April 1, 2013

Pope Plans Stargazing Show at St Peter's Basilica (Source: Physics World)
The new Pope is considering letting astronomers use the dome of St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City as a makeshift planetarium, in a bold attempt to heal the long-standing rift between science and religion. Pope Francis has already given his blessing to the plan, which would see the constellations being projected onto the dome's interior as they would have appeared around the time of Jesus's death. The Pope's interest in the cosmos is said to have been sparked after he was shown recent images of the cosmic microwave background – dubbed the echo of the Big Bang – obtained by the European Space Agency's Planck mission. (4/1)

eXploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge 2014 (Source: NSGF)
The eXploration Habitat (X-Hab) 2014 Academic Innovation Challenge is a university-level challenge designed to engage and retain students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The competition is intended to link with senior- and graduate-level design curricula that emphasize hands-on design, research, development, and manufacture of functional prototypical subsystems that enable habitation-related functionality for space exploration missions.

NASA will directly benefit from the challenge by sponsoring the development of innovative habitation-related concepts and technologies from universities, which will result in innovative ideas and solutions that could be applied to exploration habitats. The Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Deep Space Habitat (DSH) project will offer multiple X-Hab awards of $10K - $20K each to design and produce functional products of interest to the DSH project. Click here. (4/1)

Highest, Longest Flight to Date for Masten's Xombie with Genie Payload (Source: SpaceRef)
A rocket-powered, vertical-landing space-access technology demonstrator reached its highest altitude and furthest distance to date March 25 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., using a developmental navigation system designed to land a space vehicle on other celestial bodies.

Masten Space Systems' XA-0.1B "Xombie" suborbital rocket lifted off the launch pad for an 80-second flight while being controlled by Charles Stark Draper Laboratory's Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment (GENIE) system developed under NASA's Flight Opportunities Program.

This combined capability of a rocket-powered demonstrator and a closed-loop planetary Guidance, Navigation and Control system allows NASA to begin testing prototype landing instruments for future missions to the Moon or Mars under realistic conditions without leaving Earth. (4/1)

Climate Maverick to Quit NASA (Source: New York Times)
James E. Hansen, the climate scientist who issued the clearest warning of the 20th century about the dangers of global warming, will retire from NASA this week, giving himself more freedom to pursue political and legal efforts to limit greenhouse gases. His departure, after a 46-year career at the space agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, will deprive federally sponsored climate research of its best-known public figure.

At the same time, retirement will allow Dr. Hansen to press his cause in court. He plans to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging the federal and state governments over their failure to limit emissions, for instance, as well as in fighting the development in Canada of a particularly dirty form of oil extracted from tar sands. “As a government employee, you can’t testify against the government,” he said in an interview. (4/1)

Editorial: Collateral Damage (Source: Space News)
The informal U.S. congressional probe into alleged security violations involving foreign nationals at two NASA field centers illustrates both the good and bad that can result when lawmakers, in exercising legitimate oversight responsibilities, get spun up on a particular issue. Unfortunately, in many cases, possibly including this one, the consequences are more negative than positive.

The most obvious historical example is the 1998 congressional investigation into allegations that China was gaining access to sensitive missile technology by launching U.S.-built commercial satellites. That review did in fact reveal flaws in the export control system, even if the national security implications were vastly overstated.

But the resulting crackdown on satellite exports, imposed by a law that took effect in 1999, proved damaging enough to the U.S. space industrial base to alarm even those agencies responsible for national security — to the point that they joined the chorus of calls for reform. The effects of that law are still being felt, even as the White House drafts rules to implement legislation passed in 2012 that overturns its most onerous provisions. (4/1)

IMAX, Walt Disney Studios to Look at Earth From Space in 3D Film (Source: Collect Space)
IMAX has announced it will again launch moviegoers into outer space, this time in a 3D feature to be produced with Walt Disney Studios. The still-to-be-titled film will be the eighth time IMAX has pointed its cameras and screens toward space. The production will use "high-resolution photography and videography to offer breathtaking, illuminating views of our home planet from space" to explore the changes that have occurred on Earth in just the past several decades.

Targeted for a 2015 release and made in cooperation with NASA, the film will focus on humankind's future on – and off – the planet, "increasing our understanding of the solar system," while also virtually traveling light-years to other star systems to ponder the possibilities of Goldilocks, the term planetary scientists give to planets that fall inside a star's habitable zone, like the Earth. (3/29)

Forest-Measuring Orbiter Picked for ESA Earth Science Mission (Source: Science)
It looks fairly certain that Europe's next Earth-observing science mission to win approval for construction will be Biomass, a spacecraft that will be able to measure the carbon content of the world's forests with unprecedented range and accuracy. Biomass was one of three candidate missions that the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Earth Science Advisory Committee studied during a workshop in Graz, Austria, last month. The committee picked the €420 million Biomass to go forward. (4/1)

Lack of NASA Outreach Is a Setback to US Science (Source: Space.com)
By now, I hope you’ve heard that NASA has put into suspended animation many of its educational and non-media public outreach, including their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education programs. This is until it can review all of those programs. If you hadn’t heard about all this, it’s probably because the various news media haven’t covered it much. It seems to me that the American people (and the world) ought to know what's happening.

I understand that NASA was forced to make some cuts in order to abide by the sequester. But, I’d never have thought our space agency would even consider pausing or deleting so much of something so important to the future of NASA and of the United States as education and outreach. I hope that these cuts are temporary, a way to force Congress into repealing the sequester for NASA. If it's not, and these cuts are made permanent, the world will lose something special. (4/1)

Swiss Company to Launch Robotic Mini-Shuttle in 2017 (Source: Space.com)
A Swiss company has unveiled an ambitious plan to build a privately built robotic rocket plane by 2017 in order launch satellites into orbit. The company Swiss Space Systems (S3) plans to loft the unmanned suborbital shuttle from the back of an Airbus A300 jetliner to serve as a commercial satellite launch platform. The Payerne, Switzerland-based firm unveiled the satellite launch concept on March 13 and is expected to reveal the supplier of its shuttle rocket engine in April.

S3 officials said they plan to build a mock up of the unmanned mini-shuttle by 2014, then open the a commercial spaceport in Payerne in 2015. The first flightworthy spacecraft prototype is slated to be built by in 2016, with the initial test flights following a year later. If all ges well, commercial satellite launches would begin in 2018. The unmanned satellite launches may be just the beginning, S3 officials said. (4/1)

Is An Alien Message Embedded In Our Genetic Code? (Source: Discovery)
The answer to whether or not we are alone in the universe could be right under our nose, or, more literally, inside every cell in our body. Could our genes have an intelligently designed “manufacturer’s stamp” inside them, written eons ago elsewhere in our galaxy? Such a “designer label” would be an indelible stamp of a master extraterrestrial civilization that preceded us by many millions or billions of years. As their ultimate legacy, they recast the Milky Way in their own biological image.

Some researchers hypothesize that an intelligent signal embedded in our genetic code would be a mathematical and semantic message that cannot be accounted for by Darwinian evolution. They call it “biological SETI.” What’s more, they argue that the scheme has much greater longevity and chance of detecting E.T. than a transient extraterrestrial radio transmission. (4/1)

Roscosmos to Launch Two Satellites, Cargo Ship From Baikonur (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) is due to put into orbit two satellites and launch a cargo ship from the Baikonur Space Center in April, the agency’s press service said. The plan for space launches of unmanned vehicles includes the telecommunications spacecraft Anik-G1, the Bion-M research spacecraft for fundamental and applied studies on space biology, physiology and biotechnology, and the Progress M-19M cargo ship, which will deliver supplies to the International Space Station, Roscosmos said.

Besides, a Glonass-M satellite is scheduled to take off from the Plesetsk launching facility with Roscosmos’s participation. Plesetsk,which is used for unmanned space launches only, is located in the Arkhangelsk region, the north of European Russia. On Friday, Russian Deputy Prime Ministrer Igor Shuvalov, who visited Baikonur, denied any existing disagreements between Russia and Kazakhstan on the coordination of launches from the legendary site of space launches. “We have a fully coordinated schedule of launches for the year 2013,” he said. (4/1)

Path To Orbital Economy Still Rocky (Source: Aviation Week)
Ultimately, it still comes down to launching. Rockets defined the Space Age in the past century, and they will continue to shape the course it follows as commercial spaceflight takes over from governments in the new one. The first 100 km (62 mi.) is still the hardest. How that hurdle is jumped will determine how soon, how much—and potentially even whether—private industry can make profits in orbit without a massive input of public money.

If the cost of launch comes down, the “new space economy” will grow. And if that orbital marketplace grows, economies of scale should drive down the cost of launch. It is clear that a strong U.S. government push has cracked open the door to a true off-planet economy. NASA's commercial-cargo effort already has delivered, and private companies are making serious progress in following up with, human spaceflight.

In their wake a new startup sector is arising, with innovative ideas for making money in orbit and beyond. Military planners around the world also are conceiving new ways to accomplish their missions by using the “high ground” of space. But it still takes rockets to get there. Wayne Hale, a former NASA space shuttle program manager, illustrated the problem recently by comparing it to a truly commercial mode of transportation—the Boeing 737. (4/1)

Destination Moon: Russia to Launch New Wave of Lunar Robots (Source: Space.com)
Russia is developing a renewed robotic moon exploration program, building upon the history-making legacy of orbiters, landers, rovers and sample-return missions the country launched decades ago. Russia's rekindling of an aggressive moon exploration plan was unveiled by Igor Mitrofanov of the Institute for Space Research (IKI) in Moscow during Microsymposium 54 on "Lunar Farside and Poles — New Destinations for Exploration," held in The Woodlands, Texas, on March 16 and 17. Click here. (4/1)

Ambitious Startups Could Signal The Coming Of A Second Space Age (Source: Tech Crunch)
Ventures like Curiosity’s Mars landing were highlights in the history of space science and exploration, but these days NASA can’t even maintain its public outreach programs thanks to recent budget cuts. That’s why the promise of privately operated space startups is so captivating: national priorities have shifted since the sixties, but that hasn’t kept some ambitious entrepreneurs from almost literally reaching for the stars.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk famously noted that he hoped to establish a full-fledged colony on Mars, and at least one mildly kooky organization is looking to get people living and working on the Red Planet as soon as possible by way of a televised spectacle meant to raise funds and select the first batch of Martian astronauts. A startup called Planetary Resources has received backing from some serious names and aims to explore/hopefully mine nearby asteroids for precious materials with a fleet of specialized robots.

It’s not as though every space startup has ambitions as wild-eyed as those listed above. Altius Space Machines took home the top at NewSpace 2011′s business plan contest for its vision of simplifying the process of wrangling out-of-control satellites and the like. Meanwhile, SpaceGround Amalgam won that same prize a year later for its inflatable antenna concept — they fold up for easy storage during launch, and can inflate and harden once in orbit. These sorts of less-flashy startups are just as important as SpaceX and Planetary Resources. (4/1)

Antarctica and Outer Space (Source: Space Law Librarian)
What does Antarctica have to do with space law? The Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 into orbit on October 4, 1957. This was not only the entrance of mankind into outer space; it was also the event that triggered the emergence of Space Law. Coincidentally the Antarctic Treaty was signed on December 1, 1959 by the twelve countries whose scientists had been active in and around Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58. Click here. (4/1)

Ariane Compromise Shows Signs of Fraying (Source: Space News)
The painful compromise on Europe’s future launch vehicle direction agreed to by France and Germany during last November’s conference of European Space Agency (ESA) governments showed initial signs of fraying the week of March 25 in separate statements by the two nations’ space ministers.

At issue is whether the two nations will agree both to complete development, through an inaugural flight in 2018, of the Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME) program while also agreeing to a seven-year investment of about 4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) in a new rocket called Ariane 6. The still-unfinanced portion of Ariane 5 ME is estimated at 1 billion euros or more. (4/1)

Globalstar Wins Two-week Reprieve from Creditors (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Globalstar on April 1 announced it had won a two-week reprieve from holders of some $70.7 million in notes callable on April 1 and was working to secure a wider debt-restructuring agreement with the French export-credit agency, Coface, by the new deadline of April 15.

Some $71.8 million in Globalstar notes paying interest of 5.75 percent per year were callable on April 1. The company said it had been informed that owners of more than 98 percent of notes intended to present them for payment on April 1. Globalstar does not have the cash to pay these creditors and would have faced a default event on its Coface-backed facility if the note holders had not agreed to an extension. (4/1)

NASA Plum Brook Sequester Squeeze (Source: Sandusky Register)
Do we have a problem with a local world-class space testing facility slowing or shutting down? Nobody in Erie County is quite sure how to answer that question. This much is certain: Federal budget cuts threaten further space exploration projects and other developments at the NASA Plum Brook Station. A month ago, Washington politicians unveiled a plan to start trimming the nation's constantly soaring $16.7 trillion debt. Among the agencies possibly facing the sequester's wrath: NASA, which collectively operates with about $17 billion a year. (4/1)

Eutelsat and Arabsat Orbital Slot Dispute Near Resolution (Source: Space News)
A three-year clash between satellite fleet operators Eutelsat and Arabsat about access to radio frequencies at a profitable orbital slot over the Middle East is on the verge of being resolved, according to industry officials familiar with the agreement. While the major dispute is about Ku-band frequencies, Eutelsat and Arabsat each has an additional incentive to find a modus vivendi: Both are building satellites with Ka-band capacity that cannot easily coexist without careful coordination, officials said. (4/1)

ISRO's Hands are Full This Year (Source: Indian Express)
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is all set for a busy year in 2013 as it will carry out several important missions including the Mars Orbiter and the Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator (RLV TD). Hectic efforts are on to prepare the Mars Orbiter Mission for launch in October 2013 where it will spend one month in earth orbit before its 10 month deep space cruise to reach Mars in September 2014. The 1,350 kg spacecraft will carry five instruments to study the atmosphere, mineral composition and to take detailed photographs of Mars.

Planning for deep space communication at a distance of nearly 400 million km will be one among the many challenges the mission will face after it is launched from Sri Harikota in October. The satellite will carry science experiments with a total mass of 15 kg which will include a Lyman Alpha Photometer, Methane Sensor and the Mars Color Camera for optical imaging. (4/1)

Future Looks Bright for Private US Space Ventures (Source: Space Daily)
From wealthy American technology executives to British billionaires, entrepreneurs are betting big on the emerging US private spaceflight industry. While some ventures claim to forge the path to US dominance, others aim to level the playing field for countries that lack space exploration programs. "The private sector is more efficient than the government and can do the same thing at a lower cost," said John Logsdon. Click here. (4/1)

State Economies Show Most Gains Since Before Recession (Source: Bloomberg)
The economic health of 44 U.S. states improved in the fourth quarter, the most in any period since 2006, as almost all benefited from growing employment and personal income. The gains matched the total in the second quarter of 2006, more than a year before the 18-month recession began, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States index. (3/31)

NASA’s Hispanic Scientists Urge Youths to Follow Their Dreams (Source: Costa Rica News)
NASA’s Michela Muñoz Fernandez and Erika Podest urged young people to pursue their dreams, however difficult they might seem, since it was their own persistence that won them careers in the space agency. “If you have a dream you’re set on, nothing is impossible. Neither of us are from the United States, we come from far away, but I think if you’re determined to get something you want, everything is possible,” Muñoz said.

Podest, an earth science specialist, and Muñoz, a researcher and systems engineer, shared their NASA experiences on the first Google+ Hangout in Spanish organized by the space agency, which seeks closer ties with the Hispanic community. Have good training, specific goals and family support was the advice they gave students and their parents who followed the conference live. Podest confessed she also had other models among Latin American space pioneers like Costa-Rica born Frank Chang-Diaz, one of the astronauts with the most missions and hours in outer space in history. (3/31)

Lockheed Martin Launches Silicon Valley Technology Hub (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company today announced an initiative aimed at expanding its collaboration with Silicon Valley companies to meet the diverse technology needs of the federal government. Called the Lockheed Martin Silicon Valley Alliance, this technology hub will provide the federal government with greater visibility into innovative technology solutions developed locally, including affordable software and cyber security solutions. For example, a game developer’s software could improve the realism of a military simulation system. (4/1)

E.T. Are You Out There? (Source: America Space)
You and your wife are on a two-hour trip late at night in separate cars, travelling through dense fog. You need to talk but you can’t see her. She’s out there somewhere. The only mode of communication with her is a CB with a hundred different channels and no idea which one she might be on. You both go through them one at a time but the odds of each of you landing on the same frequency at the right moment are long indeed…

That is just one of the many problems that SETI has had to deal with for over 50 years in their quest for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Science tells us that the same elements and processes that made us and our world are at work throughout the galaxy. The Kepler telescope is discovering new planets all the time Out of the roughly 200 billion stars in our galaxy there may be a billion earth type planets. But for a single exception the SETI telescopes have heard nothing.

That exception occurred at Ohio State University on Aug. 15th 1977. Jerry Ehman was using the university’s radio telescope Big Ear to look for ET’s calling card. In going over the data he discovered a signal that stood out very distinctly from the background radio noise and looked exactly like what they expected an extraterrestrial signal might look like. Ehman was so excited he wrote WOW! in the margin next to the startling series of numbers and letters. Only problem was that after 72 seconds the signal never repeated itself….ever. (4/1)

Restoration of NASA's F-1 Engines Is About To Begin (Source: Motherboard)
The big new in space last week came from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos put at least some of his millions towards recovering more than 25,000 pounds of Apollo-era F-1 rocket-engine parts. But the recovery was just the beginning. The twisted, rusted, remnants of the most powerful engines ever built have arrived at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center’s internationally acclaimed SpaceWorks conservation and restoration division where the real work is about to begin.

What Bezos and his team found was a twisted garden of metal that speaks to the F-1’s brief but violent life and death. The team scoped out the ocean scene using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) tethered to a mothership by fiberoptic cables for a real-time view. It looked, Bezos commented on the Bezos Expedition website, like an echo of the Moon. Lunar technology spread on a dusty gray and colourless scene set against the blackness of the ocean. (4/1)

The Future of European Space Travel (Source: DW)
On the International Space Station, observing the Earth, exploring Mars: Germany and Europe are closely involved in current developments in space research. Will we soon see manned flights to the Moon again - or beyond? The European Space Agency (ESA) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have big plans for 2013. For the scientists there, the forthcoming launch of new satellites for the European navigation system "Galileo" and commercial communication satellites is almost routine.

Far more exciting for them are the numerous space probes and Earth observation systems which will enable researchers at both institutions to gaze into the depths of the universe, and better understand our own planet. There's a lot the researchers can learn about Earth from space. The ESA will soon be launching several Earth observation satellites. The small cube-satellite Proba-V, for example, will track developments in the plant world. The SWARM mission, comprising three house-sized satellites able to look deep beneath the Earth's crust, will observe changes in the Earth's magnetic fields. (4/1)

Questioning Exoplanet Habitability (Source: Astrobiology)
At the 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference, Astrobiology Magazine hosted a plenary session titled: “Expanding the Habitable Zone: The Hunt for Exoplanets Now and Into the Future.” Originally formulated as part of our “Great Debate” series, this panel of exoplanet hunters and thinkers held a lively discussion about some of the most important issues facing the search for and understanding of alien worlds orbiting far-distant stars. Click here. (4/1)

Plan Would Make Way for Texas Rocket Launches (Source: Brownsville Herald)
A hearing on a bill that would temporarily close Boca Chica beach for possible rocket launches in the future will begin at 2 p.m. today before the Texas House Committee on Land and Resource Management in Austin. House Bill 2623 was introduced by state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville. It would permit the county and state to close beaches for rocket launches except on weekends and holidays. The public would have to be notified in advance of the closure.

Currently, Texas law states that public beaches can only be closed if the public’s health, safety or welfare is at risk. Texas is one of four launch pad and control center sites being considered by SpaceX. Also under consideration are Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico. The local site under consideration is at the eastern end of State Hwy. 4, about three miles north of the Mexican border. It is about five miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island. (4/1)

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