September 21, 2013

Disintegration of Comet ISON Would Pose No Threat to Earth (Source:
We have nothing to fear from the incoming Comet ISON, no matter how the icy object behaves during its much-anticipated close approach to the sun this November, scientists say. Comet ISON will miss Earth by many millions of miles during its swing through the inner solar system — and so will its bits and pieces, if the comet happens to break apart along the way. (9/20)

Alien Life Claim Far from Convincing, Scientists Say (Source:
A new study that claims to present evidence of alien life is being met with a healthy dose of skepticism in the scientific community. On July 31, a team of British researchers sent a balloon into the stratosphere over England, where it collected samples at an altitude range of 14 miles to 17 miles (22 to 27 kilometers). The balloon's scientific payload returned to Earth toting the cell wall, or frustule, of a type of microscopic algae called a diatom, the scientists report in the Journal of Cosmology.

While bacteria and other tiny lifeforms have been found high above the planet before — storm clouds are teeming with microbes, for example — the new discovery is potentially of monumental importance, study team members say. The diatom fragment may have been delivered to Earth by a comet, Wainwright and his colleagues write in the paper. (9/20)

Energizing Dream of Deep Space (Source: Lompoc Record)
Elvis has left the building. Not the undisputed king of rock ’n’ roll. We’re referring to the king of space travel, Voyager 1, which last week became the first man-made object — at least that we know about — to exit our solar system. Leaving our Sun’s neighborhood is an accomplishment of enormous magnitude, far beyond what many scientists believed possible.

It’s not that Voyager 1 was never intended to accomplish such a feat. It’s that the spacecraft is a true anachronism. Consider this: Voyager 1 uses an 8-track tape recorder, which is so outdated you’d be lucky to find one at the neighborhood thrift store, and if you did scrounge one up, it would be covered with dust and you’d have an even tougher time finding tapes to play on such a device.

Voyager’s on-board computer is laughably small, containing about one-240,000th of the memory capacity you’ll find in a bottom-of-the-line iPhone, and just a fraction of the capacity of an inexpensive MP3 player. Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, amid much fanfare, which probably got a boost from the almost simultaneous release of the first of the “Star Wars” film series. (9/20)

Why Wait for NASA? Let’s Start Planning a Manned Mission to Europa Now (Source: WIRED)
The moon? Been there, done that. Mars? Is that the best you can do? What spaceflight really needs is a one-way manned mission to explore Jupiter’s icy and mysterious moon Europa. At least that’s the idea behind a project launched this week called Objective Europa, which aims to create a detailed plan for how to put human footprints on the snowy surface of this outer body.

Moreover, they want to hear from you. Objective Europa is hoping to crowdsource the endeavor, gathering all the best minds and concepts on the internet to address this topic. The man behind Objective Europa is Kristian von Bengtson, a designer and architect with aspirations of building his own rocket and launching himself into space. He is a man fascinated by big challenges, and the fact that a manned Europa mission is hard – borderline impossible at this stage – is exactly what attracts him. Click here. (9/20)

Foreign Astronauts Expected Aboard China's Space Station (Source: Xinhua)
A senior Chinese space scientist announced on Friday that China's space station is expected to be opened to foreign astronauts. "The space station will offer astronauts from around the world opportunities for research and experimentation," said Zhou Jianping, designer-in-chief of China's manned space program.

China's space station is expected to be completed around 2020. Representatives from more than 20 countries and international organizations exchanged views on space technology cooperation, in a bid to promote the transformation and use of space technology. Zhou said that China is willing to exchange and cooperate with other countries in the field after the completion of the space station, in order to achieve peaceful use of space resources and mutual development.

Editor's Note: Looks like China is targeting the same market that Bigelow Aerospace is hoping to attract with its commercial space station(s). This can't be good news for Bigelow, as China will be able to provide deep subsidies and other support as part of their diplomatic efforts to develop long-term trade ties with many of these countries. (9/20)

Rocket Oversupply or Not, Satellite Operators Still Struggle To Secure Launches (Source: Space News)
Launch service providers say the market is in a chronic state of oversupply and that they have the numbers — their capacity versus the annual demand, and their low profitability — to prove it. Any attempt by satellite fleet operators to encourage new entrants, they say, is nothing more than a case of customers in a buyers’ market trying to squeeze suppliers to accept subsistence-level prices while they maintain their 80 percent-plus gross profit margins.

Satellite fleet operators, especially the larger ones such as Intelsat of Luxembourg and Washington, SES of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris, see the world through another lens. Through that lens, they say, securing launches is one of their biggest headaches. A current example: the situation SES is struggling with. Three satellites scheduled for launch on three different vehicles are all late, and for reasons that have nothing in common and nothing to do with the satellite hardware. Click here. (9/20)

Delayed Proton Mission Now Scheduled for Sept. 30 (Source: Space News)
The Russian Proton rocket’s return to flight following its spectacular July 2 failure has been rescheduled for Sept. 30 following a review of a first-stage valve issue and discussions between the Russian and Kazakh governments over launch safety issues, the company responsible for commercial Proton launches said Sept. 20.

International Launch Services (ILS) said the two-week delay of the launch, which will deploy the Astra 2E telecommunications satellite owned by SES of Luxembourg, will not affect the number of Proton missions planned between now and the end of the year. (9/20)

DARPA Revives Larger Reusable Booster Spaceplane (Source: Aviation Week)
DARPA plans to seek industry interest next month in an Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) which will be capable of delivering a payload up to 5,000 lb. to space for less than $5 million per launch. The XS-1 is targeted at flying at Mach 10 plus and generating a sortie rate of up to 10 times over 10 days.

The program compliments the agency’s ongoing Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (Alasa) program, which is developing an air launch system for small satellites, and appears to be a partial revival of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s abandoned Reusable Booster System (RBS) Pathfinder. (9/20)

For a Revamped GPS, Biggest Savings Carry Biggest Risks (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force estimates it could save billions of dollars over time by revamping its current GPS plans, but the lowest-cost approaches come with the highest risk, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released Sep. 9.

Moreover, the money-saving options identified by the Air Force, which include using smaller satellites and hosted payloads, would require up-front investments that are difficult to make in the current budget environment, the congressional watchdog agency said. The GAO also said the Air Force’s cost estimates were not sufficiently refined to support programmatic decisions. (9/20)

ET to Receive a 'Crowd-Sourced' Message? (Source: ABC Science)
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft could depart our solar system carrying messages for extra terrestrials sourced from ordinary earthlings. Astronomical artist Jon Lomberg is heading up a new grassroots 'New Horizons Message Initiative' that hopes to persuade NASA to upload the earthly messages once the spacecraft has completed its primary mission. (9/20)

Charles Bolden to Visit Beijing (Source: South China Morning Post)
Nasa chief Charles Bolden will visit Beijing next week to take part in an annual gathering of space agency chiefs, although he avoided saying whether he would meet his Chinese counterparts. Direct contact between the two sides is carefully watched by US congressional lawmakers, suspicious that co-operation could give Beijing an opportunity to steal technology.

Bolden, the administrator of the American space agency, said in Tokyo yesterday he would visit Beijing on September 27 to attend the last day of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC). "In China we will be meeting with the heads of international partners of the International Space Station [ISS], as well as the heads of some space agencies that don't participate, but with whom we have partnership," he said. (9/20)

William Shatner Turns Down Space Flight Due to Flying Fear (Source: Contact Music)
William Shatner refused to take part in Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic program because he's scared of flying. The 82-year-old actor - who played Captain James T. Kirk in the original 1960s TV series of 'Star Trek' - turned down the chance to join the British business tycoon's Virgin Galactic program because he couldn't handle the fear of being up in the air. (9/20)

Mark Burnett Pitching New Space-Themed Reality Show (Source: TV Guide)
Mark Burnett hasn't given up on his space dreams. According to multiple sources, Burnett is pitching a show to networks that would send the winner on one of Virgin Galactic's first suborbital space flights. Insiders say a bidding war among several networks is already underway for the project, which would give an ordinary citizen the chance to fly into space. The winner would take off on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America in New Mexico — perhaps as soon as next year. (9/19)

Falcon 9 Engine Test Paves Way for California Launch (Source: Waco Tribune)
A second brief test-fire of the upgraded Falcon 9 — this time with no anomalies — has paved the way for the rocket's maiden launch from a California spaceport, SpaceX's CEO tweeted Thursday. (9/20)

The Future of Exploration Beyond Government-Funded Activities (Source: Virgual-Strategy)
The International Institute of Space Commerce has just released a white paper entitled "Innovative Models for Private Financing of Space Science Missions" arguing that the issue of space financing is not only an area primed for significant growth but also one of extreme and continuing importance to humanity.

The "business as usual" approach to conducting space-based science is not working. Space science is not the priority of national governments and as such receives limited funding. The authors make a compelling case that global or even national finance markets can support large-scale science and space activities and that this wave has already begun.

It is clear from NASA's sky surveys that the Earth exists in a shooting gallery of asteroids. New companies are scrambling to reach the asteroid belt and the massive resource deposits there. It was government-funded activities and exploration that revealed these compelling threats and opportunities to humanity, but government space exploration funding is at an all-time low. Click here. (9/20)

Mojave Spaceport is Like No Other Place on Earth (Source: Ridgecrest Daily Independent)
Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stuart Witt has commented that "being out in the middle of nowhere" can create an environment which gives "enormous freedoms to take risks." That type of environment is definitely found in the unique, yet outwardly unassuming, place called Mojave, located on the edge of the Mojave Desert in Kern County.

With a website that promotes the slogan, "Imagination flies here," Mojave may just be the place that makes civilian aerospace travel a reality for the world. The Mojave Air and Space Port began as a rural airfield, which was turned into the Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station in 1942. At the end of World War II, it became a U.S. Navy airfield. Click here. (9/17)

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