May 16, 2013

The Secret Laser-Toting Soviet Satellite That Almost Was (Source: Ars Technica)
Reagan’s admirers praised SDI while his critics scoffed, calling it a fantasy and assigning it the enduring nickname “Star Wars.” The Soviet Union found itself in the rare position of joining Reagan’s admirers—they had to take SDI more seriously. Soviet leaders feared it was an American plot to disarm their nation or surreptitiously put a battle station in orbit. Reagan's plan naturally compelled them to act.

The Soviet response was a hushed effort that came with the potential to roar. Leadership fast-tracked a space weapons system they hoped would disable US anti-missile satellites. The gist of this plan? The Soviets would use their own space program to launch weapons into orbit: nuclear missiles and lasers.

This push culminated in the Polyus-Skif mission launched on May 15, 1987. History shows that the initiative failed to reach orbit. But had Polyus-Skif succeeded, space would be a very different place—-and the Cold War may have played out differently. Click here. (5/15)

Black Sky Training Moves Forward with Vehicle Development (Source: Space Tech Expo)
Florida-based Black Sky Training announced that it has begun to build its rocket powered flight trainer. They have signed contracts for building the first of three training vehicles, with the first certification flights planned during the second quarter of 2014. Black Sky recently received FAA "Safety Approval" for their "ability to provide as a service, scenario based physiology altitude training, which includes hypobaric chamber training for crew and space flight participants." (5/16)

Meet the Thousands of People Ready to Die on Mars (Source: Ars Technica)
Aaron Hamm, an assistant hotel engineer who deals with HVAC, cooling systems, and maintenance, lacks the traditional qualifications to be an astronaut. But that doesn't mean he wants to stay on Earth. "I felt… I was discouraged as a child [from becoming an astronaut] just because of how unbelievably competitive it is,” Hamm said. “I think that the Mars One mission and the idea of going somewhere that you're not coming back from for life.. that's different than the general astronaut program,” he said.

I want to see the sun rise over a completely new horizon, in a completely new sky. I think that's worth any price,” wrote Erica Meszaros, another Mars One applicant, in her personal essay. Meszaros is a software developer by trade and interned with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. She states that astronauts are traditionally chosen “from the Air Force” or-—more recently, with the success of $200,000 per flight projects like Virgin Galactic—-from “those with deep pockets.”

All applicants make a video as part of their public facing profile discussing, in brief, why they want to or are suited for a mission to Mars. "I have a great sense of humor, so I really get along with everybody," said Francisco, a 32 year-old Argentinian who works in a plastics factory. "I’ve got a feeling that I don’t belong here, but out there,” said Anders, a 51-year-old Swedish man who has the most popular profile on the site. “What makes me the perfect candidate? Well, I’m single. I’m flexible." (5/6)

Poll: Americans Overwhelmingly Support Doubling NASA’s Budget, Mission To Mars (Source: Penny4NASA)
The American public overwhelmingly support a doubling of NASA’s budget in order to fund a mission to Mars, according to a recent survey. The poll, commissioned by Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization, and aerospace contractor Boeing, also demonstrated a high degree of enthusiasm about human exploration of Mars. The survey found that 76 percent of Americans agree that NASA’s budget should be increased to 1 percent of the total federal budget to fund initiatives, including a mission to Mars. (5/15)

Space Tourism's Black Carbon Problem (Source: Popular Science)
Virgin Galactic proudly touts the fact that each of the passengers who will fly into sub-orbital space on its SpaceShip2 will emit less carbon dioxide than a typical air passenger on a flight from New York to London. But some scientists say carbon dioxide emissions are irrelevant to measuring the greenhouse gas footprint of the nascent space tourism industry. The big threat from the scaling-up of space travel, they say, comes from something called black carbon—-a type of particulate matter that, when hurled into the stratosphere, builds up for years, absorbing visible light from the sun.

According to one study, black carbon emitted into the stratosphere by rockets would absorb 100,000 times as much energy as the CO2 emitted by those rockets. "There's one issue and it's simple: you don’t want to put black carbon in the stratosphere. Period," says Darin Toohey, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Industry insiders say otherwise. Who’s right? Click here. (5/16)

Why NASA Doesn’t Have a Chris Hadfield (Source: Washington Post)
Let’s game out how things might play out if an American astronaut had shot a music video in space.
The astronaut, with a knack for guitar playing, is preparing to leave the International Space Station and transfer command to another passenger. Inspired by his trip, he reaches out to agency officials back on Earth and pitches them the idea of shooting a musical tribute (that’s what Hadfield did). Interested, his colleagues back on terra firma help him produce the film. NASA releases it shortly before his departure, it is seen by millions of viewers and initially earns the space agency plaudits for creativity and for reminding people of America’s place in space.

But then a lawmaker — of either party — starts raising questions: Why did this astronaut waste his time shooting amateur video in space? Is this why we send Americans to the ISS? Shouldn’t he be focused on more serious scientific experiments? What types of experiments is he conducting anyway — and do they really serve a benefit worthy of taxpayer expense?

Reporters eager to keep the story going pick up the lawmaker’s concerns and start asking questions of NASA officials. Over the course of a few days, the story balloons into a bigger controversy and the agency eventually apologizes. But it doesn’t stop there: The lawmaker, enjoying all the attention he’s earned for raising questions, calls for hearings or an inspector general investigation. Hearings are held, a report is issued and NASA suffers from an embarrassing distraction, all because an astronaut wanted to pay tribute to his time in space and hopefully inspire others to pursue his line of work. (5/16)

GPS Satellite Launched into Space from Florida (Source: AP)
An unmanned Atlas V rocket lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport with a new GPS satellite. It was the fifth time since December that an Atlas V rocket has been launched. The GPS satellite will provide navigation for both military and civilian users. When it becomes operational later this summer, the craft will replace a 17-year-old satellite. The older satellite will be used as a backup for the new one. (5/15)

XCOR Announces Exclusive Offer on all Lynx Payload Flights (Source: XCOR)
For the length of the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (June 3-5) in Broomfield, CO, XCOR will offer a special 2 for 1 deal on all payload purchases. This offer is exclusive to conference attendees. "Experimenters are driven partially by the lower cost of suborbital flights. Compared to sounding rockets and other existing platforms, Lynx flights are dramatically less expensive," said Andrew Nelson, XCOR COO. "With the pace of research about to increase dramatically, we want to foster that research." (5/15)

Asteroid 1998 QE2 To Sail Past Earth Nine Times Larger Than Cruise Ship (Source: Space Daily)
On May 31, 2013, asteroid 1998 QE2 will sail serenely past Earth, getting no closer than about 3.6 million miles (5.8 million kilometers), or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon. And while QE2 is not of much interest to those astronomers and scientists on the lookout for hazardous asteroids, it is of interest to those who dabble in radar astronomy and have a 230-foot (70-meter) - or larger - radar telescope at their disposal.

The closest approach of the asteroid occurs on May 31 at 4:59 p.m. EDT. This is the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries. Asteroid 1998 QE2 was discovered on Aug. 19, 1998, by MIT's Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program. The asteroid, which is believed to be about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) or nine Queen Elizabeth 2 ship-lengths in size, is not named after that 12-decked, transatlantic-crossing flagship for the Cunard Line. (5/15)

Critical Kepler Reaction Wheel Fails: Mission End In Sight (Source: Space Daily)
Moffett Field CA (SPX) May 15, 2013 - The Kepler mission team reported Wednesdau that Kepler spacecraft is once again in safe mode. As was the case earlier this month, this was a Thruster-Controlled Safe Mode. The root cause is not yet known, however the proximate cause appears to be an attitude error. The spacecraft was oriented with the solar panels facing the sun, slowly spinning about the sun-line. (5/15)

Revisions to Export Control Lists Due Out Soon (Source: Space Politics)
Late last year, when Congress passed a defense authorization bill with export control reform language included, advocates of such reform noted that this legislative provision was not the end of their efforts. The language in the bill simply returned to the President the authority to move satellites and related components off the US Munitions List (USML), with exceptions barring export to China and several other countries. It was still up to the Obama Administration to act on that authority.

It appears that the administration is about to do so. In a public meeting of the Export Control Working Group of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) in Washington on Tuesday, Kevin Wolf, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, said the administration was about to publish a draft of revised Category XV of the USML, which covers satellites and related components, accompanied by updated sections of the Commerce Control List (CCL), the less-onerous export control list administered by the Commerce Department. The drafts would reflect the proposed move of many items that are currently on the USML to the CCL. (5/15)

Lockheed Tapped for Two More GOES Satellites (Source: Space News)
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) picked up options with Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver to build two more storm-watching geostationary weather satellites, the head of the company’s civil space business said here.

The options bring to four the number of spacecraft Lockheed Martin is building under NOAA’s Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R program. At the time the contract was awarded in 2008 — Lockheed Martin beat out incumbent Boeing to win the award — NOAA said its total potential value, including all options, was more than $1 billion. (5/15)

All Defense Satellites Launched in January Operating Normally (Source: Interfax)
Russian Defense Ministry satellites launched in January are operating normally, Roscosmos deputy head Anatoly Shilov said. "A Rokot rocket with a Briz KM upper stage and Russian Defense Ministry satellites were really launched from the Plesetsk Space Center in the indicated period. The satellites were brought to an orbit close to the final orbit with permissible parameters. The satellites are operating normally," Shilov said.

He thus commented on Russian media reports claiming that one of the three Rodnik satellites was defunct. "The alleged fact of another accident in satellite launches is not true," Shilov said. Three Rodnik satellites were put in orbit from Plesetsk on January 15, 2013. (5/15)

How to Build a Mars Colony That Lasts – Forever (Source: New Scientist)
"Mars can't just be a one-shot mission," says Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon. He's part of a group who met last week in Washington DC for the first Human to Mars Summit, or H2M. The astronauts, researchers and space flight firms aim to chart a path to the Red Planet by 2030.

And they are thinking beyond mere visits. Though it won't be easy, they say establishing a permanent, sustainable outpost on the Red Planet may be our civilisation's only chance of long-term continuity. "Single-planet species don't survive," says former astronaut John Grunsfeld, who still works at NASA. "That's a pretty sound theorem – just look at the dinosaurs. But we don't want to prove it." Click here. (5/15)

3-D Printing Could Build Moon Base In-Situ (Source: Aviation Week)
Often called 3-D printing, the emerging field of additive manufacturing has captured the imagination of a wide audience, from artists, researchers and engineers to tech-savvy consumers. Now the technology has attracted the attention of those interested in its off-world applications.

A consortium established by the European Space Agency (ESA) has demonstrated the potential for 3-D printing of a Moon base using lunar regolith as the building material. The consortium includes Italian space engineering company Alta, Pisa-based university Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, architects Foster + Partners and 3-D printer supplier Monolite UK. Click here. (5/6)

Cassini Shapes First Global Topographic Map of Titan (Source: NASA JPL)
Scientists have created the first global topographic map of Saturn's moon Titan, giving researchers a valuable tool for learning more about one of the most Earth-like and interesting worlds in the solar system. The map was just published as part of a paper in the journal Icarus. Titan is Saturn's largest moon - with a radius of about 1,600 miles (2,574 kilometers), it's bigger than planet Mercury - and is the second-largest moon in the solar system.

Scientists care about Titan because it's the only moon in the solar system known to have clouds, surface liquids and a mysterious, thick atmosphere. The cold atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, like Earth's, but the organic compound methane on Titan acts the way water vapor does on Earth, forming clouds and falling as rain and carving the surface with rivers. Organic chemicals, derived from methane, are present in Titan's atmosphere, lakes and rivers and may offer clues about the origins of life. (5/9)

Loral Compensates MDA for Loss of Future Orbital-Incentive Payments (Source: Space News)
Loral has made a $6.5 million cash payment to MDA of Canada to compensate MDA for the loss of future orbital-incentive payments from a satellite built by Loral, which Loral sold to MDA in November. The Intelsat IS-19 satellite, launched in June 2012, suffered a partial loss of capacity when one of its solar arrays did not fully deploy. As is common in satellite contracts, Luxembourg- and Washington-based Intelsat had withheld a portion of the payment due Space Systems/Loral as orbital incentives. (5/15)

NASA May Launch Donated Spy Satellite Telescope to Mars (Source:
One of the two spy satellite telescopes that recently fell into NASA's lap may eventually make its way to the Red Planet. The space agency is currently mulling potential uses for the two space telescopes, which were donated by the National Reconnaissance Office and are comparable in size and appearance to NASA's venerable Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

Some scientists have proposed sending one of the powerful telescopes to Mars orbit, where it could look both up and down, giving researchers great views of the Red Planet's surface as well as targets in the outer solar system and beyond. "We're probably not going to get a replacement for HST with UV/visible [light] and a big telescope for use at Mars," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, leader of the proposed Mars Orbiting Space Telescope, or MOST. "So this is trying to do two things with one mission." (5/15)

Space Not the Final Frontier for Viewing Movies (Source: AP)
The crew of the International Space Station is boldly going where no one has gone before — to see the new "Star Trek" film. The three astronauts were offered a sneak peak of "Star Trek Into Darkness" days before it opens Thursday on Earth, seeing it not in 3-D, but Zero-G. NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries said the movie was beamed up to the outpost Monday and the two Russians and American on board had a day off Tuesday. That gave them a chance to view it on their laptops. It's unclear if they watched it. (5/15)

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