May 26, 2013

Planetary Resources To Change How We Explore The Cosmos (Source: Gadling)
Planetary Resources is a group of world leaders that are building the ground floor opportunities for a space travel industry. Not long ago, in "One Good Reason Why Space Travel Will Happen In Your Lifetime," we told of their idea to mine near-Earth asteroids for raw materials, basically making space travel profitable. Now, the forward-thinking team at Planetary Resources has tapped a diverse group of supporters to make access to space widely available for exploration and research.

Planetary Resources already includes Google's CEO Larry Page, filmmaker James Cameron and others who are known for turning exploration into profit. Recently added to the roster are Virgin's Sir Richard Branson, actor Seth Green, Star Trek's Brent Spiner (Data) and Rob Picardo (The Doctor), Bill Nye the Science Guy, futurist Jason Silva and MIT astrophysicist Dr. Sara Seager.

Coming up on Wednesday, May 29 at 10:00 a.m. PDT in Seattle at the Great Gallery at The Museum of Flight (also streaming live), Planetary Resources' Peter Diamandis, Eric Anderson and Chris Lewicki, along with vlogger Hank Green, will announce an unprecedented project that proposes to change the way humans explore the cosmos. (5/25)

Opportunity Discovers Clays Favorable to Martian Biology (Source: Universe Today)
Now nearly a decade into her planned 3 month only expedition to Mars, NASA’s longest living rover Opportunity, struck gold and has just discovered the strongest evidence to date for an environment favorable to ancient Martian biology – and she has set sail hunting for a motherlode of new clues amongst fabulous looking terrain!!

Barely two weeks ago in mid-May 2013, Opportunity’s analysis of a new rock target named “Esperance” confirmed that it is composed of a “clay that had been intensely altered by relatively neutral pH water – representing the most favorable conditions for biology that Opportunity has yet seen in the rock histories it has encountered,” NASA said in a statement. (5/25)

Mars Society Proposes A Year-Long Arctic Mars Analog Mission (Source: Universe Today)
The Arctic’s a lot like Mars, according to the Mars Society. It’s cold, it’s isolated, and it’s kind of dangerous. And, the society says, it’s ready to bring humans to the Arctic for a year to make a mission there even more Mars-realistic.

The proposed Mars Arctic 365 (MA365) mission on Canada’s Devon Island would take place at Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station, where missions have been sent since 2001 for periods of a few months each. This mission would encompass all seasons, though, including the bitter winter. (5/25)

Stratolaunch and Orbital – The Height of Air Launch (Source:
New details into the Stratolaunch system have revealed an exciting pairing of a huge carrier aircraft and a highly capable Orbital rocket nicknamed Pegasus II. The “Any Time, Any Orbit” air-launch system will be capable of lofting payloads up to 13,500 lbs to Low Earth Orbit. Stratolaunch was founded by inventor, investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan.

The company originally envisioned the use of a derivative of SpaceX’s Falcon rocket. However, not long into the evaluations, both Stratolaunch and SpaceX decided a four or five engine version of the Falcon would require extensive alterations to its design – something the Californian company claimed would cause too much disruption to their assembly line at Hawthorne. Stratolaunch then approached Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Virginia – not only an established space industry leader, but also experts in air launch, as proven via the 41 flights of their Pegasus rocket, as well as nine other Pegasus-class air launches. Click here. (5/24)

New Light Cast on Dark Matter (Source: Guardian)
Following the discovery of the Higgs boson, perhaps the most pressing problem in particle physics is to determine the nature of dark matter. The current evidence for dark matter is indirect but very convincing: several different astronomical observations indicate that the universe is pervaded by some unknown stuff that does not emit detectable amounts of light.

The range of observations include the patterns made by galaxies in the night sky, the motions of stars within a galaxy and images of distant galaxies distorted by the intervening matter, just as everyday objects look distorted when they are viewed through rippled glass. All of these different measurements can be explained by invoking the gravitational effects of dark matter. Click here. (5/26)

The Fiscal Frontier: UK Government Looks to Space for Rebalancing (Source: Guardian)
When Major Timothy Peake boards a Russian Soyuz rocket in late 2015 to become the first British astronaut on the International Space Station, he will carry the expectations of one of Britain's least-known industries. The government hopes the voyage will be not only a small step for Major Tim, but a giant leap for the UK space industry, which is worth £9.2bn and employs almost 30,000 people.

Enthusiasm is not enough. Willetts has identified space as one of "eight great technologies" that will propel the UK to growth, and rebalance the economy away from such earthly business as bricks and mortar. The government is so captivated by space that Willetts even managed to persuade the chancellor to make a one-off payment of £16m last year to the European Space Agency (ESA) – funding that made Peake eligible for travel on the ESA craft.

The government is already giving £240m to the ESA each year, but thinks this payout will generate up to £1bn of orders for UK companies. The business department says the UK can grab a 10% share of the global space industry by 2030, tripling employment to 100,000. (5/26)

Perry Signs SpaceX Beach Closure Law (Source: Brownsville Herald)
It is now law. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed House Bill 2623 into law that will allow the temporary closure of Boca Chica Beach for rocket launches, should SpaceX decide to build a launchpad in Cameron County. Perry signed the bill Friday, showing the state’s support for having SpaceX construct a launch site near Boca Chica Beach. Texas is one of four sites being considered by SpaceX. The others are in Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico. The Texas site is at the eastern end of State Highway 4, about three miles north of the Mexican border. It is about five miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island. (5/24)

Mithril Asset Management to Invest in Space Ventures (Source: NewSpace Watch)
Billionaire investor Peter Thiel's Venture Capital firm Founders Fund, which focuses on early stage firms, is an investor in SpaceX. Now he says another VC firm that he co-founded, Mithril Asset Management, which invests in later stage enterprises, will begin investing in space businesses as well. O’Neill said they will not set up a special fund just for space but will invest from within Mithril.

“We are delighted to have hired two space industry veterans on our investment team to help us examine hard technology companies, including transportation and space,” he said. Sources also said that several million dollars has already been poured into the fund to build vehicles for space exploration. Mithril denied this, and said they will not be raising additional money beyond the existing $402 million fund. (5/25)

Ecuador Satellite Hits Soviet Junk (Source: Japan Times)
A tiny Ecuadorean satellite that collided in space with the remains of a Soviet rocket was damaged and is not transmitting, Quito’s space agency said Thursday. The Pegaso nanosatellite hit debris from an S14 rocket launched by the Soviets into space in 1985. Despite the collision, the satellite seemed to be holding its course. Ecuadoran engineers will not know whether they can get Pegaso to work again until Monday. Ecuador plans to send a second satellite up from Russia in July. (5/25)

Space-Weather Instruments Added To Solar-Sail Demo (Source: Aviation Week)
SpaceX is slated to fly NASA's $27 million Sunjammer solar-sail demonstration next year as a secondary payload with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization's (NOAA) revived Deep Space Climate Observatory (Dscovr) satellite. Named after Arthur C. Clarke's 1964 short story, Sunjammer aims to be the largest solar sail ever constructed and deployed in space, and could prove the feasibility of an advanced space warning system for more timely and accurate predictions of solar-flare activity.

Led by L'Garde Inc. of Tustin, Calif., with ground-station support provided by NOAA, Sunjammer's propellantless solar sail could demonstrate the potential for other practical applications as well, including space-debris removal and de-orbiting of spent satellites. NASA says the mission builds on two successful ground-deployment experiments L'Garde conducted in 2005-06, quadrupling the area of the largest sail ever deployed on the ground by L'Garde. It also leverages the successful deployment of the NanoSail-D sail, a 100-sq.-ft. test article NASA launched in early 2011 to validate sail-deployment techniques. (5/26)

The Wow! Signal: Intercepted Alien Transmission? (Source: Discovery)
SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has seen astronomers scouring the sky for decades in hopes of receiving artificially generated radio signals sent by alien civilizations. But then, there’s a good chance we’ve already found just such a signal. And 1977 saw the most tantalizing glimpse ever.

Nicknamed the “Wow!” signal, this was a brief burst of radio waves detected by astronomer Jerry Ehman who was working on a SETI project at the Big Ear radio telescope, Ohio. The signal was, in fact, so remarkable that Ehman circled it on the computer printout, writing “Wow!” in the margin — and unintentionally giving the received radio signal the name under which it would become famous. Click here. (5/24)

Missiles But No Meteorites on US-Russian Agenda (Source: RIA Novosti)
The United States plans to collaborate with Russia on missile issues and Afghanistan, but not planetary defense from space threats, a senior US diplomat said. Building a joint asteroid defense system is not a “real proposal” until the project has funding, which is not on the cards with either country, said US Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller.

The meteorite issue became a global topic after a celestial body exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in mid-February, injuring 1,500. Meanwhile, Washington hopes to convince Russia to continue slashing strategic nuclear arms, Gottemoeller said on Ekho Moskvy radio, speaking in Russian.

The New START nuclear arms treaty, signed by Russia and the United States in 2010, limits deployed nuclear missiles and bombers capable of carrying nuclear weaponry for each country to 700. Russia would consider further cuts to its nuclear arsenal if it gets guarantees that US plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe pose no threat to Russia’s strategic parity with the U.S., Valery Gerasimov said. (5/25)

New Mexico Spaceport Tour Company Moves To Elephant Butte (Source: KRWG)
In their search for a more suitable location to further efforts related to Spaceport America, Follow the Sun Inc./FTS Tours - the official Spaceport tour operator - has relocated to a 5,800 sq. ft. building on one acre in Elephant Butte, New Mexico, where the company will launch its Spaceport America tours and rent out space to national and international space-industry companies interested in relocation. (5/24)

NASA IG Report Says Money Remains agency's Biggest Outside Challenge (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA's Inspector General's office has released its semiannual report to Congress on the state of the space agency as of March 31, 2013. It covers some big challenges, including cost overruns on the James Webb Space Telescope. Those overruns and the need to pay for them led to delays in some other projects and cancellation of others.

"From our perspective," Martin wrote, "declining budgets and fiscal uncertainties present the most significant external challenges to NASA's ability to successfully move forward on its diverse portfolio of science, exploration, and aeronautics projects." (5/24)

Bigelow to Test Habitat Prototype in Desert Near Las Vegas (Source: SEN)
Desert dwellers near Las Vegas will receive an unusual addition to the population at some point next year: a habitat built by Bigelow Aerospace. Public details are still few, except for these: it is called The Guide, it's described as a "flight-like" test article that is somewhat smaller than an automobile, and it will be placed in a dry lake near Alamo sometime in the spring or summer of 2014.

This is just one of a series of tests that Bigelow is undertaking as it seeks to build one of its inflatable habitats on the Moon someday. "It's the simplest, least expensive base we can construct," he said, describing it as similar to what the company hopes to land on the Moon at some point. "The brass ring for us is having a lunar base — as a company and in conjunction with other companies, and even other, possibly, foreign entities as well," he added. (5/25)

U.S. Lawmakers Again Prod NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Plan (Source: Space News)
House lawmakers preparing to write a new NASA authorization bill voiced doubts May 21 about the worthiness of sending astronauts to a relocated asteroid as soon as 2021 — the only mission, destination and timeline the U.S. space agency has identified for the heavy-lift launch vehicle and crew capsule it is spending nearly $3 billion a year to build. The debate at the May 21 House hearing centered on whether asteroid retrieval and exploration are a necessary precursor for a crewed mission to Mars — something notionally on tap for the 2030s, according to goals the Obama administration set in 2010.

Summing up the questions posed to a four-witness panel of space experts by most of the lawmakers at the hearing, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the ranking member on the subcommittee, said that “many of us have had questions about ... how that then contributes to going to Mars.”

Louis Friedman, the co-founder of the Planetary Society advocacy group and a key contributor to the study upon which NASA is basing the asteroid retrieval mission, said the most obvious benefit of sending astronauts to a small asteroid tugged to lunar space by a robotic retrieval craft would be to test the life support systems required to keep crews alive beyond Earth’s protective radiation belts. (5/24)

Countering the Threat Posed by Orbital Debris (Source: America Space)
There’s a lot of junk up there. Around 20,000 bits and pieces of satellites and old rocket parts, bigger than 5 cm (2 inches) across, are floating around in orbits less than 2,000 km high—and that’s just the stuff that can be tracked from Earth. It’s estimated that there’s another half a million unwanted items, up to 1 cm across, orbiting in regions where there’s a danger of collision with active spacecraft.

The solution must be twofold: to be more responsible about disposing of any new stuff we send up, and to clear away the garbage that’s already out there. Designers of new launch vehicles or satellites are already required, in many instances, to show that they have plans for eventual safe disposal—for example, by use of controlled atmospheric re-entry or a means to boost the spacecraft into a so-called graveyard orbit.

Beyond that, schemes are on the drawing board for bringing in the garbage. In the case of small fragments, in the 1 cm to 10 cm range, this might involve a “laser broom” – —a powerful ground-based laser that would target fragments and, by radiation pressure, alter their orbits so that they would quickly re-enter the atmosphere and burn up harmlessly. For larger stuff, dedicated space missions would have to be launched to capture the hardware and drag or deflect it into a path where it would incinerate on re-entry. (5/25)

What Path Will Lead American Humans to Mars? (Source: Universe Today)
Is it just us, or has there been a lot — a LOT — of talk about getting humans to Mars lately? Here’s Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin promoting a book about Mars exploration. Over here is Mars One, currently accepting applications for a one-way trip to the Red Planet in 2023 — an opportunity that thousands of people applied for so far. Don’t forget the Inspiration Mars people, either.

Even as our robotic emissaries break otherworldly driving records and search for Mars’ missing atmosphere, it’s not enough for our exploratory horizons. The stunning pictures robots beam back from Mars only fuel the fire for human hopes to get there. President Barack Obama has said he wants to get to Mars by the 2030s, but his is the latest in a series of plans to get there. Every president seems to have a new idea of Mars exploration. Click here. (5/24)

CNES Aims To Freeze Design of Ariane 6 in July (Source: Space News)
The French space agency, CNES, expects to freeze the final design of the new-generation Ariane 6 launcher by July, a milestone that will trigger work on a new launch pad in French Guiana whose location has already been decided, according to CNES officials. The rocket and the launch installation are being designed to operate Ariane 6 at least eight times per year, with a mission goal of 12 flights annually to keep production and operations costs within the targeted 70 million euros ($91 million) per launch.

At somewhere between eight and 12 flights per year, including three or four European government missions, Ariane 6 would no longer need the annual price supports that the current heavy-lift Ariane 5 still requires despite a decade-long run without a failure. The 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA) pays about 100 million euros per year to the Arianespace commercial launch consortium to permit the Evry, France-based company to avoid financial losses.

The 70 million euro target for Ariane 6 is viewed as an all-in cost that would include about 14 million euros per launch in ground operations and also would include the sales and marketing charges incurred by Arianespace. Taking advantage of work done years ago on what was then a quarry, CNES officials have selected a site to the north of the Ariane 5’s launch site for Ariane 6, an area called Roche Nicole. (5/24)

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