediction of Einstein's theory of gravity than they thought they were. There’s been a bit of a flurry in physics recently over the “imminent” detection of gravitational waves. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime, created by accelerating masses. In a binary system, the waves move outward from the whirling pair, carrying away energy as the objects (say, two stars or black holes) spiral in toward each other and merge. Click here. (12/10)

Hawking Wins £1.8m Physics Prize (Source: Guardian)
His mind has grappled with space and time, and explored the strange beauty of black holes aglow, but in recent days a more earthly problem has occupied the world's most famous scientist. Stephen Hawking, the former Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, must ponder how to spend $3 million (£1.8m) that has landed in his bank account after winning the most lucrative science prize ever established.

The renowned physicist who missed his 70th birthday celebrations through illness in January, has won the Special Fundamental Physics Prize for a lifetime of achievements, including the discovery that black holes emit radiation, and his deep contributions to quantum gravity and aspects of the early universe. (12/10)

NASA Awards Contracts Toward Safely Launching Astronauts From U.S. Soil (Source: NASA)
NASA's next step in its plan to launch American astronauts from U.S. soil includes selecting three companies to conduct activities under contracts that will enable future certification of commercial spacecraft as safe to carry humans to the International Space Station.

Advances made by these American companies during the first contract phase known as the certification products contracts (CPC) will begin the process of ensuring integrated crew transportation systems will meet agency safety requirements and standards. CPC contractors include Boeing ($9,993,000), Sierra Nevada Corp. ($10,000,000), and SpaceX ($9,589,525). (12/10)

Ban Helium Balloons, Academic Warns (Source: Telegraph)
Dr Peter Wothers, a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a University of Cambridge chemist, will use this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures to argue that there will be “serious problems” in 30 to 50 years’ time if the lighter-than-air gas continues to be wasted in party balloons. Helium is a non-renewable gas that is used for a wide variety of critical tasks in health care, aerospace, and other industries. However, there is currently a global shortage of the gas, which cannot be synthesized. The gas has to be extracted from beneath the earth’s crust and 75 percent of the world’s helium comes from the US. (12/10)

What Should We Name NASA’s New Mars Rover? (Source: WIRED)
During a surprise press conference on Dec. 4, NASA associate administrator of science John Grunsfeld announced plans for the new rover that will launch to Mars in 2020. Some in the scientific community reacted by wondering if NASA was completely addicted to Mars, blind to the fact that there are other planets in the solar system. But most are firmly behind the new rover, with folks already rallying around the idea that it will take the first step in a long-held dream of the planetary science community, a Mars sample-return mission.

Twitter had a field day coming up with silly names for the as-yet nameless rover, many of which were collected under the hashtag #newmarsrovernames. While NASA will no doubt sponsor a contest for young students to christen the probe, that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun in the meantime. Here we’ve collected some of the best online responses to NASA’s big announcement. Take a look and vote on which one you think is best below. Click here. (12/10)

Opportunity, Past Its Best-By Date, Keeps Going (Source: New York Times)
While many obsessed over speculation that NASA’s newest Mars rover, Curiosity, had dug up signs of life — it had not — it is the agency’s older, smaller jalopy, Opportunity, that has been exploring a more intriguing plot of Martian real estate. “This is our first glimpse ever at conditions on ancient Mars that clearly show us a chemistry that would have been suitable for life,” Steven W. Squyres, the principal investigator for Opportunity, said.

Opportunity could be sitting on rocks chock-full of organic molecules — but the rover and the scientists back on Earth would never know. Unlike Curiosity, Opportunity is not carrying instruments that can detect those kinds of molecules. But the scientists are not complaining. Everything from Opportunity over the past eight years has been a bonus for a mission that was to have ended long ago. Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004, for what was supposed to be a three-month mission. (12/10)

Editorial: Make Pioneering NASA’s Purpose (Source: Space News)
NASA needs a clear, unambiguous purpose. It’s the same maxim that every truly successful organization — corporate, military, government or, for that matter, volunteer — follows: Decide on and then be unmistakably clear about what it is that you do. And it’s the concept that created NASA’s “glory years” when the agency did the impossible and put a man on the Moon.

Drawing upon what we learned in our research, the Space Foundation also has recommended a purpose for NASA: pioneering. Yes, boldly (and efficiently) going where no one has gone before — so that others may follow. The pioneering doctrine we recommend is a solid process that reaps rewards for our economy, our national pride, our industrial base and our future generations. (12/10)

Editorial: Roadblock in New Mexico (Source: Space News)
New Mexico has done a lot for the fledgling suborbital spaceflight industry, primarily by building a $200 million spaceport from which Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture plans to begin taking paying passengers to the edge of space as soon as late 2013. To succeed, however, Spaceport America needs one more thing from the state: legislation to protect suppliers to companies like Virgin Galactic from lawsuits filed on behalf of customers killed or injured on suborbital flights.

Currently suborbital operators enjoy this protection, but efforts to extend the shield to their hardware suppliers have foundered in the New Mexico State Legislature. Failure to reverse these fortunes could prove costly: Virgin Galactic, which is the furthest along of several suborbital ventures, is threatening to take its operation elsewhere if the law is not passed soon.

This might sound like saber rattling, but these companies do have alternatives. Florida and Virginia — both of which have infrastructure in place to support the suborbital industry — are among several states that have passed legislation shielding manufacturers and suppliers from passenger lawsuits. The citizens of New Mexico have anted up big for Spaceport America, whose major infrastructure elements are nearing completion. To be healthy, the spaceport needs multiple rent-paying clients. (12/10)

Editorial: Shotgun Marriage, U.S. Government Style (Source: Space News)
Having dealt with a capricious and disjointed U.S. government customer and regulator throughout their history, imaging satellite operators DigitalGlobe and GeoEye shouldn’t be too surprised that it’s taking so long for the U.S. Department of Justice to approve their proposed merger. The drawn-out process is nevertheless ironic, since it was the government — albeit a different arm of government — that put them in a position that left them little choice but to try and join forces. Click here. (12/10)

Aerospace Execs Give Ground on Defense Cuts as U.S. Nears Fiscal Cliff (Source: Space News)
An aerospace executive said targeted cuts to the U.S. defense budget — perhaps on the order of $50 billion to $150 billion during the next 10 years — must be part of any deal to head off the automatic, across-the-board reductions that will phase in starting Jan. 2 and slash U.S. defense spending by a half-trillion dollars over the next decade unless Congress acts. (12/10)

Cubesats: From Mere Curiosities to Important Scientific Tools (Source: Space News)
When the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) began laying the groundwork five years ago to use cubesats to investigate space weather, few people believed the miniature satellites would prove to be a useful scientific tool. “When I mentioned cubesats, everyone snickered,” said Therese Moretto Jorgensen, NSF program director for space weather research and instrumentation. “No one is snickering anymore.” (12/10)

NASA Near Top of Happiest Workplace List (Source:
NASA is the second happiest place to work in America, a new study finds. Research by online career community CareerBliss revealed that pharmaceutical company Pfizer is the happiest place to work in the U.S., followed by NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. Among the criteria the researchers evaluate are work-life balance, relationships with bosses and co-workers, work environment, job resources, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, company reputation, daily tasks and job control over the work done on a daily basis. (12/10)

Obama's Free Market Space Exploration Success (Source: USA Today)
So a while back, I noted here that one of the Obama administration's policy successes involves the increasing commercialization of space. And (some would say in a marked contrast to the Obama administration's approach elsewhere) this has been a considerable success. But one criticism has been that while we've seen some interesting approaches to getting objects, and people, into orbit, we haven't done anything big. Heck, it's been just about 40 years since the last human being walked on the Moon.

Now we have a new commercial venture aimed at doing something about that. It's called "Golden Spike" -- after the final spike that connected the Transcontinental Railroad -- and it's a commercial venture aimed at taking missions to the Moon. Will this venture work? Maybe. On the one hand, a major reason that countries might want to launch a Moon mission is to demonstrate homegrown technical prowess, something that outsourcing to an American company may not exactly underscore.

On the other hand, not that many people have walked on the Moon -- and nobody has for almost 40 years -- so sending your astronauts there, by whatever means, is still pretty cool. And, of course, the science is just as good no matter how you get there. Click here. (12/10)

Golden Spike Plan for Private Moon Missions Raises Questions (Source: Denver Post)
The announcement by Golden Spike Co. created a media firestorm and immediately raised questions — both ethical and practical — about what it means if anyone who can afford the $750 million-per-seat price tag can visit the moon. It immediately created images of a Wild West-style land grab for celestial bodies. "Many people are concerned that space tourism is a Trojan horse for the eventual control of the moon, for a resources grab, using the billionaires to bankroll the startup," said Lynda Williams, a physics professor at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Golden Spike's leadership — which includes Colorado-based planetary scientist Alan Stern and NASA legend Gerry Griffin — spent their first 24 hours as a publicly known company fielding skepticism. "The first line of criticisms is a lot of tongue-in-cheek about the 1-percenters," Stern said. "It's not about space tourism; that's not our model. That's the footnote market."

Stern said his company's target clientele will likely be other national space agencies, which he expects will use Golden Spike's services primarily for scientific purposes and national prestige. "There is no regulatory regime about (who can visit the moon); there is a regulatory regime that they can't claim the land for themselves," Stern said. The anti-land-grabbing statute is embedded within the international Outer Space Treaty of 1967, declaring that no country can claim outer space, including the moon, as its own. But the U.S., China and other nations refused to sign a subsequent Moon Treaty that expanded that mandate to cover private individuals. (12/10)

Drill Issue Could Threaten Mars Rover Curiosity's Mission (Source:
As NASA's Mars rover Curiosity prepares to use its rock-boring drill for the first time, engineers are troubleshooting an issue with the power tool that may affect the entire mission. Curiosity's fast-spinning percussive drill should make it through the originally planned two-year prime mission, team members say. But at some point a bond in the drilling mechanism will fail, causing an electrical short that could threaten to knock out the entire rover. (12/10)

The Resurrection of Mars Sample Return (Source: Space Review)
Last week NASA surprised many when it announced it would develop a new Mars rover, based on Curiosity, for launch in 2020, reviving hopes of a sample return mission desired by scientists. An insider provides a new perspective on this decision, which represents a major reversal of policy from just earlier this year. Visit to view the article. (12/10)

Science Fiction to Fact: Golden Spike Makes Plans for Human Lunar Missions (Source: Space Review)
The last year has seen a number of proposals for audacious commercial space endeavors, but perhaps none bigger than a proposal for human missions to the surface of the Moon by 2020. Jeff Foust reports on Golden Spike's plans for such missions and the skepticism about their feasibility. Visit to view the article. (12/10)

Union Exec Warns of Boeing Engineer Strike in Early 2013 (Source: Seattle Times)
With mediation talks between Boeing and its engineers union suspended until the new year, union officials are beginning to make preparations for a strike. "I think there is a very high chance of a strike," said Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Engineering Employees in Aerospace. (12/7)

Chinese Environmental Satellite Produces First Photo of Earth (Source: Xinhua)
China's first synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) satellite for environmental monitoring has produced its first "clear, coherent and informative" image of Earth. The satellite, which was launched on Nov. 19, on Sunday successfully produced an SAR image of the city of Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan province, said a statement from the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. (12/10)

Masten’s GENIE Test Flights Delayed to 2013 (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Due to technical delays encountered during flight test operations, the planned C4 and C5 flights of the GENIE system on XA-0.1B have been delayed. The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory and Masten Space Systems, in conjunction with the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, are looking to resume the activity after the holiday season. (12/10)

North Korea Extends Rocket Launch Window Until Dec. 29 (Source: Yonhap)
North Korea said Monday it will extend the 13-day rocket launch window by one week until Dec. 29, citing technical problems in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket. Scientists and technicians have "found a technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket carrying the satellite and decided to extend the satellite launch period up to Dec. 29," said the North's Korean Central News Agency carrying a statement by the spokesman for the Korean Committee of Space Technology. (12/10)

EarthRise Space Adds New Sponsor for Lunar X-Prize Effort (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Orlando-based Earthrise Space Inc. is proud to announce that they have added yet another stellar sponsor to their growing constellation of stars – HuntonBrady Architects. The Orlando-based engineering firm is providing ESI with $10,600, which makes HuntonBrady Architects a Suborbital Level sponsor.

This sponsorship began when one of ESI’s interns reached out to HuntonBrady Architects informing them about all the amazing efforts that ESI was working on in terms of ESI.’s Omega Envoy Project. Omega Envoy is ESI’s submission to the Google Lunar X RRIZE or “GLXP.” The team is currently constructing a rover that will traverse the lunar regolith and transmit data and images back to Earth when it arrives at the Moon at the end of 2014. (12/10)

NASA Will Build Another Curiosity Mars Rover (Source: Aviation Week)
NASA space-science managers and the scientists they serve want to use the newly announced Curiosity 2.0 rover to collect samples for eventual analysis on Earth. But with U.S. federal spending teetering on the “fiscal cliff,” the space agency's White House overseers are not ready to commit to a mission that is pointless without an expensive follow-on to develop a way to get the samples back.

Instead, NASA is setting up a “science definition team” to decide how to use the proposed Curiosity-derived rover when it reaches the surface of Mars in 2020. The instruments that will ride on the big rover will be chosen in an open competition based on that team's work, starting with an announcement of opportunity next summer. Like Curiosity, the new rover will again use the “sky crane” technique to touch down. (12/10)

ILOA Joins Golden Spike’s Moon Team (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The International Lunar Observatory Association is dedicated to the mission of advancing human understanding of the cosmos through observation from our Moon. While already advancing 3 robotic lunar missions, ILOA’s ultimate goal is to help facilitate regular human activity and habitation of our nearest celestial neighbor. With this goal in mind, ILOA has joined the Golden Spike Company in its pioneering initiative.

The Golden Spike Human Moon Missions will help position humanity as a Multi-World species while also potentially serving as Service Missions for our enterprising astrophysical / communications devices on the South Pole of the Moon. With four active lunar missions and a robust 21st Century Education program, ILOA continues to establish its position as a leader in the field of Observation and Astronomy from the Moon. (12/10)

First Maneuver to Put Misplaced Satellite in Correct Orbit Successsful (Source: Itar-Tass)
The first maneuver to place the Yamal-402 satellite on the target orbit has been successful. It was carried out at 02:00 MSK, Monday. “The Yamal-402 spacecraft thruster firing began at 02:00 MSK on December 10 and lasted for about 1.5 hours. All the tasks of the first thruster firing were fulfilled successfully,” the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) said. “The next firing of the satellite’s thruster is scheduled for the night from December 10 to 11,” the source said. (12/10)

Kazakhstan Wants Russia to Hand Over Space Town (Source: RIA Novosti)
Kazakhstan and Russia are in talks over returning the city of Baikonur in Kazakhstan - home to Russia's main rocket launch center - from Russian to local jurisdiction, the head of Kazakhstan's space agency (Kazkosmos) said on Monday. "Today both nations' governments have decided to set up a new intergovernmental commission for the Baikonur complex to be headed up by first or other deputy prime ministers," Kazkosmos head Talgat Musabayev told Kazakhstan's parliament. (12/10)

Skyrocketing Price Tag Prompts Call for Do Over on Baikonur Overhaul (Source: Space News)
The head of the Kazakh space agency on Dec. 10 said a joint project with Russia to build a new, environmentally friendly launch complex at the Baikonur Cosmodrome has fallen so far behind schedule and over its initial cost estimate that it needs to be redesigned.

In testimony to the Kazakh parliament, KazCosmos Director Talgat Musabayev said the Baiterek complex has suffered from Russian delays. Its estimated cost has risen more than sevenfold, he said. He did not give a specific figure in his presentation. Musabayev said reorienting Baiterek to take advantage of the Baikonur infrastructure built for the Russian-Ukrainian Zenit rocket would be much less expensive than the original plan based on Russia’s Angara rocket, now in development. (12/10)

Scientists Find Seven Alien Worlds That Could Possibly Support Life (Source: Fast Company)
Space is big. Really really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is... so it's a tribute to the incredibly clever science that exoplanet hunters use that after just a year of searching, they've turned up seven worlds orbiting alien stars that could possibly support life. They're not even too far away--all seven are within our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

The search is part of the Habitable Exoplanets Catalog, a multinational effort that uses space databases from many different sources to try to detect alien planets around alien stars that could be the home to, well, aliens. The effort has been underway for a year now, and to celebrate the anniversary the team has announced its discovery of these seven planets. According to the team, finding seven likely candidates in just the HEC's first year is an incredible achievement that beat their expectations. (12/10)

EPA Grant Fuels Embry-Riddle Solar Project (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is researching more efficient ways to store solar thermal energy to reduce electricity consumption and carbon emissions as part of a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A team of professors and students was awarded a grant for EPA's People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) annual student design competition.

Nine southeastern college teams won grants of about $15,000 per team, including three in Florida — Embry-Riddle, University of Florida and Lynn University. More than 40 teams were chosen nationally to design and develop sustainable technologies to help protect people's health and the environment while promoting economic development. An Embry-Riddle team is designing and testing a solar thermal energy storage system that will gather heat from the sun and deliver it continuously for 24 hours. (12/8)

Fly Weightless with Spaceport Sweden in Europe (Source: Spaceport Sweden)
Have you ever dreamt of flying, defying the laws of gravity and float free in the air like an astronaut? Since space exploration began, only a few hundred have had the privilege to experience the ultimate space experience and the magical feeling to float in total weightlessness.

That is about to change. Today a historic announcement was made and for the fist time ever, weightless flights will be offered to the general public in Europe. Spaceport Sweden has been selected as a key partner and reseller for the air Zero G flights in the Netherlands and Nordic countries (excluding Iceland). (12/10)

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