September 11, 2013

Station Crew Members Descend to Earth After 5 ½ Months in Orbit (Source: Aviation Week)
A three-man U.S. and Russian crew ended a successful 5 1/2 month expedition to the International Space Station late Tuesday, descending to a landing in Kazakhstan aboard their Soyuz spacecraft. Weary but in good shape, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, Expedition 36 ISS commander Pavel Vinogradov and fellow cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin were assisted from their capsule within minutes of touching down under parachute at 10:58 p.m., EDT. (9/11)

Surrey Satellite to Design Exoplanet Satellite Mission (Source: Hobby Space)
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) for the competitive design phase of CHEOPS science satellite, which will improve mankind’s understanding of exoplanets – planets orbiting distant stars outside our solar system. The contractor selection for the implementation phase is planned by mid-2014 and the launch is scheduled late 2017.

The CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS) will finely characterise known exoplanets and their parent stars with an unprecedented accuracy. The satellite will measure the orbit and radius of those exoplanets, enabling the scientists to assess their potential habitability. (9/11)

Editorial: Air Force Must Pick its Top 5 Priorities (Source: Forbes)
In a time of budget cutting, it's imperative that the Air Force name its "Big Five" programs -- top priorities whose funding it wants protected at all costs, writes Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute. Thompson's picks for those five critical Air Force programs: the F-35A fighter jet, a new tanker, a new bomber, a new sensor plane and a new trainer. (9/10)

India Prepares to Launch Country's Maiden Mission to Mars (Source: UPI)
Indian officials have confirmed a November launch date for the country's first mission to Mars, set to launch from a spaceport in the south of the country. "Hectic preparations are on to launch Indian Space Research Organization's ambitious Mars Orbiter Mission in November," U.R. Rao of the Governing Council of Physical Research Laboratory said. (9/9)

Goddard Moving on Next Discovery Competition, Targets Venus or Small Bodies (Source: Space News)
NASA has not yet said when a competition for the next small-scale robotic mission to another planet might begin, but the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., declared its intent to win Sep. 9 with a call for key subsystems to be used on a mission to Venus, an asteroid or a comet.

In its Sep. 9 Partnership Opportunity Document, Goddard said it is “seeking partners for spacecraft, navigation, mission operations center, and related spacecraft subsystems” that could be folded into a proposal for NASA’s next Discovery-class planetary science mission, competition for which the center expects to begin around November or December of 2014. Responses are due Oct. 4. (9/11)

FIU Operates Underwater Module for Astronaut Training (Source: Florida Today)
Astronaut training has resumed at an undersea laboratory in the Florida Keys. Starting Tuesday, five astronauts began spending five days living and working at the Aquarius Reef Base. While they’re underwater, they’ll be trying out an exercise device that could be used on the International Space Station and spacewalking tools. They also will evaluate protocols for communications and for working with a remotely operated vehicle, according to NASA.

Scientists staying at Aquarius are called “aquanauts,” and since 2001 their ranks have included astronauts training for space missions. Astronauts last trained at Aquarius in June 2012 on a mission that simulated a visit to an asteroid. It seemed like the final astronaut training mission because Aquarius had been set to close by the end of last year after losing its federal funding to budget cuts.

This week’s mission is the first at Aquarius since Florida International University took over its operations in January. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration owns the pressurized lab that sits about 60 feet below the ocean’s surface a few miles off Key Largo. The 43-foot-long metal tube — it looks like a yellow mobile home encrusted with coral — allows scientists to live and work underwater for days at a time without coming up for air. (9/11)

Another Minor Glitch for LADEE (Source: NASA Watch)
LADEE slipped into safe mode again yesterday morning when its star trackers experienced an alignment error. This error has been fixed and the spacecraft is expected to exit safe mode today and proceed normally with the mission. (9/11)

Time Capsule Sealed in Space Shuttle Exhibit (Source: Collect Space)
NASA's Florida visitor center has dedicated a time capsule filled with memorabilia related to the 30-year space shuttle program. Not to be opened until 2061 — 50 years after the last shuttle mission — the time capsule was sealed in the wall of the building that displays the spacecraft that completed that historic final flight. (9/10)

NASA Awards Center Maintenance, Operations and Engineering Contract (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected Jacobs Technology, Inc., of Tullahoma, Tenn., to provide core support services at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., in the areas of institutional and research operations, maintenance and engineering. The contract has a performance period, including options, of 10 years. Contract phase-in begins Nov. 1. The total contract value is approximately $742 million. (9/10)

SpaceX: California Launch Delayed to Next Week (Source: Waco Tribune)
A SpaceX launch from California set for Saturday has been delayed, but maybe only to Sunday instead of next Tuesday. NASA's mission database shows only a day's postponement, from Sep. 14 to Sep. 15. A spokeswoman for Vandenberg said she could not immediately confirm the postponement, but for right now it looks like Sunday is the day. A static fire test was set for Wednesday. (9/11)

Embry-Riddle Named Best in Aerospace Engineering for 14th Straight Year (Source: ERAU)
For the 14th consecutive year, the Best Colleges guidebook published by U.S. News & World Report ranks Embry-Riddle’s undergraduate aerospace engineering program No. 1 in the nation. The annual compilation also rates Embry-Riddle highly in undergraduate engineering and names the university one of the top schools in the South. (9/10)

NASA Defends Conference Attendance at Greek Resort (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA is defending a top scientist against criticism that she is avoiding sequestration travel restrictions by attending a conference at "a Greek resort" this month. Dr. Chryssa Kouveliotou, is one of the world's authorities on gamma ray bursts and was recently made a member of the National Academy of Science. The conference titled "Explosive Transients: Lighthouses of the Universe" is being held on Santorini Island. Kouveliotou and three other NASA scientists are co-chairs, and six NASA employees in all are attending.

A NASA spokeswoman said the agency canceled its planned $10,000 sponsorship of the event when sequestration cuts were announced. NASA is not funding the event, spokeswoman Beth Dickey said in an email. Dickey said the conference is one of a series sponsored by scientific organizations around the world and a chance for scientists to plan future gamma ray missions and hear scientific presentations.

Dickey said the agency is paying for the six civil servants, including Kouveliotou, to attend at a total cost of $25,000 including travel, lodging and government per diem. "Their participation has been approved by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer under the required waiver process," Dickey said. "All six will be involved in meetings with international partners regarding the future operation of NASA gamma-ray missions such as Swift and NuSTAR." (9/10)

Is The Future Of Data Centers In Space? (Source: Fast Company)
As a general rule, it makes sense to store commodities that are used every day near big population centers. But data centers--those nondescript storage units for that magical place called "the cloud"--can be anywhere. In fact, data centers are often well-suited for remote locations, where energy and real estate is cheap and security is easy (you could build a data center inside a cave, for example). So why not take data centers to space--a vast landscape with virtually unlimited room to grow, little security risk, and lots of solar energy?

Advances in data center automation, which are trending towards a future that is almost entirely robotic and self-healing, could make it possible, according to Jack Pouchet, vice president of business development and energy initiatives at Emerson Network Power. Pouchet is always thinking about data center efficiency and the future of the industry--and he's noticing the beginnings of a problem that will only get bigger. (9/10)

Scientists Detect Water on Moon's Surface that Hints at Water Below (Source: Space Daily)
NASA-funded lunar research has yielded evidence of water locked in mineral grains on the surface of the moon from an unknown source deep beneath the surface. Using data from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, scientists remotely detected magmatic water, or water that originates from deep within the moon's interior, on the surface of the moon. (9/10)

SpaceX's Debut Rocket Launch from California Will Include Reusability Test (Source:
SpaceX is gearing up for a landmark liftoff that will not only inaugurate a new rocket upgrade and refurbished launch pad, but also provide a test of reusable rocket technology. The spaceflight company is scheduled to launch an improved version of its Falcon 9 rocket from a newly rebuilt pad at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Saturday (Sept. 14).

The flight will loft Canada's Cassiope space weather satellite, as well as several secondary payloads, into orbit. But its primary purpose is to break in the new Falcon 9 version 1.1, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said recently. "This is essentially a development flight for the rocket," Musk told SpaceNews. "It's not an operational flight." The Falcon 9 v1.1 is considerably longer and more powerful than the baseline Falcon 9, which has flown five times.

The upcoming launch from Vandenberg will also feature a reusability demonstration. SpaceX plans to re-ignite the Falcon 9's first-stage engine in an attempt to make a soft water landing of the booster in the Pacific Ocean. Like many other bold first tries, this one probably won't work, SpaceX officials say. "We do not expect this to be successful the first time," SpaceX spokeswoman Christina Ra said. "We've never done any water landing tests, so the chance of success is really low." (9/10)

Cell Scaffolding Found in Odd California Meteorite (Source: New Scientist)
Meteorites baked in Earth's hydrothermal vents might have released molecules crucial to forming cell-like membranes in early life forms. So suggest tests run on pieces of a van-sized meteor that broke up over California. The meteor made headlines in April 2012 when it was spotted as a bright fireball over the US west. By tracking its trajectory, scientists were able to figure out where fragments should have landed and quickly collect relatively fresh pieces.

Initial tests on the pieces showed that the meteorite is a carbonaceous chondrite, a class that is usually rich in amino acids and other soluble, carbon-containing compounds. Scientists have theorised that these organics – key ingredients for life – dissolved from meteorites into Earth's seas. But it turns out that Sutter's Mill was heated by collisions with other space rocks before it fell to Earth, which changed its composition. Other work found that the meteorite fragments seem to be oddly low in organic materials. (9/10)

Fat Gravity Particle Gives Clues to Dark Energy (Source: Nature)
The Wall Street mantra “greed is good” could soon be adopted by cosmologists to explain the origins of dark energy, the mysterious entity that is speeding up the expansion of the Universe. At a cosmology meeting last week, debate focused on a controversial class of theories in which gravity is carried by a hypothetical ‘graviton’ particle that has a small, but still non-vanishing, mass.

Such a particle would tend to gobble up vast amounts of energy from the fabric of space, enabling the Universe to expand at an accelerated, although not destructive, pace. Since astronomers discovered in the late 1990s that the Universe's expansion is accelerating, researchers have struggled to explain not only the nature of the hypothetical entity — dubbed dark energy — that's causing the acceleration but also why the acceleration is so weak.

One of their best guesses is that dark energy is an inherent property of the vacuum of space. Particle physics predicts the existence of such vacuum energy, but also that it should be a whopping 10120 times larger than what is needed to explain the acceleration observed by astronomers. If dark energy were that large, the Universe would have been ripped apart long before stars and galaxies ever formed. Click here. (9/10)

Blue Origin Files Formal Protest of NASA’s Proposed Shuttle Pad Lease (Source: Space News)
A spat between Blue Origin and SpaceX over Launch Complex 39A, a disused space shuttle launch pad both companies want to lease from NASA, escalated when Blue Origin challenged the legality of the agency’s search for a caretaker last week. Blue Origin filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), alleging “that there’s a problem with [NASA’s] solicitation that needs to be addressed.”

GAO must rule on the protest by Dec. 12. Blue Origin spokeswoman Gwen Griffin would not disclose the details of the company’s complaint. However, Blue Origin and SpaceX have been butting heads for months over their competing lease proposals. Blue Origin offered to operate the pad on behalf of anyone technically and financially capable of launching from it, while SpaceX would keep the pad to itself.

NASA has been trying to get $1.2 million in annual maintenance costs for Pad 39A, which the agency says it no longer needs, off its books since May. Back then, the agency invited industry to propose terms for leasing the pad; Only SpaceX and Blue Origin submitted proposals. Now, with a GAO decision about the protest not due until mid-December, NASA could find itself paying for maintenance a little longer than it expected — the agency wanted to secure a tenant by Sept. 30. (9/10)

NASA-Backed Space Spider Concept to Build Giant Satellites in Orbit (Source: WIRED)
Space is a place for finished products. The satellites we send into orbit are checked, rechecked and then triple checked to make sure that nothing will fail. That finished product is then neatly folded, packed away atop a giant rocket, and blasted off into orbit. But one company in the US, recently awarded $500,000 by NASA, wants to change this paradigm. Tethers Unlimited wants to change the way we think about the things we put into space. In their words, they want to "launch the process, not the product". Click here. (9/10)

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