February 18, 2013

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to Release First Results (Source: BBC)
The scientist leading one of the most expensive experiments ever put into space says the project is ready to come forward with its first results. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) was put on the International Space Station to survey the skies for high-energy particles, or cosmic rays. Nobel Laureate Sam Ting said the scholarly paper to be published in a few weeks would concern dark matter.

This is the unseen material whose gravity holds galaxies together. Researchers do not know what form this mysterious cosmic component takes, but one theory points to it being some very weakly interacting massive particle (or Wimp for short). Although telescopes cannot detect the Wimp, there are high hopes that AMS can confirm its existence and describe some of its properties from indirect measures. (2/18)

White House: Obama Plan Would Cut Deficit by $1.5 Trillion (Source: Bloomberg)
President Barack Obama has a plan that would shrink the deficit by $1.5 trillion by making spending cuts and raising new revenue, the White House says, making across-the-board sequestration cuts unnecessary. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough announced the plan during media appearances Sunday. Republican lawmakers say the president hasn't released details about what spending cuts he would make and reject proposals that rely on new revenue to solve the deficit. (2/17)

SLS Adopts New Buckling Standards, Drops Super Light Alloy (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
With a recent decision to switch the Space Launch System (SLS) core from aluminum-lithium to non-lithium alloys, NASA has come full circle on a journey that started nearly twenty years ago with the development of Shuttle’s Super Light Weight External Tank (SLWT). The switch is not just about reducing costs; it will also prove to be more optimal for the stresses that SLS will endure. (2/18)

Shuttle Booster Separation Ordnance Will Be Burned (Source: Florida Today)
Next week, the last gasps of the space shuttle program will vent from leftover small motors that once separated the spacecraft from its twin solid rocket boosters. Florida environmental regulators issued an emergency permit to Kennedy Space Center to detonate up to 33 booster separation motors this month. These final shuttle-related “ignitions” will remove what state environmental regulators called “an imminent hazard” to people and property nearby. But there’s no risk to the general public, NASA assures, nor will these final shuttle-related “blast offs” deliver much of a bang to local ears.

DEP received an application from KSC for the emergency permit on Dec. 20. According to the permit, perchlorate crystals have formed on the exposed portion of the propellant and inside the motors, making them “an imminent hazard” and unsafe for shipping off the space center. The motors — each of which contain 78 pounds of explosives — performed a brief but key function, pushing the spent boosters away from the space shuttle orbiters. This allowed the boosters to tumble into the Atlantic Ocean, where they were recovered for reuse. (2/17)

New Look at Apollo Moon Rocks Reveals Signs of 'Native' Water (Source: LA Times)
Scientists picking up signs of water on the moon's surface typically attribute them to deposits left by comets, asteroids and other heavenly objects. But a new analysis of lunar samples brought back to Earth by Apollo astronauts in the early 1970s indicates that the moon's interior may have been a little damp in its early days. The findings support mounting evidence that the moon once contained some "native" water — throwing a wrench into current beliefs about how Earth's companion formed.

Prevailing theories hold that the moon was created when a Mars-sized body crashed into the young Earth and broke off debris that eventually coalesced into a new entity. In the process, much of the water would have evaporated into space, leaving Earth's new satellite quite arid. But work in the last five years has challenged that notion, as scientists have used more advanced methods to look for increasingly tiny concentrations of water in glass beads that are thought to have been formed by volcanic eruptions in the moon's early days. (2/17)

In Russia, Ruins and Property Spared by Meteor, Side by Side (Source: New York Times)
The shock wave from a meteor that exploded above Siberia last week somehow sheared the roof off a brick and steel factory building while leaving a nearby glass facade unscathed. In some high-rises in this city, the first modern urban community to have felt the breath of a cosmic close encounter, every window blew out on the top floor; elsewhere, the ground floors suffered.

More ominously, reports came in to local news media over the weekend of stranger phenomena: behind unshattered apartment windows, glass jugs were said to explode into shards, dishes to crack, electronics to die. Balconies rattled. One man said a bottle broke right in his hand. Scientists believe the space rock that tore through the atmosphere on Friday morning and blew apart here was the largest to have entered the atmosphere since 1908 and that it was unusual as well for the scale of its effects: more than 1,200 people injured and broad property damage. (2/17)

Federal Spending Cuts Could Hurt Florida's Space Coast (Source: CFnews13)
Florida space experts say sequestration, the automatic government cuts that could take effect next month, could cripple efforts to revitalize Brevard County’s space economy. The rise of SpaceX and other commercial spaceflight companies brought new hope to Brevard County after the end of the space shuttle program. NASA says SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada all plan to base their launch operations on the Space Coast as they work to send astronauts to the International Space Station from the US, instead of Kazakhstan.

But experts say automatic, across the board government spending would ground those efforts. “This is going to be a devastating blow to our efforts to reform Kennedy Space Center,” said Dale Ketcham a University of Central Florida Space Expert. “This makes a difficult problem dramatically worse.” In a letter to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden lays out how NASA would prioritize the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to the space agency. Much of that money would come from the commercial crew program, meaning no money to help continue development of SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada’s crewed spaceships.

The big cuts to commercial spaceflight helps shield NASA’s heavy-lift rocket program from cuts. According to Ketcham, Florida bears the burden of NASA’s proposed cuts, and any attempts to grow private spaceflight here. “It appears as though NASA has chosen to break that balance and save the government program and throw the commercial program under the bus, and that’s the worst decision to make,” said Ketcham. “That is not good for Florida, that is not good for the interests of the Space Coast.” (2/17)

Editorial: Southern Road to Spaceport America a Necessity (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
From the very beginning, it was understood that road access would be a key component to plans to build a commercial spaceport on desert land near Upham. That's why part of the funding for the project was to come from GRIP II — a highway project that former Gov. Bill Richardson had named after himself. There were to be two roads — a northern road coming in from Truth or Consequence and a southern road coming from Hatch. The southern road is critical for Las Cruces to reap the full benefits of the spaceport, and was among the selling points made when voters here agreed to a pass a sales tax hike to supplement the funding for Spaceport America.

The southern road has hit another pothole. Sierra County commissioners, who in 2010 reached a joint agreement with Doña Ana County and spaceport officials on construction of the southern road, are now balking at the prospects of living up to their end of the deal. The agreement called for the spaceport to bear most of the cost, and Doña Ana County to provide in-kind engineering services. Once built, both counties would be responsible for maintenance. Sierra County is now demanding that the elevation of the road be raised, adding $6 million to a project that was already in need of an additional $3 million to cover unexpected costs. (2/17)

Russia, Cuba to Work Together on Space Exploration (Source: Interfax)
The Russian government will sign an agreement with Cuba on cooperation in space exploration for peaceful purposes, the Russian Cabinet of Ministers said in a report posted on its website. The agreement between the Russian and Cuban governments is aimed at developing mutually profitable cooperation between the two countries in the sphere of space telecommunication technologies, satellite navigation, remote sensing of Earth, space medicine and biology, and the training of the Cuban staff.

"The agreement is a framework one, determines the main conditions of Russian-Cuban interaction in the sphere of joint space activities, and governs issues relating to intellectual property protection, export control, preferential movement of specific categories of special-purpose goods," the report says. The draft government order on the signing of this document was discussed by the Cabinet on Feb. 13. (2/18)

New Station May Be Built Above Lunar Orbit When ISS Project is Over (Source: Interfax)
Leading space powers are eyeing the construction of an inhabited space station above the lunar orbit, a space industry representative said. "International Space Station (ISS) partners are elaborating a joint position on space exploration after the ISS project is over. The idea to deploy a manned station on the second Lagrange point is gaining the biggest support," he said.

"The new project may begin within a decade," the source said, adding that the precise timeframe would depend on many factors, mostly on the possible decision of the ISS partners to extend the project from 2020 to 2028. A manned base above the lunar orbit will be the departure point for expeditions to the Moon, Mars and other solar system objects, the source said. (2/18)

Rogozin Tasked With Meteorite Prevention (Source: Moscow Times)
In light of the meteorite blast that sent shock waves through the Ural Mountains city of Chelyabinsk on Friday, leaving more than a thousand people injured, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tasked his deputy, Dmitry Rogozin, with proposing ways to predict and prevent disasters from space. Rogozin plans to give Medvedev an “objective picture” of Friday’s blast, which caused an estimated 1 billion rubles ($33 million) in damage in the Chelyabinsk region. He will also create “proposals on future possibilities for the country to determine the danger of objects approaching the Earth and prevent [them],” he said. (2/18)

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