January 14, 2013

Have Astronomers Found Chemical Precursor to Life? (Source: Live Science)
Astronomers have found tentative traces of a precursor chemical to the building blocks of life near a star-forming region about 1,000 light-years from Earth. The signal from the molecule, hydroxylamine, which is made up of atoms of nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, still needs to be verified. But, if confirmed, it would mean scientists had found a chemical that could potentially seed life on other worlds, and may have played a role in life's origin on our home planet about 3.6 billion years ago. (1/12)

Suborbital Transport Group Plans Market Study (Source: Rocket Crafters)
The Suborbital Transport Group (STG), a unit of Rocket Crafters Inc., is planning a "landmark market study" intended to assess, characterize and predict acceptance of hypersonic (Mach 5+) suborbital transportation as a new mode of long-range air-space flight. The initiative was briefed last week to the FastForward Working Group, a collection of point-to-point suborbital transport stakeholders. STG seeks sponsors for the study. Click here for information on how you can play a role. (1/14)

White House Confirms FY2014 Budget Request Will be Late (Source: Space Policy Online)
One of the worst kept secrets in Washington in the past couple of weeks has been that the Obama Administration will miss the Feb. 4 deadline for submitting its FY2014 budget request to Congress. By law, the request should be submitted on the first Monday in February. It has been clear for weeks that could not happen, but the White House declined to make the delay official until now.

On Friday, however, acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jeffrey Zients told House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) that it would not be submitted on schedule. He did not say when it would be released, however. Widespread rumors are that it will not be ready until March. Congress, likewise, has not completed its work on a budget by its legal October 1 deadline in recent memory.

In fact, the budget for the current fiscal year, FY2013, remains in limbo. The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that, in general, funds agencies at their FY2012 levels. The CR lasts until March 27, half way through the fiscal year. With resolution of the sequester, the debt limit, and FY2013 funding still up in the air, it is no surprise that the executive branch is having trouble formulating the budget request for the future, never mind sorting out how to handle the rest of this fiscal year. (1/14)

CASIS Board Member Awarded National Medal of Science (Source: CASIS)
Dr. Leroy Hood, a member of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) board of directors, and president of the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), will be one of 12 renowned researchers awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in early 2013. The National Medal of Science is one of the highest honors bestowed by the U.S. government upon scientists, engineers, and inventors.

It was created by statute in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation. Awarded annually, the medal recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering. A committee of Presidential appointees selects nominees on the basis of their extraordinary knowledge in and contributions to chemistry, engineering, computing, mathematics, or the biological, behavioral/social, and physical sciences. (1/14)

CASIS Releases 2012 Annual Report (Source: CASIS)
FY2012 marked CASIS’ first year of operations. Standup activities drove the focus of the organization. CASIS created a foundation for organizational growth by establishing a corporate structure that reflected key areas needed to assemble a strong, cohesive team to build the CASIS brand and mission. Click here. (1/14)

Celestis Offers Memorial Suborbital Flight Opportunity for Cremains (Source: Celestis)
Celstis is pleased to announce our upcoming Centennial Flight Earth Rise mission scheduled for liftoff in March aboard an UP Aerospace rocket from Spaceport America, New Mexico. We are taking reservations for this launch through February 1. The deadline for returning the Flight Kit (with the cremated remains sample) to our offices is February 15. Click here. (1/14)

Florida Lunar X-Prize Team Plans March 9 Fundraiser (Source: Earthrise Space)
Wherever you're from, you're all invited to "Space Day" at the Central Florida Racing Complex for a benefit event for Florida’s team in the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE Competition. The event is planned for March 9 at 7:00 p.m. Racing Starts at 8:00 p.m. General Admission is available at $25 and special reserved seating is available for $40. Click here. (1/14)

NASA Safety Panel to Meet at KSC on Jan. 25 (Source: NASA)
The NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) will meet at Kennedy Space Center Headquarters on January 25 at 10:00 a.m. The meeting will focus on human spaceflight safety for exploration programs, commercial crew, and the International Space Station. Click here. (1/14)

A Golden Age of Exoplanet Science (Source: Space Review)
Last week astronomers met in California to discuss the latest discoveries in the field, and the study of extrasolar planets was front and center. Jeff Foust reports on the wealth of exoplanet discoveries that are giving scientists new clues about how common planets, and potentially Earth-like ones, are in the galaxy. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2219/1 to view the article. (1/14)

Higher Look: A Top Secret Reconnaissance Mission in 1982 (Source: Space Review)
To fill a looming gap in satellite imagery, the NRO pursued an unusual mission in the early 1980s. Dwayne Day describes this effort, and what went wrong. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2218/1 to view the article. (1/14)

SLS Block II Drives Hydrocarbon Engine Research (Source: Space Review)
NASA is looking at several options for new rocket engines to power the boosters of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. Anthony Young notes that this, plus Air Force interest, has driven work on new hydrocarbon rocket engines, including one based on the venerable F-1. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2217/1 to view the article. (1/14)

Visiting the Shuttles (Source: Space Review)
Two of the four shuttle orbiters assigned to museums are currently open to the public: Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center and Endeavour at the California Science Center. Jeff Foust pays a visit to both to compare and contrast the displays. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2216/1 to view the article. (1/14)

NASA's "Mohawk Guy" Joins Obama Inauguration Events (Source: NASA)
Affectionately known as “Mohawk Guy,” Bobak Ferdowsi—-one of Curiosity’s flight directors-—has earned as much fame for his scientific mind as he has for his red and black hairdo. “You guys are a little cooler than you used to be,” President Obama told NASA scientists after the rover's landing. And in one week, NASA will be bringing a little of that unique style to the inaugural parade.

“I’m excited,” says Bobak, who will be walking with a few of his fellow NASA scientists alongside a full-scale model of the Curiosity rover (about the size of a sport utility vehicle). NASA’s other float will be a full-scale replica of the Orion capsule, a brand new vehicle that will take NASA’s astronauts beyond the International Space Station. Current and former astronauts will escort Orion through the parade route and offer America a glimpse into the future of space exploration.

NASA also plans to take part in the National Day of Service and open its doors to inaugural visitors in hopes of inspiring and reminding Americans of its unique mission. Bobak plans on sporting a slightly different ‘do for the event: “It’ll be something fun for the parade. It’s a bit of a surprise.” The new look will no doubt inspire President Obama, who was fighting back an impulse to don his own mohawk after seeing Bobak’s in August: “I, in the past, thought about getting a mohawk myself, but my team keeps on discouraging me.” (1/14)

Embry-Riddle Wins Grant to Design Satellite (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Students and professors at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will be designing and building a satellite that ultimately could be sent into space to detect broken satellites and rocket debris spinning around in orbit. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is one of 10 universities nationally selected to design and build small satellites for a competition sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Space Vehicles Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Embry-Riddle's project will be to design and build a low-cost satellite that would operate close to other satellites that are no longer functioning, as well as other debris, and collect data such as which way and how fast the objects tumble and rotate. The satellite, which Embry-Riddle is calling Arapaima based on the name of a large freshwater South American fish, would process the information and send data and pictures back to a ground station.

Dr. Bogdan Udrea said Embry-Riddle's project will involve not only his design class, but students university-wide, including those majoring in business and communications. The university will need to develop a business plan and website to help raise more funding for hardware and other components of the satellite that will cost more than what is provided by the Air Force. William Barrot, Embry-Riddle associate professor of electrical engineering, and his students will build a telecommunications subsystem for the satellite, including the ground station. (1/14)

Russia Plays Follow the Leader on Heavy-Lift Vehicles (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The Russians have begun dusting off old proposals for super heavy-lift boosters of their own. In this case, the Russian need to emulate the Americans is somewhat less blatant than the follow-the-leader cloning process that resulted Soviet Union’s ill-fated, single flight Buran space shuttle of the 1980′s. However, it does involves much of the same launch vehicle hardware, which should set off plenty of alarm bells right there.

The two launch vehicle concepts under consideration, being promoted by Khrunichev and rival RSC Energia, are called Yenisei-5 and Sodruzhestvo, respectively. The vehicles are designed to send Russia’s six-person Soyuz spacecraft, the awkwardly named Prospective Piloted Transport System (PPTS), and other payloads on missions to the moon, Mars and deep space. PPTS is, in fact, a response to America’s Orion spacecraft and deep-space exploration plans.

Khrunichev’s Yenisei-5 is the largest and most powerful of the two boosters. It would be capable of launching 125 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO) and 49 metric tons to the moon with a single launch. Energia’s Sodruzhestvo (Alliance) rocket would be capable of placing 64 metric tons into LEO by 2020 from Baikonur. The Yenisei-5 payload lift is roughly equal to NASA's final SLS, while Sodruzhestvo's is just below the 70 metric ton capability of NASA’s initial version of SLS. Click here. (1/14)

Russia Plans Replacement for Soyuz Rocket (Source: Telegraph)
Russia's struggling space agency has unveiled a new multi-billion-dollar plan that will see the development of a replacement for the Soyuz rocket by 2020. The plan published also envisions the launch of new unmanned missions to the Moon and beyond. But one of the biggest priorities is finding a replacement for the Soyuz – the backbone of Russian space travel since its development by pioneering Soviet scientists in the 1960s.

Both the rocket and its eponymous space capsule for manned missions have served as humans' main link to the International Space Station (ISS) since the scientific orbiter's launch in 1998. But an accident with an unmanned Soyuz cargo ship in August 2011 caused delays to subsequent missions and renewed fears about the safety of space travel.

Roscosmos did not disclose many details about its post-Soyuz plans or give a specific date by when the vessel might take flight. The agency's outline only called for the introduction of an "energy transportation module with a promising propulsion installation that will be ready for testing by 2018." But Russia will be keen to preserve its status as a vital player in international manned endeavours. Several private US firms are already working on their own smaller-scale shuttle replacements. (1/14)

NASA Gives Companies More Time to Propose Suborbital Payloads (Source: Albuquerque Business First)
NASA extended a deadline to Jan. 31 for companies that are interested in submitting payloads for suborbital flight on vehicles like Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. In 2010, NASA made an Announcement of Flight Opportunities that includes Virgin Galactic flights from Spaceport America and four other companies that are also working on suborbital reusable launch vehicles.

“Human or animal experiments may be possible on some platforms,” reads the NASA AFO document. All of the submitters to the AFO must show that they are ready, that they have experience, and most importantly, can prove that the flights will have a benefit to NASA. NASA is looking to sponsor payload experiments “that advance or enable multiple future space missions.” Last year, Virgin Galactic, the anchor tenant at the Spaceport America in Las Cruces, said it had configured its Spaceship2 to transport not just people, but payloads into orbit. (1/11)

Planetary Institute Adds Workers, Seeks to Cut NASA Dependence (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
Tucson's Planetary Science Institute is expanding its workforce and office space, even as it braces for potential cuts in federal spending for planetary exploration. The nonprofit institute was founded 40 years ago by two University of Arizona planetary astronomers who wanted to provide a home for scientists to pursue their research without going to work for a NASA center or a university. It relies primarily on NASA funding for its activities, and that money has continued to grow, said director Mark Sykes.

The institute's revenues, 98 percent of them from NASA, grew 11 percent last year to $9.3 million. The institute is remodeling and adding 3,300 square feet of office space to its headquarters in a business park at 1700 E. Fort Lowell Road. It employs 110 scientists and support staff, with 42 of them at its Tucson site. The other scientists are scattered across the globe. That distributive work model continues to attract researchers, Sykes said, especially those with a "two-body problem" who can pursue their own careers while residing where their spouses are employed. (1/14)

US Embassy Argues to Keep Defense Satellite Station in Sicily (Source: Gazzetta del Sud)
The American embassy in Rome on Friday argued in favor of completing the US defense department's satellite communications system in Sicily, which the regional government has blocked. "Italy, as a member of NATO and an important partner for peace and security at the international level, as well as other members of the Alliance, will benefit...in support of NATO operations," said the embassy in a statement.

The move to halt construction, announced by Sicily Governor Rosario Crocetta, came after protestors blocked trucks and cranes overnight in the town of Niscemi and later clashed with police near an American military base. Builders at the site, which is part of a global satellite defense network called the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), had allegedly rushed construction in recent days, according to the Sicily governor. Opponents to the project say it will be an environmental nuisance and threatens world peace. (1/11)

Baffling Star Birth Mystery Finally Solved (Source: Space.com)
Astronomers have finally solved a longstanding cosmic mystery — why a super-dense gas cloud near our Milky Way galaxy's core isn't churning out many new stars. The gas cloud, known as G0.253+0.016, is simply swirling too fast, researchers said. And it lacks the requisite pockets of even denser material, which eventually collapse under their own gravity to form stars.

The results suggest that star formation is more complex than astronomers had thought and may help them better understand the process, researchers said. G0.253+0.016, which is about 30 light-years long, defies the conventional wisdom that dense gas glouds should produce lots of stars. The cloud is 25 times more dense than the famous Orion Nebula, which is birthing stars at a furious rate. But only a few stars are being born in G0.253+0.016, and they're pretty much all runts. Click here. (1/13)

First Samples Obtained from Sub-Glacial Antarctic Lake (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian researchers obtained the first sample of transparent ice from the water of a unique sub-glacial lake in Antarctica during drilling operations on Thursday, Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute reported. In February 2012, after decades of drilling, Russian scientists finally managed to penetrate Antarctica’s ice sheet at a depth of some 3.7 kilometers (2.3 miles) to reveal the secrets of Lake Vostok, which had been sealed there for the past 20 million years.

Explorers hope Vostok, which is the largest of Antarctica's buried network of icebound lakes and also one of the largest lakes in the world, could reveal new forms of life and show how life evolved before the ice age. Scientists have previously examined water samples received when they drilled deep into the lake back in 2012, but they were not sure these were samples of lake water rather than water inside the glacier above the lake. So in order to receive ice right from the lake, researchers drilled into the glacier once again in January 2013. (1/10)

AIAA Announces Its Key Public Policy Issues for 2013 (Source: SpaceRef)
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Board of Directors has announced the Institute's key public policy issues for 2013, addressing some of the most pressing concerns facing the aerospace community. They include public/private human access to space, export control reform, sustained deep-space exploration, and other space-related priorities. Click here. (1/14)

Extreme Room Service: Space Hotel is Surprisingly Spacious (Source: Web Urbanist)
When you take a vacation, the point is usually to get away from everyday life and do something different. Well, there is nothing quite as different (and no place quite as removed from everyday life) as venturing into space. A Russian company called Orbital Technologies is developing a commercial space station, an orbiting hotel that is 217 miles removed from the surface of Earth.

The incredible hotel is not for the budget-conscious traveler; it will cost a bit over US$800,000 just to get there, with another US$160,000 or so required for five days of accommodations aboard the space station. However, the spacecraft will be designed as a comfortable environment that is much more focused on leisure than the science-oriented International Space Station.

A trip to Orbital Technologies’ commercial space station will take two days to reach aboard a Soyuz rocket. Experienced space crews will accompany tourists (up to seven at a time) both on the journey from Earth and during their stay in space. Gourmet Earth food – not the bland food tubes astronauts have traditionally been served – will travel in the rocket along with the tourists as well, then be warmed up in on-board microwave ovens just before mealtime. Click here. (1/13)

Federal Budget Delayed (Source: NASA Watch)
Delays in the federal budget process mean that the President's traditional budget message is unlikely to occur by the time of the presently scheduled February 26 and 27th MEPAG meeting in Washington D.C. You are surely all aware of the announcement in December at the Fall AGU meeting by Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld that NASA intends to launch a new rover to Mars in 2020. However, the 2020 Rover Science Definition Team is just now being formed and will not be far enough into its deliberations to give a meaningful out-brief in February. (1/13)

Lynx to Soar With Super Bowl Ad, Post-Game Drawing (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Commercial spaceflight is entering the main stream and looking (and smelling) quite good! United Kingdom-based Unilever Group (NYSE: UL, Unilever N.V. and NYSE: UN, Unilever PLC), and Space Expedition Corporation (SXC) announced a 22 flight purchase on XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx® Mark II suborbital spacecraft for Unilever’s space-themed AXE Apollo campaign for the AXE brand of men’s cologne, body spray, shower gels and other personal care products.

Unilever will award the first flight to a lucky winner selected from a drawing just after the Super Bowl on February 3rd, and the 21 other winners will come from a year long, 60 country promotional campaign. That larger campaign includes a 100+ person December 2013 space camp for early stage winners in Orlando called the AXE Apollo™ Space Academy (A.A.S.A.). The campaign also includes legendary Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin and a 30 second Super Bowl advertisement. For a chance to win, register at www.AXEApollo.com. (1/11)

NASA’s Robotic Refueling Demo Set (Source: Parabolic Arc)
In mid-January, NASA will take the next step in advancing robotic satellite-servicing technologies as it tests the Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM aboard the International Space Station. The investigation may one day substantially impact the many satellites that deliver products Americans rely upon daily, such as weather reports, cell phones and television news.

During five days of operations, controllers from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency will use the space station’s remotely operated Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, or Dextre, robot to simulate robotic refueling in space. Operating a space-based robotic arm from the ground is a feat on its own, but NASA will do more than just robotics work as controllers remotely snip wires, unscrew caps and transfer simulated fuel. The team also will demonstrate tools, technologies and techniques that could one day make satellites in space greener, more robust and more capable of delivering essential services to people on Earth. (1/12)

An Animated Look at DARPA’s SeeMe Satellite Program (Source: Parabolic Arc)
DARPA’s SeeMe program aims to give mobile, US warfighters overseas access to on-demand, space-based tactical information in remote and beyond-line-of-sight conditions. If successful, SeeMe will provide timely imagery to warfighters of their immediate surroundings via handheld devices. The satellites are the payloads for DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, which aims to put 100-lb. satellites into orbit for less than $1 million apiece. Last year, DARPA awarded six research contracts for the launcher. Click here. (1/13)

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