October 18, 2013

Space Tourism: KSC Bus Tours Return (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
The bus-tour component at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex got rolling again on Friday. The buses had been halted due to the partial federal government shutdown and the access issues that presented. The visitor complex is privately operated and remained open during the interruption, with the exception of the bus tours that run onto government property  for stops such as the Apollo/Saturn V Center. (10/17)

How Did Moon Form? Mercury May Hold Clues, Scientist Says (Source: Space.com)
Mercury, the smallest planet in our solar system, may hold clues to understanding how the Earth's moon was born, a scientist studying the planet says. Just like the moon, Mercury is a desolate, rocky and airless body, albeit a bit bigger than Earth's satellite, said Sean Solomon of NASA's Messenger mission to Mercury.

There is currently no theory that can tick all the boxes answering the question how the moon formed. The most popular one is that it was produced after a planet-size body nick-named Theia smashed into the infant Earth some 4.5 billion years ago, the moon coalescing from material blasted out from the impact. One of the most remarkable findings so far are the astonishing similarities between moon and Mercury, particularly with regards to their geological history.

"Mercury and the moon [seem to] have followed very similar tracks," said Solomon. It is striking, given that Mercury is thought to have formed from the material that made up the early disk of gas and dust spinning around the sun, and not due to a giant impact like the moon. (10/18)

'Tilted' Solar System Discovered By NASA's Kepler Spacecraft (Source: Nature)
Observations from NASA's Kepler spacecraft have uncovered a 'tilted' solar system, a finding that gives clues as to how some planets come to orbit their stars on paths that are misaligned with the stars' equators, astronomers report today in Science.

The planets of Earth's Solar System formed from a flat disc of gas and dust revolving around the Sun's equator, so they all started out in nearly the same plane. Earth’s orbit makes an angle of just 7.2 degrees with the plane of the Sun’s equator.

Five years ago, however, astronomers were shocked to find planets orbiting at steep angles to their stars’ equators. Some planets even went around their suns backwards — they orbit in the opposite direction to the star’s rotation. But no one had seen a misaligned multiplanetary solar system until now. (10/18)

SpaceX Retires Grasshopper, New Test Rig To Fly in December (Source: Space News)
SpaceX has retired its Grasshopper prototype, a 10-story, first-stage Falcon-9 rocket the company used to develop and test vertical landing technologies. In its place, SpaceX plans a December debut of a new test rig, known as Falcon-9R, and a new test site at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

SpaceX's path toward a reusable first-stage capability also included an attempted powered first-stage landing after their Sep. 29 launch from California. The first of two planned burns was successful, but during the second restart the rocket was spinning, choking off the flow of fuel. A photograph showed the Falcon booster was intact about 3 meters above the ocean.

“It didn’t remain intact after it hit the ocean, but it was intact. I don’t think anyone has ever done that,” Gwynne Shotwell said at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight. “Between the flights we’ve been doing with Grasshopper and this demonstration that we brought that stage back, we’re really close to full and rapid reuse of stages,” Shotwell said. (10/17)

Entry Fees for New ESA Members Go to ExoMars (Source: Space News)
The ruling council of the European Space Agency on Oct. 17 agreed to an unusual request from Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain to divert two new ESA members’ entry fees to help finance the ExoMars mission. The council gave the green light to Dordain’s proposal that 11.3 million euros from Poland and 3.6 million euros from Romania be given over to the ExoMars Risk Mitigation package. (10/18)

410-Meter Asteroid ‘May Collide’ with Earth in 2032 (Source: Russia Today)
A potentially catastrophic asteroid has been discovered by astronomers, who say there’s a slim chance that the 410-meter-wide minor planet will crash into Earth in 2032, creating a blast 50 times greater than the biggest nuclear bomb. The asteroid, described as 2013 TV135, was found in the Camelopardalis (Giraffe) constellation by the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory in southern Ukraine.

The discovery has been confirmed by astronomers in Italy, Spain, the UK and Russia. In Russia, it was seen with telescopes at the Master Observatory in the Siberian republic of Buryatia, the IAU Minor Planet Center said. The asteroid has been added to the List of the Potentially Hazardous Asteroids, which includes celestial bodies with orbits closer than 7.5 million kilometers from the Earth’s orbit.

However, the threat posed by 2013 TV135 is minor, as it only has a one in 63,000 chance of colliding with our planet, according to available estimates. Astronomers say the asteroid’s orbit will be about 1.7 million kilometers away from the Earth’s orbit on August 26, 2032. (10/18)

NASA: Asteroid Coming Close in 2032 No Concern (Source: AP)
NASA says a big asteroid that whizzed by Earth last month unnoticed is probably nothing to worry about when it returns much closer in 19 years. NASA Near-Earth Object program manager Donald Yeomans said there is a 1 in 48,000 chance that the 1,300-foot asteroid will hit Earth when it comes back on Aug. 26, 2032.

The asteroid called 2013 TV135 was discovered Oct. 8, nearly a month after it came within 4.2 million miles of Earth. Yeomans said as astronomers observe and track it better, they will likely calculate that it has no chance of hitting Earth. (10/18)

New Tool Helps Identify Astronauts with Better Spatial Skills (Source: MIT)
On Oct. 30, 2007, astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery set out on a routine mission: installing two solar panels on the truss, or backbone, of the International Space Station. While the first panel deployed successfully, astronauts noticed a two-foot-wide tear in the second panel. To repair the tear, crewmembers devised a risky plan, sending an astronaut on a spacewalk while tethered to the shuttle’s inspection arm.

The mission marked the first time an astronaut had used the robotic arm in such a way — a potentially dangerous undertaking, as a wrong move could have electrocuted the spacewalker. In the end, the mission was a success, due partly to the robotic arm’s operators, who were trained to maneuver the multijointed arm with high precision. Today, all incoming astronauts complete extensive training to learn to operate a similar robotic arm on the space station.

But the operation isn’t intuitive, and there’s a steep learning curve for some. MIT researchers in the Man Vehicle Laboratory (MVL) are looking for ways to streamline this lengthy training process. They administered standard cognitive spatial tests to 50 astronauts, and compared these initial results with the astronauts’ performance in NASA’s 30-hour Generic Robotics Training (GRT) course. The researchers found that the initial spatial tests were able to predict the top performers in the more extensive course. (10/18)

NASA Mulls Common Upper Stage for Launch Services Catalog (Source: Space News)
NASA is studying ways to add an upper stage compatible with multiple agency-approved rockets to its NASA Launch Services catalog. NASA awarded study contracts to Aerojet Rocketdyne and Orbital Sciences on Sep. 26, days before a congressional stalemate shut down the federal government, leaving agency officials unable to meet with the companies it is paying to perform the so-called Upper Stage Service Study for the NASA Launch Services Program.

One thing NASA did manage to do before the shutdown took effect was turn the funding taps on. Aerojet Rocketdyne’s contract is worth $299,578 while Orbital’s is worth $236,913. Orbital operates several rockets but does not build propulsion systems for any of them. Aerojet Rocketdyne, on the other hand, has no rockets of its own but builds cryogenic upper-stage engines for United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets, and the core-stage engine for Delta 4. (10/18)

'Competition Card' Draws 150 Proposals for Ariane 6 Development (Source: Space News)
Companies interested in taking part in a revolution in the way Europe develops and builds rockets have submitted more than 150 proposals for overturning the current launch vehicle industrial base to build the next-generation Ariane 6 within the cost objectives, European government officials said.

The massive response, which officials said was better than they dared expect, will now be evaluated by the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA) as it crafts a proposal to its governments to finance Ariane 6. “Some of these responses have been extremely interesting and innovative,” said Jean-Yves Le Gall of the French space agency, CNES. CNES expects to maintain its leadership in Europe’s launcher sector by financing 50 percent of Ariane 6. (10/18)

Managing the Deluge of 'Big Data' From Space (Source: NASA)
For NASA and its dozens of missions, data pour in every day like rushing rivers. Spacecraft monitor everything from our home planet to faraway galaxies, beaming back images and information to Earth. All those digital records need to be stored, indexed and processed so that spacecraft engineers, scientists and people across the globe can use the data to understand Earth and the universe beyond.

At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, mission planners and software engineers are coming up with new strategies for managing the ever-increasing flow of such large and complex data streams, referred to in the information technology community as "big data." How big is big data? For NASA missions, hundreds of terabytes are gathered every hour. Just one terabyte is equivalent to the information printed on 50,000 trees worth of paper. Click here. (10/17) 

Buoyed by Antares Success, Orbital Pursues Commercial Launch Contracts (Source: Space News)
Satellite and rocket hardware manufacturer Orbital Sciences on Oct. 17 said that its new Antares rocket’s success in its first two NASA-funded demonstration flights has begun to draw interest from commercial and non-NASA government customers. In a conference call with investors, Orbital Chief Executive David W. Thompson said the company is already chasing one commercial customer for a one- or two-launch contract to be conducted starting in 2016. (10/18)

MDA To Award $3 Billion Interceptor Production Contract to Raytheon (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to award Raytheon a sole-source contract worth as much as $3 billion for production of the Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block 1B interceptor. A contract, which could take effect as early as 2015, will include the production and integration of 216 interceptors over three years. Raytheon has already produced a number of the sea-based interceptors for developmental testing. (10/17)

Editorial: Is the US Yielding Spaceflight Leadership to China? (Source: Space.com)
Slow and steady wins the race, the old adage goes, and China's human spaceflight program is on exactly that track. Ten years ago today (Oct. 15), China became only the third nation to launch astronauts into space. Since then, China has launched only five crewed space missions, but each one accomplished specific objectives to further the nation's capabilities.

Infrastructure and new vehicle developments have helped China make steady progress. A new launch facility on Hainan Island will be ready for operations by the end of next year, in time for the first launches of the new Long March 5 family of rockets.

China has plans for a second crew-tended space laboratory in 2015, and will launch the core module of a Mir-class space station in 2018, with orbital construction of the station slated to be completed by 2020. China is also developing a cargo version of the Shenzhou spacecraft to support the space station. In short, China is steadily expanding its space program. (10/17)

Who knew? German Insomniacs Watch NASA Space Feed All Night (Source: LA Times)
A quirky habit of German insomniacs and "chill-out" music fans has come to world attention thanks to the U.S. government shutdown. "Space Night," a nearly 20-year-old late-night broadcast by Bavarian Television, provides a music-sharing platform against a backdrop of NASA's video feed from the International Space Station.

But the 15-day-old U.S. government shutdown has idled the NASA archivists responsible for relaying the imagery beyond Mission Control, cutting off fresh backdrops to mix with the music for "Space Night" broadcasts that were to have launched a new season Nov. 1. "Fans of Bavarian Television's 'Space Night' are going to have to wait a little longer for the new programming," Der Spiegel magazine reported. (10/15)

Mission To Mars: A Critical Step In Space Globalization (Source: Space Daily)
India is getting ready to become the fifth country to send a spaceship to Mars. The USA, Russia, the EU, China and Japan are working on their own programs of studying the Red Planet. And although it has already been proven that there is no life there, it does not make Mars any less interesting for people. To the contrary, a race of space projects to make colonies on Mars has started on Earth.

The launch of the Russian-European orbital station to study Mars is planned for about the same time. And in 2018 a robotized spaceship is to be launched towards the Red Planet, which will eventually land on its surface. The best research institutions of Russia and the EU are working on the ExoMars project. (10/17)

Russia to Make Second Attempt at Mars Moon Mission (Source: Space Daily)
Russia will take a second crack at bringing back dust samples from Phobos, one of the moons of Mars, after an attempt in 2011 ended in the spacecraft crashing back to Earth, a top scientist said. Russia's next bid to recover material from Mars' largest moon will take place between 2020 and 2022, said Lev Zelyony, the director of the Space Research Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences. (10/17)

NASA's FY-2014 Budget Request (Source: Space Policy Online)
This fact sheet that includes a table showing how much money NASA is requesting for FY2014 in each of its accounts and subaccounts compared to how much it received for FY2013 after two rescissions and the sequester were applied to NASA's FY2013 budget. The fact sheet then tracks congressional action on the FY2014 request, showing how much was approved by each of the congressional authorization and appropriations committees that consider NASA's funding request. Click here. (10/17)

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