June 26, 2013

China: Astronauts Return Safely (Source: New York Times)
Three Chinese astronauts returned safely to earth on Wednesday after a 15-day mission that included docking exercises, a televised science demonstration for children and a phone call from their country’s president, Xi Jinping, state television reported. The Shenzhou 10 capsule landed in northeast China, ending China’s fifth manned space mission.

China is seeking to master the skills and technology needed to operate a manned space lab for long stretches, and the crew on the latest flight practiced rendezvous and docking exercises with the orbiting Tiangong 1 space module, a small prototype of such a lab. China first sent an astronaut into space in 2003, and government engineers have said they may eventually try to send an astronaut to the moon. (6/26)

'Nuclear Pasta' in Neutron Stars: New Type of Matter Found (Source: Space.com)
A rare state of matter dubbed "nuclear pasta" appears to exist only inside ultra-dense objects called neutron stars, astronomers say. There, the nuclei of atoms get crammed together so tightly that they arrange themselves in patterns akin to pasta shapes — some in flat sheets like lasagna and others in spirals like fusilli. And these formations are likely responsible for limiting the maximum rotation speed of these stars, according to a new study. (6/26)

Scientists Search Lunar Landscape for Lost Moon Probes (Source: Space.com)
The moon is the final resting ground for scads of landed and crashed spacecraft, many of which have been pinpointed recently by sleuthing scientists. Using observations by NASA's sharp-eyed Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, for example, researchers have located and imaged Apollo moon landing leftovers, old Soviet-era spacecraft and, more recently, the impact locales of NASA’s twin Grail spacecraft that were deliberately driven into a mountain near the moon’s north pole.

But the search is ongoing to find the exact location of several pioneering moon landers. "We are still looking for [the Soviet Union’s] Luna 9 and 13," said Jeff Plescia, a space scientist at the The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory. Yet another search involves the impact sites of Apollo lunar module ascent stages, hardware discarded once moonwalking crews were snug within their respective command modules. Ascent stages were intentionally impacted into the surface as part of the Apollo Passive Seismic Experiment. (6/26)

China Plans to Launch Tiangong-2 Space Lab Around 2015 (Source: Xinhua)
China will continue to carry out development and construction of space lab and plans to launch Tiangong-2 space lab around 2015, an aerospace official said Wednesday. This is in line with China's overall outline and plan for the country's manned space program, Wang Zhaoyao, director of China's manned space program office, told a press conference after the reentry module of the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft landed after a 15-day mission.

Wang said the engineering work of a manned space station is carried out simultaneously according to the plan, and China plans to put in orbit an experimental core module of space station around 2018. By 2020, China's manned space station would be built, he added. Prior to that, China will launch a series of cargo and manned spacecraft to deliver material supplies and transport astronauts to the future space lab and space station, Wang said. (6/26)

Japan Conversation Robot Ready for Outer Space (Source: AP)
The world's first space conversation experiment between a robot and humans is ready to be launched. Developers from the Kirobo project gathered in Tokyo Wednesday to demonstrate the humanoid robot's ability to talk. "Russia was the first to go outer space, the U.S. was the first to go to the moon, we want Japan to be the first to send a robot-astronaut to space that can communicate with humans," said Yorichika Nishijima, the Kirobo project manager.

The experiment is a collaboration between advertising and PR company Dentsu Inc., the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo, Robo Garage and Toyota Motor Corp. Tomotaka Takahashi, CEO of Robo Garage Co. and associate professor at the University of Tokyo, said he hopes robots like Kirobo that hold conversations will eventually be used to assist astronauts working in space. (6/26)

China's Astronaut Selection Follows Strict Rules (Source: Xinhua)
The selection of Chinese astronauts to carry out the country's space missions is following strict rules, an official in charge of astronaut training said. "We have a set of strict, scientific and well-developed criteria and procedural rules to select astronauts," said Deng Yibing of the Chinese Astronaut Research and Training Center. Deng made the remarks in response to a question about recent doubt on the Shenzhou-10 mission's female crew member Wang Yaping's real age.

"We had carried out five manned space missions, and all the personal information about the astronauts was released just one day before the launching date, and any information reported prior to these dates may be untrue," Deng said. He also noted that all the astronauts' personal information should be scrutinized strictly before being made public. Moreover, the official said there is no rigid requirement about the astronaut candidates' marital or parenthood status. There is no evidence so far that space flight may affect people's ability to have babies, he said. (6/26)

China Calls for International Cooperation in Manned Space Program (Source: Xinhua)
A Chinese astronaut research and training official Wednesday called for international cooperation to promote the development of manned space technologies. China has long been pushing for international cooperation in manned space program under the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, as well as of transparency and opening, said Deng Yibing, director of China Astronaut Research and Training Center.

China is willing to explore new cooperation models in fields including astronaut training and joint flights and to further promote the cooperation and exchanges between Chinese astronauts and their international counterparts, Deng said. "We believe that more extensive exchanges could help deepen understanding between us and establish a better basis for more concrete cooperation in the future," he said.

China has long been paying great attention to exchanges and cooperation between Chinese astronauts and their international counterparts and is willing to help train astronauts for other countries, Deng said. (6/26)

Google-Backed O3b Successfully Launches First Four Satellites (Source: Gigaom)
At 12:27pm PT Tuesday, four new communications satellites developed by O3b left the ground in French Guiana, riding atop a Soyuz rocket bound for medium-Earth orbit. They are half of O3b’s new broadband network, designed to deliver internet connectivity to the world’s most underserved populations. It’s not like any of the other mobile phone or broadband networks up today. It’s 5,000 miles above the surface, which it puts it far closer to its customers than the big geostationary satellites.

That means it can deliver much lower-latency services like voice and real-time communications – its signals have a much shorter distance to travel. While O3b can’t link everyone in the world to broadband, the project stands a good chance of connecting many of the world’s unconnected. That’s probably what attracted Google to the project when it invested in the startup back in 2008. (6/25)

NASA Emphasizes Planetary Protection For Asteroid Capture (Source: Aviation Week)
Faced with congressional recalcitrance over its plan to capture a small asteroid and nudge it into lunar orbit for hands-on study, NASA is emphasizing the link between finding a target and cataloging near-Earth objects (NEOs) that could devastate the planet if they hit. As a bonus, top agency managers say the mission could advance human-exploration capabilities even it does not catch a space rock.

The first flight of the Orion capsule with a crew on board will be to the high retrograde lunar orbit planned for a captured asteroid, they say, because of the lessons it can teach or future missions deeper into the Solar System. "Even if there isn't an asteroid there, there are certainly opportunities to test all the systems that we've got,” says Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “There are all sorts of things that we are going to test for the first time.”

Lightfoot, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and the agency's top four mission directors briefed industry on the asteroid-capture plan June 18, announcing a broad-brush “grand challenge” to “find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them.” Responses, due July 18, will be factored into NASA's asteroid-capture mission formulation later that month, which will feed NASA's FY-2015 budget request. But that presumes Congress will fund the mission in the budget request currently under review, which carries a $105-million line item to get the asteroid-capture mission off the ground. (6/24)

Officials Told Spaceport Has Support But Not in Shiloh (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Nearly 200 people turned out Tuesday night for an informational meeting with State Sen. Dorothy Hukill and Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys on the space industry. The conversation and questions from the majority of the crowd focused on just one aspect of that industry: Space Florida's quest to develop a commercial spaceport in southeastern Volusia County.

Hukill, R-Port Orange, and Denys scheduled the meeting to give residents an open forum to ask questions, particularly about the spaceport. But the officials left with no doubt it's a direction many in the room have no desire to go. Fishermen, retired aerospace engineers and environmentalists filled the Brannon Center, most with just one message: They support the space industry and would love to see it rebound locally, but not at Shiloh, just north of the Volusia county line.

The FAA will launch an 18-month Environmental Impact Statement process to determine the potential impacts of such a spaceport later this summer. At least 22 speakers either asked questions or made short statements voicing their concerns, at least 17 in opposition. Several, including the retired engineers, raised questions about the safety of commercial rocket launches over Mosquito Lagoon and closer to homes than existing launches at Cape Canaveral. (6/25)

NASA and Indian Space Chiefs Discuss Cooperation (Source: The Hindu)
Charles F.Bolden Jr. and his Indian counterpart K. Radhakrishnan met at Ahmedabad and discussed civil cooperative activities between the two agencies on Tuesday. Potential areas of future cooperation also figured in the talks, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said. The meeting came at Mr. Bolden’s visit to the ISRO Space Applications Center. It was his first visit to any ISRO center after taking over as NASA Administrator in July 2009. Only two of his predecessors have visited ISRO in the last 40 years. (6/26)

NASA Scientists Launch Space Analytics Startup With $13M in Funding (Source: VentureBeat)
Two former NASA scientists have launched Planet Labs, a new company aiming to send a fleet of imaging satellites into space. The new company is getting well off the ground with a $13 million round of funding from familiar Silicon Valley entities. The Planet Labs satellites are called Doves and will be sending back high-resolution images of Earth without compromising personal privacy.

Its founders hope the images will be used to track deforestation, better understand weather, improve global agriculture, and more. The satellites in question are not unlike the cube sats launching from the ISS these days. These miniscule devices orbit the planet and generate their own power via solar panels, taking pictures of Earth, sending Morse code messages via super-bright LEDs, logging maritime traffic, and monitoring forest fires as they go along.

But the Planet Labs team says part of what makes its fleet unique is the high frequency with which the sats will send information back to Earth, quickly creating massive data sets about the planet. Also, the startup’s reps say it wants to provide universal access to the data gathered. (6/26)

Pegasus Launch Slips to Thursday (Source: Santa Maria Times)
A Pegasus XL rocket launch has been delayed until Thursday, an indirect effect of Sunday night’s widespread power outage. The air-launched rocket’s departure now is scheduled for Thursday — a day later than planned — at 7:27 p.m. in the middle of a 5-minute window. The Orbital Sciences Corp. rocket with Pegasus under its belly will take off just before 6:30 p.m. from Vandenberg’s runway. The aircraft will release the rocket over the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles northwest of the Central Coast. (6/26)

China to Launch New Generation Rockets (Source: Xinhua)
China will launch new generation rockets with larger carrying capacities during the 12th Five-year Plan period (2011-2015). "The rockets in service cannot meet the demand from future manned space station, we need rockets with even larger carrying capacities," said Yuan Jie.

The Long March 5 carrier rocket is the rocket with the largest carrying capacity under development in China and it will be mainly used for the launching of manned space station, said Yuan, adding it has a capacity of carrying 20-ton payload to the near earth orbit. The Long March 7 carrier rocket, with a carrying capacity of 13 tons for the near earth orbit, will launch the cargo spacecraft for the future manned space station, he said. (6/26)

Construction of China's New Launch Site Going Smooth (Source: Xinhua)
Work on Hainan launch site, the new launch site for China's space program, has made smooth progress, said Wang Zhaoyao, director of China's manned space program office on Wednesday. Construction of the launch site started in September 2009, and its main structure has been completed, including the testing labs for carrier rockets and spacecraft, said Wang. "Joint exercise and follow-up tasks can be carried out according to plan," he said. (6/26)

Actor Rainn Wilson Talks Asteroid Mining with Planetary Resources (Source: Space.com)
Actor Rainn Wilson is a little bit worried about what the private asteroid-mining company Planetary Resources might do once it reaches space. Wilson (Dwight Schrute on TV's "The Office") jokingly compared Planetary Resources to the evil empire in "Star Wars" and the space mining company that destroys Pandora in "Avatar" during a nearly hour-long Google+ Hangout with the company's co-founder Peter Diamandis on Tuesday (June 25). (6/26)

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