March 3, 2013

China's Fourth Spaceport to be Used in Two Years (Source: Xinhua)
China's fourth launch center, located in tropical island province of Hainan, will be ready in two years, said a member of China's top political advisory body. The launch center, which has been under construction since 2009, will be able to launch space station capsules and cargo ships, said Zhou Jianping, designer-in-chief of China's manned space program. The rockets to be launched in the Hainan center include Long March-7 and Long March-5, said Zhou, a member of the National Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Construction of the Hainan Space Launch Center, the lowest latitude one in China, started in September 2009 in Wenchang City, on the northeast coast of the tropical island province.

The center will be mainly used for launching synchronous satellites, heavy satellites, large space stations, and deep space probe satellites. It is designed to handle up to 10-12 rocket launches a year. China currently has three spaceports: Jiuquan in northwest China's Gansu Province, the nation's only site for human missions; Taiyuan in north China's Shanxi Province for launching satellites; Xichang in southwest China's Sichuan Province. These three launch sites have carried out over 100 space launches, sending over 100 satellites into space.

However, the three launch centers are all landlocked in western or northern plateau and mountainous regions, lack commercial development and are inconvenient for transportation. "A satellite launched from Wenchang will be able to extend its service life by three years as a result of the fuel saved from the shorter manoeuvre from the transit orbit to the geosynchronous orbit," Long Lehao said. (3/3)

China Targeting Navigation System's Global Coverage by 2020 (Source: Xinhua)
China's homegrown navigation system BeiDou is expected to achieve full-scale global coverage by around 2020, a leading scientist said. The BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) will then be able to provide highly accurate and reliable positioning, navigation and timing service with the aid of a constellation of 35 satellites, said Ye Peijian, chief commander of Chang'e-3, China's lunar probe mission.

"So far, China has successfully launched 16 navigation satellites and four other experimental ones for BDS," Ye said. China started to build up its own space-based Positioning, Navigation and Timing system in 2000 by launching the first satellite for an experimental version of the BeiDou. BeiDou has since started providing licensed services for China's government and military users in transport, weather forecasts, fishing, forestry, telecommunications, hydrological monitoring and mapping.

However, it is estimated that more than 95 percent of navigation terminals sold in China are GPS terminals. To compete with foreign rivals, the BeiDou terminal can communicate with the ground station by sending and receiving short messages, 120 Chinese characters in each, in addition to the navigation and timing functions that the world's other major navigation systems can provide. (3/3)

Solved: The Mystery of Mercury's Surface (Source: Interesting Things)
Researchers have revealed the surface of Mercury was once covered with a vast ocean of magma. Scientists analyzing data from a spacecraft orbiting the plan have been baffled by odd readings that showed unexplained chemical differences between rocks. Now they say the differences may have been caused by a vast ocean of magma that created layers of crystals, which melted then erupted.

Scientists at MIT have proposed that Mercury may have harbored a large, ocean of magma very early in its history, shortly after its formation about 4.5 billion years ago. The scientists analyzed data gathered by Messenger, a NASA probe that has orbited the planet since March 2011. Scientists analyzed X-ray fluorescence data from the probe, and identified two distinct compositions of rocks on the planet’s surface  -but were baffled by the differences.

The MIT team used the compositional data to recreate the two rock types in the lab, and subjected each synthetic rock to high temperatures and pressures to simulate various geological processes. From their experiments, the scientists came up with only one phenomenon to explain the two compositions: a vast magma ocean that created two different layers of crystals, solidified, then eventually remelted into magma that then erupted onto Mercury’s surface. (3/3)

Next Canadian Astronauts Could be Flying Commercial (Source;: AP)
The next Canadian to travel to space might be making the journey on a commercial flight instead of through the national space agency. A former Manitoba bush pilot, an ex-Snowbirds pilot, and two other space enthusiasts are among the possible candidates to become the next Canadian to leave the planet. There are currently no scheduled flights of Canadian astronauts beyond Chris Hadfield, who completes a five-month visit to the International Space Station in May.

An official with the Canadian Space Agency said it's still possible the federal body might send one more astronaut up to the space station before the end of the decade. Canada has confirmed its participation in the International Space Station up to 2020. In the meantime, though, commercial space opportunities are opening up. (3/3)

NASA on the Space Coast - Presentation at the Cocoa Beach Library (Source: CBPL)
Space Shuttle Project Engineer and NASA Speaker Catherine Carr will present a history of the American Space Program (1958-70) and speak about the future of space exploration here on the Space Coast. The event will be held on March 9 at 2:00 p.m. She will show slides, videos, and memorabilia of NASA’s past, present, and future in Florida. (3/3)

Tallahassee Challenger Learning Center Celebrates 400,000 Students Served (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
It’s been 10 years since the Challenger Learning Center has joined the Tallahassee community. So to celebrate, the staff decided to go a little looney and they’re inviting the community to join in. A Night of Mad Science is set for March 8, from 6 to 10 p.m. the center.

“We are just thrilled to be celebrating a decade of serving our community,” said Michelle Personette, CLC executive director. “Every year we serve about 40,000 students... When you have a mission to really dig into STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — it’s really powerful. It’s thrilling for us to, each year, be able to meet our mission and each year being able to add and grow.”

Editor's Note: Located near the state capitol building, the Challenger Center will be the location for Florida Space Day preparations on March 6, and it will host a pre-event reception on March 5. (2/28)

NASA's Human Space Flight Program Kicks Into Overdrive (Source: America Space)
Two days prior to the liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying cargo to the International Space Station, NASA held a briefing at KSC in Florida detailing the progress it has made in the agency’s efforts to send astronauts beyond the Earth’s orbit. NASA Associate Administrator Dan Dumbacher, Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer, SLS Program Manager Todd May, and Ground Systems Program Manager Pepper Phillips speak in this video about the status in terms of getting astronauts back to the business of exploration. Click here. (3/2)

UK Commits £88m to Chilean Telescope 'As Big as All Existing Ones Put Together' (Source: Guardian)
Britain has committed £88m towards the construction of the world's largest telescope. The huge observatory, to be built in the Chilean Andes, will allow astronomers to capture images of the universe's earliest moments. The giant eye on the sky, known as the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), will cost more than £900m to build. Its main mirror, which will gather light from distant stars and galaxies, will be 39 metres in diameter, made of 798 segments. The observatory will gather 15 times more light than the largest telescopes today. (3/2)

NASA Needs Steady, Long-Term Planning (Source: Houston Chronicle)
While NASA's future plans may be aimed at the far reaches of our solar system, its present-day concerns are firmly footed here on Earth. Specifically in Washington, D.C., where budget changes and political whims ensure that voyages to explore that eternal frontier are often shut down before they reach their final stages. Space science is inherently complex, expensive and long-term - three qualities not well-handled by the federal government these days.

So we're glad to see that key figures in Houston's congressional delegation, particularly Republican Rep. John Culberson and Democratic Rep. Gene Green, have wisely recognized their own institutional weaknesses and are lined up behind a bill to detach NASA's leadership and budget from the usual political cycles. The Space Leadership Preservation Act of 2013, an updated version of last year's failed bill, would create a 6-year term for the NASA administrator, allow for easier long-term contracting and create a board of directors to prepare budgets, recommend candidates and write reviews.

Short-term political maneuvers have left NASA without a clearly defined mission. Are we going to the moon? Mars? An asteroid? A Lagrangian point? And without a shuttle, how will we get there? It is difficult to have a clear vision when the target seems to change every election cycle. NASA's past job of providing access to low Earth orbit is increasingly within the realm of the private sector - as SpaceX proved Friday with its mission to the International Space Station. NASA must blaze a path into a new wilderness. (3/2)

Texas Senate Strives to Fuel Spaceflight Industry (Source: San Angelo Standard-Times)
In a Texas far, far away, rocket-plane hybrids launch space tourists into low-Earth orbit, while other companies ferry supplies and astronauts to space stations. That Texas could be getting closer. This week, looking through Texas Senate committee meeting schedules, a hearing for Senate Bill 267 caught my eye. It’s meant to regulate  spaceflight in Texas.

“XCOR Corp. is moving their facility from Mojave, Calif., to Midland and is going to be a commercial spaceflight company with suborbital flights going out of Midland,” said State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the author of the bill. “What the bill does is says that the protection of liability cities normally have operating airports applies to those activities around space launch.”

The bill is still pending as clarifications in the language are made, he said. It’s a small part of a push to get the extraterrestrial businesses to Texas. During his State of the State address, Gov. Rick Perry had invited XCOR to be among the companies standing behind him during the speech. The Texas Space Alliance is proposing standard legislative changes to put more private spaceflight in Texas, managing liability law and eventually going after tax exemptions. The group also hopes for a spaceport. SpaceX is reportedly looking at Brownsville as a site to launch rockets. (3/2)

SpaceX's Dragon Reaches the ISS (Source: Space News)
Overcoming a propulsion glitch that delayed its arrival by a day, a Dragon cargo capsule operated by SpaceX arrived at the international space station (ISS) March 3. After several hours of maneuvering that began when Dragon got within 10 kilometers of ISS, astronauts used the station’s robotic arm to grapple the capsule at 5:31 a.m. EST,  an hour earlier than SpaceX had announced the evening before. Dragon was installed on the Earth-facing port of the station's Harmony module. Ground controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston controlled the arm during berthing. (3/3)

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