December 29, 2012

NASA: Goldilocks Planets Are In Reach (Source: Guardian)
NASA’s Kepler Project announced on Dec. 5 that its astronomers have confirmed the first planet we know to orbit its Sun-like star in the “habitable zone.” Also known as the “Goldilocks zone,” the term refers to that distance from a planet’s star at which liquid water can exist on that planet’s surface. There are some 48 candidates for planets in the habitable zone. The “some” is justifiable given the rapid rate of discovery of extrasolar planets, of which over 800 have been found since 1995.

The planet, designated Kepler 22b , has twice Earth’s gravity, and a bit more than twice its radius. It is also an intimidating 600 light years from Earth. A great deal of enthusiasm has been gushed upon these habitable zone extrasolar planets. They are commonly referred to as, simply, “habitable.” Some overenthused commentators have even gone so far as to call them “Alien Earths”. In fact we do not know if Kepler 22b has water. We don’t know whether it has a surface as such, or whether it is basically gaseous. That’s an awful lot not to know before we can start calling these planets “habitable.”

On Dec. 19, a team of astronomers announced their discovery of a planet in the “hospitable zone” orbiting Sirus, just 12 light years away. It is tantalyzing having so many planets appearing before our attention as though out of nowhere. It had certainly not been expected that we would be seeing anything like this frequency of planetary formation around stars. Term “fp” of the Drake Equation – “The fraction of those stars with planetary systems” – is quite likely a far greater fraction than Frank Drake expected. (12/28)

NASA Plan: Seize Asteroid, Make it Refuelling Station (Source: Times of India) NASA scientists are planning to capture a 500,000kg asteroid, relocate it and transform it into a space station for astronauts to refuel at on their way to Mars. It would be the first time a celestial object has ever been moved by humans. The White House's Office of Science and technology will consider the $2.6 billion plan in the coming weeks as it prepares to set its space exploration agenda for the next decade. (12/25)

Air Force Revises Launch Purchases (Source: Florida Today)
After years of rising costs, the U.S. Air Force will change the way it purchases space launches for the U.S. Government. A memo, made public earlier this month, from Department of Defense acquisition chief Frank Kendall, reportedly supports two approaches to purchasing space launches in an affordable way. The government will pursue a block buy of 36 cores from experienced rocket builder United Launch Alliance, and will open 14 launches to competitive bids.

ULA’s Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, known as evolved expendable launch vehicles, have a remarkable record of success since their development in the late 1990s. The company has a monopoly on large government launches. However, Boeing and Lockheed Martin merged to create ULA in 2006 and could not compete with Russian and European competitors for commercial launches. The new approach will put more pressure on ULA to compete for commercial launches. (12/28)

NASA Engineer Points to GE, Air Force for Hypersonic Progress (Source: Forbes)
General Electric and the U.S. Air Force may play a role in bringing hypersonic aircraft to the commercial market, though those developments are a long way off, NASA engineer James Pittman says. Hypersonic aircraft would likely have composite engine material, a development that is being led by General Electric, he says. The Air Force has taken the lead in the development of combustion technology, Pittman says. (12/27)

Space Advocates Need To Be More Effective (Source: Space Politics)
The so-called “fiscal cliff” and its across-the-board spending cuts are set to take effect on Wednesday, and the last week has seen little progress to a resolution to at least delay those cuts. Even if there is a breakthrough in the next few days, we’re likely heading into an era of constrained budgets. Is the space community, in particular grassroots space advocates, prepared to effectively lobby for their interests? Recent efforts suggest they’re not. Click here. (12/28)

UAE's First Ever All-Women Team Returns from NASA (Source: Gulf Today)
The UAE's first ever all-female team returned after successfully completing on-site space training at Space Center Houston, organised and coordinated by Space Ed-Ventures. Space Ed-Ventures, a locally based educational platform and the region's only space exploration programme, organized an once-in-a-lifetime training session for 24 aspiring engineers, researchers and astronauts between the ages of 12 and 18.

After a rigorous screening process, the all-girl cohort was selected to train at Space Center Houston. “The 24 students who have embarked on this educational trip have gone through an extensive screening process to uphold IAT's high educational standard on an international level,” said the Managing Director of the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), Dr Abdullatif Al Shamsi. (12/29)

Rocket Systems Error Postpones Spaceport Indiana Launch (Source: Columbus Republic)
Spaceport Indiana has canceled an unmanned rocket launch that was scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Columbus Municipal Airport. An electronic diagnosis of the rocket systems detected a problem that could rest in the thermal sensor, propulsion sensor or the rocket engine, said Brian Tanner, Spaceport’s executive director. He said the launch would be rescheduled after the problem is identified and fixed. He could not estimate Friday how long that might take.

Spaceport Indiana, a private company out to play a significant role in commercial space flight, was set to begin a series of unmanned rocket launches that would put several different kinds of payloads into space. For example, those include telecommunications products and ozone testing devices for researchers. Spaceport Indiana will issue a call for payloads in January for a June launch. They will select payloads based on unique approach to problem solving or new safety practices. (12/28)

NASA Publishes Oral Histories of NASA's Leadership When the Agency Turned 50 (Source: Space Policy Online)
Four years have passed since NASA celebrated its 50th anniversary and the NASA History Office is just now publishing a compendium of oral histories from NASA's leaders at that time. NASA at 50:  Interviews with NASA's Senior Leadership, available free as an e-book, includes interviews with the top NASA officials at Headquarters, NASA's field centers, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Click here. (12/26)

Winslet and Husband Celebrating Marriage in Space?! Not So Fast (Source: E Online)
We know Kate Winslet and new hubby Ned Rocknroll have an out-of-this-world marriage, but are the newlyweds really heading to space to celebrate their union? Those are the rumors surrounding the A-lister's marriage as of late, as tabloids report that Ned's uncle, Sir Richard Branson, gave the blissful bride a trip to space on a Virgin Galactic flight as a thank you for helping lead his mother Eve to safety after a fire broke out at Branson's Necker Island home last year.

Sounds fairly believable, right? Considering Ned reportedly works part-time for the space-traveling division of his billionaire uncle's empire. However, a rep for the Academy-Award winning actress tells E! News that this story is false while adding that it "was invented a while ago" but has since "been adapted to fit this week's events." (12/28)

XCOR Continuing to Hire for Midland Spaceport (Source: Permian Basin)
An aerospace company continues to grow its presence in the Permian Basin. On July 9, XCOR Aerospace officially announced that it would be bringing a commercial space research and development center to an area next to the Midland International Airport.

The Midland Development Corporation says that XCOR Aerospace is still in the process of hiring people for the new facility. Renovations on the XCOR Aerospace headquarters are set to begin in early 2013. Those renovations are slated to be completed next fall. Some of the earliest people hired for the new facility would initially travel to Mojave, CA for training. Employees would then move back to the Permian Basin after training is complete. (12/28)

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