April 29, 2013

Florida Plans Planetary Lander Egg-Drop Competition (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida and NASA-KSC have partnered to provide an opportunity for Florida Elementary, Middle & High school students to participate in an innovative Planetary Lander ‘Egg-Drop’ Competition held this year on Saturday May 18th, 2013. Open to all Florida schools and home-schoolers, this exciting competition now in its fourth year, invites Florida teachers and their students to register teams with Space Florida and compete in a Planetary Lander competition. Each team will design and build their own Lander in which a ‘raw-egg’ will serve as the payload and must survive a drop of almost 20-feet, just as a real NASA Lander should on the Moon, Mars or an Asteroid. Click here. (4/29)

ATK Completes Space Launch System Motor Milestone (Source: Huntsville Times)
ATK says its solid rocket booster design has successfully completed a milestone Preliminary Design Review (PDR) with NASA for the new Space Launch System. That means the boosters are on track for use in the first SLS flight in 2017. Two five-segment ATK solid-fuel boosters will supplement liquid-fuel space shuttle main engines to lift the new heavy-lift SLS rocket off the launch pad on its first two flights.

After that, NASA will shift to a design that could include solid boosters or other possibilities being tested. The ATK booster design will now proceed to the next milestone -- Critical Design Review -- and to a ground-firing of a qualification motor later this year. The bottom line of Monday's announcement is that ATK is moving through the detailed development process and there are no signs so far that the boosters will not be ready when the the rocket is ready to use them. (4/29)

Virgin Galactic Completes First In-Flight Rocket Test (Source: The Engineer)
Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline has completed the first rocket-powered flight of its space vehicle SpaceShipTwo (SS2). The test, conducted by teams from Scaled Composites (Scaled) and Virgin Galactic, is said to mark Virgin Galactic’s entrance into the final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

In a statement Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic said, ‘The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date. The test began at 7am local time when SS2 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port whilst connected to WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft. "Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end." (4/29)

Further Analysis of NASA's 2014 Budget Proposal (Source: Planetary Society)
The future of NASA’s planetary science for the next decade will be decided here on Earth in the offices of the President’s administrators and Congress. It takes five years to conceive, develop, and launch relatively simple missions such as those flown by the Discovery program. Technically complex missions such as Mars rovers or Europa orbiters require longer periods to mature the concepts and bring all the required technologies to flight readiness.

NASA’s funding over the next two or three years will determine whether it will be ready to launch complex missions seven to ten years from now. That proposal continues support for NASA’s smaller planetary missions in the Discovery ($450-500M) and New Frontiers ($750M-1B) programs. Funding for a 2020 Mars rover based on the Curiosity rover’s design is foreseen in future budgets. The technology program to mature technologies to enable future missions was cut to provide funding to develop new supplies of plutonium-238 to enable missions that cannot depend on solar power. (4/29)

Falcon Heavy: Uncertain Case For Lunar Exploration (Source: America Space)
There have been occasional suggestions that NASA should scrap its Space Launch System (SLS) in favor of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for fulfilling its beyond low-Earth orbit needs. The claim is that the as-yet-untested-and-unflown Falcon Heavy is “cheaper” than the as-yet-untested-and-unflown SLS. And canceling SLS would supposedly save NASA $10 billion-—money that could otherwise fund such programs as Commercial Crew, a flight test of Orion on a Falcon Heavy, and to focus on a small-scale space station in the area near the Moon.

One issue not addressed by proponents of canceling SLS is whether it is a good idea to couple a nation’s human exploration spaceflight capabilities to a private company. An issue which appears to be altogether ignored, is the Falcon Heavy’s small lunar payload capability and the impact this would have on an already complex and risky endeavor such as lunar exploration.

According to SpaceX, Falcon Heavy will have a 53 metric ton payload capacity to LEO, nearly twice that of a Delta IV Heavy or an Atlas V--and at a lower cost than either. But when it comes to launching payload to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) or beyond, the Falcon 9 Heavy falls far short of either the Delta or Atlas launchers. With a GTO payload of barely over 12 metric tons, the Falcon Heavy is at least 1 metric ton under what either the Delta IV Heavy or Atlas V can deliver to the same point in space. (4/29)

One Gap, No Planets (Source: Sky & Telescope)
New results on a particularly exciting system, V1247 Orionis, may shed light on an important, seldom-observed stage of planet formation. Orionis, a young star hiding in Orion’s Belt, is part of the extensive star-forming association there. It has a mass about twice that of the Sun but with an age of only 5-10 million years. The star was known to harbor a potentially planet-forming disk.

With dust grains gradually clumping together to form larger objects, planetesimals gain enough mass to gravitationally interact and disrupt the disk they formed from, creating gaps in an otherwise smooth pancake. In the last few years, observations of very young stars with disks have shown tantalizing evidence of just this scenario. Most notably, observations of the star LkCa15 revealed a planetary companion carving out a gap in the star's disk.

When researchers used the Keck 10-meter telescope to look in the Orionis gap, they couldn’t find any protoplanets. Instead, they detected a complex, perhaps clumpy distribution of diffuse dust. Because the astronomers observed at a range of infrared wavelengths, they were able to probe a larger variety of dust temperatures than usual, which might explain the novel results. (4/29)

Warning Shot: a “Bullet Hole” on the ISS (Source: Universe Today)
Canadian astronaut and Expedition 35 commander Chris Hadfield just shared this photo on Twitter, showing a portion of one of the solar array wings on the ISS… with a small but very visible hole made by a passing meteoroid in one of the cells. In typical poetic fashion, Commander Hadfield referred to the offending object as “a small stone from the universe.” “Glad it missed the hull,” he added.

While likened to a bullet hole, whatever struck the solar panel was actually traveling much faster when it hit. Most bullets travel at a velocity of around 1,000-2,000 mph (although usually described in feet per second) but meteoroids are traveling through space at speeds of well over 25,000 mph — many times faster than any bullet! (4/29)

Puerto Rico Teams Take Top Spots at 20th NASA Great Moonbuggy Race (Source: NASA)
NASA today declared the winners of the 20th NASA Great Moonbuggy Race at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. Team 1 from Teodoro Aguilar Mora Vocational High School of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, won first place in the high school division; racers from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao claimed the college-division trophy. The winning teams outraced more than 89 teams from 23 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, India, Germany, Mexico and Russia.

Approximately 600 student drivers, engineers and mechanics -- plus their team advisors and cheering sections -- gathered April 26-27 for the 20th "space race." Organized by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, the race challenges students to design, build and race lightweight, human-powered buggies. Traversing the grueling half-mile course, which simulates the cratered lunar surface, race teams face many of the same engineering challenges dealt with by Apollo-era lunar rover developers.

The team from Teodoro Aguilar Mora Vocational High School, in its third year in the competition, finished the half-mile course in 3 minutes, 24 seconds. The University of Puerto Rico at Humacao, who won second place in the college division in the 2012 race, brought home a first-place win, finishing in 3 minutes, 32 seconds. Finishing in second place this year in the high school division was Jupiter High School Team 1 of Jupiter, Fla. In third place was Jupiter High School Team 2. (4/28)

The Well-Built Italian (Source: Launchspace)
The name "VEGA" is an acronym for Vettore Europeo di Generazione Avanzata, which translates to "Advanced Generation European Carrier Rocket." VEGA is a new, expendable space launch vehicle now in use by Arianespace and launched from the Guiana Space Centre located in Kourou, French Guiana. This vehicle is an Italian creation that was jointly developed by the Italian Space Agency (ISA) and the European Space Agency (ESA). Although the concept began as a pure Italian venture, serious development started in 1998 after ISA and ESA joined forces. The first VEGA launch took place on February 13, 2012. (4/28)

Suborbital Spaceflight Powers Up (Source: Space Review)
If rumors prove true, SpaceShipTwo will make its first, albeit brief, powered test flight today. Jeff Foust examines the state of development of both Virgin Galactic's vehicle and other major commercial suborbital efforts. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2286/1 to view the article. (4/28)

Planetary Defense: Deflection and Disruption (Source: Space Review)
If an asteroid is heading towards Earth, what do you do to prevent a cataclysmic impact? Jeff Foust reports from a recent conference that while some advocate deflecting an asteroid with something as simple as a spacecraft, others advocate, in effect, blowing it to smithereens. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2285/1 to view the article. (4/28)

Exoplanet Characterization by Proxy (Source: Space Daily)
A University of Washington astronomer is using Earth's interstellar neighbors to learn the nature of certain stars too far away to be directly measured or observed, and the planets they may host. "Characterization by proxy" is the technique used by Sarah Ballard, a post-doctoral researcher at the UW, to infer the properties of small, relatively cool stars too distant for measurement, by comparing them to closer stars that now can be directly observed. Click here. (4/28)

Bizarre Binary Star System Pushes Study of Relativity to New Limits (Source: Space Daily)
An international team of astronomers and an exotic pair of binary stars have proved that Albert Einstein's theory of relativity is still right, even in the most extreme conditions tested yet. "The unusual pair of stars is quite interesting in its own right but we've learned it is also a unique laboratory for testing the limits of one of our most fundamental physical theories, general relativity" says University of Toronto astronomy professor Marten van Kerkwijk.

What makes the pair of stars exceptional are the unique characteristics of each and their close proximity to each other. One is a tiny but unusually heavy neutron star - one of the most massive confirmed to date. It is the remnant of a supernova explosion, and is twice as heavy as the Sun yet is only 20 kilometers across. It gives off radio waves that can be picked up on Earth by radio telescopes. The gravity at its surface is more than 300 billion times stronger than that on Earth and at its center every sugarcube-sized volume has more than one billion tons of matter squeezed into it.

The massive star spins 25 times each second and is orbited by a rather lightweight dwarf star every two and a half hours, an unusually short period. Only slightly less exotic, the white dwarf is the glowing remains of a much lighter star that has lost its envelope and is slowly cooling. It can be observed in visible light, though only with large telescopes. Very precise timing of the pulsar's spin-modulated emission with radio telescopes was used to discover a tiny but significant change in the orbital period of the binary, of eight-millionths of a second per year. Click here. (4/28)

DOD Furloughs May Not be a Shared Sacrifice (Source: Washington Post)
The Pentagon is reconsidering plans to spread the pain of furloughs evenly, as some branches are able to achieve cost-cutting without sending workers home. "It's the idea of shared sacrifice and shared pain, which doesn't necessarily translate to good policy," said Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. (4/28)

FAA Suspends Furloughs After Congress Passes Bill (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Saturday that the agency suspended furloughs of air traffic controllers after Congress approved a bill to allow the FAA to shift funding within its budget. On Sunday, flight delays and cancellations returned to pre-furlough levels, according to FlightStats. (4/28)

Telenor Numbers Drop Following Thor 2 Retirement (Source: Space News)
Telenor Satellite Broadcasting of Norway on April 26 reported a drop in revenue and profit for the three months ending March 31, citing effects of the late-2012 end of the lease of its now-retired Thor 2 satellite and a one-time revenue gain a year ago that skewed the comparison. Telenor said its Thor 7 satellite, equipped with a Ka-band beam for maritime broadband in the Nordic region in addition to Ku-band transponders for the company’s core broadcast business, is on track for launch in mid-2014. Thor 7 is under construction by Loral. (4/28)

Comet Concern Will Not Delay India's Mars Orbiter Launch (Source: Hindustan Times)
The Mars orbiter will be launched as per schedule and will not be delayed because of the probability of the red planet being hit by a comet next year, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chairman Dr. K Radhakrishnan said. “We cannot hold the mission. We are constantly watching. This has given us an opportunity to make a detail study in this direction. According to revised estimates, the probability of a comet striking Mars has been brought down considerably.” (4/29)

Future Spaceport America Visitor Centers Take Shape (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
State officials in recent days unveiled more detail about plans for a 6,000 net square-foot visitor center in Truth or Consequences and a 23,000 net square-foot tourist center at the remote spaceport location just north of Doña Ana County. The two facilities — which could see up to 200,000 tourists per year — will make heavy use of smart phones and tablets to dish out in-depth information about the spaceport, space history and other New Mexico tourism sites, said Aaron Prescott, business operations manager for the state spaceport authority.

A showcase mural, for instance, within the on-site spaceport tourist center will depict the "progression of man's journey into the heavens," Prescott said. But the image also will feature an interactive layer. "It's embedded and viewed with smart code tags that can be activated by your mobile device and get material about all this stuff," Prescott said. "You can get as much information as you'd possibly want."

Since mid-2011, the Florida-based Arts & Technology, Inc. — a.k.a. IDEAS — has been contracted to design the spaceport visitors centers and the exhibits and attractions that will go in them. The plans are crystallizing, and spaceport officials are in the midst of seeking a developer to build the facilities. Editor's Note: Click here for information on IDEAS' efforts in New Mexico. (4/28)

CSF Statement on First Powered Test Flight of SpaceShipTwo (Source: CSF)
“The Commercial Spaceflight Federation congratulates the team at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites for the first powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo today,” said CSF President Michael Lopez-Alegria. “This incredible achievement is the direct result of the hard work and dedication by these two companies, as well as by RocketMotorTwo developer Sierra Nevada Corp.

Because of their efforts, we are one step closer to achieving safe, routine, and cost-effective access to space that will create abundant opportunities for space-based research and that will inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. I applaud the team at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites for their accomplishment, and the team at Mojave Air & Space Port for their efforts in creating a professional and safe testing environment.” (4/28)

Obama Picks Transportation Secretary (Source: Daily Beast)
White House officials say on Monday President Obama will tap Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte, N.C., as the secretary of transportation, joining a cabinet criticized for lack of diversity. He is also planning two more nominations: hotel magnate Penny Pritzker as the next commerce secretary, and his international economics adviser Michael Froman as the U.S. trade representative, though these are not expected to be announced on Monday. Foxx, who has served for nearly four years, recently announced he would not seek re-election as mayor because he wants to spend more time with his family. (4/28)

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