September 20, 2013

Scientists in Costa Rica Work on Space Exploration Robot (Source: Costa Rica Star)
In the near future, robots exploring other planets could find their way around thanks to the work of scientists from Costa Rica. According to a press release by the University of Costa Rica (UCR), researchers at the Image Processing and Computer Vision Research Laboratory (IPCV-LAB) recently got their hands on a new toy that will help them achieve this goal.

With an investment of $13,500, UCR acquired a Husky A200 robot designed for guided terrestrial navigation. This robot will serve as a platform to put the final touches on an algorithm that will improve the autonomous navigation systems of robots such as the Mars rovers launched by NASA. The project is being coordinated by Professor Geovanni Martinez, who hopes to validate the monocular visual odometer algorithm for planetary exploration. (9/20)

Goodbye Big Bang, Hello Black Hole? New Theory Of Universe’s Creation (Source: Universe Today)
Could the famed “Big Bang” theory need a revision? A group of theoretical physicists suppose the birth of the universe could have happened after a four-dimensional star collapsed into a black hole and ejected debris. Click here. (9/19)

NASA Rover Finds No Hint of Methane in Mars Air (Source: Big Story)
NASA's Curiosity rover hasn't discovered any signs of methane in the atmosphere of Mars, a finding that does not bode well for the possibility that microbes capable of producing the gas could be living below the planet's surface, scientists said. Since landing in Gale Crater last year, the rover has gulped Mars air and scanned it with a tiny laser in search of methane.

On Earth, most of the gas is a byproduct of life, spewed when animals digest or plants decay. Curiosity lacks the tools to directly hunt for simple life, past or present. But scientists had high hopes that the rover would inhale methane after orbiting spacecraft and Earth-based telescopes detected plumes of the gas several years ago. "If you had microbial life somewhere on Mars that was really healthy and cranking away, you might see some of the signatures of that in the atmosphere," said mission scientist Paul Mahaffy. (9/19)

As Cygnus Heads to ISS Orbital Already Eyeing the Future (Source:
While Orbital’s COTS Demo mission is still in its early stages, the company has been hard at work preparing and planning for upcoming launches, including the next Cygnus/Antares launch, which will be the first flight under Orbital’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

On the day before the COTS demo launch, Orbital took media on a tour of the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, just about a mile away from Antares’ launch pad, Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). Most of the launch vehicle elements for the next launch are already in the HIF: the first stage core, thrust structure and both Aerojet AJ-26 engines, the ATK CASTOR 30B second stage, and the interstage were all seen during the tour. (9/19)

Minuteman Launch Planned at California Spaceport (Source: Launch Alert)
An operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is scheduled for Sunday between 3:01 and 9:01 a.m. from Launch Facility-10 here on north Vandenberg. Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, is the launch decision authority. (9/19)

NASA Launches Study of New Global Land Imaging System (Source: Space Daily)
NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will kick off a quest for an innovative and affordable space-based system to extend the Landsat satellite data record for decades to come with a public forum and call for ideas Wednesday, Sep. 18.

The Sustainable Land Imaging Architecture Study Industry and Partner Day will take place from 1-4:30 p.m. EDT in the NASA Headquarters Webb Auditorium at 300 E St. SW in Washington. Following this public forum, NASA will release a request for information to seek new ideas on the design of such a system. (9/20)

Australian-Led Scramjet Test Ends in Failure (Source: Space News)
A long-awaited test of an Australian supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, engine ended in failure Sept. 18 when the rocket carrying the experiment was unable to reach the proper altitude. The University of Queensland, which was leading the project, said the two-stage sounding rocket carrying the Scramspace-1 experiment lifted off from Norway’s Andoya Rocket Range but failed to reach the altitude necessary for the experiment to begin. (9/19)

Capturing Solar Energy in Space for the World's Remotest Region (Source: Fox News)
It may sound like a 1970s sci-fi flick starring the likes of Darth Vader or Captain Kirk. But as the debate rages on in Washington over green energy, one former NASA engineer has an intriguing solution: capture solar energy in space through a network of intelligent mirrors and transport it back to Earth through a microwave beam.

The vision of solar power in space has been around for decades, however, John Mankins, the former head of Advanced Concepts Studies at NASA and now president of Artemis Innovation, says the project is finally feasible thanks to advances in solar tech and space travel. Click here. (9/19)

Life on Mars? New Doubts Emerge (Source: Wall Street Journal)
NASA scientists seeking methane on Mars—a potential biomarker of life on the red planet—are running on empty. Researchers using an unusually sensitive gas detector aboard the Mars Curiosity robot rover reported that they can't find any methane in the thin Martian air, dealing a blow to hopes that life today might be lurking in the soil of the cold, arid world. (9/19)

Loral Passed Over by Canadian Parent for Radarsat Work (Source: Space News)
In a deal that turned on national industrial policy as much as technical know-how, Canada’s Magellan Aerospace Corp. will build the satellite skeletal structures for Canada’s three-satellite Radarsat Constellation Mission under a contract valued at $107 million with MDA Corp. MDA, which signed the prime contract for RCM construction in February, had weighed whether to give the satellite bus subcontract to Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., which MDA purchased in November 2012. (9/19)

To Boldly Go Nowhere, for Now (Source: Slate)
On Aug. 20, NASA’s administrator formally welcomed the newest candidates of the astronaut corps and released a space exploration roadmap that includes robotic and human missions to destinations that include near-Earth asteroids, the moon, and Mars. But given the success (both scientific and in the popular imagination) of Curiosity on Mars, we have to wonder: Is human space exploration really necessary? Can’t we just send robots for exploration and let them do the dangerous work?

Most of the arguments in favor of manned space exploration boil down to the following: a) We need to explore space using people since keeping the entire human race on a single piece of rock is a bad strategy, and even if we send robots first, people would have to make the journey eventually; and b) humans can explore much better than robots. Click here. (9/19)

Budget Impasse Could Require NASA Furloughs (Source: Huntsville Times)
NASA warned its 18,000 federal employees this week that some of them will be furloughed if the federal government runs out of money Sep. 30. That warning follows White House instructions to all federal agencies this week to prepare for a spending halt.

The memo says nothing directly about the thousands of other employees employed by NASA contracts, but it does say some projects would be put on hold. And there would be no money to fund contracts without a budget. Federal spending for 2014 is caught in a Washington power struggle between Congress and the White House over the Affordable Care Act, sequestration and other spending issues. (9/19)

Export-Credit Financing to Space Ventures Showing No Signs of Drying Up (Source: Space News)
Representatives of the U.S. and French export-credit agencies gave no sign of pulling back on their support for their domestic rocket and satellite builders despite ongoing concerns by private-sector bankers that the agencies are funding projects that cannot survive.

The allegation that export-credit agency (ECA) low-interest financing stimulates projects of dubious long-term solvency is not new. But it has assumed a new relevance with the spate of emerging-market nations using ECA support for telecommunications satellite systems whose national markets raise questions of their survivability.

These nations, in Latin America, Central Asia, East Asia and Africa, have been able to secure ECA-backed loans at rates substantially below what they could get from commercial banks — if they could get a loan in the first place. It is not just the U.S. and French ECAs: Agencies in Canada, China and elsewhere have also been active on behalf of their domestic manufacturers. (9/19)

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