May 2, 2013

NASA Uses Soyuz Deal to Push for Commercial Crew Funding (Source: Space Politics)
NASA announced it had extended a deal with Russia's Roscosmos to provide crew transportation services to and from the Space Station. The deal covers bringing six astronauts up to the ISS in 2016 and rescue and return services through 2017. The price: $424 million, or about $70 million per seat, up from the $63 million in the previous agreement. (The agreement includes some services that were previously covered under a separate contract, complicating an apples-to-apples comparison.)

The contract extension as hardly a surprise, but NASA leadership used it as an opportunity to make the case for fully funding the agency’s commercial crew program so that additional extensions of the Soyuz deal aren’t needed. “Further delays in our Commercial Crew Program and its impact on our human spaceflight program are unacceptable. That’s why we need the full $821 million the President has requested in next year’s budget to keep us on track to meet our 2017 deadline and bring these launches back to the United States,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a separate blog post yesterday. (5/1)

China Cyberspies Outwit U.S. Stealing Military Secrets (Source: Bloomberg)
Among defense contractors, QinetiQ North America (QQ/) is known for spy-world connections and an eye-popping product line. Its contributions to national security include secret satellites, drones, and software used by U.S. special forces in Afghanistan and the Middle East. But QinetiQ’s espionage expertise didn’t keep Chinese cyber- spies from outwitting the company.

In a three-year operation, hackers linked to China’s military infiltrated QinetiQ’s computers and compromised most if not all of the company’s research. At one point, they logged into the company’s network by taking advantage of a security flaw identified months earlier and never fixed. “We found traces of the intruders in many of their divisions and across most of their product lines,” said a former Terremark security division official, which was hired twice by QinetiQ to investigate the break-ins. “There was virtually no place we looked where we didn’t find them.”

QinetiQ was only one target in a broader cyber pillage. Beginning at least as early as 2007, Chinese computer spies raided the databanks of almost every major U.S. defense contractor and made off with some of the country’s most closely guarded technological secrets, according to two former Pentagon officials. Editor's Note: QinetiQ is the lead contractor for NASA KSC's Engineering Services Contract, supporting engineering and R&D at the space center. (5/1)

Three More Homes for Life in the Universe? (Source: CNN)
Is anybody out there? For millennia, humans have gazed at the night sky, asking this question. That's why scientists and NASA are eagerly searching for "exoplanets" -- that is, planets that orbit around stars other than our sun. Last week NASA's Kepler satellite reported the discovery of three Earth-sized exoplanets within the so-called "habitable zone," defined as the neighborhood of a star where liquid water -- essential for life as we know it -- can exist.

Say hello to the three new exoplanets: Kepler 62e and Kepler 62f orbit are the fifth and sixth planets orbiting the star Kepler 62, and Kepler 69c is the third planet orbiting -- you guessed it -- Kepler 69. All three are nearly the same size as our Earth. Kepler 62f has a diameter 40% larger than the Earth's. It orbits its star once every 267 days, very similar to the 225-day period of Venus. We do not know what Kepler 62f is made of but other exoplanets of a similar size are known to be rocky, so that's the best guess for now.

Kepler 62e is about 60% larger than the Earth and is probably hotter because it lies at the inner edge of the habitable zone, in a 122-day orbit -- slightly longer than Mercury's 88-day orbit. Since Kepler 62 is a cooler star than our sun, planets can orbit closer to it than the Earth can to our sun before overheating. In contrast, the third Earth-like planet, Kepler 69c, orbits a star very similar to our sun (that is, hotter than Kepler 62). It is 70% larger than the Earth and orbits Kepler 69 once every 242 days -- very like Venus. (4/26)

Crowdsourcing the Stars (Source: New Yorker)
One day in the spring of 2011, Kian Jek spotted something odd in the data archive of the Kepler space telescope. The telescope has identified nearly three thousand planet candidates, including several Earth-size worlds circling alien suns. But the mission’s software had rejected this particular signal, deeming it unworthy of follow-up. The software was wrong. There was, in fact, a planet orbiting this particular star—-or rather, stars. The planet is now known as Kepler 64b, in a quadruple star system.

It was much too complicated for NASA’s computers to figure out. But Jek, who lives in San Francisco, and a man named Robert Gagliano, from Cottonwood, Arizona—neither of whom is part of the Kepler mission, or even a professional astronomer—had access to the most powerful pattern-recognition computer in the world: the human brain. They also had access to a project known as Zooniverse, which lets anyone with Internet access participate in a growing list of scientific projects in which pattern recognition is crucial. Searching for planets is one option.

You can also examine satellite photos of tropical cyclones taken over the past thirty years to gauge how their wind speeds increased or decreased over time (most hurricane winds are measured directly only as they approach land). You can help scientists categorize the calls of orcas, in an effort to understand what the aquatic mammals are saying. You can pore over ships’ logs as far back as the late nineteenth century, to retrieve weather readings that can fill in gaps in our understanding of climate change. You can examine photographs of the seafloor on the U.S. continental shelf, to identify and count the plants and animals living there. Click here. (5/1)

Houston, We Have a Problem (Source: Newport Daily News)
Why is spending $100 million to study an asteroid not as crazy as it sounds? Asteroids and NEOs represent a very real threat. You are probably aware of the asteroid strike in Russia in February. It was an airburst with the force of an atomic bomb, and it wasn’t even a “killer asteroid” –- the kind of cataclysmic human-race ending event that is the subject of science fiction movies. If the asteroid that hit in Russia hit New York City, it would have killed about 7 million people.

In "Armageddon," Bruce Willis and his rag-tag group of oil drillers deflected an asteroid only 18 days after it had been spotted. We would actually need to know about 30 years in advance to be able to effectively do anything about it. If it were 30 years away, we might theoretically be able to blow it up, but if it were only 18 days away, you would have simply taken one big rock on a trajectory to earth and turned it into lots of little ones, which are still going to hit the same target. You would want to deflect it, gently nudge it so that it misses earth. (5/1)

China Launches Communications Satellite (Source: Xinhua)
China launched a communications satellite, "Zhongxing-11", at 0:06 a.m. Thursday (Beijing time) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province. "Zhongxing-11" will be mainly used in providing commercial communications services for users in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a statement from the center. The satellite was sent by a Long March-3B rocket. It marked the 176th launch of China's Long March series of rockets. (5/2)

Delta 4-Heavy Rocket Moved to Vandenberg Launch Pad (Source:
United Launch Alliance and the Air Force are readying the next Delta 4-Heavy rocket, the largest booster in the U.S. arsenal that is responsible for launching the nation's elite surveillance satellites. The massive rocket was placed atop its West Coast pad this week, rolling out of the hangar at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Monday and going vertical Tuesday for a high-profile mission to deliver a National Reconnaissance Office spacecraft into polar orbit. Liftoff is targeted for Aug. 28. (5/1)

Success Continues as NASA's Orion Parachute Tests Get More Difficult (Source: NASA)
A test version of NASA's Orion spacecraft safely landed during a simulation of two types of parachute failures Wednesday. In the test, conducted in Yuma, Ariz., the mock capsule was traveling about 250 mph when the parachutes were deployed. That is the highest speed the craft has experienced as part of the test series designed to certify Orion's parachute system for carrying humans.

Engineers rigged one of the test capsule's two drogue parachutes not to deploy and one of its three main parachutes to skip its first stage of inflation after being extracted from a plane 25,000 feet above the Arizona desert. Drogue parachutes are used to slow and reorient Orion while the main parachutes inflate in three stages to gradually slow the capsule further as it descends. (5/1)

Petrified Congressmen Delay Commercial Space Efforts (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Why Congressmen are so intent on paying Russian contractors for astronaut launch services rather than funding American companies such as Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp. to develop the same capability is a big mystery. It has mystified me for years. My best guess is that Congress is both skeptical of the viability of commercial crew and petrified (in an emotional and political sense) of the changes the program could bring if does succeed.

People who are equally afraid of both success and failure have a tendency to freeze. They don’t take risks and cling to what they know best — however outdated, self-defeating and short-sighted it might be. Congress is clearly stuck in that very position. Sadly, there is little indication that the recent successes of SpaceX and Orbital Sciences in the commercial cargo program has swayed very many people in Congress that commercial crew can succeed. I might be wrong on that assessment, but the early statements on the FY 2014 budget are not encouraging. (5/1)

U.S. Finds Porn Not Secrets on Suspected China Spy’s Laptop (Source: Bloomberg)
A Chinese research scientist suspected of spying on NASA --- and pulled from a plane in March as he was about to depart for China -- is set to plead to a misdemeanor charge of violating agency computer rules. Bo Jiang, who was indicted March 20 for allegedly making false statements to the U.S., was charged yesterday. Jiang unlawfully downloaded copyrighted movies and sexually explicit films onto his NASA laptop, according to the court filing. A plea hearing is set for tomorrow.

Along with the misdemeanor, the government said it had resolved the false statements case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said in a filing today. At the time of his arrest in March, Jiang was under federal investigation at NASA’s request for a possible conspiracy involving violations of the Arms Export Control Act, according to an FBI affidavit.

He was blocked from resuming his work at NASA’s Langley Research Center after coming back from a monthlong trip to China in December, according to court filings. He took a NASA computer, as well as an NIA external hard drive from his employer, with him on that trip, violating the agency’s security regulations. Jiang’s employment at the non-profit aerospace and atmospheric research and graduate education institute was terminated on Jan. 11. (5/1)

Jiang Took NASA Scientist's Imaging Data to China (Source: Examiner)
Former NASA contractor employee Bo Jiang, arrested last March by federal agents as he was about to board a flight to Beijing, took vast amounts of sensitive research by a noted colleague to China in 2012, The Washington Examiner has learned. Dr. Zia-ur Rahman was a career scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia assigned to the agency's sensors and electromagnetics branch, which works with the Department of Defense on military aviation technologies.

Rahman -— who was from Pakistan -- was an internationally recognized expert in the field of defense optics, including the areas of remote sensing, electro-optical field imaging systems and image processing. He was a G-14 federal employee. Such technologies are vital for U.S. defense systems, including those used by satellites and U.S. attack aircraft to identify and track targets. (5/1)

DubaiSat-3 to Launch Into Space in 2017 (Source: The National)
The UAE's space programme took a major step forward yesterday as plans for the first satellite to be completed in the country were announced. DubaiSat-3 will be built by the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (Eiast) in collaboration with South Korean company Satrec Initiative. Work will begin in South Korea but the project will be transferred midway through the development process to a new satellite plant in Dubai. That process will take three and a half years. (5/1)

NASA Technology Stabilizes All Kinds Of Structures (Source: Aviation Week)
At Marshall Space Flight Center, a relatively simple technology developed to smooth potentially dangerous vibrations in NASA's defunct Ares I crew launch vehicle is finding its way into the wider world as a way to steady buildings, aircraft, ships and other structures reacting to winds, waves and even earthquakes. The passive approach uses the weight of a liquid coupled to a structure to dampen shaking, swaying, fluttering and other oscillations.

NASA has spent about $5 million refining the technique it calls fluid structure coupling (FSC), but has been reluctant to reveal details because of the military potential growing out of the launch-vehicle application that spawned it originally. Now engineers here have expanded their early analytical and experimental work on the Ares I thrust-oscillation problem to encompass a host of potential applications, including stabilizing nuclear power plants and tall buildings in earthquakes and violent storms, ships and drilling platforms in rough seas, and fuel-filled aircraft wings in turbulent flight conditions. (5/1)

Lockheed Martin Gets $167 Million NASA Mission Ops Contract Extension (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $166.8 million contract option from NASA for facilities development and operations at Johnson Space Center that support human spaceflight. The one-year contract extension exercised by NASA extends the period of performance through Sept. 30, 2014 and brings the total contract value to $1 billion. (5/1)

Six Years After zero-G Flight, Stephen Hawking Still Up for a Space Trip (Source: NBC)
It's been six long years since world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking got a taste of weightlessness during a zero-G airplane flight from NASA's Kennedy Space Center — but he still wants to feel the real deal aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. The 71-year-old Hawking has been living with neurogenerative disease for decades, but his illness hasn't kept him from taking on adventures that might tax younger, fitter humans.

On Tuesday, during a London talk sponsored by the charity Breathe On UK, Hawking noted that he has required assistance with his breathing since his tracheotomy in 1985. "Being on a ventilator has not curbed my lifestyle," he told the audience, using his instantly recognizable computer-generated voice. "I have been to Brussels, the Isle of Man, Geneva, Canada, California ... and I hope to go into space with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. It is possible to have quality of life on a ventilator." (5/1)

Nuclear Propulsion for Solar System Domination (Source: Discovery)
Icarus Interstellar is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to accomplishing interstellar flight by 2100. The Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR) is a focus for research and development of advanced space nuclear systems, including power and propulsion systems, and radioisotope power generators. Icarus Interstellar have recently partnered with CSNR to bring you a series of articles aimed at exploring the potential uses of nuclear power for space propulsion and power generation for space missions. Click here. (5/1)

Paper-Folding Trick May Help Tiny Satellites Use Sails in Space (Source:
A simple paper-folding technique could help tiny satellites unfurl big sails in space to detect micrometeoroid impacts, scientists say. The folding strategy could be used to pack relatively large sails into miniature satellites known as cubesats. When the sails pop out, they could provide a bigger area to catch meteoroid impacts.

Sigrid Close, an aerospace engineer at Stanford University and Nicolas Lee, then a graduate student who worked with Close, wanted to know whether meteoroid impacts disrupt electronics aboard spacecraft. Meteoroids whiz through the solar system at tens of thousands of miles per hour, so even miniscule space rocks slam into spacecraft with incredible force. (5/1)

Glenn Buildings Evacuated After Exposed to Unknown White Substance (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Eight NASA Glenn employees were put into isolation today because of exposure to an unknown white substance. Lori Rachul, a spokeswoman for NASA, said officials found the substance to be a non-asbestos, silica-based insulation material. Glenn safety personnel have begun a thorough cleaning of the incident site.

Rachul said that around 11 a.m. a NASA Glenn employee complained of skin irritation after he was exposed to the white substance while cleaning out a drawer in a filing cabinet. When Glenn protective services was contacted, several area fire departments and the Southwest Regional Response team were contacted. Rachul said they shortly found that eight employees had been exposed to the substance. The office building the employees were in was evacuated, as was an adjacent building -- the briefing center -- as a precaution. (5/1)

How NASA Dodged a Derelict Soviet Spy Satellite (Source: Christian Science Monitor)
Thanks to an emergency maneuver in March 2012, a NASA space telescope avoided a potentially nasty encounter with a Cold War relic. More than a year later, NASA is now telling the story of how its Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope sidestepped a collision with a defunct Soviet spy satellite.

It all began on the evening of March 29, 2012, when Julie McEnery, the project scientist for the Fermi telescope, received an automatically generated email from NASA's Robotic Conjunction Assessment Risk Analysis team. Fermi was a week away from crossing paths with Cosmos 1805, a 3,100-lb. naval signals reconnaissance satellite launched by the USSR in 1986. Click here. (5/1)

Lockheed Martin Marks 50 Years of Space, Defense Work in Huntsville (Source: Huntsville Times)
Lockheed Martin Corp., a company recruited to Huntsville by Wernher von Braun himself, celebrated 50 years of space and defense business in the "Rocket City" Wednesday, May 1. The celebration, attended by 1,000 employees, retirees and dignitaries, took place at the company's complex on Bradford Drive in Huntsville's Cummings Research Park.

Lockheed was one of the first tenants of that park when it broke ground on its complex on May 22, 1963. Huntsville was a boom town because of von Braun, and America was in a race to the moon. Lockheed would help NASA in Huntsville get there and later became a prime contractor on the space shuttle, and it would play a key role in Army missile programs at Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal. In 1984, the company's Homing Overlay Experiment Vehicle made the world's first hit-to-kill intercept of a test missile over the Pacific Ocean. (5/1)

Opportunity Exits Standby, Back at Work (Source: NASA JPL)
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project received confirmation from Mars this morning (May 1) that the Opportunity rover is back under ground control, executing a sequence of commands sent by the rover team. Opportunity is no longer in standby automode and has resumed normal operations. (5/1)

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