April 8, 2013

NASA OIG: JSC Mismanaged $42.7M Energy Contract (Source: NASA Watch)
"We found that Johnson mismanaged its $42.7 million energy contract. Specifically, Johnson officials did not require Honeywell to submit annual savings verification reports and accepted a flawed report for the first year, did not consider the effect of renovations to or demolition of facilities on the guaranteed savings rate, and added work to the contract without ensuring that energy savings would cover the additional costs." (4/8)
The Uneasy State of NASA's Human Space Exploration Program (Source: Space Review)
Next week marks the third anniversary of President Obama's speech calling for a human mission to an asteroid, but many people, including some within NASA, still have trouble accepting that goal. Jeff Foust reports on that perceived lack of enthusiasm and whether a new proposal to retrieve an asteroid could change people's minds. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2275/1 to view the article. (4/8)

Move Over NASA and Make Room for the TVA of Space (Source: Space Review)
NASA has been taking steps to promote commercial space development, but that is neither the only nor the highest agency priority. Three authors argues that a federally-chartered corporation modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority could accelerate commercial space development in the US and worldwide. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2274/1 to view the article. (4/8)

Revisiting Exoplanets and Dark Matter (Source: Space Review)
Two of the biggest topics in astronomy today are the search for extrasolar planets and the composition of dark matter. Jeff Foust updates some recent reports on those topics with news on new exoplanet missions and results from an experiment on the ISS. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2273/1 to view the article. (4/8)

The Mystery of Shackleton Crater (Source: Air & Space)
Though unremarkable in appearance compared to the roughly 4,000 craters on the Moon in its size range, the 20 km diameter crater Shackleton has been the source of relentless scientific controversy for the past 20 years.  Shackleton is located at the south pole of the Moon; indeed, its near side rim is the precise location of the geographic pole itself. Its location makes observation by Earth-based telescopes difficult and it was not well photographed by the Lunar Orbiter series.

That all changed in 1994 with the flight of the joint DoD-NASA mission to the Moon, Clementine. Clementine carried cameras that globally imaged the Moon in eleven visible and near-infrared wavelengths. In addition, it mapped the surface and lighting of the poles of the Moon at uniform resolution over the course of almost three lunar days (74 Earth days).

When the Science Team first saw the south polar mosaic, the extent of darkness in the map was striking. Because the Moon’s spin axis is close to perpendicular to the ecliptic plane, the Sun is always at the horizon at the lunar poles. Instead of rising and setting, the Sun circles around the poles at or near the horizon. Because of this grazing incidence, an area in a topographic depression may be in permanent shadow. Click here. (4/8)

Need for Space 'Rules of Road' Grows  (Source: On Orbit Watch)
The future ability of nations and companies to utilize space will be at grave risk in the absence of multinational cooperation and the establishment of “rules of the road” governing activities in the increasingly crowded orbital environment, a senior U.S. State Department official warned. Frank A. Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, voiced his concern during the National Space Symposium.

“Space is being increasingly contested in all orbits,” he said. “Unless the international community adopts pragmatic and constructive measures to avoid accidents and respond to the danger of irresponsible behavior in space, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to both human and robotic spaceflight.” (4/8)

Space Environment and Liabilities (Source: Satellite Pro)
“The reliability of launch vehicles and of satellite performance are important factors. And while the capital values in space assets are large, it is nothing compared to the values of terrestrial assets. Thirdly, the widespread distribution of satellites around the GEO ring is a positive factor. In addition, there is data sharing amongst major commercial operators of GEO satellites.

“One undeniable positive is the rarity of collisions involving space objects, the absence of financial default on the part of the commercial operator and the availability of adequate and affordable liability insurance. In many cases, there is a scheme of state sponsored legal liability.” Click here. (4/6)

Satellite Servicing Efforts Grapple with the Business Case (Source: Space News)
Industry and government advocates of on-orbit satellite servicing remain optimistic about the long-term potential of this technology to revolutionize the satellite industry but acknowledge the near-term challenges of building a business case and attracting customers. “The technology exists today to do on-orbit servicing, even though the client base we’re talking about is not prepared for servicing,” said NASA's Benjamin Reed.

That assessment, Reed said, is based on the demonstration of servicing technologies performed by his group’s Robotic Refueling Mission, an experiment mounted on the international space station. In a series of experiments performed through January, engineers have used the station’s Dextre manipulator to demonstrate the ability of a robotic servicing system to refuel a spacecraft.

NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission experiment is one of several efforts in satellite servicing that range in complexity from spacecraft that dock with spacecraft and take over propulsion to the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Phoenix program, which seeks to repurpose components from defunct satellites and perform on-orbit assembly of new satellites. All, though, face the challenge of finding customers for their systems. (4/8)

NASA Chief: Commercial Crew Safe from Sequester, for Now (Source: Space News)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the budget for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, an effort to send astronauts to the international space station aboard privately owned spacecraft by 2017, is safe from sequestration — for now. “So far, we see no significant impact the rest of this fiscal year,” Bolden said recently. “But our projection is that if we are not able to get out of this condition, it may slow progress on commercial crew.”

It is not yet clear what alternative to sequestration Congress might approve. Dueling 10-year budget plans passed by the House and Senate last month serve as a starting point for negotiations. Meanwhile, the White House is set to weigh in April 10, when it will at last transmit its 2014 budget request to Congress. Budget requests are usually made public in February.

Bolden has gone to bat for the White House’s commercial crew request many times, but Congress has never signaled a willingness to fund the administration’s signature human spaceflight effort at that level. His latest plug for a bigger Commercial Crew Program budget was during a March 20 hearing of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee. “If we aren’t able to get up to the $800 million level, then I will have to come back and officially notify the Congress that we cannot make 2017 for availability of commercial crew,” Bolden said. (4/8)

Wing Adopts New Space Surveillance Mission (Source: AFSPC)
The 21st Operations Group assumed the Cobra Dane Radar mission at Eareckson Air Station, Shemya Island, Alaska, April 1. Eareckson AS is located on the western tip of Alaska's Aleutian islands. The radar has the ability to detect objects about 2,000 miles away, and provides data for the Space Surveillance Network and the Ballistic Missile Defense System. Cobra Dane will continue to be operated by a contract workforce, and no military personnel will be assigned to the unit at Eareckson AS. (4/5)

Remaining Martian Atmosphere Still Dynamic (Source: NASA JPL)
Mars has lost much of its original atmosphere, but what's left remains quite active, recent findings from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity indicate. Rover team members reported diverse findings today at the European Geosciences Union 2013 General Assembly, in Vienna. Evidence has strengthened this month that Mars lost much of its original atmosphere by a process of gas escaping from the top of the atmosphere.

Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument analyzed an atmosphere sample last week using a process that concentrates selected gases. The results provided the most precise measurements ever made of isotopes of argon in the Martian atmosphere. Isotopes are variants of the same element with different atomic weights. "We found arguably the clearest and most robust signature of atmospheric loss on Mars," said Sushil Atreya.

SAM found that the Martian atmosphere has about four times as much of a lighter stable isotope (argon-36) compared to a heavier one (argon-38). This removes previous uncertainty about the ratio in the Martian atmosphere from 1976 measurements from NASA's Viking project and from small volumes of argon extracted from Martian meteorites. The ratio is much lower than the solar system's original ratio. (4/8)

Somebody's Selling a Hubble Telescope Control Console on eBay (Source: io9)
For sale: a two-person control console for the Hubble Space Telescope. Buy it now price is 75 grand, and shipping's just $1,500. But wait – there's more! Included with the control console is a "Vehicle Power Interface Console," which was originally offered last year by the same seller. Nobody bought it (apparently 75 grand is asking a little much for a one-of-a-kind piece of space memorabilia like a Power Interface Console for the HST), so the seller paired it with the console. (4/8)

Sex in Space (Source:  Space Law Librarian)
Now that the title of this post has your attention, what this post is actually going to discuss are the rights to reproduce in space. Seems like it this would be a no brainer. So much of a no brainer that a special suit has been developed to facilitate the "process." In a recent op-ed Laura Woodmansee, author of the book Sex in Space, questioned the ethics of reproduction in an environment where gravity, or lack of, affects the formation of cells.

A study at the University of Montreal found that "intracellular traffic flow is compromised under hyper-gravity conditions and that both hyper and microgravity affect the precisely coordinated construction of the cellular envelope in the growing cell." What this means is that when the sperm and egg meet the new life will not grow as it does under Earth's gravity.

Does the knowledge that a fetus will be malformed if conceived in space create an ethical obligation to not conceive in outer space? Who is going to prevent people from attempting? Can the government prohibit this private, recreational act? These are all good questions and as in most legal questions the answer depends. Click here. (4/8)

Spaceflight Is At A Crossroads (Source: Aviation Week)
Launch costs continue to be the main hurdle to be surmounted before the human economy moves off the planet. But launch is only the first hurdle; there must be other reasons to travel in space beyond the accomplishment itself. In its latest report on the worldwide space industry, the Space Foundation offers more evidence that spaceflight is moving away from a government-based activity driven largely by scientific and political objectives, toward a true, self-sustaining marketplace. It is not there yet, but it appears to be gaining momentum.

In 2012 what the Foundation’s analysts call the “global space economy” grew by almost 7%, to a record $304 billion. “As in previous years, the vast majority of this growth was in the commercial sector, which now constitutes nearly three-quarters of the space economy, with government spending making up the rest,” the 2013 Space Report states. Click here. (4/5)

Roskosmos Suggests Two Scenarios of Operations at Baikonur (Source: Tengri News)
Russia may bring its operations at the Baikonur cosmodrome close to zero as early as by 2020, according to Russia’s Izvestia. “Given the tensions over Baikonur in late 2012, Russia’s Roskosmos National Space Agency has submitted suggestions on formulating a new Federal Program to develop cosmodromes in 2016-2025”, the article published April 8 reads.

According to Roskosmos, along the crisis scenario, Baikonur infrastructure will only be supported after 2021 to accommodate individual launches. The scenario envisages that “after 2020 there might be legal, organizational and social conditions, wherein operation of launches from Baikonur will be hardly possible”.

“Higher pace of developing infrastructure at the Russian Vostochny cosmodrome is the major feature differing the crisis scenario from the basic one. Additional investments are also expected to be channeled to Plesetks cosmodrome”, according to Izvestia. (4/8)

SpaceX Presentation Set for Tuesday Near Texas Site (Source: Valley Morning Star)
The Brownsville-South Padre Island Chapter of the AEM, the Asociacion de Empresarios Mexicanos, will host a presentation Tuesday on SpaceX at the Rancho Viejo Resort and Country Club. SpaceX is considering building a launch site in Texas and the area near Boca Chica beach is on the list of possible sites. The AEM wants to inform its members and non-members about the SpaceX project; thus, it is hosting the presentation in hopes of garnering additional interest in the project, officials said. (4/7)

Back to the Moon? Not Any Time Soon, Says Bolden (Source: Space Politics)
A week from Monday marks the third anniversary of President Obama’s speech at the Kennedy Space Center where he formally announced the goal of a human mission to an asteroid by 2025. While that is an official goal of NASA’s human space exploration program, there remains some opposition or, at the very least, lack of acceptance of the goal by many people. “Since it was announced, there was less enthusiasm for it among the community broadly,” Al Carnesale said of the asteroid mission goal. “The more we learn about it, the more we hear about it, people seem less enthusiastic about it.”

Charles Bolden, who showed no sign of accepting Carnesale’s advice to refocus on the Moon. He noted that a number of nations have expressed interest, to varying degrees, in human lunar exploration. “They all have dreams of putting human on the Moon,” he said. “I have told every head of agency of every partner agency that if you assume the lead in a human lunar mission, NASA will be a part of that. NASA wants to be a participant.”

However, he made it clear NASA has no plans to lead its own human return to the Moon under his watch. “NASA will not take the lead on a human lunar mission,” he said. “NASA is not going to the Moon with a human as a primary project probably in my lifetime. And the reason is, we can only do so many things.” Instead, he said the focus would remain on human missions to asteroids and to Mars." (4/7)

Fixed-Base Operator Selected for Spaceport America (Source: El Paso Inc.)
Tyler Francis and his company, Francis Aviation, have taken over at Santa Teresa Airport where they’ll be supplying aviation and jet fuel to customers. But in the not too distant future, he expects to be pumping rocket fuel to a very different kind of customer as the first fixed-base operator at Spaceport America north of Las Cruces, N.M. Francis responded to a request for bids put out by the state of New Mexico to become the exclusive fixed-base operator and runway manager for the Spaceport America facility. He won the subcontract.

“I am so excited,” he said. “I worked very hard to win the bid. The impact is going to be huge from a business perspective. Looking to the future, it’s just spectacular. “Once Virgin Galactic starts operation, we will be fueling the White Knight with jet fuel.” “Based on their projections of phasing in to full operations over the next few years, we’ll be flying from here to there with our staff to do the runway preps, all the aircraft preps and to get everything set up so when they do begin operation, everything‘s ready to go,” Francis said. “Once there are full-scale operations going on, we’ll be looking at two launches a week minimum to take people into space,” he said. (4/7)

NASA Announces Next-Generation Exoplanet Hunter (Source: EarthSky)
NASA announced it has selected the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) project at MIT as the next-generation Earth-orbiting exoplanet hunter. Exoplanets are planets that move in orbit around distant stars. TESS’ launch – planned for 2017 – will be funded by a $200 million grant to an MIT-led team of space scientists and engineers.

The premiere Earth-orbiting exoplanet hunter currently is the Kepler Space Telescope, which – as of January 2013 – has spotted 2,740 candidate exoplanets. TESS will look for exoplanets in the same way that Kepler does. It will seek the tiny dip in starlight that occurs when, as seen from Earth, a distant planet passes in front of its star. Of course, Kepler is not the only planet-hunting technique. There’s a good explanation of others in this post.

Today, there are 861 confirmed exoplanets, according to the most recent update from exoplanet.eu on March 25, 2013. Bottom line: NASA said on April 7, 2013 that it has selected the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) project at MIT as the next-generation Earth-orbiting exoplanet hunter. The launch is planned for 2017 and is funded by a $200 million grant to MIT. (4/7)

Exoplanet Missions (Source: Astrobiology)
It’s fair to say there is some disappointment in this community that we don't have a clear plan for the kinds of mission a TPF, a Terrestrial Planet Finder-like mission, on the books that this community so desperately wants. Obviously it seems that exoplanets have maybe fallen through the cracks. We have a Planetary and we have a Astrophysics Decadal process. And when we didn't have exoplanets, which was true for the previous Decadal, that worked fine. Planets were studied by planetary people and astrophysicists studied other things.

But now all of sudden, planets are mostly not in the solar system and maybe our mechanisms for dividing the turf of the cosmos and how we fund those efforts are not adequate. ...If you want to look for Earth-size planets at one AU around a solar-type star, I don't think we have a good enough understanding to make the investment to build that primary mirror yet. ...Let's do the M star planets now. They are accessible to discover them, some of them from the ground. James Webb could hopefully observe them. And we invest in technology that can find the Sun-like stars. Click here. (4/7)

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