July 30, 2013

UTEP to Become Commercial Space Exploration Hub (Source: El Paso Times)
The University of Texas at El Paso is partnering with Japan's Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech), for collaborative research on advancing aerospace technologies. University officials signed the international agreement Monday which also will allow for faculty and student exchange programs. KyuTech has been historically funded by JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and plans to collaborate with the NASA University Research Center and Center for Space Exploration Technology Research at UTEP.

The university plans to work with two nearby entities: Blue Origin and Spaceport America. Blue Origin, LLC, which has a launch and test facility in Van Horn, is an aerospace company that plans to develop technology to transport people to space using reusable launch vehicles. Spaceport America, located in Sierra, N.M., is a launch site dedicated solely to commercial space flight to take customers into space. Expanding off a winged rocket platform developed by Kyutech, the UTEP collaboration will result in a reusable, suborbital vehicle to validate emerging space technologies. (7/30)

Spaceport America Opening New Tour Pickup Site (Source: Albuquerque Business First)
Getting to Spaceport America will be a bit easier beginning Friday, when Follow the Sun Inc. opens a new pickup site for tours. Follow the Sun, the official tour company of the spaceport, will offer new tours from the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites in Truth or Consequences. Beginning Aug. 2, Holiday Inn Express will offer complimentary hot breakfasts until 10 a.m. to anyone taking the morning tour and hot tea, coffee and cookies for those taking the afternoon tour. Tour guests interested in staying overnight at the hotel will receive a 10 percent discount with purchase of a Spaceport America Preview Tour ticket. (7/29)

Get Rid of Rockets with HyperV Slingatron Space Launcher (Source: Mobile)
Space travel is expensive. Very expensive. And arguably one of the largest costs involved with space travel is getting into space in the first place. Even when you use the most affordable of rockets with the most affordable of fuel, you still end up spending about $2,000 per pound of material being launched. That’s a lot of money. Working to significantly reduce the potential costs of space travel is the Slingatron space launcher from HyperV Technologies Corporation from Chantilly, Virginia.

Instead of using conventional rockets that simply propel you toward the stars, it is a “mechanical hypervelocity mass accelerator.” The fundamental idea is that the object being flung gets spun around, faster and faster, building up all kinds of speed, before being released and sent soaring in its desired direction. You know, kind of like what David used to hurl rocks at Goliath, except the final proposed Slingatron would be 200 to 300 meters in diameter. The current prototypes are, understandably, much smaller than that.

With the Slingatron, its spiral tube gyrates so that the contents swirl around inside, not unlike sloshing wine in a glass. It picks up speed and can eventually send the projectile soaring. The ultimate goal is to produce a Slingatron that can send a projectile at 7km/s, which is fast enough to put it into orbit. That works out to about 25,000 km/h. There’s still work to be done, of course, so HyperV has launched a campaign on Kickstarter to raise $250,000. That’s to build a Slingatron that is five meters in diameter. Click here. (7/30)

NASA Mulls Waking WISE for Three-year Asteroid Hunt (Source: Space News)
NASA may wake the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope from a two-year hibernation to resume its NEOWISE asteroid hunting mission for another three years, the head of the agency’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program said. (7/30)

Big Bang Light Reveals Minimum Lifetime of Photons (Source: Scientific American)
The notion of the speed of light as the cosmic speed limit is based on the assumption that particles of light, called photons, have no mass. But astrophysical observations cannot rule out the slim chance that photons do have a tiny bit of mass—-a prospect with wide ramifications in physics. For instance, if photons weigh nothing at all, they would be completely stable and could theoretically last forever. But if they do have a little mass, they could eventually decay into lighter particles. Now, by studying ancient light radiated shortly after the big bang, a physicist has calculated the minimum lifetime of photons, showing that they must live for at least one billion billion years, if not forever. (7/30)

How Giant Black Holes Spin: New Twist Revealed (Source: Space.com)
A newly discovered way to determine the spin of monster black holes could help shed light on the evolution of these bizarre objects and the galaxies they anchor. Astronomers watched as a black hole that sits at the core of a spiral galaxy 500 million light-years from Earth gobbled up gas and dust from its surrounding accretion disk. They were able to measure the distance between the inner edge of the disk and the black hole, which, in turn, allowed them to estimate the black hole's spin. (7/29)

NASA Suspects Life-Support Pack in Spacewalk Emergency (Source: Florida Today)
NASA engineers are narrowing in on the cause of the dangerous spacesuit water leak that could have drowned Italy’s first spacewalker, officials said Monday.  “They actually have isolated the failure to the spacesuit’s Primary Life Support System, which is essentially the backpack of the suit.” Meanwhile, Luca Parmitano and crewmates aboard the International Space Station started unpacking a Russian space freighter that hauled up three tons of supplies and a spacesuit repair kit over the weekend. (7/30)

NASA's MAVEN Mission Spurs Human Planetary Exploration Beyond Near-Earth Orbit (Source: Forbes)
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission will orbit Mars to seek answers to fundamental mysteries regarding the origin of the Martian planet’s atmosphere and climate. How did the Sun strip the planet of its ability to harbor microbial life forms? What happened to the abundant water and thick atmosphere that were once present on Mars? MAVEN will study the atmosphere of Mars by measuring the loss of Martian atmospheric gas to space and figure out how this had affected the planet’s climate over time to create what it is now — barren, desert-like and cold. (7/29)

NASA and ISRO Discuss Joint Satellite Development (Source: Times of India)
NASA and India's premier space agency ISRO are in talks for jointly building a satellite for the first time. "Now, there is a feasibility study going on whether we can jointly make a satellite, with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payloads working on two frequency bands - L-band and S-band", ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan said. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden visited IRSO in Ahmedabad on June 25. (7/29)

NASA Bungles Data Security in the Cloud, But at Least it Reached the Cloud (Source: Gigaom)
NASA gets the private cloud — remember, it helped get OpenStack off the ground — and it embraces the public cloud too, but perhaps it’s been a bit trigger happy. In jumping onto public clouds in the past few years, it has not met standards for ensuring the security of data, according to a report released Monday from the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

Multiple NASA facilities stuck data into public cloud environments but didn’t get the OK from NASA’s office of the chief information officer. That sounds like good old shadow IT on a large scale, similar in some ways to the act of putting documents on Box or Dropbox without company approval. But when NASA spins up cloud resources, the stakes could be higher if data were to get into the wrong hands — just as hackers’ access to data from defense contractor QinetiQ North America sent up red flags. (7/30)

'Comet of the Century' Already May Have Fizzled Out (Source: Reuters)
Astronomers slated to meet this week to discuss observing plans for Comet ISON may not have much to talk about. The so-called "Comet of the Century" may already have fizzled out. "The future of comet ISON does not look bright," astronomer Ignacio Ferrin, with the University of Antioquia in Colombia, said in a statement on Monday.

Ferrin's calculations show the comet, which is currently moving toward the sun at 16 miles per second, has not brightened since mid-January. That may be because the comet is already out of ice particles in its body, which melt as the comet moves closer to the sun, creating a long, bright tail. (7/29)

Space Exploration Corp. Gets Buzz Aldrin's Blessing Ahead of Space Tourism Trips (Source: Tech Digest)
Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon has signed on to become a member of Space Exploration Corporation's advisory board, one of the leading companies vying for dominance in the burgeoning space tourism sector. "Having had the privilege of serving my country both in the US Air Force and during the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 missions, I feel that there is nothing more thrilling than Space and all the possibilities that it offers us", said Aldrin of his latest appointment. (7/30)

On the Record With ... Andrew Gasser (Tea Party in Space) (Source: Northwest Herald)
To Fox River Grove native Andrew Gasser, the final frontier should not be gunked up by government regulation and red tape. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 2011, Gasser decided to combine his lifelong love of space and conservatism to found Tea Party in Space, a Washington, D.C.-based group dedicated to applying free-market principles to space exploration.

Senior reporter Kevin Craver, a fellow space nut who has fried a few brains of young journalists explaining relativity and the curvature of spacetime, talked to Gasser about his group and our future in space. Craver: So what is this group? Gasser: It’s a national tea party group that believes in fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets in space policy. All we talk about is space, and we actively work with Congress and individual policymakers to get good space policy through Congress, and ultimately signed by the president. Click here. (7/28)

Stennis Space Center Employees Receive NASA Honor Awards (Source: Times-Picayune)
Stennis Space Center Director Rick Gilbrech and NASA Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Robinson presented annual NASA Honor Awards to center employees during an onsite ceremony July 23. Dorsie Jones of Slidell received NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal, a high-level award for notable leadership accomplishments that significantly influence NASA’s mission. The award recognizes an individual’s leadership and effectiveness in advancing NASA’s goals and image. (7/28)

NASA Defends SLS Against Charge of 'Draining the Lifeblood' of Space Program (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA is defending its Space Launch System against a new analysis arguing that SLS is too expensive to fly and is "draining away the lifeblood - funding - of the space program." "I understand the premise of the article," NASA Deputy Associate Administrator Dan Dumbacher said, "but I think we need to realize there's a broader set of trades that really form up the decision process."

Dumbacher referred to "Revisting SLS/Orion launch costs" by John Strickland published July 15 on the website The Space Review. Strickland is a member of the board of directors of the National Space Society, but wrote the article independently. Strickland believes America does need a heavy-lift rocket for certain payloads, "but we cannot afford to launch such payloads on an expendable booster." Instead, he suggests a bidding process to allow commercial companies to build a reusable booster.

"We are designing [Orion] for a 10-mission life," Dumbacher said. "Now, obviously that's primarily for the pressure shield. Heat shields will have to be reworked after each flight, because first of all it goes through the heat and deals with the water impact." Dumbacher said NASA hopes to reuse "some of the subsets off Orion, but it remains to be seen how well that works out after the first test flight" in 2014. Click here. (7/29)

Quest to Test Einstein’s Speed Limit (Source: UC Berkeley)
Albert Einstein’s assertion that there’s an ultimate speed limit – the speed of light – has withstood countless tests over the past 100 years, but that didn’t stop Berkeley researchers from checking whether some particles break this law. Their first attempt demonstrated once again that Einstein was right, but they are improving the experiment to push the theory’s limits even farther – and perhaps turn up a discrepancy that could help physicists fix holes in today’s main theories of the universe. Click here. (7/29)

US Lawmaker Seeks to Partner with Russia to Clean Up Space (Source: RIA Novosti)
A prominent US lawmaker and advocate of the United States’ role in space told a conference on the commercialization of space that the US and Russia should team up for extraterrestrial projects -- and suggested they start by cleaning up the hundreds of thousands of pieces of manmade space litter and capturing and deflecting asteroids hurtling toward Earth.

“Now that Russia is no longer a communist dictatorship and has been evolving in the right direction, we should reach out to them even more than we did in the past, along with our European allies, to have joint missions in space,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said by Skype to attendees at the New Space 2013 conference in San Jose, California this past weekend. (7/29)

GAO: DOD Did Not Perform Required Assessment Before Cancelling PTSS (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) told Congress last week that DOD's decision to terminate the Precision Tracking Satellite System (PTSS) was not based on an evaluation of alternatives that was required by law.  Nonetheless, Congress seems perfectly happy with the decision to terminate the program based on actions on DOD's FY2014 funding bills so far.

PTSS is a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) program that would have been comprised of a constellation of nine infrared satellites to track ballistic missiles in the post-boost and mid-course phases of their trajectories. A March GAO report said that MDA told GAO that the PTSS cost estimate was "not available for publication," so GAO instead cited a National Academies estimate that the system would cost $18.2 billion - $37 billion in FY2010 dollars depending on the number of satellites in the constellation (9 or 12) operating for 20 years. (7/29)

Wanted: Space Tech Innovations for NASA's Future (Source: Space.com)
Technological innovation isn't necessarily one size fits all for NASA. NASA is working with private industry to craft new technological innovations that will help spacecraft travel to space more efficiently than ever before, but different missions have different needs, NASA chief Charles Bolden said Tuesday. For a future mission to an asteroid, Bolden is focused on creating a propulsion system that can get a NASA spacecraft to a space rock that could then be delivered into orbit around Earth.

Although ion engines are reliable and could propel a spaceship to the proper distance, the craft would still need solar cells that could create electricity to power the engines into the far reaches of space. Solar cells that powerful aren't flight-ready yet, Bolden said. "If you're talking about the asteroid initiative, we're talking about launching in 2017 or 2018 because it's probably two or three or more years to get there, to meet up with this thing and then another couple of years or so to get it--if it works--steered toward lunar orbit in order to have it there in 2023." (7/29)

NASA's Chandra Sees Eclipsing Planet in X-rays for First Time (Source: NASA)
For the first time since exoplanets, or planets around stars other than the sun, were discovered almost 20 years ago, X-ray observations have detected an exoplanet passing in front of its parent star. An advantageous alignment of a planet and its parent star in the system HD 189733, which is 63 light-years from Earth, enabled NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM Newton Observatory to observe a dip in X-ray intensity as the planet transited the star. (7/29)

What It's Like To Drop 150,000 Feet Straight Down (Source: NPR)
If I say "meet me 28 miles from here," that doesn't seem very far, right? You could take a taxi, a bus; if pushed you might even make it on a bike. But what if the 28 miles is not on a road or a highway, but straight up, 150,000 feet — that's high. So high, we're out of the life zone. Up in the silence. This video, created by NASA and sound designed by the amazing folks at Skywalker Sound, lets you rise those 150,000 feet on a solid rocket booster, and then, after helping the space shuttle shoot into orbit, you (and the booster) tumble straight back to Earth. (7/29)

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