December 19, 2012

Year's Final Launch Sends Mexican and UK Satellites to Space (Source:
An Ariane 5 rocket lifted off from French Guiana for liftoff Wednesday with communications satellites to serve the British military and the Mexican government. It was the 67th flight of an Ariane 5 rocket, this one flying in the Ariane 5 ECA configuration with a cryogenic upper stage. Two communications satellites - Skynet 5D and Mexsat Bicentenario - were mounted inside the Ariane 5 rocket's 17.7-foot-diameter payload fairing. (12/19)

East Coast Missile Defense Site Loses Momentum in DOD Bill (Sources: SPACErePORT, The Hill)
After a couple decades of missile-defense spending on the West Coast--aimed, in part, to deal with percieved North Korean and other Asian intercontinental missile threats--Republicans in Congress have been pushing for a similar build-up on the East Coast. An East Coast program, probably located in a northeastern state, would protect the homeland from perceived Iranian missile capabilities, and from "accidental" launches of Russian or Chinese ICBMs.

One Democratic opponent called it an "East Coast Star Wars fantasy base." The House version of the Defense Authorization Act dedicated $100 million to plan the site, though it would ultimately cost billions to activate and operate. Ultimately, the bill jointly approved this week by House and Senate conferees elimitated the $100 million in new spending but called instead for a study of the issue.

In late 1990s and early 2000s, the Air Force had long-range (though tentative) plans for East Coast missile defense program testing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Those plans withered and died as perceived Asian missile threats grew and spending peaked to establish capabilities in Alaska, Kwajelein, and other locations. (12/19)

Virgin Galactic Flies Spaceship (Unpowered) With Rocket Elements Installed (Source: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo on Wednesday undertook its 23rd glide flight in the pre-powered portion of its incremental test flight program. This was a significant flight as it was the first with rocket motor components installed, including tanks. It was also the first flight with thermal protection applied to the spaceship’s leading edges. SpaceShipTwo is expected to undertake a minimum of two more glide flights in order to complete all remaining preparation for its first powered flight. (12/19)

Loral and Sea Launch: Rocket Not Responsible for Satellite Damage (Source: SatNews)
Loral and Sea Launch have announced that the Independent Oversight Board (IOB) formed to investigate the solar array deployment anomaly on a satellite launched in the spring of 2012 has successfully reached a unanimous conclusion. The IOB, which was comprised of three highly regarded industry experts, worked with a comprehensive team of engineers from SSL and Sea Launch to conduct an exhaustive investigation of data from the launch vehicle, the spacecraft, and interactions between the two.

Extensive data provided by Sea Launch were instrumental in achieving the findings which led to the investigation’s positive conclusion. The IOB concluded that the anomaly occurred before the spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle, during the ascent phase of the launch, and originated in one of the satellite’s two solar array wings due to a rare combination of factors in the panel fabrication. (12/19)

Space Florida Relocating HQ to Exploration Park (Source: SPACErePORT)
Space Florida is boxing up its headquarters offices at the KSC Visitor Complex (in a building owned by the Astronaut Memorial Foundation and built with funds from Space Shuttle license plate sales) and will relocate next week to the third floor of the Space Life Sciences Lab. The SLS Lab, which was also built with state funding, was designed to support research payloads aboard the International Space Station and is home to CASIS and other research-oriented tenants. The SLS Lab is the anchor facility for Exploration Park at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (12/19)

Orbital Hits Key Milestones Toward ISS Cargo Flights (Source: Parabolic Arc)
As the year draws to a close there are now three substantially complete Cygnus Service Modules in Orbital’s Dulles, Virginia Satellite Manufacturing Facility. In addition to the integration and testing of the spacecraft, the program has achieved a number of key milestones in the last few months. Click here. (12/19)

Yearlong Space Missions Will Pose Physical and Mental Challenges (Source:
NASA is getting ready to send astronauts on yearlong missions to the International Space Station, doubling the duration of a typical orbital stay. These long-term missions will be sending spaceflyers into largely uncharted territory, and some of the biggest unknowns are how the human mind and body will react to that much time in space.

NASA has long known that weightlessness wreaks havoc on the body, with astronauts losing muscle mass and bone density, and even suffering eyesight degeneration, after spending time in space. Another health risk associated with spaceflight is radiation: Beyond the protective confines of Earth's atmosphere, astronauts are exposed to potentially dangerous radiation from the sun, and the longer they spend in space, the more radiation they receive. (12/19)

Three Astronauts Blast Off for ISS in Russian Craft (Source: AFP)
A Soyuz spacecraft carrying Russian, American and Canadian astronauts blasted off on Wednesday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan bound for the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft took off on schedule at 1212 GMT carrying Russian Roman Romanenko, NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield. The Soyuz spacecraft is due to dock with the ISS on December 21 at 1412 GMT. (12/19)

Export Reform Language Included in Final Defense Bill (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Satellite export reform is included in the final version of the $633 million defense bill agreed to in conference by House and Senate leaders on Tuesday. Speaking the same day in Mojave, Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) Chairman Stu Witt said the federation would help lead the effort for additional measures next year. According to a summary of the defense bill on the House Armed Services Committee’s website, the measure...

"reforms satellite export control by repealing Section 1513(a) of the Strom Thurmond NDAA for FY99, which essentially restores the authority of the President to move satellites and related items from the United States Munitions List to the Commerce Control List. The provisions would prohibit the export, re-export of such items to certain countries and provides for interagency reviews and reporting requirements in order to ensure accountability with respect to the export of satellites and related items."

The bill will now go to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign the legislation. Export control reform has been a key priority for the Administration. U.S. satellite manufacturers have blamed excessively tight export rules for the industry’s shrinking share of the global market that it once dominated. To avoid the rules, foreign manufacturers have developed competitive satellites free of U.S. components. (12/19)

Turkey Plans to Build Spaceport (Source: Trend)
Turkey plans to build a spaceport for launching satellites, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday. "Only 11 countries in the world have spaceports. After launching the second reconnaissance satellite Turkey will start to build spaceport in its territory," Erdogan said. He said the launch of Turkey's second reconnaissance satellite Göktürk-2 is an indicator how the country has developed its aerospace industry. (12/19)

Tethers Unlimited to Test Deorbit System on CubeSat (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) announced today that it has delivered the first flight units of an innovative spacecraft component that will help reduce the growth of space debris. TUI delivered several of its Terminator Tape™ Deorbit Modules to The Aerospace Corporation for use on its upcoming AeroCube-­5 flight experiment.

The Terminator Tape Deorbit Module is a small device, about the size of a drink coaster, which is attached to a satellite prior to launch. When the satellite completes its mission, it activates the Terminator Tape Module, which then deploys a long conductive tape. This tape drags against the Earth’s magnetic field and upper atmosphere, rapidly lowering the orbit of the spacecraft until the satellite burns up in the upper atmosphere. (12/18)

Potentially Habitable Planet Detected Around Nearby Star (Source:
A sun-like star in our solar system's backyard may host five planets, including one perhaps capable of supporting life as we know it, a new study reports. Astronomers have detected five possible alien planets circling the star Tau Ceti, which is less than 12 light-years from Earth — a mere stone's throw in the cosmic scheme of things. One of the newfound worlds appears to orbit in Tau Ceti's habitable zone, a range of distances from a star where liquid water can exist on a planet's surface.

With a minimum mass just 4.3 times that of Earth, this potential planet would be the smallest yet found in the habitable zone of a sun-like star if it's confirmed, researchers said. "This discovery is in keeping with our emerging view that virtually every star has planets, and that the galaxy must have many such potentially habitable Earth-sized planets," said study co-author Steve Vogt. (12/19)

Astronauts’ Little Helper or an Electronic Pet: Japan Builds a Robot for ISS (Source: Space Safety)
When Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata embarks on his mission to ISS later next year to become the Expedition 39 commander, he will have a little humanoid robot to help him run the operations and carry out daily tasks. A consortium of several Japanese companies are currently building a 34 centimeter tall humanoid robot. Weighing just one kilogram, the doll-like robot will be able to speak Japanese, recognize faces, and perform simple tasks such as mixing liquids and sending data to scientists on Earth. (12/19)

Almost Everything You’ve Heard About the North Korean Launch Is Wrong (Source: WIRED)
Last week, North Korea finally managed to put an object into orbit around the Earth after 14 years of trying. The event was greeted with hysterical headlines, about how the whole thing was a likely a missile test and most certainly a failure of Western intelligence. Most of those headlines were dead wrong.

There are many questions yet to be answered about this launch and what it means. Some of them will take weeks or months to determine, others may never be answered satisfactorily. But there’s enough information already in the public domain to answer basic questions about the launch. News flash: Most of the initial reports about it were total misfires. Click here. (12/18)

There May Be Two Higgs Bosons, Not One (Source: ZeeNews)
Latest release from the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) has indicated that scientists have found two particles contending for the title of Higgs boson. Scientists studying data from the Large Hadron Collider who this summer announced the possible discovery of the Higgs boson have now said that their data contains two clear peaks indicating new particles. (12/18)

The Fight to Save Planetary Science (Source: Scientific American)
Planetary scientists have come together to prioritize the most compelling, cutting-edge questions across our entire field. Some of these questions are best addressed by ambitious, sophisticated, large-scale missions. Others are best addressed by smaller, more focused missions. Some require continued operations of existing plantary orbiters or rovers. All require a commitment to maintaining the existing planetary science community.

While the future of large-scale missions has been receiving the most headlines, the other priorities have uncertain, worrying futures, and American planetary exploration may suffer greatly as a result. The relationship between planetary science and NASA is deeply intertwined and fraught with complications. Click here. (12/18)

One Canadian Will Live to See Doomsday (Source:
If the Mayan calendar really does foreshadow the end of the world next week, look at the bright side: One of the only people to live beyond the apocalypse would be a Canadian. Astronaut Chris Hadfield is leaving on a lengthy space mission -- and he'll be skipping the planet just in time for the decisive date. He has blasted off for the International Space Station. (12/19)

An Atlas of Nearby Stars (Source:
The nearest stars to Earth are in the Alpha Centauri triple-star system, about 4.37 light-years away. One of these stars, Proxima Centauri, is slightly closer, at 4.24 light-years. Of all the stars closer than 15 light-years, only two are spectral type G, similar to our sun: Alpha Centauri A and Tau Ceti. The majority are M-type red dwarf stars. Only nine of the stars in this area are bright enough to be seen by the naked human eye from Earth. These brightest stars include Alpha Centauri A and B, Sirius A, Epsilon Eridani, Procyon, 61 Cygni A and B, Epsilon Indi A and Tau Ceti. Click here. (12/19)

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