March 9, 2013

What in Space Are We Doing? (Source: Casey Research)
Most of the time, most of us give little thought to the fact that our home planet is located somewhere in space, and that out there is what used to be called the "final frontier." When we think about space at all, we tend not to envision it as something to explore, like we used to back in the early days of NASA and the race to the moon. More likely, it's just the place where all those satellites are – the ones that enable us to post trivial Facebook messages to pals on the other side of the world.

If there's an unusual event, it sometimes causes a brief flurry of citizen interest in space, as when Opportunity made its flawless Mars landing... or during the recent double whammy of a near-flyby from an asteroid and a collision with a meteorite that struck Russia with the force of an atomic weapon. But people soon return to normal, looking down rather than up, which means that generally – and especially since the demise of the space shuttle program – we're inclined to believe that the era of space exploration is pretty much over with. No funding. Public boredom. Too many other problems here at home. And so on. End of story.

That, however, is not the case. Not at all. Yes, budgets have shrunk. And yes, the federal government is getting out of hands-on involvement with the business (though it still provides a measure of funding for research). But private enterprise (often aided by juicy government grants) is leaping into space in a big way, and some very exciting research by space scientists is going on. Even just over the next few years, there is going to be plenty of activity in the final frontier. Click here. (3/1)

Inspiration Mars: Some Thoughts About Their Plan (Source: SpaceRef)
Inspiration Mars is truly an innovative concept, and unlike many recently launched grandiose plans for human exploration of the Moon and beyond, it has Mr. Tito's considerable check book behind it. While as of yet the plan is incomplete, it is a baseline from which to build on, and most importantly it does, I think, what Mr. Tito intended, which is to change the conversation about exploring beyond Earth orbit. Click here. (3/8)

Russia Admits No New Life Form Found in Antarctic Lake (Source: Raw Story)
Russian scientists on Saturday dismissed initial reports that they had found a wholly new type of bacteria in a mysterious subglacial lake in Antarctica. Sergei Bulat of the genetics laboratory at the Saint Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics had said Thursday that samples obtained from the underground Lake Vostok in May 2012 contained a bacteria bearing no resemblance to existing types.

But the head of the genetics laboratory at the same institute said on Saturday that the strange life forms were in fact nothing but contaminants. “We found certain specimen, although not many. All of them were contaminants” that were brought there by the lab during research, Vladimir Korolyov said. “That is why we cannot say that previously-unknown life was found,” he said. (3/9)

Space Mining Could One Day Surpass Earth Mining, Conference Hears (Source: Huffington Post)
Asteroids headed for Earth might strike fear into many hearts, but there are others who see business opportunities in the giant space rocks. There were even predictions at a conference this week that mining on asteroids could become a dominant industry in the future. Arny Sokoloff, the head of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, said that mining off the planet will eventually become one of the driving forces in the development of space.

"I have no doubt that, someday, space mining will surpass Earth mining," he told the group's annual conference Thursday. The CSCA comprises 50 Canadian companies involved in the space industry. Sokoloff also pointed out that extra-terrestrial mining was featured in the recent federal Emerson report on space policy, commissioned by the Harper government. (3/9)

Grasshopper Takes Another Hop (Source: SpaceX)
SpaceX’s Grasshopper doubled its highest leap to date to rise 24 stories or 80.1 meters (262.8 feet) today, hovering for approximately 34 seconds and landing safely using closed loop thrust vector and throttle control.  Grasshopper touched down with its most accurate precision thus far on the centermost part of the launch pad.  At touchdown, the thrust to weight ratio of the vehicle was greater than one, proving a key landing algorithm for Falcon 9.  Today’s test was completed at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.
Grasshopper, SpaceX’s vertical and takeoff and landing (VTVL) vehicle, continues SpaceX’s work toward one of its key goals – developing fully and rapidly reusable rockets, a feat that will transform space exploration by radically reducing its cost.  With Grasshopper, SpaceX engineers are testing the technology that would enable a launched rocket to land intact, rather than burning up upon reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere.
This is Grasshopper’s fourth in a series of test flights, with each test demonstrating exponential increases in altitude.  Last September, Grasshopper flew to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet), in November, it flew to 5.4 meters (17.7 feet) and in December, it flew to 40 meters (131 feet). Grasshopper stands 10 stories tall and consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage tank, Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure. (3/9)

FY2014 Budget Request Delayed to April? (Source: Space Policy Online)
President Obama should have submitted his FY2014 budget request to Congress in February, but the latest rumor is that it will be delayed until the first week of April. By law, the budget request is supposed to be sent to Congress on the first Monday in February -- this year, that would have been February 4.  The White House informed Congress that it would not meet that date, but still has not officially announced when it will be released.

Some press reports had been saying that March 25 would be the date, but today The Hill newspaper says the Department of Defense (DOD) budget, at least, won't be ready then, either. Instead, the new date is April 8. Ordinarily the budgets for all agencies are submitted at the same time. It is possible that DOD's could be earlier or later than others, but until the White House makes an official announcement, April 8 is the best date available.

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to be in recess from March 25-April 5 for Easter, so in that sense the difference between March 25 and April 8 (the Monday they return) seems less dramatic, but congressional staff and a legion of organizations and lobbyists are anxiously awaiting information on what the FY2014 budget may bring. (3/8)

'Marsageddon' Comet Scenario Adds to Concerns About threats From Space (Source: NBC)
It sounds like an "Armageddon" sequel, set on Mars instead of Earth: A supermassive doomsday comet is heading toward the planet in 2014, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Not even Bruce Willis. The comet presents a good-news, bad-news situation for the Red Planet, and for us earthlings as well.

NASA says Comet 2013 A1, also known as Comet Siding Spring, is almost certain to miss Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. However, there's still a chance — a less than a 1-in-600 chance — that Mars could be hit, due to the remaining uncertainty about the comet's path. That uncertainty is likely to be cleared up over the next few months, eventually resulting in an all-clear.

Even if the comet did hit, there'd be no negative effect on Earth. However, the "Marsageddon" scenario is already adding to the concern that was generated by last month's Russian meteor blast and a near-miss by a larger asteroid. The case of Comet Siding Spring led Henry Vanderbilt, founder of the Space Access Society, to ask a scary what-if question. "If it was coming straight at us (no more or less likely than it coming straight at Mars), and given our existing space capabilities, could we do anything about it other than prepare to die?" Click here. (3/9)

Curiosity Briefing Raises Speculation 'Organic Carbon' on Mars (Source: Huntsville Times)
The Mars Curiosity rover's top scientists have scheduled a press briefing Tuesday at NASA Headquarters in Washington, and speculation is building that the big media stage won't be wasted. Some reports say the team could announce the discovery of "organic carbon" on the Martian surface. Carbon-based molecules would be one of the "key ingredients for life" Curiosity was sent to Mars to discover.

An earlier rover has already found evidence of past water on the surface. Carbon molecules wouldn't prove the life once existed on Mars, but they would make it far more likely. Watch the NASA video below explaining why Curiosity is looking for organics. If scientists can find "key ingredients for life" on Mars, that would be evidence that life has existed on another world. And if life once existed on Mars, could it have been the source of life on Earth? (3/8)

What Will We Find At Pluto? (Source: America Space)
Something odd happened a few months after NASA’s deep space probe New Horizons was launched Jan. 19, 2006—its target got demoted from a planet to a “dwarf planet.” In September 2006, astronomers voted to downgrade Pluto so that it now falls into the same category as Ceres, previously considered the largest asteroid in our solar system. New Horizons will be the first spacecraft to conduct a flyby of what used to be the ninth planet in the solar system and its system of five known moons.

Not that Pluto’s reclassification makes it any less interesting. Even though it’s smaller than Earth’s Moon-—with a diameter of only about 2,300 kilometers—-it does have five moons of its own, including one called Charon, which is two-thirds Pluto’s size. Pluto also has a fascinating past, which scientists hope New Horizons will help shed some light upon. Click here. (3/8)

Will SpaceX Land Transfer Ignite Land-Grant Dispute? (Source: El Rron Rron)
Texas members of the Cisneros family have concerns with regard to SpaceX possibly building on land that is privately owned. The Cisneros family is having the 1789 Title translated and legal help is currently being sought. The SpaceX and Texas family land concern covered only approximately 90,000 acres of land, but it appears this issue involves more land that extends to at least 4 other Texas Counties. More importantly, there is precedence reminiscent of the Balli vs. Kerlin court case. Click here. (3/4)

Bill Would Clip U.S. Air Force Space Purse (Source: Space News)
An Air Force budget account that funds a substantial portion of the service’s space portfolio would be reduced by $1.1 billion, or 18 percent, this year compared to 2012 under a spending bill passed by the House March 6. The cut could be even deeper with the automatic sequestration cuts, which would shrink the Air Force’s Missile Procurement account by another $400 million. Missile Procurement funds  “construction, procurement, and modification of missiles, spacecraft, rockets, and related equipment,” according to budget documents.

The Air Force received $6.08 billion for that fund in 2012. Under the proposed Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, Missile Procurement would receive about $4.96 billion, nearly identical to the amount agreed upon by the Senate in July 2012. The Air Force requested $5.52 billion for Missile Procurement in 2013. Military space programs also draw heavily from budget accounts labeled as research and development. The House  bill contains about $70 billion for that activity across the Department of Defense, about $2.5 billion less than last year’s level. (3/8)

NASA, Lockheed Martin Announce Exploration Design Challenge for Students (Source: America Space)
NASA and Lockheed Martin will unveil the Exploration Design Challenge on March 11 to involve students in the flight testing of the next-generation Orion spacecraft. After the Exploration Design Challenge kickoff at 12:30 p.m. EDT, NASA plans to host a Google+ hangout with astronauts Leland Melvin and Rex Walheim, discussing Orion's capabilities and answering questions about the future of exploration. Individuals interested in joining the Google+ hangout are invited to visit: (3/8)

Michoud Undergoing Major Modification Work Ahead of SLS Production (Source:
The Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) has begun its transformation back into the birth place of giant rockets that will enable the United States to return to deep space exploration. Modification work for the Space Launch System (SLS) is taking place across huge areas of the New Orleans facility, which will soon host the world’s largest friction stir weld machine. Click here. (3/8)

Two Asteroids to Pass Near Earth on Saturday (Source: RIA Novosti)
Two asteroids, one of them bigger in size than the celestial body that burst over Russia last month, will fly by the Earth on Saturday, though not as close as to threaten collision. The 2013 EC20 was discovered on Thursday and is estimated to be between 3 and 12 meters wide. At 5:57 am Moscow time on Saturday, the asteroid will pass about 169,000 kilometers (105,000 miles) from the Earth. About 9.5 hours later the same day, the 2013 ET, sized between 45 and 140 meters, will pass 972,000 kilometers (604,000 miles) close to the planet. (3/8)

13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Aliens (Source: Discovery)
Where are all the aliens? We should have been probed, exterminated, assimilated, infected, invaded or abducted by now, shouldn't we? The Fermi Paradox ponders the lack of evidence of another transmitting intelligent civilization -- of all the stars and all the galaxies in the universe, you'd think one intelligent alien race would have bothered to call by now? Either we're on the interstellar "do not call" list, or we're the most advanced life form out here (scary thought), or (even scarier) we're the only life form out here.

The search for any extraterrestrial life is one of the most profound things we, as a species, can do. But as any other life beyond Earth's shores has yet to be discovered, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) can be a hard-sell. Still, the search continues and scientists are thinking up more and more extreme ways to fine-tune our high-tech array of astronomical instruments to detect intelligence in the stars. Click here. (3/8)

New Telescopse Defines NASA Future (Source: KXAN)
At first glance, it looks like a space ship landed outside the Long Performance Arts Center, but it's actually a replica of the latest in space observation. Called the James Webb Space Telescope, it is named after NASA's former administrator. This latest high-tech tool in research was the buzz at the SXSW Interactive NASA space tent on Friday.

"This telescope is the scientific successor to Hubble," said Amber Straugh, an astrophysicist with NASA. "We're building this telescope to answer the big questions that Hubble can't answer. It will be a hundred time more powerful and we'll see awesome things about the universe."

The telescope, which was primarily designed to study the birth and evolution of galaxies and the formation of stars and planets, has now brought awareness to the need for defense research telescopes. This became especially evident after the boom seen around the world last month in Russia. (3/9)

Survey: Many Conflicted On Gov't Spending Cuts (Less for Space!) (Source: NPR)
As President Barack Obama and lawmakers spar over huge federal deficits, they're confronted by a classic contradiction: Most Americans want government austerity, a survey shows, but they also want increased spending on a host of popular programs: education, crime fighting, health care, Social Security, the environment and more. Less for defense, space and foreign aid. Of the 23 categories in the survey, only five received negative scores — foreign aid (-60.4), welfare (-28.5), assistance to big cities (-23.4), space exploration (-9.0) and defense spending (-6.3). (3/8)

SpaceX Chief Could Build Rockets in Texas Too (Source: Brownsville Herald)
The next SpaceX launch site will not only be a place to launch rockets: The company would eventually want a site nearby to build them as well. SpaceX founder and billionaire Elon Musk made the announcement Friday at a hearing before the Texas House of Representatives Appropriations Committee in Austin, where he said the company will continue to build its Falcon 9 rockets in California, but when it begins manufacturing rockets larger than the Falcon 9, they would be built at or near the launch site. “We're talking about something that's really in the big leagues here,” Musk said. “We're talking about the commercial version of Cape Canaveral."

On the same day Musk was testifying before the house committee, Brownsville public schools Superintendent Carl Montoya sent a letter to elected officials stating the school district supports the South Texas launch site. “We believe that SpaceX can enhance the direction that the Brownsville Independent School District is taking toward educating our current and future students,” Montoya wrote. “The location of SpaceX in our area is viewed
by us as a dream come true. Brownsville ISD is fully committed to this project.”

Editor's Note: A few days before Musk's visit to Austin, SpaceX's Stephanie Bednarek presented to the Florida Senate's Finance & Tax Committee alongside Space Florida's Frank DiBello. (3/8)

Floridaa's Business Marketing Will Borrow Themes from Tourism (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
Florida’s appeal as a place to visit, as evident in a record number of tourists in 2012, will be part of the drive to promote the state as an attractive business location, Florida Commerce Secretary Gray Swoope said. Swoope shared the podium with Will Seccombe, president and CEO of VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency. For every 85 tourists who visit Florida, the state’s economy supports one worker in the tourism industry. “It’s important to us that we don’t turn our back on that part of the economy,” Swoope told the chamber members in the morning session.

He went on to show examples of how Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development partnership, wants to borrow tourism-related themes of weather, beaches and quality of life to remind company owners elsewhere that the state is more than just a place to visit. “The best place to get away from it all is the best place to get it all done,” said Swoope, who is Enterprise Florida’s president and CEO.

Editor's Note: The synergy between Florida's space industry and its tourism industry has long been evident. The KSC Visitor Complex is a major attraction, as are space-themed rides at Disney World, and the emerging spaceflight tourism industry could benefit from the state's traditional tourism appeal. Meanwhile, a legislative proposal by Florida Tech would tie funding for a new space research institute to revenues generated by tourism at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. (3/8)

Musk to Texas: Let's Make a Deal (Source: My San Antonio)
Gov. Rick Perry has declared himself a space industry fan. During his State of the State address, the governor touted SpaceX and other commercial space flight companies as “part of a growing presence in this important market” in the state. Other companies already operating in Texas include XCOR, which operates a facility in Midland, and Blue Origin, led by founder Jeff Bezos, which runs a site near Van Horn.

Musk's proposed Boca Chica spaceport would be a much larger operation, capable of launching at least 12 rockets a year. But investing taxpayer money in the future of private space travel doesn't come without risk. In New Mexico, a $209 million taxpayer funded spaceport project run by Virgin Galactic has had trouble attracting flights since it opened last year. And while the Federal Aviation Administration has already begun an impact study on the proposed Brownsville site, it is unlikely to complete its work before this year's legislative session ends in May.

Musk's firm already operates one launch pad at Cape Canaveral for NASA-contracted cargo flights. He said Friday the state is not eager to lose future business. Oliveira has said Texas is prepared to offer $3.2 million via its economic development arm. Another $3 million could be available through local incentives, the legislator has said. "SpaceX has already made a major commitment to Texas,” Oliveira said Friday. “But we've got to put our money where our mouth is and try to make ourselves attractive to the industry.” (3/8)

Ex-ISRO Chief Can’t Hold Top Posts (Source: Hindustan Times)
The Central Administrative Tribunal on Friday dismissed former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair’s plea seeking quashing of the Centre’s decision to debar him from holding top government posts for his alleged role in the controversial Antrix-Devas deal. A probe by the central vigilance commissioner found serious irregularities in the deal under which Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization, was to provide S-band spectrum to Devas Multimedia Private Ltd by leasing out transponders of two satellites to be built mainly for Devas. (3/8)

With Busy Manifest, High Hopes Ride on SpaceX Success (Source: Space News)
By the time the Falcon 9 deposited a Dragon into orbit on March 1, its telltale smoke plume had all but disappeared from Central Florida’s skies. A more lasting sign of SpaceX’s success can be found in its launch manifest, which in addition to 10 more supply runs to the space station includes missions for the Canadian Space Agency, Argentina and NASA, two flights for the Air Force and 20 flights for Iridium, Intelsat, Orbcomm, Loral, SES and AsiaSat, and others. “Every commercial launch that was competed last year in the Falcon 9 class, SpaceX won,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of the 3,000-employee firm.

So far, even technical glitches haven’t stopped SpaceX’s star from rising. In October, a materials defect triggered a premature shutdown of one of the rocket’s nine engines during the company’s first station cargo run under a 12-flight, $1.6 billion NASA contract. “They are learning at a breakneck pace,” added Jim Van Laak, a former NASA manager now working with commercial space companies at the nonprofit National Institute of Aerospace in Virginia. Each time, SpaceX overcame the technical problem to reach the space station. And while any potential fallout from the capsule glitch has yet to be determined, the company emerged from its engine shutdown with new confidence.

The U.S. military, which, in an era of declining budgets, hopes to cut its launch costs by breaking a United Launch Alliance monopoly. SpaceX hopes to parlay the long-sought Air Force business into a shot at competing for the military’s lucrative Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle contract as early as 2015. SpaceX will be counting on an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, slated to debut in late June from a new launch site at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, to build its track record and win the military’s confidence. (3/8)

FSDC Brings Deep Space Industries to Cocoa Beach (Source: FSDC)
The Florida Space Development Council will host a presentation and discussion with Deep Space Industries on March 16 at the Courtyard Marriott in Cocoa Beach. Stephen Covey, a Deep Space Industries (DSI) Co-founder and Director of Research and Development, will share information on the newest asteroid mining venture, demonstrating a full-scale early prototype of the grabber component of DSI's DragonFly Asteroid Picker. He will also display meteorites and mock asteroids, and more.

Please join us in supporting this NewSpace company that may someday launch and conduct other operations in Florida. The March 16 meeting, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 2:00 p.m. The event's refreshments are sponsored by FSDC corporate members Space Florida, Terasphere, and ARES Institute. Click here more information about Deep Space Industries. And click here to join FSDC for as low as $5 per year. (3/8) 

Oldest Known Star Appears Older than the Universe Itself (Source: Science Recorder)
It’s a finding that has astronomers puzzled: the oldest known star appears older than the universe itself. Yes, you read that right. According to a newly released report, an aging star — dubbed HD 140283 — lies 190.1 light-years away from Earth and is reportedly 14.5 billion years old. The problem? The calculated age of the universe is about 13.8 billion years.

The finding is largely the result of a margin of error baked into the calculation. Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers were able to refine the star’s age to about 14.5 billion years, plus or minus 800 million years. The margin of error shows the star could have formed during a short period after the big bang, the most likely scenario considering the alternatives. (3/8)

Uncertainty Remains the One Certainty for NASA’s Budget (Source: Space Politics)
One week ago, budget sequestration formally went into effect, cutting NASA’s budget by five percent from its 2012 levels. Earlier this week, the House passed a continuing resolution (CR) that would fund NASA and other government agencies at fiscal year 2012 levels, with a few adjustments for programs like the Space Launch System and commercial crew. However, officials with NASA’s single largest budget account, science, are still trying to figure out what these developments mean for the programs they’re trying to fund.

“Let me start with everything I know about the fiscal year ’13 budget,” said John Grunsfeld in a presentation on Wednesday. He then put up a (deliberately) blank slide, to laughter from the audience. “Moving on to FY14, I’m going to tell you everything I can tell you about the FY14 budget,” he then said, putting up another blank slide, reflecting the fact that the administration had yet to release its 2014 budget proposal.

Jim Green held out hope that Congress might pass an alternative appropriations bill for 2013 that could restore some funding for planetary sciences. If that happens, he said, he would consider using that money to make early payments on launch vehicles for upcoming selected missions slated for launch in 2016. “Investments in the rockets allow us to free up wedges that we’ve already planned in later fiscal years,” he said, that could be used for other programs. He said that could allow them to move up the call for the next Discovery-class mission from 2015 to 2014. (3/8)

Ellington Spaceport 'Definitely Doable' (Source: Houston Chronicle)
With its goal of "going global" all but achieved, the Houston Airport System says it is now time to go extraterrestrial. Director Mario Diaz on Wednesday said the system is officially moving forward with a plan to turn Ellington Airport into one of the nation's first spaceports and is seeking certification from the FAA. The system completed a feasibility study last year that found it would cost an estimated $48 million to $122 million to equip Ellington for launching small space vehicles full of joyriders out over the Gulf of Mexico, more than 60 miles above Earth.

He cited not only the establishment of space tourism in Houston, but also manufacturing the "small reusable space vehicles" that companies like Virgin Galactic are planning to use to launch everyday people into outer space. "We will create facilities where companies can integrate all of the new and exciting advances in aeronautical engineering to produce spacecraft" that could feasibly "connect Houston in the future with places like Singapore in under three hours." (3/6)

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