March 14, 2013

After 143 Days in Space, Astronauts Set to Return (Source: CNN)
Nearly five months of cramped living in zero gravity will come to an end Thursday for one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station. Their Soyuz capsule is set to undock at 8:30 p.m. ET, and land less than three and a half hours later in Kazakhstan. Soyuz modules are vital to the Russian space program. They are launched into space as capsules atop a rocket, and are capable of landing on land, not requiring a body of water to splash down in. (3/14)

Russia Joins EU-Led ExoMars Expedition to Red Planet (Source: Russia Today)
Russian space agency Roscosmos will sign a deal on Thursday with the European Space Agency (ESA), to become a full-fledged partner in the ExoMars project, which is a new attempt to discover if there is life on the Red Planet. The mission will drill 30 times deeper beneath the surface of Mars than the currently operating Curiosity rover. Russia will supply the mission with two Proton-M rocket carriers, and facilitate launches from the Baikonur site in Kazakhstan. Russian scientists are also engaged in creating scientific instruments for the mission, including a landing platform for the rover.

The first stage of the mission will involve sending a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) to Mars in 2016 to analyze gas in the planet’s atmosphere; scientists are hoping to find regions rich in methane, which could signal the existence of life on Mars, though it may also be produced by geochemical activity. The Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) will also be sent to Mars in 2016. EDM is a device with no other purpose except testing the landing process, as ESA has never sent a rover to Mars.

The first stage of the mission will involve sending a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) to Mars in 2016 to analyze gas in the planet’s atmosphere; scientists are hoping to find regions rich in methane, which could signal the existence of life on Mars, though it may also be produced by geochemical activity. The Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) will also be sent to Mars in 2016. EDM is a device with no other purpose except testing the landing process, as ESA has never sent a rover to Mars. (3/14)

How NASA’s Giant New Space Telescope Will Make Life On Earth Better (Source: Fast Company)
NASA is responsible for more Earth-bound technologies than just space ice cream; the organization’s research has led to everything from new kinds of artificial limbs to better fire-fighting equipment. While at SXSW, I had the chance to check out a full-scale model of the giant James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a 21-foot in diameter telescope that will be sent into space in 2018 to find the first galaxies that formed in our universe. JWST has already taught us a lot, even though it has yet to be launched. Click here. (3/14)

Dark Side of the Jam: A NASA Game Jam Postmortem (Source: Gamasutra)
Jams are a great way to get people to talk to each other, make games, and generally feel good about the industry and themselves. But what happens when you hook up directly with a government agency for your jam? As you might expect, there was good and bad resultant from having the jam be government-tied, and this postmortem may provide some lessons for those looking to do sponsorship or institution-tied game jams in the future. Click here. (3/14)

50 Years After Discovery, Quasars Remain Astrono-Mystery (Source: LA Times)
Half a century after the first quasar was spotted, astronomers say they have yet to shed much light on the behavior of these cosmic beacons. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the quasar -- an extremely bright object powered by matter falling into a super-massive black hole lying in the heart of a galaxy.

First found in 1963, these strange sources of radio waves initially stumped astronomers: They shone bright as local stars, but were clearly too far away to be in our Milky Way galaxy -- earning them the name quasi-stellar radio sources, or quasars. Eventually, scientists realized that a galactic black hole would have the power to produce such strong light at such mind-boggling distances.

Compared with faint galaxies, quasars offered a tantalizing peek into the very distant universe -- and thus, a look into its past. And they’re still serving up surprises. Just days ago, astronomers announced that they had discovered an ultra-rare triplet of quasars, allowing them a glimpse into the evolution of large structures in the universe. Some scientists, however, think we haven’t learned enough from these luminous objects. Click here. (3/14)

Wolf Threatens To Call NASA Security Whistleblowers To Testify (Source: Aviation Week)
“Career civil servants” have been coming out of the woodwork with reports of lax security practices at NASA since Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) raised the issue publicly, and the powerful committee chairman may call some of the whistleblowers to testify publicly about their charges.

Wolf cited Obama administration documents in warning that a “sustained attack” on U.S. trade and national security secrets by China and “other nations of concern” warrants more rigorous efforts to protect secrets than NASA management has shown. “It is a problem, and I’m not going to stand by,” Wolf said during a March 13 hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, science, justice and related agencies, which he chairs. “I’m going to pursue this thing.” (3/14)

Rand Paul Ridicules NASA-Supported Food Study at CPAC (Sources: Politifact)
Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, took some shots at what he considered wasteful federal spending during his speech at the conservative CPAC conference. He said: "For any of you college students looking for jobs, Uncle Sam’s got a job for you. The pay’s $5,000, all expenses paid. The study is in Hawaii. But the requirements are onerous. Only a few can qualify. You have to like food. The study is to develop a menu for when we colonize Mars. I’m not making this up. Guess what a bunch of college students came up with for the menu. Pizza!" Click here.

Editor's Note: This is one of many Mars analog activities supported by NASA. I might object to a bunch of NASA civil servants devoting all their time to this, but enlisting universities and students makes it both educational and scientifically useful, while also building a cadre of experts who might support a real Mars mission when we end up doing one.

Food science is a very legitimate issue for long-duration human spaceflight, and analog missions are probably best suited to this kind of research. But while, on one hand, NASA is being pressured by Congress and the public to focus on long-duration human exploration missions, on the other hand they're being ridiculed for conducting some of the research that is prerequisite to such missions. (3/14)

Alabama Spaceport Authority Bill Before State's Legislature (Source: Anniston Star)
Sen. Gerald Dial didn’t cast a vote on the state’s proposed $1.75 billion General Fund budget Tuesday night — and his excuse is out of this world. Dial was headed for Washington to lobby for the creation of a commercial spaceport in Alabama. Dial said that in the next few weeks he’ll introduce a bill that would create an Alabama Spaceport Authority, within the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).

A draft of the bill states that the spaceport authority would “identify public lands for space launch” and “encourage the leveraging of venture capital and seed public-private partnerships to promote private enterprise.” Asked whether McClellan would be a good site for a spaceport, Dial declined to answer. He said identifying one district as a potential site would cause legislators in other districts to lose interest.

In the budget passed by the Senate Tuesday, ADECA’s $7.1 million budget was cut by $1.4 million. Dial said the Spaceport Authority would fund its work by applying for FAA grants. If the bill passes, the new spaceport authority would supersede the nine-member Alabama Spaceport Authority the Legislature created last year. That body, created by a resolution Dial sponsored, had little power other than to study the idea of a spaceport. (3/14)

Indiana Spaceport Group Gets Boot at Airport (Source: The Republic)
Spaceport Indiana, a company that promotes science, technology, engineering and math teaching and data gathering for near-space activities, plans to leave its location at Columbus Municipal Airport. The Columbus Board of Aviation Commissioners voted Tuesday to evict Spaceport Indiana from its airport location over concerns about its insurance, use of the property and lease payments. Brian Payne, the airport director, said the main issue was a lack of insurance documentation for the company. (3/13)

NASA Official Says Closing Unused Facilities Could Help Save Money (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Maintaining NASA’s 4,900 facilities across the nation is something agency officials say they increasingly cannot afford. NASA’s Inspector General Paul Martin  said the agency needs to improve how it identifies what facilities are being used and considering options to dispose of infrastructures if there are no future plans for the facility. Of its facilities, 33 have been identified as ones without current or future projects.

Echoing current criticisms of the space program’s lack of a clear mission, Martin said the agency maintains too many programs and not enough funding. As facilities built for specific projects  come to a conclusion, the facilities are left unused, such as the space shuttle program which included in 2011. However, closing the facilities create political tension as lawmakers fight against closing any facility in their district. Martin said there’s a fight to keep facilities to maintain viability for housing future projects that would bring more jobs. (3/13)

Florida Lt. Gov. Carroll Resigns Amid Probe (Source: Space News)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott will step in to chair the 13-member Space Florida board of directors following the abrupt resignation March 12 of his lieutenant governor and Space Florida chairwoman Jennifer Carroll. Carroll quit amid a law enforcement probe into a Florida Internet sweepstakes company for which Carroll, a former state representative, once served as a consultant.

The company, Allied Veterans of the World, has been the target of a national criminal investigation. “Individuals were arrested [on Tuesday] for racketeering and money laundering charges in connection with Allied Veterans of the World’s illegal gambling companies,” Scott’s chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth said in a March 13 statement. “Lt. Gov. Carroll resigned in an effort to keep her former affiliation with the company from distracting from the administration’s important work on behalf of Florida families. She made the right decision for the state and her family,” an official said. (3/13)

Improved Ion Engines Will Open Up the Outer Solar System (Source: GizMag)
Ion engines have been used in space missions for more than four decades and remain the subject of ongoing research. They have incredible fuel efficiency, but their low thrust requires very long operating times ... and therein lies the rub. To date, erosion within such an engine seriously limits its operational lifetime. Now a group of NASA JPL researchers has developed a new design that largely eliminates this erosion, opening the gates for higher thrust and more efficient drives for manned and unmanned missions to the reaches of the Solar System. Click here. (3/14)

Chile Unveils World's Largest Astronomical Observatory (Source: Xinhua)
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera presided over the launching of the world's largest astronomical observatory in the remote Atacama Desert of the northern Chilean Andes. Now the world's most powerful telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is the result of a collaboration between Europe, the U.S., Japan and Chile. Located 5,000 meters above sea level, the assembly of ALMA's antennas was recently completed and the telescope has already provided "unprecedented views of the cosmos with only a portion of its full array," the observatory said. (3/14)

Intelsat Scales Back IPO to $750 Million (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Intelsat has substantially reduced the size of its planned initial public offering (IPO) of stock, to $750 million from $1.75 billion, saying the equity markets’ appetite for a large IPO is limited and that bond rates and Intelsat’s ongoing debt reduction no longer argue in favor of a larger offering.

Luxembourg- and Washington-based Intelsat, which filed its initial IPO registration with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in May but never moved forward on it, said it will use the proceeds to pay down its debt and to make a one-time cash payment to its two principal owners to terminate the annual $25 million consulting fee that the owners demand of Intelsat. (3/13)

Could Life Have Evolved on Mars Before Earth? (Source:
The discovery that ancient Mars could have supported microbes raises the tantalizing possibility that life may have evolved on the Red Planet before it took root on Earth. New observations by NASA's Curiosity rover suggest that microbial life could have survived on Mars in the distant past, when the Red Planet was a warmer and wetter place, scientists announced.

It's unclear exactly how long ago Mars' habitability window opened up, researchers said. But the timing may be comparable to that of Earth, where life first appeared around 3.8 billion years ago. "We're talking about older than 3 billion years ago, and we're probably looking at a situation where, plus or minus a couple hundred million years, it's about the time that we start seeing the first record of life preserved on Earth," Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger said. (3/13)

Mars Paydirt (Source: Economist)
NASA'S laser-armed, nuclear-powered, car-sized rover Curiosity is not on Mars to look for signs of life. If modern Martians exist at all—and there is no evidence that they do—then it will probably be in the form of tough, slow-growing microbes that dwell under the ground, sheltering from the solar radiation that bombards a surface only lightly shielded by a thin, bone-dry atmosphere. But Curiosity is, nevertheless, an astrobiological mission. One of its main tasks is to determine whether, at some point in its past, Mars might have had a more accommodating environment than it does today.

On March 12th a team of NASA scientists announced some fairly strong evidence that it may have done. A few weeks before, Curiosity had drilled a small hole in the Martian surface and had deposited the resulting regolith into its on-board chemistry labs. The rover found traces of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulphur (CHNOPS, in the lingo), the six chemical elements that make up the majority of biological molecules on Earth, and which are thought to be essential for life. "This is what we call paydirt," said David Blake, one of the scientists. (3/13)

Congressman Names Employee He Claims Took NASA Documents to China (Source: Examiner)
Rep. Frank Wolf made public today the identity of a Chinese national employed by a NASA contractor in a position that gave the man "extensive access" to the Langley Research Center. The Virginia Republican told a congressional hearing that Bo Jiang took "voluminous NASA documents" to his home and to China.

During the same hearing, NASA Inspector-General Paul Martin said Jiang had "unescorted access" at the Langley facility and he said he believes there are nearly 200 Chinese nationals working in positions that afford them significant access to the agency and its programs. Jiang worked for the National Institute of Aerospace, a Hampton, VA-based non-profit research institute and NASA contractor, in a position that Wolf said allowed him to roam at will at NASA's Langley facility.

Weaver said Jiang no longer works at Langley. Officials with NIA did not return a reporter's telephone calls seeking comment. Langley conducts classified research work on satellite technologies that have critical military applications in areas like space-based defense. Also located adjacent to the NASA facility is Langley Air Force Base, home to 40 F-22 Raptor stealth attack aircraft, the world's most sophisticated fighter. (3/13)

No Espionage at NASA Langley, Inspector General Says (Source: Space News)
NASA’s inspector general said March 13 that the agency does not believe it is dealing with espionage at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., where U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) alleges a Chinese national working for a NASA contractor had unauthorized access to U.S. technology. NASA counterintelligence experts “don’t believe it’s an espionage case,” Paul Martin, the agency’s inspector general, said at a hearing. 

Martin was the sole witness at the hearing, which was convened by subcommittee chairman Wolf, a fierce China critic who just last month pressed the Justice Department to explain why alleged export control violations at another NASA center have not been prosecuted. Martin testified a week after Wolf called a press conference to disclose the alleged security breach at Langley, a NASA field center largely focused on aeronautical research.

Wolf cited whistleblower reports from “career NASA people” at the center as the source of this information. He said the contractor in question might even have taken NASA hardware and research to China. Wolf said Langley employees delivered their report to his office in mid-February, and that this information was immediately shared with the FBI and the NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG). (3/13)

NASA Clamps Down on Travel Spending (Source: FCW)
Event planners hoping to book NASA speakers: You have a problem. The space agency will continue to cut its travel expenditures and conference spending in 2013 as it readies for sequestration and makes good on President Barack Obama’s executive order to promote efficient agency spending. While travel and conference attendance have not been banned entirely, the new criteria ensure few if any NASA employees will be jetting off to events. (3/13)

Houston Think Tank Recommends Role For China In ISS (Source: Aviation Week)
New recommendations from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy would fold China into the 15-nation International Space Station partnership, while examining spacecraft reusability and on-orbit assembly options in lieu of the Space Launch System/Orion combination that NASA is currently developing for future U.S. human deep space missions.

The Obama administration and Congress should also lend robotic space missions, biomedical research aboard the space station and Earth observation higher priority in what the Houston think tank envisions as an era of tight federal sending. “In today’s budget environment and what is likely to be the budget environment for some time to come, NASA needs to establish some clear and meaningful priorities,” according to a Baker Institute assessment led by senior fellow George Abbey. “Staying on the present course does not provide the nation with a meaningful and visionary program.”

Chinese partner status in the ISS, currently prohibited by U.S. law, would restore a much-needed dual crew access capability lost when NASA’s space shuttle program was retired in mid-2011, according to the institute’s “Spotlight on the U.S. Space Program: Problems and Solutions,” published March 11. The review finds U.S. efforts to establish a commercial crew space transportation capability by 2017 challenged by restricted spending and technical challenges. (3/13)

China Supports Space Debris Reduction (Points Finger at U.S.?) (Source: Xinhua)
The Chinese government has always supported international action to reduce space junk, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Tuesday. Hua Chunying said China has taken steps on the matter and is willing to make further efforts together with other members of the international community. According to news reports, a Russian nanosatellite likely collided on January 22 with a piece of orbital debris spawned by a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test.

Hua said she had noticed the reports. Such comments are neither professional nor responsible, she said, noting that the space junk issue is a hangover from the long history of human space activities. The international community knows well which country has contributed the greatest amount of space junk, the spokeswoman said. (3/13)

Chinese Lunar Mission: Craft to Conduct Re-Entry Tests Before 2015 (Source: Xinhua)
An experimental spacecraft will be launched before 2015 to conduct crucial re-entry tests on the capsule to be used in the Chang'e-5 lunar-sample mission, a leading space program official said. Chang'e-5 is expected to be China's first lunar explorer to return to Earth. The mission will be carried out before 2020.

The experimental spacecraft will consist of the Chang'e-2 lunar orbiter base structure as well as the return capsule that will be used by the Chang'e-5, said Hu Hao, chief designer of the lunar exploration program's third phase and a deputy to the National People's Congress. (3/14)

ESA Seeks Innovators for Orbiting Laboratory (Source: ESA)
ESA is offering software developers the opportunity to use its new testbed in space. The robust nanosat will allow individuals, companies and institutions to try out pioneering software without the danger of losing a mission. Satellites are so complex and costly that their controllers cannot afford to take risks. The need for reliability means that onboard and ground control software has not altered significantly in the past 20 years. But the tiny Ops-Sat, a CubeSat combining commercial off-the-shelf technology and ESA expertise, is a chance to try out new ideas in space as early as 2015. (3/13)

Hoyer: NASA Goddard Could See Sequestration Layoffs (Source: Greenbelt Patch)
Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said Tuesday that although NASA Goddard's budget won't be affected much by the sequestration, its contracts with some local businesses could be reduced or eliminated, leading to possible layoffs. “While, thankfully, it appears that NASA Goddard Space Flight Center may not be as severely affected as some other NASA centers, we are still likely to see local businesses that contract with NASA and with the military, like many of you here today, take a significant hit," Hoyer said.

The sequester would also cut into research funds, he said, which might reduce the number of student pursuing careers in STEM fields. He said in the weeks ahead he'll continue to promote a "balance solution that can avert the full impact of these cuts on our District and on your businesses." (3/13)

Scott Will Fill In as Space Florida Lead (Source: Florida Today)
Space Florida lost a passionate and tireless advocate with the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who chaired the agency’s board of directors, board members and industry representatives said. Her departure, however, is not expected to hurt the Brevard County-based agency’s agenda as the state’s spaceport authority and aerospace economic development organization.

Outsiders also credited Carroll for getting up to speed on and promoting space issues, and, as a Navy veteran, knowing how to communicate with military officials and contractors. “She was very effective,” said Edward Ellegood, a space policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. “Her efforts were always paid attention to by the Legislature, by industry, by the federal government, as well. So she brought a lot to the industry at a time when we really need it.” (3/14)

Super-Dense Celestial Bodies Could be a New Kind of Planet (Source: Nature)
Mysterious dense bodies outside the Solar System could be the remnants of ice giants similar to Neptune that wandered too close to their suns. Among the most puzzling finds of NASA’s Kepler space mission to find exoplanets are bodies too heavy for their size. In some of the rare cases in which astronomers can estimate both the mass and the size of distant planets discovered by the probe, the objects have radiuses similar to that of Earth but are denser than pure iron. (3/13)

Alien Life May Be Hard to Find or Non-Existent (Source: SEN)
The abundance of life in many forms on Earth may lead us to assume there will be life on exoplanets if the conditions for life as we know it are found to exist. However, there may in fact be no life in the Universe at all according to Professor Cockell, director of the UK center for astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh. "On our planet, carbon leaches into most habitat space and provides energy for microorganisms to live. There are only a few vacant habitats that may persist for any length of time on Earth, but we cannot assume that this is the case on other planets." (3/14)

Galactic Baby Boom Took Place Earlier Than Thought (Source: LA Times)
Cosmologists peering into distant, dust-enshrouded galaxies have found that they are far older and more numerous than previously thought. Their findings push back the birth of these massive star-creation engines and add more precision to the model of how our expanding universe evolved. “It doesn’t say when the universe began,” said Joaquin Vieira, an observational cosmologist at Caltech and lead author of the paper. “What it does change is when the most massive galaxies in the universe were born. It pushed it back by a billion years.” (3/13)

Telescopes Discover Bursts of Star Formation in the Early Universe (Source: NSF)
Distant, dust-filled galaxies were bursting with newborn stars much earlier in cosmic history than previously thought, according to newly published research. So-called "starburst galaxies" produce stars at the equivalent of a thousand new suns per year. Now, astronomers have found starbursts that were churning out stars when the universe was just a billion years old. (3/13)

ESA, Roscosmos Formalize ExoMars Pact (Source: Space News)
The heads of the European and Russian space agencies on March 14 signed a long-expected agreement to cooperate on a two-launch Mars exploration mission that will see a European telecommunications orbiter, trace-gas sensor and a rover vehicle sent to Mars in 2016 and 2018 aboard Russian Proton rockets. Russia will also provide the entry, descent and landing module for the 2018 mission, which will carry the European rover.

ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain and Vladimir Popovkin, head of Russia’s Roscosmos agency, signed an agreement that makes it all but certain that the ExoMars mission will be completed. On the European side, Dordain has yet to secure all the funding needed for ESA’s 1.2-billion-euro ($1.6 billion) share of ExoMars. But enough funds have been raised to keep the 2016 mission on track, and Dordain has proposed to raise further funds by enlisting the support of ESA’s science program.

Ultimately, a Russian Proton rocket may be used to carry ESA’s Juice satellite to Jupiter, with the cash saved at ESA to be invested in ExoMars’ 2018 mission. This scenario has yet to be approved by Europe’s Science Program Committee. (3/14)

Embraer Reports Profit for Q4, Full Year (Source: Reuters)
Embraer reported a profit for the fourth quarter, as well as the full year of 2012. The Brazilian aircraft manufacturer received a boost from a more stable exchange rate during the fourth quarter. Embraer delivered 23 commercial aircraft and 53 executive jets during the quarter. (3/13)

Democrats Propose Cuts, Tax Increases to Chop Sequester (Source: Defense News)
Senate Democrats have put forward a budget that would cut the Defense Department's sequestration hit in half by raising revenue through corporate tax increases and spending cuts. The measure, which Republicans criticize for the revenue increases, would leave the Pentagon with about $240 billion in cuts, instead of the $500 billion called for under sequestration. (3/13)

Extreme Universe Space Observatory Planned for ISS in 2017 (Source: Spaceports Blog)
NASA has awarded $4.4 million to a collaboration of scientists at five United States universities and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to help build a telescope for deployment on the International Space Station in 2017. The U.S. collaboration is part of a 13-nation effort to build the 2.5-meter ultraviolet telescope, called the Extreme Universe Space Observatory.  The telescope will search for the mysterious source of the most energetic particles in the universe, called ultra high-energy cosmic rays, from the ISS’s Japanese Experiment Module. (3/13)

Micro-Gravity Affects Processes Involved in Reproduction, Brain Diseases, Cancer (Source: U. of Montreal)
Researchers found that changes in gravity affect the reproductive process in plants. Gravity modulates traffic on the intracellular "highways" that ensure the growth and functionality of the male reproductive organ in plants, the pollen tube. "Our findings offer new insight into how life evolved on Earth and are significant with regards to human health, as a traffic jam on these highways that also exist in human cells can cause cancer and illnesses such as Alzheimer's."

The interior of animal and plant cells is like a city, with factories—called organelles—dedicated to manufacturing, energy production and waste processing. A network of intracellular "highways" enables the communication between these factories and the delivery of cargo between them and between the inside of the cell and its external environment. Plant cells have a particularly busy highway system. "Researchers already knew that humans, animals and plants have evolved in response to Earth's gravity, and that they are able to sense it," Geitmann explained. (3/13)

OHB Enjoying Double-Digit Growth (Source: Space News)
Satellite and rocket hardware builder OHB AG of Germany reported a 14 percent increase in revenue in 2012, to 632.7 million euros ($835 million), with operating earnings also up 14 percent and backlog reaching a record 1.64 billion euros. OHB, which is prime contractor for Europe’s Galileo constellation of positioning, navigation and timing satellites and co-prime for the Meteosat Third Generation weather satellite system, said revenue in 2013 should increase by at least 10 percent. (3/14)

Higgs Boson Discovery Confirmed (Source: Huffington Post)
The search is all but over for a subatomic particle that is a crucial building block of the universe. Physicists announced Thursday they believe they have discovered the subatomic particle predicted nearly a half-century ago, which will go a long way toward explaining what gives electrons and all matter in the universe size and shape.

The elusive particle, called a Higgs boson, was predicted in 1964 to help fill in our understanding of the creation of the universe, which many theorize occurred in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang. The particle was named for Peter Higgs, one of the physicists who proposed its existence, but it later became popularly known as the "God particle."

The discovery would be a strong contender for the Nobel Prize. Last July, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, announced finding a particle they described as Higgs-like, but they stopped short of saying conclusively that it was the same particle or was some version of it. Scientists have now finished going through the entire set of data. (3/14)

Titan Moon Gas: Mysterious Glow On Saturn's Moon Remains Unidentified (Source: Science Now)
A fluorescent glow high in the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, signifies the presence of a gas that astronomers have yet to identify. Data gathered by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini craft during Titan flybys show that the spectral emission is strongest at an infrared wavelength of about 3.28 micrometers. That wavelength is very near one where emissions of methane, a gas prevalent in Titan's atmosphere, are also strong-—one reason that emissions from the unknown gas were previously obscured, the researchers note. (3/14)

MDA Satellite Contract Move Infuriates Canadian Government (Source: SpaceRef)
In a move that has blindsided the government, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) is considering not subcontracting a significant piece of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) to Magellan Aerospace as was expected. Magellan had already been awarded a $6 million contract in 2009 to for a Phase B Preliminary Design of the RCM satellite bus. The satellite bus can best be described as the infrastructure of a spacecraft, or chassis, which provides locations for the payloads.

In the case of RCM, the bus was to have been based on the Magellan MAC-200, a made-in-Canada satellite bus first used for the Canadian Space Agency CASSIOPE satellite which is scheduled to launch this summer. However sources tell SpaceRef that MDA plans on using its newest asset, the newly acquired U.S. based Space Systems/Loral (SS/L), which has extensive experience building satellites, to build the satellite bus for RCM.

It was January 9th that the government announced the full funding of the nearly $1 billion dollar program in which MDA selected as the prime contractor. However the government expected Magellan to be selected as one of the subcontractors and to provide the satellite bus for all three satellites of the RCM. When contacted the Canadian Space Agency said: "The Government of Canada has a contract with MDA to produce the three satellite RADARSAT Constellation. The Government of Canada expects MDA to respect the terms and conditions of the contract. (3/13)

Canadian Commands Space Station for First Time (Source: AFP)
With the ringing of a ceremonial bell in space to mark a crew change, astronaut Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian to assume command of the International Space Station on Wednesday. The Canadian Space Agency called it "a historic milestone for our country." (3/14)

Canadian Astronaut Steps Back From Political Campaign (Source: Space Politics)
The former president of the Canadian Space Agency and Canada’s first man in space won’t be seeking higher office any time soon. Marc Garneau announced Wednesday that he will no longer seek the leadership of the Liberal Party, which would have put him in line to become prime minister if the party took power in a future election. Garneau said he made the decision after polling indicated another candidate, Justin Trudeau, had an overwhelming lead. (3/14)

KSC Visitor Complex Offers Public Viewing of Atlas V Launch on March 19 (Source: KSCVC)
Experience the powerful sights and sounds of the thunderous roaring engines of a 191-foot-tall Atlas V rocket as it launches into the sky on March 19. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guests may view the launch from the Apollo/Saturn V Center, the closest possible public viewing area, or a special area at the Visitor Complex. The rocket will blast off from Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport with a launch window from 5:21 to 6:01 p.m. ET.

Special launch viewing areas for guests and live launch commentary from mission control are included in admission to the Visitor Complex. Guests should arrive before 3:30 p.m. to ensure transportation to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket will launch the U.S. military's second Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous satellite, or SBIRS GEO 2, for missile early-warning detection. (3/13)

Swiss Space Systems Debuts, Plans Air-Launch System (Source: NewSpace Watch)
Swiss Space Systems (S3) officially opened today and unveiled its plan for an air launch system for small satellites up to 250 kg. The system will consist of an Airbus A300, a reusable unmanned spaceplane, which is based on the Dassault VEHRA-VSH-k1000 design, and an upper stage rocket. The spaceplane will ride atop the A300 to an altitude where it will be released and then it will fire its liquid fueled engines. The spaceplane will go to 80 km where it will, in turn, release an expendable rocket to take the satellite to orbit.

First test flights are planned for 2017. S3 says they have securred funding from private investors sufficient to bring the proejct to completion. They have also secured several institutional contracts to launch small satellites. The S3 headquarters are located in Payerne, Switzerland and that is also where the first flights will take place.

Several European aerospace companies and organizations are listed as partners and sponsors including Dassault Aviation, ESA and the von Karman Institute. In addition Spaceport Malaysian and Stanford University are involved. Breitling is listed as the "main sponsor". Here are some graphics and an animation of their proposed facility. (3/13)

Spaceport Indiana Moving to New Home (Source: Spaceport Indiana)
Spaceport Indiana will leave Columbus Airport for a new home. Spaceport could not come to terms with the Airport Board of Commissioners regarding insurance and other issues. Spaceport attempted to make a home for HAM Radio group in Columbus as a way to offer more disaster response capabilities and was opposed by the Airport Board. Spaceport will continue all prgramming as it looks for suitable location. Spaceport will still build its UAV training program and other programs in the next several months. (3/13)

Titusville Airport's Spaceport Bill On Hold (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The countdown for legislation designed to attract new aerospace businesses to the Space Coast Regional Airport is in a temporary hold in the Legislature, as the House bill's author works to fix a glitch in the state's fiscal impact projection for the bill. Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, put the hold on his bill (HB 135) just ahead of an appearance before the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday. He is challenging the conclusion by state economists that creating a spaceport at Space Coast Regional Airport would cost the state revenue.

The state's Revenue Estimating Conference has projected that a spaceport would result in at least a $100,000-a-year hit to state revenue because the designation would allow tax exemptions on machinery and equipment tied to aerospace activities. Goodson disputes the economists' model, which assumes or concludes that the aerospace-related businesses would come to Florida regardless of the incentives.

Editor's Note: This article gave the incorrect impression that the Titusville airport/spaceport initiative is part of Florida's effort to accommodate a new vertical launch facility for SpaceX. Space Florida's Shiloh launch site initiative is totally separate. Perhaps the Space Coast Regional Spaceport folks are hoping that they can host SpaceX manufacturing operations if the company does decide to launch from Shiloh. (3/13)

Russia Mulls Beacons and the Bomb to Thwart Asteroids (Source: Space Daily)
Russian officials on Tuesday proposed ideas ranging from planting beacon transmitters on asteroids to megaton-sized nuclear strikes to avert the threat from meteor collisions with the Earth. Saving the world from asteroid strikes has moved out of the realm of science fiction in Russia into a political reality.

Russian space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin told a special conference at the Federation Council, the Russian upper house, that Russia was closely following the asteroid Apophis that is due to come close to the Earth in 2036. "We want to put a beacon on the asteroid Apophis to ascertain its exact orbit and work out what further actions to take with respect to the asteroids approach to the Earth in 2036," he said quoted by Russian news agencies. (3/12)

Texas Takes Lead in SpaceX Launch Site Competition (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
"Right now, Texas is in the lead [for SpaceX's next launch site]" Elon Musk told the Texas lawmakers. Musk's comment further heightens the competition for space-related businesses between Florida, Texas and other states, including Virginia, Georgia, California and Puerto Rico. "It concerns us greatly," said Jerry Sansom, chairman of the Titusville-Cocoa Airport Authority, which operates Space Coast Regional. "When you look at the Texas legislature, they're taking him very serious that they're going to do everything they can to sweeten the pot." (3/12)

Florida Officials, Elon Musk Differ on Leader in Race for SpaceX Site (Source: Florida Today)
Florida remains a contender to become SpaceX’s base for commercial launches, state officials said Tuesday, days after CEO Elon Musk said Texas was leading the competition to win the business. Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello said a proposed commercial launch complex at Kennedy Space Center would present SpaceX with a compelling business case.

“If he makes his business decision on a pure business case, or business logic, I’m confident that we can put a very attractive and even winning proposal in front of him,” DiBello told FLORIDA TODAY. “If there are other factors driving that decision, there are other customers for what we’re looking at. But clearly we want to attract a greater SpaceX presence here, along with many other players.” (3/12)

‘Driving’ Satellites: A Complex Undertaking, Not a Cheap Date (Source: Space Safety)
There is a lot more to getting a satellite launched and working than just bolting it to a rocket and flinging it loose. Once the satellite is in orbit, it’s not ready to use on the first day. Engineers and operators need to slowly and carefully activate and test out all of the equipment and operating modes.

Spacecraft are generally launched in mode with only a few components operating, the minimum needed to maintain proper pointing and communication with the ground. This is done in case of any problems with the rocket or deploying of solar arrays and antennas. Over the first few days more components are turned on, and software settings and parameters are adjusted as these changes affect the operating modes. The spacecraft is checked out between each step, and since the ground is not in constant contact with the spacecraft, this can take many days. (3/13)

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