February 7, 2013

Ariane 5 ECA Launches with Amazonas-3 and Azerspace-1 (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Arianespace has launched their first Ariane 5 of the year, lofting two satellites into orbit – Amazonas-3 and Azerspace-1 – from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The launch was on schedule at the opening of a 44 minute window on Thursday. This was the 54th consecutive success for the Ariane 5 rocket since 2003. (2/7)

Investments Enhancing KSC Visitor Complex for "Space Tourism" (Source: KSCVC)
Following an action-filled 2012, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, just east of Orlando, is anticipating a momentous 2013 highlighted by the unveiling of the new $100 million home of space shuttle Atlantis this summer. "Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is an absolute must-see destination, and in 2013 our guests will find more to enjoy and experience than ever before,” said Bill Moore, chief operating officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. (2/7)

SETI Study Of Habitable Exoplanets Draws a Blank (Source: Technology Review)
The discovery of an ever-growing number of potentially habitable exoplanets brings an extra spiciness to the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. For the first time, astronomers can direct the search towards these likely planets rather than aiming in hope towards the stars.

Jill Tarter, from the SETI Institute and of Contact fame, along with a group of buddies, reveal the results of their first directed search, carried out between February and April 2011. These guys pointed the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia at 86 stars hosting exoplanets discovered by the Kepler space telescope. They chose their targets because they had exoplanets in the Goldilocks zone, had five or more exoplanets or had super Earths with relatively long orbits.

Tarter and co looked at signals in the 1-2 GHz range, the region used by terrestrial mobile and cordless phones. In particular, they hunted for signals that cover no more than 5Hz of the spectrum since there is no known natural mechanism for producing such narrow band signals. “Emission no more than a few Hz in spectral width is, as far as we know, an unmistakable indicator of engineering by an intelligent civilization,” they say. Click here. (2/7)

Energia Pledges ‘Unfailing Commitment” to Failure-Prone Sea Launch (Source: Parabolic Arc)
S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation “Energia” (“RSC Energia”) spoke out today about its unfailing commitment to the long-term success of the Sea Launch program following the launch failure of Intelsat 27 spacecraft on February 1, 2013. RSC Energia has been the leader and the operator of the Sea Launch program since 2010. (2/7)

Don't Count 'Doomsday Asteroid' Out Yet (Source: CNN)
Look up at our nearest neighbor, the moon, and you'll see stark evidence of the dangerous neighborhood we live in. The Man in the Moon was sculpted by large-scale events, including many meteor and asteroid impacts. In 1994, the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 dove into Jupiter. The result was awesome. The impact caused a brilliant flash, visible in Earth telescopes, and left an ugly dark scar on Jupiter's cold, gaseous surface.

With the recent fly-by of a 1,000-foot-wide asteroid labeled 99942 Apophis, one of a class of space rocks referred to as "near-Earth objects" or "Earth-grazers," scientists have revised their worst estimates of its chances of striking Earth. Current thinking is: We're safe. For the next couple of decades. But this does not mean the danger is over. Far from it. Click here. (2/7)

Florida Space Industry to Visit Capitol on Mar. 6 for Space Day (Source: Space Day)
Representatives from Florida’s aerospace industry will visit Tallahassee on March 6, 2013, to participate in Florida Space Day 2013 and share with legislators opportunities the industry brings to Florida and the nation’s space program. Former NASA Astronaut Bob Crippen, pilot of the first orbital test flight of the Shuttle program and former NASA KSC Director, will be making appearances throughout the event. Space-related exhibits will also be available on the third floor rotunda of the Capitol. (2/7)

Republicans Push Federal Job Cuts to Avoid Sequester (Source: The Hill)
Some House and Senate Republicans are backing a previously floated idea: Cut the size of the federal workforce by 10% and freeze congressional salaries and use the savings to avoid sequestration. The proposal never got traction when it was previously introduced. Now some defense advocates in Congress say it could be a way to avoid sweeping sequestration reductions. (2/6)

Budget Crunch Reportedly Forces NASA to Delay Orion Test (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA says that although it plans to launch the Orion capsule in 2014 to try out the capsule's landing gear and other systems, budget restrictions reportedly mean a planned test of the Orion capsule's launch-abort system must be delayed until after the 2017 flight of the entire Space Launch System. "This is a development problem," Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, is quoted as saying. "You run into problems along the way, and there are things that have to be moved around and things that have to be reshaped." (2/6)

DARPA's GEO Satellite Recycling Plan On-Schedule (Source: Aviation Week)
Reusing hardware already in orbit, rather than launching a new spacecraft, could dramatically cut the cost of providing military satellite communications, but requires a technology leap to enable robotic servicing in geosynchronous orbit and beyond. Under the Phoenix demonstration planned for 2016, DARPA plans to show that a robotic vehicle can remove the antenna from a retired spacecraft in graveyard orbit and attach systems to it to rebuild a functioning communications satellite in geostationary orbit (GEO). (2/4)

Hale: Voluntary Industry Standards Needed for Commercial Human Spaceflight (Source: Space Policy Online)
During the FAA's annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference, Wayne Hale called for voluntary industry standards instead of government regulations for commercial human spaceflight. Hale, a former NASA space shuttle program director who is widely known for his incisive reflections about the Columbia tragedy and ongoing space program commentary. Hale's message was that the industry would be well served by reaching agreement on voluntary standards quickly.

Currently a consultant for Special Aerospace Services, Hale argued that this nascent industry needs to be "nimble and innovative" and not hamstrung by government regulations that are difficult to change as technology advances.  Saying that he is involved in a standards-setting activity through the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), Hale implored all the commercial space entities at the conference to "rapidly reach consensus on voluntary standards." That would "alleviate the anxiety of policymakers" and let the industry control itself.

CSF is a relatively new industry association for companies involved in commercial human spaceflight. While its narrow focus may make it a logical place to develop standards for that specific industry, some question whether the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) would not be a better choice for hammering out such standards. AIAA is already involved in standards-setting for the aerospace industry and is a member of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which in turn is the U.S. representative to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). (2/7)

Rohrabacher Supports Limited FAA Regulatory Role for Space (Source: Space Policy Online)
The FAA is prohibited by law from developing regulations for passenger safety on commercial human spaceflights until 2015. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a long-standing proponent of commercial space activities and author of the 2004 law restricting FAA's authority, warned against heavy handed government regulation that he said could postpone the promise of commercial human spaceflight.

He stressed that unlike aviation where the FAA's main role is protecting passenger safety, for commercial human spaceflight its interest should be only the safety of the general (uninvolved) public. The FAA should "protect third parties not the passengers themselves," allowing individuals to make their own choices about how much risk they are willing to take.  "Allowing individuals to take risk is what has made America a great nation," he insisted. (2/7)

House Science Committee Pledges Bipartisan Cooperation (Source: Space Politics)
The full House Science Committee, which will be devoting attention this year to NASA and commercial space transportation among other topics, emerged from a closed-door retreat on Tuesday with plans to work across party lines on key issues. “Newspaper headlines insist that Capitol Hill is hopelessly gridlocked. I want the Science, Space, and Technology Committee to be the exception,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the committee. “This bipartisan retreat sets a good tone of cooperation for what can be a year of bipartisan achievements.”

The ranking member of the full committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), shared those sentiments in the same statement. The committee, she said, “has much important work to do in the 113th Congress and the only way we will be able to get it done is through bipartisanship.” What the committee members discussed in the committee wasn’t disclosed, but they did have a couple of celebrity guests: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, the latter noting on Twitter that they were at the retreat to remind the committee “of the great value of science.” (2/7)

Satellites Put Small Farms on China's Map (Source: New York Times)
The bare light bulbs, unheated rooms and elderly residents of the whitewashed village of Yangwang in eastern China make it seem an unlikely place for an experiment in cutting-edge satellite technology. But the tiny village in Anhui Province was home to a pilot project that for the first time mapped farmers’ land, putting Yangwang on the front line of China’s efforts to build a modern agricultural sector that can underpin the country’s food security — a policy priority for the Communist Party.

The mapping is a tedious but crucial task to make farmers feel more secure about their rights so that they become more willing to merge fields into larger-scale farms. It could also help protect them from land grabs by local officials, a leading cause of rural unrest. (2/6)

Europe's Plan for GPS Lips to Crossroads (Source: New York Times)
With lofty dreams of European unity increasingly grounded by economic woe and the weight of narrow national interests, an array of computer screens here in central Italy blinks with faint signs that — far away in space, at least — Europe’s often quarreling nations can still sometimes find common cause. Italy's Fucino Space Center stands guard over the European Union’s flagship joint project: a satellite navigation system that is years behind schedule, many times over its original budget and unlikely to start operating for at least another year.

Europe’s future commitment to the project, known as Galileo and designed to create a new, improved and European-controlled version of America’s Global Positioning System, is to be decided in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, when European leaders will try for a second time, after talks failed in November, to hash out a long-term budget for the 27-nation bloc.

With recession and austerity clouding much of the Continent, they will argue over where the ax should fall on a European Union budget for 2014 to 2020, which would total nearly $1.35 trillion as drafted. An over-budget satellite navigation system that is years from full completion, largely a duplicate of an American system already widely used in Europe and unlikely ever to generate much revenue would seem to be in the budget cutters’ cross hairs. (2/6)

Scotland's First Satellite to be Launched this Summer (Source E&T)
Scotland's first satellite is to be launched into space in June, it has been announced. The cutting-edge device is the first spacecraft to be designed and built in Scotland. It will be launched on board a Russian rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Clyde Space, the Glasgow company behind the nanosatellite, is hoping it could be the first of many from Scotland. (2/6)

Azerbaijan Sends First Communications Satellite Into Space (Source: Bloomberg)
Azerbaijan will launch its first communications satellite today, designed and built by Orbital Sciences Corp., as the Caspian Sea nation seeks to develop information technology to diversify its economy beyond energy. The Azerspace/Africasat-1a satellite will provide communications services to Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Europe and Africa. Orbital is responsible for providing the satellite and ground system.

The third largest oil-producer in the former Soviet Union will order a second satellite within two years of the first launch, Deputy Communications and Information Technology Minister Elmir Valizada said in a May 2011 interview. President Ilham Aliyev ordered his government to double the non-oil economy in the next decade as crude production declined for a second year in 2012. (2/7)

Ross: We Must Restore Our Commitment to U.S. Space Exploration (Source: Huffington Post)
This is a precarious moment for our country's future. But it is not too late to change course and redirect our space agency to even greater excellence and accomplishments in the 21st century... It is time for America not to withdraw within itself but to dream big dreams again. It is time for Americans to unite in accomplishing big goals again and to reap the benefits in our educational systems, technical advancement, and economy which were realized when we first journeyed to the moon. Click here. (2/6)

Is Canada's Space Program in Jeopardy? (Source: CBC)
Many Canadians cheer Chris Hadfield's space adventure. He's got more than 300,000 followers on Twitter, and tomorrow his conversation with William Shatner will be broadcast live on the Canadian Space Agency's website. But on earth, things are less buoyant for Canada's space program. The Canadian Space Agency's President, Steve McLean, stepped down February first, seven months before the end of his mandate. The agency struggles with a ten per cent budget cut. And then, there's the Aerospace Review Report, delivered in November, that says Canada's space program needs a "reset". Click here. (2/6)

Iran: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Rejects Direct Talks With U.S. (Source: Huffington Post)
Iran's supreme leader Thursday strongly rejected proposals for direct talks with the United States, effectively quashing suggestions for a breakthrough one-on-one dialogue on the nuclear standoff and potentially other issues. The statement posted on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's website echoes previous remarks opposing bilateral talks with Washington in parallel with stop-and-start nuclear negotiations with world powers, including the U.S., which are scheduled to resume later this month. (2/7)

Astronaut and Rocker to Premiere Space-Earth Duet Friday (Source: Space.com)
A song inspired by space will become the first tune to premiere via a ground-and-orbit duet. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will collaborate with Canadian musician Ed Robertson, best known as a member of the Grammy Award-winning Barenaked Ladies group, to release the first duet to premiere from space and Earth simultaneously. On Friday (Feb. 8), Hadfield will perform in space, and Robertson will sing with a youth choir in Toronto. (2/6)

The New Way to Look for Mars Life: Follow the Salt (Source: Scientific American)
There is probably water on Mars, but you wouldn’t want to drink it. It’s salty, viscous and quite possibly toxic. But astrobiologists are nonetheless excited about the possibility. Just in the past few years, orbiter cameras and Mars landers have gathered evidence that watery liquid does exist on the Red Planet, at least during some part of the day or some part of the year.

The presence of water in such an inhospitable environment—-freezing cold, with low atmospheric pressures that drive rapid evaporation—-is a bit of a puzzle. But a number of lines of research indicate that perchlorates, a form of salt found in Martian soils by the Phoenix lander in 2008, may play a key role in sustaining liquids on Mars. Phoenix’s discovery, and the subsequent identification from a Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter camera of seasonal surface markings resembling fluid streaks, has significantly reframed the discussion of where, and how, water might exist on Mars today—and with it, perhaps, some form of microbial life.

Perchlorate salts also appear to greatly extend the environmental conditions under which brines could remain liquid on Mars today. “They do seem to depress the freezing temperature to the point where you could have stable liquid on the surface,” said Selby Cull of Bryn Mawr College. (2/6)

Teledyne Brown Wins Space Station Operations Contract (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA has awarded Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville a $120 million contract for operations and integration work on the International Space Station. The announcement was made today. The cost-plus-award-fee contract has a potential performance period of five years. It begins March 1 with an 18-month base period. Following that come three one-year options and one six-month option that may be exercised at NASA's discretion. During the contract period, Teledyne Brown will support "all phases of flight," NASA says, including mission preparation, crew and flight controller training and real-time requirements for spaceflight operations. (2/6)

Two More NASA Astronauts Leave Agency (Source: America Space)
NASA has lost two more veteran astronauts, including the head of the space agency’s Flight Crew Operations Directorate. The first of the astronauts to leave was Brent Jett, who flew into space four times aboard the space shuttle. His most recent position with NASA was as the deputy manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Also leaving NASA is Clayton Anderson, who flew into space twice aboard the shuttle. The loss of these two experienced flyers highlights a “brain drain” that NASA has been experiencing. (2/6)

Hungry Black Hole Spawns Bizarre Four-Armed Galaxy (Source: Space.com)
Where most spiral galaxies have two twisting arms, a neighbor of the Milky Way is a four-armed monster. A new photo snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope, combined with observations by amateur astronomers, reveals these arms in stunning detail. The galaxy Messier 106 lies about 20 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear). Hubble scientists released a video of the four-armed galaxy in addition to the new photo. (2/6)

Harbingers of Death: Predicting Supernovae (Source: Sky & Telescope)
A massive outburst may give a month’s advance notice of when certain giant stars will go supernova. That’s not great for evacuation plans, but perfect for observers who want to catch a supernova in action. Three years ago a giant star gave us a signal of its impending destruction just 40 days before it happened. In a fit of frenzy, the star sent gas hurtling outward at 2,000 kilometers per second (4.5 million miles per hour), more than twice the speed of the fastest solar wind. Six weeks later the entire star exploded as a Type IIn supernova, leaving behind a tiny, dense stellar corpse. (2/6)

Comet ISON Photo Snapped By NASA's Deep Impact Probe (Source: Space.com)
A NASA spacecraft has captured its first photos of comet ISON, an icy wanderer that some scientists say could dazzle as a "comet of the century" when it swings through the inner solar system later this year. The photos were taken by NASA's Deep Impact probe and reveal comet ISON as a bright, dusty ball moving against a star-filled background. The spacecraft snapped the pictures on Jan. 17 and Jan. 18 from a distance of about 493 million miles (793 million kilometers). (2/6)

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