July 19, 2013

Atlas V Launches Navy Satellite From Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
An Atlas V rocket roared off its Cape Canaveral launch pad today and zoomed toward orbit with an advanced Navy communications satellite. The 206-foot-tall rocket ignited with blinding light at 9 a.m., or 12 minutes later than planned. The launch was delayed because upper-atmosphere winds were too strong initially to proceed with a planned 8:48 a.m. liftoff. (7/19)

No More Than Five Proton-M Launches by Yearend  (Source: Interfax)
No more than five Proton-M rockets may be launched from Baikonur (Kazakhstan) before the end of this year if the launches resume in September, a Baikonur spokesman said. "The number of launches is limited by the capacity of the station fueling Briz-M upper stages of Proton-M rockets. The station can fuel only one upper stage per month," he said. If the first launch is made in early September and launch preparations begin on the first days of August, then it will be possible to fuel five Briz-M upper stages and make five launches before this year ends, the source said. (7/19)

Grumman Workers Reunite to Mark Moon Landing (Source: Florida Today)
Nearly 200 people responsible for the lunar module that put man on the moon 44 years ago have come back to the Space Coast to celebrate their achievement and teamwork. For some, it will be the first time back at Kennedy Space Center since they were laid off at the end of the Apollo program in the 1970s. (7/19)

Russia Plans Polygraph Testing for Proton Launch Workers (Source: Itar-Tass)
Personnel of the enterprise that manufactured the assembly units for the Proton-M carrier rocket, which collapsed on the ground at the Baikonur Space Center July 2 just seconds after liftoff, will be tested at the polygraph, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. “The people suspected of crude violations of the technological process will be tested at the lie detector,” he wrote. “The government is awaiting a report on the accident from Roscosmos.” (7/19)

DOD Appropriations in Limbo Over Amendment Threat (Source: The Hill)
A bill to fund defense is being held up as the House Rules Committee awaits to meet over how to address 173 amendments so far that lawmakers want to attach to the bill -- amendments ranging from pulling funding from the National Security Agency's surveillance of Americans to restricting military aid in Syria. The committee was considering making a rule that would bar amendments to the defense appropriations measure but a source says there was worry such a rule might not pass. (7/18)

How Scientists Search for Habitable Planets (Source: NASA JPL)
There is only one planet we know of, so far, that is drenched with life. That planet is Earth, as you may have guessed, and it has all the right conditions for critters to thrive on its surface. Do other planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets, also host life forms?

Astronomers still don't know the answer, but they search for potentially habitable planets using a handful of criteria. Ideally, they want to find planets just like Earth, since we know without a doubt that life took root here. The hunt is on for planets about the size of Earth that orbit at just the right distance from their star - in a region termed the habitable zone. Clickc here. (7/17)

Who Will Launch From Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A? (Source: Florida Today)
Competing proposals from two billionaire-backed private space firms have complicated NASA’s plan to lease a former Apollo and shuttle launch pad it no longer needs and can’t afford to maintain. NASA was close to an agreement on a 15-year lease of Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A to SpaceX, which could use it in the next few years for launches of astronauts to the International Space Station and for a planned heavy-lift Falcon rocket.

But Blue Origin, which has not yet flown a vehicle in space but may compete with SpaceX long-term, has instead proposed taking over the pad and equipping it to serve multiple launch providers, including SpaceX. “We believe the fullest commercial use of that facility is as a multi-user pad, and we think we’ve got the long-term financial commitment and the technical ability to make it successful,” said Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin.

NASA is looking for commercial operators to take over the historic seaside pad that debuted with the first Saturn V blastoff in 1967 and was last used in 2011 for the final shuttle launch. The agency hopes to lease the mothballed pad by Oct. 1, when it plans to stop funding upkeep of a facility for which it has “no foreseeable” need. (7/19)

With Neil Armstrong Gone, How Will Moonshots Be Remembered? (Source: NBC)
t's been 44 years since humans first set foot on the moon, but less than one year since the first human to do so died. The passing of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, the best-known moonwalker, could herald a shift in how the past and the future of moon exploration is viewed. "Actuarially, it's getting more likely that we're returning to a situation I never thought I'd see, with no living people on Earth who have ever been to the moon," said NBC News space analyst James Oberg.

The age of the moonwalkers began on July 20, 1969, when Armstrong and crewmate Buzz Aldrin took humanity's first small steps on the lunar surface. Since then, four of the 12 men who walked on the moon have passed away. The youngest of those who remain — Apollo 16's Charlie Duke — is 77. (7/17)

Upside Down Sensor Behind Proton Rocket Explosion (Source: Russia Today)
An investigation into the failure of a Proton-M booster rocket carrying three GLONASS navigation satellites that exploded moments after launch suggests a wrongly placed sensor was to blame. The deputy head of Russia’s space agency Roskosmos Aleksandr Lopatin says, “The failure occurred due to loss of stabilization and fishtailing due to abnormal functioning of an angular velocity sensor.” He added that it had probably been installed upside down. (7/18)

Embry-Riddle Developing Simulated Space Habitat (Source: SPACErePORT)
A human factors researcher at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach has procured an airstream trailer and -- with the help of several students -- will be converting it over upcoming semesters into a Mobile Extreme Environment Research Station (MEERS). Jason Kring and his students will use MEERS for research into crew interaction in scenarios of extreme isolation during long-duration missions in space and on Earth. (7/198)

70% of Poll Respondents Support Shiloh Launch Site Development (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The Orlando Sentinel conducted a "Friday Back Talk" poll asking readers if the state should locate a spaceport in the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. The results are posted here and include a 70% favorable response to the question. (7/18)

Satmex Orders New Boeing Satellite (Source: Satellite Today)
Satélites Mexicanos (Satmex) announced it has entered into an agreement with Boeing for the design, construction and delivery of Satmex 9, the latest communications satellite in its fleet. Satmex 9 will be launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The launch is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2015. (7/18)

Nonprofit Seeks North Texas Residents to Send into Space (Source: Dallas Observer)
Space tourism. Whether you view it as the ultimate rich man's mini-vacation or a means to offset funding for important work, those seats start at $95,000. That's unattainable for most people, making space exploration an inherently elitist treasure. That's something Edward Wright would like to change through the Dallas-based nonprofit Citizens in Space, a group that challenges the public to embark on suborbital travel.

They're currently combing Dallas for inventive people to send on 30-minute space flight missions, each trip peaking with four to five minutes of weightlessness. As anyone who spent childhood fantasizing about space camp can attest: That is rad. Citizens in Space (formerly Teachers in Space) purchased 10 seats on XCOR Lynx crafts, smallish two-person shuttles that carry one operator and one passenger up 100 kilometers (328,000 ft) into the Karman Line, a straddling point between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space.

In addition to seats, CIS has bought up room for 100 experiment payloads, which will also be selected from Citizen Scientist future submissions. CIS will scout potential Dallas candidates, human and testable, this Saturday at the Space Hackers Workshop, a microgravity science payload-building course designed as an offshoot portion of Moon Day, happening at the Frontiers of Flight Museum. (7/17)

NASA Spending Bill Presents Ted Cruz with a Conundrum (Source: Examiner)
The Senate's draft bill also presents the ranking member of the subcommittee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) with something of a conundrum. On the one hand Cruz, as a tea party conservative, believes in small government and frugal spending. The senate version of the NASA bill is roughly $1.5 billion more than the House version, crafted by Cruz’s fellow Republicans. Based on Cruz’s spending hawk stance, he should oppose the subcommittee bill.

On the other hand, Cruz is a senator from Texas, a state where space has always been important due to the presence of NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center and increasingly because of the operations of commercial space firms such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and XCOR in the Lone Star State. Cruz has also expressed support for NASA and commercial space. Based on that, Cruz should be inclined to support the senate funding level for NASA.

On a side issue, Cruz has not publicly expressed whether he is in favor of the asteroid plan or whether he favors, as do House Republicans, a return to the moon. Thus far, unlike with other, more prominent issues like immigration and gun control, Cruz has been taking a bi-partisan approach to NASA spending, deferring to Nelson. Whether that will continue and when and if Cruz will chart the same sort of independent course on NASA as he has on so many other issues remains to be seen. (7/18)

Obama Taps NASA Official for Senior Energy Slot (Source: The Hill)
President Obama will nominate NASA chief financial officer Beth Robinson for the currently vacant job of under secretary at the Department of Energy, the White House said Thursday evening. She has been at NASA since 2009, a job that followed four years as assistant director for budget at the White House Office of Management and Budget. (7/18)

House Restores Funds for NASA JPL Missions to Mars, Jupiter (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee passed an appropriations package for Fiscal 2014 that could restore funds for future Jet Propulsion Laboratory-managed missions to both Mars and Jupiter, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, announced Thursday. Schiff said the package contains $1.3 billion for planetary science and restores about $100 million previously removed by the Obama administration.

The restored funding allows NASA and JPL to begin important work on the Mars 2020 rover and a mission to Jupiter's moon, Europa. "The top two priorities of scientists are to bring a sample back from Mars and to explore Europa," Schiff said. The appropriations package lays out $288 million for Mars exploration, $65 million of which will be used for the design and development of a 2020 mission that will acquire and return a sample from the Red Planet. (7/18)

Edwards Withdraws Amendment That Could Have Closed Marshall (Source: WZDX)
A Maryland congressman has withdrawn an amendment that would have established a commission to consider closing Marshall Space Flight Center. Thursday afternoon U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-MD, announced during a meeting of the Committee on Space, Science and Technology that she was withdrawing her amendment. The proposed amendment would have established a commission to investigate the cost of closing Marshall Space Flight Center and moving operations to Stennis and Johnson space centers.

Earlier today, U.S. Representative Mo Brooks issued a statement reacting to news of the proposed amendment. "More and more Democrats in Washington prefer to spend America's limited tax dollars on welfare rather than programs like human space flight that both expand humanity's understanding of the universe and create technological advances that help everyone." (7/18)

The Private Plan to Put a Telescope on the Moon (Source: WIRED)
Two private companies are teaming up to attempt the first-ever mission to the moon’s south pole in order to place a telescope atop a lunar mountain. This plan is being spearheaded by the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA), a non-profit aiming to build a scientific and commercial base on the moon, with help from the startup Moon Express, which hopes to become a Space Age version of FedEx in the coming decade.

The companies want to put a 2-meter radio antenna along with a smaller optical telescope on a lunar peak, most likely the 5-km-high rim of a crater called Malapert. From this position, both telescopes could view the center of our Milky Way galaxy with unprecedented clarity because they wouldn’t be subjected to our atmosphere’s hazy interference. The moon would also block them from radio and other electromagnetic noise created by modern civilization. Click here. (7/18)

Mars Rover Finds Good News for Past Life, Bad News for Current Life on Mars (Source: WIRED)
The first detailed analysis from the Curiosity rover’s sampling of the Martian atmosphere bolsters the case that the planet was once warmer, and possibly wetter and friendlier to life. But the findings strike a simultaneous blow to those who suspect microbes may still linger on the Red Planet’s surface because of what they didn’t find: methane.

The saga of Martian methane goes back several years. In 2009, Earth-based measurements suggested three regions of Mars might contain fairly high and unexpected concentrations of the gas. The finding astounded the scientific community because living organisms produce almost all the methane on our planet – only 1 percent comes from non-biological processes. Methane also quickly dissipates, suggesting that any of the gas found on the planet would have been produced recently.

But based on the rover’s ground truth measurements of Mars, NASA scientists have concluded that “there’s not much methane there,” said chemist Paul Mahaffy, the principal investigator of Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. The area around Gale crater, where the rover landed nearly a year ago, contains an upper limit of 2.7 parts per billion of methane, he added. In comparison, Earth’s atmosphere contains roughly 1,700 parts per billion of methane. (7/18)

Palazzo: The Future of NASA in a Post-shuttle World (Source: Space News)
Throughout NASA’s history, the American space program has been a symbol of world leadership, national security and national pride. This has been reflected in the bipartisan manner in which Congress addressed space policy bills. The bipartisan spirit that drove those policies gave us the tools to put a man on the Moon, build the international space station and send rovers to Mars. Despite the fact that Congress has become increasingly partisan, the last four space policy bills were passed with wide bipartisan margins.

We have never needed a serious, workable, bipartisan approach to space policy more than we do now. While the Chinese are dumping money into their space program, American astronauts are hitching rides to the international space station on Russian rockets. NASA no longer even has the capability of sending our astronauts into space. At this crucial point in our history, we must invest and invest wisely in NASA if we expect to maintain American leadership in space. Click here. (7/18)

British Space Plane Engine to Get Flight Test in 2020 (Source: Space.com)
Flight tests of an engine for the giant space plane Skylon are expected by 2020. The British government and European Space Agency (ESA) are providing $100 million in funding, which will be matched by private financing to complete the propulsion system's development and test. Two Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engines (SABRE) will power the Skylon space plane — a privately funded, single-stage-to-orbit concept vehicle that is 276 feet (84 meters) long. At take-off, the plane will weigh about 303 tons (275,000 kilograms).

The two SABREs are located on the tips of the delta wings attached midway down the Skylon’s dart-like fuselage, powering it to deliver up to 33,000-pounds (15,000 kg) into orbit. That payload could be a satellite or a crew module, officials from its maker, England-based aerospace company Reaction Engines Ltd., have said. The 2020 flight test will follow the completion of a prototype of the space plane engine by 2017, according to the UK government’s minister for universities and science David Willetts. (7/18)

Snow Forecast for Distant Star Proves Correct (Source: LA Times)
Snow was always in the forecast out on the sun-like star TW Hya. It’s just that astronomers were never sure they would actually find it and “see” it. That changed recently when an international team of researchers trained a powerful array of radiotelescopes on this solar system precursor, located about 175 light years from Earth. What they chronicled may answer questions about how the collision and accretion of celestial particles led to comets and planets in our own solar system.

The “snow” lines that form in a dusty disc around young stars are basically bands of different compounds and elements that freeze at varied distances from their star, in a fashion similar to the snow lines that form as temperature drops in high mountains. By helping particles clump instead of shatter, these frozen bands help form planets – rocky ones like ours in near areas, big gaseous planets elsewhere. Water, the snow we know, forms the first line. Farther out, carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide form their own frozen lines. (7/18)

Frustration Grows as Lawmakers Penny Pinch Commercial Crew (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program – one of the Agency’s key near-term priorities – is once again battling against proposed funding cuts, following the House Appropriations Committee approval of their Commerce, Justice, Science FY 2014 Appropriations Bill. The report that accompanies the bill proposes a funding reduction and a change to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)-based contracts. Click here. (7/18)

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