January 11, 2013

NASA, Bigelow Officials to Discuss Space Station Expandable Module (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a new addition to the International Space Station. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module will demonstrate the benefits of this space habitat technology for future exploration and commercial space endeavors.

"The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that enables important discoveries that benefit humanity and vastly increase understanding of how humans can live and work in space for long periods," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said. "This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation." (1/11)

High Schoolers Control Satellites Aboard Space Station (Source: Space.com)
Would you trust a 16-year-old in space? NASA evidently does. Just after the sun rose on the East Coast today (Jan. 11), astronauts aboard the International Space Station ran computer instructions, written by high school students, in bowling ball-size satellites floating inside the ISS cabin. The students' code told the satellites exactly where to go to complete challenges such as spitting out dust clouds and avoiding obstacles.

Ceding control of small satellites to students is part of an annual competition called the Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge, which is hosted by NASA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Today's run is the Zero Robotics finals. Those interested can watch a live broadcast of the event. Fifteen teams from the U.S. and Europe are competing to get their satellites to perform tasks related to cleaning up space junk. (1/11)

Shuttle vets Brown, Collins and Dunbar to enter Astronaut Hall of Fame (Source: Collect Space)
A trailblazing commander, the commander of a trailblazer, and a payload commander will be inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame this April. Eileen Collins, the first woman to lead a shuttle mission, Curtis Brown, who commanded John Glenn's triumphant return to space and Bonnie Dunbar, who managed life and science experiments on Spacelab and Mir space station missions, were confirmed as this year's honorees by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF). They will be added to the 81 astronauts enshrined in the Astronaut Hall of Fame since 1990. (11/1)

Cassini Suggests Icing On A Lake (Source: Space Daily)
It's not exactly icing on a cake, but it could be icing on a lake. A new paper by scientists on NASA's Cassini mission finds that blocks of hydrocarbon ice might decorate the surface of existing lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbon on Saturn's moon Titan. The presence of ice floes might explain some of the mixed readings Cassini has seen in the reflectivity of the surfaces of lakes on Titan. "One of the most intriguing questions about these lakes and seas is whether they might host an exotic form of life," said Jonathan Lunine, a paper co-author and Cassini interdisciplinary Titan scientist at Cornell. (1/11)

Arianespace Leadership Will Continue With 12 Launches in 2013 (Source: Space Daily)
Applying the full benefits of its launcher family, Arianespace is targeting a total of 12 missions with Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega in 2013 - maintaining its launch services leadership and building on the company's exceptional performance of the past year. This was the main message of Arianespace Chairman and CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall when he underscored both the operational and economic advantages of having its launch vehicle trio in service at the Spaceport.

The company's 2013 scheduling calls for 11 missions from the Spaceport - six heavy-lift Ariane 5 launches, four medium-lift Soyuz flights and one with the light-lift Vega - along with a Soyuz liftoff at Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, operated under the responsibility of Arianespace's Euro-Russian Starsem subsidiary. (1/11)

Arianespace Focuses on Insurance Partnership (Source: Space Daily)
Speaking to the Insurance Institute of London, Arianespace reaffirmed its partnership with today's leading space insurance firms. Space insurance plays a decisive role in the development of the space business. Arianespace's launches account for over half of all premiums collected by insurance firms in this sector. Launched from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, Ariane 5 and Soyuz set the standard for reliability, and therefore enjoy the best insurance rates in the market.

The latest member of Arianespace's family, the Vega small launcher, carrying on the tradition of Ariane 5, has already been presented to the space insurance industry as well. "Risk management has always been a top priority for Arianespace. Our company now operates three launch systems at the Guiana Space Center, all developed and operated with the same unyielding technical standards," said Jean-Yves LeGall. "The long-standing partnership we have built with insurance firms is very important to us, and we fully expect to continue the policy of technical transparency that we have developed over the last 30 years." (1/11)

Pristine Space Rocks Older than the Sun (Source: ABC Science)
A meteorite which crashed to Earth earlier this year contains grains older than the solar system itself, according to scientists. These rare and primitive space rocks, called carbonaceous chondrites, act as time capsules, providing astronomers with a window into the formation of the Sun and planets, four and a half billion years ago. Carbonaceous chondrites also contain organic carbon molecules, materials that may be the precursors to life on Earth.

The meteorite was spotted as a fast moving fireball in the skies over California and Nevada on the morning of 22 April 2012. Scientists quickly recovered several fragments in the Sutter's Mill area, before they were contaminated by rain, which would alter their composition. The meteorite samples contain a significant abundance of pre-solar grains. These are minerals older than the solar system, and are considered to be representative of the solar nebula out of which the solar system condensed. (1/11)

Elon Musk: Vegetarians Only on Mars Colony (Source: Portland Business Journal)
It’s already out there that space entrepreneur Elon Musk has plans to someday colonize Mars, and that those with the means are invited to become a part of his red planet oasis. But there’s a catch we just heard about: Colonists must also be vegetarians. That’s the word from the RT news network, which published a report saying that Musk-—in line with his own personal ideology—-said at an event in London that he will only allow vegetarians to live in his settlement, a city for 80,000 space explorers that he first spoke of back in November.

A ticket to the colony would cost $500,000—-with a goal of raising $40 billion—-and visitors would be sent into space on a rocket powered by liquid oxygen and methane. Editor's Note: Musk made his position clear via Twitter: "To be super clear, I don't wish to (nor could I) mandate anything about a Mars Colony. Am just working on the tech to get people there." (1/10)

Spacetime: A Smoother Brew Than We Knew (Source: Space Daily)
Spacetime may be less like foamy quantum beer and more like smooth Einsteinian whiskey, according to research led by physicist Robert Nemiroff of Michigan Technological University being presented this week at the 221st American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, Calif. Or so an intergalactic photo finish would suggest. Nemiroff and his team reached this heady conclusion after studying the tracings of three photons of differing wavelengths recorded by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope in May 2009. The photons originated about 7 billion light-years away from Earth from a gamma-ray burst and arrived at the orbiting telescope a mere millisecond apart. (1/11)

Axe Super Bowl Sweepstakes Offers You a Trip to Space (Source: Advertising Age)
Unilever is linking its first Super Bowl commercial for Axe to a chance for one person to win a trip to space. The effort is part of a global promotion by Axe and Lynx, its U.K. equivalent, promising to send a total of 23 people beyond the Earth's atmosphere as part of what the brand bills as its biggest product introduction ever -- Apollo deodorant and personal-care products. Unilever has enlisted former Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin as pitchman, including for this video.

Most of the 23 potential visitors to space will have to sign up for the Axe Apollo Space Academy, alternately called the Axe Global Space camp, in Orlando, Florida. Candidates voted forward by their peers will then compete in a challenge in their home countries. Those that make it to the academy must go through a program and compete in space-simulation exercises to be selected as one of 22 ticket-holders for a ride on the private Space Expedition Corp. Lynx spacecraft. Here's another promo video. (1/11)

NASA Telescopes See Weather Patterns in Brown Dwarf (Source: Space Daily)
Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have probed the stormy atmosphere of a brown dwarf, creating the most detailed "weather map" yet for this class of cool, star-like orbs. The forecast shows wind-driven, planet-sized clouds enshrouding these strange worlds.

Brown dwarfs form out of condensing gas, as stars do, but lack the mass to fuse hydrogen atoms and produce energy. Instead, these objects, which some call failed stars, are more similar to gas planets with their complex, varied atmospheres. The new research is a stepping-stone toward a better understanding not only of brown dwarfs, but also of the atmospheres of planets beyond our solar system. (1/11)

Canberra Keeps Tabs on Spacecraft (Source: World News Australia)
In a valley outside Canberra, one of three NASA deep space stations across the world keeps tabs on spacecraft exploring the solar system. New Horizons sends occasional beeps to let Canberra know it's still alive as it makes its nine-and-a-half-year journey towards Pluto and the Kuiper Belt for a flyby. At the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station, the spacecraft's signal is noted and passed on by technicians who check on the 50-odd spacecraft from 22 nations that have left Earth to explore the solar system.

Every now and then, the teams at the CSIRO-managed NASA Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex (CDSCC) also wake New Horizons from hibernation for health checks, says Glen Nagle, the education and public outreach manager. "It doesn't stay awake the entire journey because that would wear out the computers, and you want a young spacecraft when you get there. "They bring it out of hibernation to check the navigation and check the health of the instruments or upload new software." (1/11)

NASA Plum Brook to Get Main Gate (Source: Northern Ohio Morning Journal)
A new entrance is in the works for NASA Plum Brook Station. The space agency test facility will get a new building at its main gate. NASA Plum Brook Station is a test facility operated with NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The facility is home to the Space Power Facility, or SPF-1, which is the world’s largest vacuum testing chamber that can re-create the airless conditions of outer space.

NASA Plum Brook also made headlines when the SPF-1 became one of the filming locations for “The Avengers” Marvel superhero movie released last year. The goal of moving the main gate is to divert NASA traffic away from a residential area. The gate will have a single-story building about 4,220 square feet in size with a lobby, conference room, radio room, offices and computers to make visitor badges. (1/11)

NSU Receives Collection of NASA Items (Source: Sun Sentinel)
Nova Southeastern University in South Florida recently received some high-tech, out-of-this-world equipment. NSU was among the few chosen to receive a collection of artifacts from NASA. This includes a shuttle on-board general purpose computer (AP-101S GPC). This piece of equipment, worth an estimated $1.2 million, will be the centerpiece of an exhibit at NSU's Alvin Sherman Library. From there, it will be researched by faculty and students at the Emil Buehler Research Center for Engineering, Science and Mathematics when it opens.

"The goal is to basically bring people to see some of the things from a shuttle they would normally never be able to see," said Eric Ackerman, interim dean of the graduate school of computer and information sciences. "You go to Kennedy Space Center and see Atlantis, they are showing you the body. You aren't able to look in to see the computers or the stuff that was inside the shuttle. There will be pictures, but you won't be able to see it."

A standard switch-panel box and other items are included in the donation. Much of the equipment was developed in the 1970s, but the computer was made in 1992 with stays on the space shuttles Columbia, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. Five of these GPCs had to work in sync for a successful mission. The library exhibit is scheduled to open the early part of this year. Ackerman is planning to also put iPads and other more modern devices on display to provide insight about the processor and the technology components involved. (1/11)

Searching for Life In the Realm of the Gas Giants (Source: America Space)
Beyond the main asteroid belt lie the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn and their impressive retinues of moons. What chances for life are out here in the frozen wastes of the solar system? At first glance, you’d imagine none. The planets themselves have no solid surface (unless you go thousands of miles down), and their moons are bitterly cold, with surface temperatures of minus 160 C or less. Life as we know it needs liquid water (plus some source of energy and carbon-containing substances), and there might seem no hope of finding water so far from the Sun.

But, as early as the 1970s, theorists had begun to speculate that some of the larger moons of Jupiter, especially Europa, might have their interiors warmed up through tidal heating. This process involves flexing of the moon as it moves around its orbit and interacts gravitationally with nearby satellites and Jupiter itself. The result might be a subsurface ocean of liquid water. Click here. (1/11)

Is India's Mars Mission 'A Sheer Waste of Money'? (Source: The Pioneer)
Are the people of the country being taken for a ride by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) regarding its much-hyped Mars Mission that is scheduled for launch in November? If the observations of scientists in Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, the main hub of the country's space program, are any indication, the Mars Mission, tentatively named Mangalyaan, is sheer waste of money.

Details about the Mars Mission were announced by scientists of the ISRO during the Kolkata session of the Indian Science Congress which ended last week. The orbiter may be able to reach a distance of 371 km from Mars once every four days for a couple of minutes. It is from this distance that Indian scientists hope to find out the quantity of methane present in the planet.

“It has already been determined by missions sent by NASA and other countries. The spacecraft sent by NASA successfully landed in Mars and is sending pictures and other data on a daily basis to Earth,” a senior VSSC scientist told The Pioneer. He said ISRO is not going to get any data on Mars which is not already in public domain. (1/11)

Space 2013: Space Agencies Head for Moon, Mars (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Space agencies around the world are planning to launch four missions to other worlds this year, evenly split between the moon and Mars. NASA will orbiters to each destination, while China will attempt to become only the third nation to soft land on the moon. India also looks to make history with its first mission to Mars. Click here for information on upcoming U.S., Chinese and Indian missions. (1/11)

Space Florida Studies Repurposing of Space Life Sciences Lab (Source: SPACErePORT)
Space Florida has engaged Wyle Labs to undertake a study of the Space Life Sciences Lab within Exploration Park at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The SLS Lab is moving toward becoming a multi-purpose, multitenant research facility, as well as providing full service capabilities to meet broad commercial and academic user demand. Several Florida universities and commercial entities have expressed interest in occupying space and performing research at the SLS Lab. Wyle and Space Florida invite responses to a Request for Information (RFI) that has been issued in support of the study. Click here. Questions and responses may be submitted in writing via e-mail to Alan DeLuna at alan.deluna@wyle.com. (1/10)

NASA’s Sofia Observatory Spots Black Hole’s Rim (Source: Aviation Week)
About 4-6 million years ago, “something big” happened at the center of the Milky Way and NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia) has brought back the latest pictures. The “something big” was bursts of energy that created the Quintuplet Cluster (QC), Central Cluster and other massive star clusters at the center of the galaxy, says Matt Hankins, lead author of a paper on an unprecedented view of that event.

Other galaxies have similar star bursts at their centers, whether associated with black holes or not, Hankins says. But the Milky Way’s is closer and easier to study. The instrument created a series of multiple exposures that revealed a ring of gas and dust — the galaxy’s circumnuclear ring (CNR) — and a neighboring Quintuplet Cluster, among other objects. CNR has a diameter of seven light years and rims a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Neither ground-based observatories nor the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have seen CNR or QC with such clarity. The black hole at the nucleus of the Milky Way has 4 million times the mass of the Sun. “The focus of our study has been to determine the structure of the circumnuclear ring with the unprecedented precision possible with Sofia,” says Cornell’s Ryan Lau. “Using these data, we can learn about the processes that accelerate and heat the ring.” (1/10)

Finding Another Earth: How Will Scientists Confirm It Exists? (Source: Live Science)
The announcement this week that astronomers have found a potential alien world that could be the most Earth-like exoplanet yet is raising a big question: How will scientists confirm the existence of a true alien Earth? While NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, which discovered the newfound Earth-like planet candidate KOI 172.2, is great for finding large numbers of exoplanets, it is not our best bet for characterizing an Earth twin circling a distant star, researchers say.

In order to understand what an "alien Earth" candidate really looks like, it takes a more refined approach than what Kepler can provide. Kepler is designed to find out how many possible exoplanets could be in any given part of the galaxy. It stares unblinking at a single patch of the sky to scan for dips in light from stars, a telltale sign of an orbiting planet passing in front of the star. Kepler's observations can tell scientists where a planet is in relation to its home star, but the spacecraft has little to add about important details such as an exoplanet's climate. Editor's Note: Here is a infographic on the "super-Earth" planet KOI 172.02 (1/10)

SpaceEngine Available Online (Source: SPACErePORT)
SpaceEngine is a free space simulation software that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, starting from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies. Areas of the known universe are represented using actual astronomical data, while regions uncharted by human astronomy are generated procedurally. Millions of galaxies, trillions of stars, countless planets! Click here. (1/10)

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