February 15, 2013

Meteor and Asteroid Events Turn Focus on Vital Sentinel Telescope (Source: Guardian)
Spaceship Earth just took two celestial shots across its bow. Traditionally, a torpedo across the bow is fired as a warning to change one's behavior – and this coincidence of events should be a warning to humanity that meteors are not always as benign as "shooting stars" and that the next asteroid might not miss! Will we, the crew of SS Earth heed this warning?

Regrettably, the Earth-based telescopes we've been using to discover and track these objects have, practically speaking, reached their limitations for finding the vast majority of these cosmic torpedoes. There is good reason for hope, however. Several high-level expert groups over the past five years have recommended placing an infra-red space telescope into a Venus-like orbit around the sun, in order to discover the bulk of Earth-threatening smaller asteroids.

Such a telescope would look outward at the Earth's orbit as it circled the sun every 230 days or so, detecting and tracking, in its 6.5 years of operation, the missing 99% of potentially Earth-impacting asteroids. The B612 Foundation, a US non-profit organization of former astronauts, scientists, engineers and supporters, is mounting precisely such a mission. This Sentinel telescope is planned for launch in 2018, and in its first month of operation alone, it will discover more new near-Earth asteroids than the current programs have found in 15 years. (2/15)

Meteorite Event in Cuba Too? (Source: RAI News)
Residents of a locality in the central region of Cuba said they saw an object that fell from the sky and exploded with a great noise, which shook the houses of the place. In service published this morning by Rodas, town in the province of Cienfuegos, witnesses described a very bright light that has come to have large size, comparable to that of a bus, before exploding in the sky. (2/15)

FAA Issues Proposal Request for Creation of 6 UAV Test Sites
(Source: Washington Post)
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a request for proposals on Thursday to create six sites to test unmanned aerial vehicles. "This research will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. (2/14)

Senate Democrats’ Sequester Bill Would Cut Defense $27.5 Billion (Source: Defense News)
U.S. Senate Democratic leaders rolled out their much-anticipated measure to void the first wave of pending cuts to planned defense and domestic spending. The Democrats’ bill covers only the remainder of fiscal 2013, and calls for $55 billion in spending cuts and $54 billion in new tax revenue. It reflects the kind of “balanced approach” long called for by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.

The legislation calls for the cuts to be split between national defense accounts and non-defense accounts. It would slash Pentagon spending by $27.5 billion in fiscal 2013, with an identical amount coming by terminating some agriculture subsidies. It is expected to be taken up by the full Senate early in the week of Feb. 25, after the chamber returns from a week-long recess. (2/14)

Russian Official Denies Meteorite, Claims US Weapons Tests (Source: APA)
Russian nationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, long known for his flamboyance and outrageous remarks, said Friday that meteorite fragments had not rained down on Russia in the morning, but that the light flashes and tremors in several of the country’s regions resulted from US weapons tests. “Those aren’t meteors falling, it’s the Americans testing new weapons,” Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, told journalists.

He also said US Secretary of State John Kerry had wanted to warn Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the “provocation” on Monday, but couldn’t reach him – a reference to US State Department comments earlier this week that Kerry had spent several days trying to speak to Lavrov by phone to discuss North Korea and Syria.
Outer space has its own laws, Zhirinovsky went on. (2/15)

Russian Meteor Largest in a Century (Source: Nature)
A meteor that exploded over Russia this morning was the largest recorded object to strike the Earth in more than a century, scientists say. Infrasound data collected by a network designed to watch for nuclear weapons testing suggests that today's blast released hundreds of kilotonnes of energy. That would make it far more powerful than the nuclear weapon tested by North Korea just days ago and the largest rock crashing on the planet since a meteor broke up over Siberia's Tunguska river in 1908.

"It was a very, very powerful event," says Margaret Campbell-Brown, an astronomer at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, who has studied data from two infrasound stations near the impact site. Her calculations show that the meteoroid was approximately 15 metres across when it entered the atmosphere, and put its mass at around 40 tons. "That would make it the biggest object recorded to hit the Earth since Tunguska," she says.

Despite its massive size, the object went undetected until it hit the atmosphere. "I'm not aware of anyone who saw this coming," says Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency's space debris office at the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany. Although a network of telescopes watches for asteroids that might strike Earth, it is geared towards spotting larger objects — between 100 meters and a kilometer in size. (2/15)

Smith: Asteroid, Meteor Stark Reminders of Need to Invest in Space Science (Source: HSS&TC)
Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) released this statement after reports of an unforeseen meteor exploding in the sky above Russia, on the same day that a large asteroid is scheduled to pass relatively close to Earth: “Today’s events are a stark reminder of the need to invest in space science... Developing technology and research that enable us to track objects like Asteroid 2012 DA14 is critical to our future. We should continue to invest in systems that identify threatening asteroids and develop contingencies, if needed, to change the course of an asteroid headed toward Earth."

Space Society Kickstarter Campaign Surpasses Goals (Source: SPACErePORT)
A National Space Society Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign designed to raise money for a pro-space movie production has far surpassed its primary goal of $35,000. With over 650 backers, the campaign raised over $55,000, allowing the film to be sent to Governors in all 50 states, to each member of Congress, and President Obama and his Cabinet. Click here. (2/15)

Embry-Riddle Astronomers Hope for Glimpse of Asteroid Flyby (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
An Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor and two students will be among those attempting to track the asteroid Friday as it flies by 17,200 miles above Earth's surface — lower than many weather satellites. It's the closest-ever known Earth flyby of an asteroid as big as this one, which measures about half the length of a football field and was named for its discovery date Feb. 23, 2012. Despite its size, seeing it could prove tricky, especially here in Florida.

Researchers in Europe, Africa and Asia will have the best view as the asteroid, which will be closest to Earth about 2:24 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, according to NASA. Traveling at 17,400 mph, the asteroid will be within the Earth/moon system for about 33 hours, exiting the system on Saturday. (2/14)

NASA’s Sequestration Plan Would Bring Commercial Crew to a Halt (Source: Space Politics)
If sequestration goes into effect, NASA plans to enact spending reductions that would effectively bring the commercial crew program to a halt by the summer, and delay or cancel some science and technology missions, according to a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Bolden, in the letter, said that NASA assumed that the current continuing resolution (CR), which funds the government at FY-12 levels until March 27, would be extended through the rest of the fiscal year, and that the sequester would cut five percent from that level, or about nine percent from the remaining part of the fiscal year.

That works out to a full-year budget of $16.985 billion, or $894 million below the CR level (and $726.7 million below the administration’s FY-13 budget request.) By comparison, NASA was looking at a larger cut of $1.46 billion under the original sequestration plans released in September. Those cuts will not be distributed evenly across NASA’s various programs. Exploration would see a cut of $332.2 million from the FY13 request. Commercial crew would bear the brunt of that cut.

“After sequestration, NASA would not be able to fund milestones planned to be allocated in the fourth quarter of FY 2013 for Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap),” the letter states, including a number of reviews scheduled for Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SpaceX. “Overall availability of commercial crew transportation services would be significantly delayed, thereby extending our reliance on foreign providers for crew transportation to the International Space Station.” Click here. (2/14)

Meteorite Hits Central Russia, More Than 500 People Hurt (Source: Reuters)
More than 500 people were injured when a meteorite shot across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday, sending fireballs crashing to Earth, shattering windows and damaging buildings. People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 1,500 km (950 miles) east of Moscow.

A fireball blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake which could be seen as far as 200 km (125 miles) away in Yekaterinburg. Car alarms went off, windows shattered and mobile phone networks were interrupted. "I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," said Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains.

A local ministry official said such incidents were extremely rare and Friday's events might have been linked to an asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool due to pass Earth at a distance of 27,520 km (17,100 miles) but this was not confirmed. Russia's space agency Roscosmos said the meteorite was travelling at a speed of 30 km (19 miles) per second and that such events were hard to predict. The Interior Ministry said the meteorite explosion had caused a sonic boom. Here's an infographic. (2/15)

Russian Academy of Sciences Denies New Meteor Threat (Source: Interfax)
Scientists are not predicting a new meteorite fall similar to the one that occurred in the Chelyabinsk region, Dmitry Badyukov, deputy head of the Meteoritics Laboratory of the Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said. "There are no more threats. Meteorites fall very rarely, although regularly," Badyukov told an intercom meeting chaired by Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov. (2/15)

Russian Meteor Leaves Trail of Damage Across Region (Source: RIA Novosti)
Buildings across Russia's Chelyabinsk Region were damaged by falling meteorite particles and the shock waves and sonic booms caused by them, Russian officials said on Friday morning. A roof and wall partly collapsed at a zinc factory in Chelyabinsk Region after it was struck by the shock wave from the meteorite, the Interior Ministry reported. The officials did not specify which factory it was. The factory has continued working normally despite the damage, the regional government said in an online statement. South Ural State University has cancelled classes for at least two days due to damage to its buildings. (2/15)

Russian Meteor Explosion Not Caused by Asteroid Flyby, NASA Scientist Says (Source: Space.com)
The meteor explosion over Russia that injured more than 500 people and damaged hundreds of buildings was not caused by an asteroid zooming close by the Earth today (Feb.15), a NASA scientist says. NASA asteroid expert Don Yeomans, head of the agency's Near-Earth Object Program Office, said the object which exploded over a thinly inhabited stretch of eastern Europe today was most likely an exploding fireball known as a bolide. More than 500 people were injured, mostly by glass cuts when windows shattered during the blast, according to the Russian Emergency Ministry. (2/15)

Launch Market on Cusp of Change (Source: Satellite Today)
With the success of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, it seems like the age of truly commercial space launch has arrived. But what exactly is a commercial launch? When I worked with the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation we spent a fair amount of time trying to decide what a commercial launch was, but we never had an entirely satisfactory definition. Although some governments funded vehicle development in different ways, there were no vehicles that were not the product of some form of fairly direct governmental support.

Even Ariane, the most “commercial” of launch vehicles, was commercial in operation only, not in inception and development, and could easily call on government support when things went wrong. SpaceX is not the first private company to try to break through the commercial space launch market. The company, however, appears to be the real thing. Privately funded, it had a vehicle before it got money from NASA, and while NASA’s space station resupply funds are a tremendous boost, SpaceX would have existed without it. (2/15)

NASA Gives Aerojet Advanced Booster Concept Contract for Space Launch System (Source: Hunstville Times)
NASA has awarded Aerojet of Sacremento, Calif., the last of four contracts designed to test concepts for the boosters that will lift future versions of its big new rocket now under development. The contract is worth $23.3 million. The new rocket and crew capsule combo is called the Space Launch System, and the booster part is being developed at Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center. The first version of the rocket will use space shuttle main engines and solid-rocket boosters to leave Earth, but later and larger versions will get a new propulsion system. (2/14)

Shelby Keeps Leadership Role on Senate's NASA Funding Committee (Source: Huntsville Times)
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) will be the ranking minority member on the Senate committee overseeing NASA's budget in the current Congress. The Senate Appropriations Committee announced its subcommittee rolls this week, and Shelby is top Republican on the Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee. The subcommittee drafts the Senate's version of NASA's annual appropriation, and the full Appropriations Committee is where the Senate decides where it wants America's space dollars to go.

The ranking minority position puts Shelby in line to chair the subcommittee if Republicans retake the Senate in 2014. But until then, NASA has another person who understands its issues at the top. Chairwoman of the science subcommittee is Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who has NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in her state. Also on the science subcommittee is Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) whose state is home to hundreds of aerospace and defense workers living just across the state line from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. (2/14)

Proton/Breeze M Mishap Blamed on Warm Propellant (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
Engineers blame the December launch failure of a Proton rocket and Breeze M upper stage on bearing damage from overheated propellant ingested into the Breeze M main engine, according to a statement issued Thursday by International Launch Services. The Breeze M upper stage, burning hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants, was supposed to fire four times to inject the Russian Yamal 402 communications satellite in a high-altitude transfer orbit.

But the Breeze M stage prematurely shut down in the fourth burn, and investigators traced the cause of the Dec. 8 mishap to bearing damage on the oxidizer side of the Breeze M engine turbopump. ILS said Breeze M's nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer showed higher than previously recorded propellant temperatures at liftoff and higher than previously recorded thermal soak-back of engine heat, further raising the temperature of the oxidizer. (2/14)

Crowdfunding Sought for Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (Source: RocketHub)
We are looking for people to help us complete the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP). We call this technoarchaeology - mining the past to support science in the future. Between 1966 and 1967, NASA sent five Lunar Orbiter missions to the Moon. Their mission was to photograph the lunar surface to help identify future Apollo mission landing sites. The spacecraft carried 70mm photographic film which was developed automatically in lunar orbit aboard the spacecraft. Click here. (2/14)

XCOR Announces Senior Appointments in Business Development Team (Source: Parabolic Arc)
A trio of new senior appointments in the Business Development Team were announced today at XCOR Aerospace, signaling the continued progress and confidence in the Lynx suborbital spacecraft program. Greg Claxton joins XCOR where he will lead the Retail Sales Channel, Khaki Rodway has been promoted to lead the Payloads Sales Channel, and Lisa Rigano has been hired to lead Product and Customer Experience Development. Click here. (2/14)

Planetary Resources Says Arkyd Can Spot NEOs of Risk to Earth (Source: NewSpace Watch)
Planetary Resources, Inc. (PRI) announced, on the eve of 2012 DA14’s close pass of Earth, that the Arkyd-100 Series – technology demonstrator for asteroid prospecting missions – will assist in the detection and characterization of potentially hazardous asteroids near Earth, and follow-on Arkyd spacecraft will have the capability and infrastructure for intercepting asteroids which will inform the deflection of potentially rogue objects.

Today, there are approximately 610,000 asteroids that are tracked in our Solar System.  This number represents less than one percent of the estimated objects that orbit the Sun. Scientists are closely tracking 434 asteroids which are large enough, and come close enough to the Earth to be of potential future concern, and while none of these pose any significant risk today, increased surveillance is required. (2/14)

Satellite Images Show New Work on North Korea Launch Site (Source: NTI)
New satellite images show North Korea is continuing to make enhancements to a missile launch facility that could provide a capability to fire substantially larger rockets. The commercial surveillance images were taken as recently as last month and examined by 38 North, a website managed by the U.S.-Korea Institute. The analysis indicate the North is pressing ahead with building a launch platform and other structures at the Musudan-ri site. Movement is also noted around a separate launchpad most recently employed in a 2009 rocket launch. (2/14)

SpaceX Launch to ISS Confirmed for March 1 (Source: Florida Today)
NASA and SpaceX today confirmed plans for a March 1 launch of the company’s next International Space Station resupply mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. A Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are scheduled to blast off at 10:10 a.m. EST from Launch Complex 40. If all stays on schedule, the Dragon would berth at the station the next day, delivering about 1,200 pounds of supplies.

The spacecraft would stay for about three weeks before returning to Earth March 25 for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California. The Dragon is expected to bring home 2,300 pounds of equipment and experiments. (2/14)

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