August 14, 2013

Companies to Get Off Ground in Private Space Race (Source: DW)
There's little chance Serena Aunon, Randolph "Randy" Bresnik and the rest of NASA's roughly 50 astronauts will be blasting off into space in the near future. Since scrapping its space shuttle fleet two years ago, NASA only gets a select few astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on Russian Soyuz capsules.

That made Aunon and Bresnik happy to be able to test out the inside of Boeing's new CST-100 capsule. The pair sat right down in the pilot seats and checked out the communications systems. It will be a few years before the capsule will ever launch.

While the private companies are competing for the contracts for building the spaceships that launch to the ISS, NASA is developing its Orion spaceship that is to fly to the moon and beyond. The European Space Agency (ESA) and companies such as Astrium in Germany are also involved in the project. For Orion, NASA is using technology that ESA developed for its unmanned materials transporter ATV. (8/14)

The Forgotten Cold War Plan That Put a Ring of Copper Around the Earth (Source: WIRED)
During the summer of 1963, Earth looked a tiny bit like Saturn.  The same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on Washington and Beatlemania was born, the United States launched half a billion whisker-thin copper wires into orbit in an attempt to install a ring around the Earth. It was called Project West Ford, and it’s a perfect, if odd, example of the Cold War paranoia and military mentality at work in America’s early space program.

The Air Force envisioned the West Ford ring as the largest radio antenna in human history. Its goal was to protect the nation’s long-range communications in the event of an attack from the increasingly belligerent Soviet Union. During the late 1950’s, long-range communications relied on undersea cables or over-the-horizon radio. Should the Soviets have attacked an undersea telephone or telegraph cable, America would only have been able to rely on radio broadcasts to communicate overseas. But the fidelity of the ionosphere is routinely disrupted by solar storms.

In 1958 at MIT’s Lincoln Labs, a research station on Hanscom Air Force Base northwest of Boston. Project Needles, as it was originally known, was Walter E. Morrow’s idea. He suggested that if Earth possessed a permanent radio reflector in the form of an orbiting ring of copper threads, America’s long-range communications would be immune from solar disturbances and out of reach of nefarious Soviet plots. Click here.

Reconstructed Proteins Give Clues to First Life on Earth -- or Mars (Source: Space Daily)
Reconstructions of 4 billion-year-old proteins have provided insights into the habitat and origins of life on Earth, Spanish and U.S. researchers say. The researchers report the reconstructed proteins can survive in the extreme environments of high acidity and temperature that would have existed on the early Earth and, possibly, also on Mars.

The ancient proteins' properties suggest they may have been adapted to that environment, they said, sharing features with "extremophiles," bacteria living today in hot springs and deep within Earth's crustal rocks. An intriguing possibility suggested by the protein study, the researchers said, is that the ancient protein came to Earth in meteorites, having formed at an earlier time on another planet -- like Mars. (8/8)

New NASA Mission to Help Us Learn How to Mine Asteroids (Source: Space Daily)
Over the last hundred years, the human population has exploded from about 1.5 billion to more than seven billion, driving an ever-increasing demand for resources. To satisfy civilization's appetite, communities have expanded recycling efforts while mine operators must explore forbidding frontiers to seek out new deposits, opening mines miles underground or even at the bottom of the ocean.

Asteroids could one day be a vast new source of scarce material if the financial and technological obstacles can be overcome. Asteroids are lumps of metals, rock and dust, sometimes laced with ices and tar, which are the cosmic "leftovers" from the solar system's formation about 4.5 billion years ago. Click here. (8/12)

Pomerantz: Virgin On Track for Mid-2014 Tourist Service (Source: Parabolic Arc)
It looks like Virgin Galactic is sticking to the projections it made earlier this year for SpaceShipTwo, despite a 15-week (and counting) gap in powered test flights. Is this anything like when the pilot promises to make up time en route? The way things are going, the schedules for SpaceShipOne and LauncherOne slowly converge. Maybe they should just junk the hybrid engine and speed up development of the liquid-fuel one for LauncherOne. (8/13)

Sierra Nevada Completes Ground Tow Tests for Dream Chaser (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp. has completed tow testing for their Dream Chaser spacecraft at Dryten Flight Research Center in California. The ground tow tests were conducted in preparation for the upcoming approach and landing test scheduled for the third quarter 2013.

The tow tests were performed inpreparation for pre-negotiated, paid-for-performance milestones with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP), which is facilitating U.S. companies' development of spacecraft and rockets that can launch from American soil. (8/13)

NASA's Juno is Halfway to Jupiter (Source: NASA JPL)
NASA's Juno spacecraft is halfway to Jupiter. The Jovian-system-bound spacecraft reached the milestone today at 8:25 a.m. EDT. Juno was launched on Aug. 5, 2011. Once in orbit around Jupiter, the spacecraft will circle the planet 33 times, from pole to pole, and use its collection of eight science instruments to probe beneath the gas giant's obscuring cloud cover. (8/12)

Here's How NASA Will Use a 3D Printer on the ISS (Source: The Verge)
The ability to fabricate equipment in space could save NASA considerable time and energy. "As you might imagine on Space Station, whatever they have available on orbit is what they have to use," says Niki Werkheiser, NASA's lead on the zero-G project. "And just like on the ground, you have parts that break or get lost."

NASA will be able to preload blueprints onto the hardware, but has the ability to upload new files from the ground as well; Creamer notes that astronauts may be able to "make things we've thought of that could be useful" as well as simply replacing old tools. (8/13)

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