October 22, 2013

Cygnus Cargo Craft Unhooks From Space Station (Source: NBC)
The first privately built Cygnus cargo ship to visit the International Space Station detached from the orbiting lab Tuesday (Oct. 22) and is poised to destroy itself in Earth's atmosphere in a fiery finale to its successful test flight. The unmanned Cygnus spacecraft built by Orbital Sciences Corp., was released by astronauts using the station's robotic arm at 7:30 a.m. EDT. The spacecraft is expected to fire its rocket thrusters Wednesday (Oct. 23) to leave orbit and burn up in Earth's atmosphere. (10/22)

NASA Assessing Impacts of Government Shutdown (Source: Space News)
The end of the U.S. government’s partial shutdown may have brought NASA back online, but it will take the space agency a few days to get back up to speed, officials said. One of the first orders of business for the space agency is figuring out how the work stoppage may have affected planning and operations going forward, officials said. (10/22)

Gravity-Mapping Satellite is Set to Plunge to Earth (Source: SEN)
Another satellite is close to the end of its orbital road after it ran out of the fuel needed to keep it aloft yesterday. The European Space Agency’s GOCE spacecraft is expected to reenter the atmosphere by mid November. Unlike Planck, which is being switched off this week after observing to the furthest reaches in time and space, GOCE’s task was to focus on the Earth itself. The name stands for Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer.

But the force of gravity will soon spell GOCE's fate. Most of the spacecraft is expected to disintegrate and burn up as it plunges through the atmosphere. But ESA admits that some smaller parts are likely to reach the ground and they cannot yet predict where this will happen. (10/22)

Battling Space Junk With a Tractor Beam of Static Electricity (Source: WIRED)
The growing problem of space junk around Earth could be cleaned up in part using the same forces that give you a static shock when you touch a doorknob on a windy day. By shooting space debris with an electron beam, a charged spacecraft could tug them to higher orbit and then fling them away.

This solution relies on what are known as electrostatic forces, which occur whenever electrons build up on something. Bombarding a piece of space junk with electrons could give it a modest negative charge of a few tens of kilovolts, roughly the equivalent charge stored in a car spark plug. An unmanned space probe with a positive charge could then tow it in a tractor-beam-like fashion. (10/22)

Reusable Rockets Could Make Space Travel Profitable (Source: The Horn)
Great things were expected for space exploration when we entered the new millennia, but there’s a major problem that needs to be hammered out before humans can colonize the universe—actually getting into space. Jeff Greason, president and co-founder of XCOR Aerospace, gave a talk last week where he discussed the factors that keep humans grounded and how they can be overcome.

At XCOR, Greason, one of Time Magazine’s 2002 "Inventors of the Year," leads a 50 person team that is working on developing the first reusable rocket-powered space vehicles. According to Gearson, what's keeping us out of space is the price. Satellites go up one way and beam back a massless, profitable payload of information. But paying for people to go back-and-forth from space to earth is what drives up the cost.

Space holds opportunities for market expansion for scientists and entrepreneurs. However, before market forces enter in, space flight must be made profitable. "The key in these transport vehicles then is market, not technology, driven," said Gearson. XCOR's business model is different from big space players, which depend on taxpayer dollars, because it seeks to make a profit. XCOR attributes their success to a focus on a suborbital, rather than orbital, playing field. "Suborbital reusables planes can be used to develop high flight rate technologies then scale up to orbit," Greason states. (10/21)

Incredible Technology: How to Find Dangerous Asteroids (Source: Space.com)
Searching for potentially Earth-destroying asteroids today isn't easy. They're dark, difficult to see from the surface of the planet, and there are a lot of them floating in the solar system. Scientists are now looking into new, higher-tech ways to find and track near-Earth objects, but for now, much of the hard work of asteroid tracking is done the old-fashioned way: with a telescope on a clear night.

Anomalous motion — when an object moves in a different way than other bodies in a frame — can signal something to a keen observer. The skywatcher then reports his or her findings to the Minor Planet Center (MPC), located in Cambridge, Mass., and officials with the MPC search the organization's database to try to find a match with known, already-tracked objects.

If the new observation doesn't match any known object, the MPC puts it onto the NEO confirmation page — a database where observers can find information about asteroids with orbits that have not been sufficiently traced. The MPC functions as the central database for all information about NEOs. The astronomers of the MPC — run by the International Astronomical Union — collect and help verify all of the space-rock sightings that are reported. (10/22)

Editorial: U.S. Shutdown Ends; Uncertainty Remains (Source: Space News)
The deal to end the partial U.S. government shutdown, allowing NASA and other federal employees to return to work, is obviously a good thing, but it doesn’t undo the damage caused by the stoppage. More importantly, it does nothing to address the ongoing budgetary turmoil that makes it difficult for agencies like NASA and DOD to maintain existing space programs, and all but impossible to plan for the future.

What’s more, Senate-House agreement, which also raised the U.S. debt ceiling to avert what many feared would have been an economically catastrophic U.S. default on loan repayments, is good for only a few months. That means that barring that ever-elusive grand bargain between Democrats and Republicans on long-term federal spending, the government could find itself back in shutdown mode come mid-January, and facing a potential default a month or so later. (10/21)

Former Thales Alenia Space North America CEO Joins Space Partnership International (Source: SPI)
Space Partnership International (SPI), a management consulting group specializing in space, telecoms and earth observation industry sectors, has named Eddie Kato as its new EVP of Global Sales and Marketing. Mr. Kato comes to SPI with over 20 years of deep knowledge and experience in these industry sectors, and is known internationally as a strategic thinker who finds creative solutions to complex problems, and makes deals happen.

"Eddie Kato's solution-oriented marketing approach, combined with his stellar reputation and energy level, makes him a perfect fit," noted Bruce Kraselsky, Co-Managing Director of SPI. Mr. Kato will expand SPI's global reach, with emphasis on penetrating new markets in Asia and the Middle East. Prior to Thales Alenia Space North America, Mr. Kato held management and business development positions with Orbital Sciences, Lockheed Martin and Mitsubishi Electric. (10/22)

Super-Earth Planet Is More Like Super-Venus, NASA Says (Source: Space.com)
An alien planet declared a super-Earth by NASA might not be so habitable after all. New measurements flag the planet (called Kepler-69c) as more of a "super-Venus" that would likely be inhospitable to life. The planetary status change is part of a larger struggle over how to define the habitable zone of a star. (10/22)

Space-Bound Sochi Olympic Torch Heads to Launch Site (Source: Collect Space)
Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to launch into space on a rocket's flame, took ahold of the Olympic flame Saturday (Oct. 19), completing a leg of the 2014 Winter Games' torch relay. At the same time, an unlit torch to be used in the Olympic Games' opening ceremonies was being readied for its own trip, first to its launch site and then to space. (10/21)

Spaceport Supporters Weigh Latest Challenges, Progress (Source: KRWG)
Everything at Spaceport America is impressive, but so far, no one has used this facility to fly into space. Fire trucks and ambulances with “Spaceport America” written on them sit here -- shiny and new. One big item still up in the air is a nearly 24-mile dirt road running from Las Cruces to the Spaceport. “We have to provide the infrastructure…this is going to be very important,” said councilor Gill Sorg.

Sorg represents district 5 on the Las Cruces City Council. Most of the road runs through Sierra County. Sorg says the state legislature should allocate money for it. “We need to get our state legislature on board…on the fast track…. appropriate the finishing monies that we need. And we need a first-class road that’s going to be all-weather…. need people coming in here regularly everyday.” (10/22)

JWST Testing Dodges Threat From Government Shutdown (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
NASA kept a skeleton crew on the job during the partial U.S. government shutdown to watch over a critical component of the James Webb Space Telescope locked inside a cryogenic chamber to test its resiliency to the harsh conditions of space. The small team at Goddard ensured the observatory's instrument module stayed safe as it waited out the shutdown inside a chamber designed to simulate the telescope's frigid operating temperature and the vacuum of space. (10/22)

Exoplanet Tally Soars Above 1,000 (Source: BBC)
The number of observed exoplanets - worlds circling distant stars - has passed 1,000. Of these, 12 could be habitable - orbiting at a distance where it is neither "too hot" nor "too cold" for water to be liquid on the surface. The planets are given away by tiny dips in light as they pass in front of their stars or through gravitational "tugs" on the star from an orbiting world.

These new worlds are listed in the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia. The tally now stands at 1,010 new exoplanets, bolstered by 11 new finds from the UK's Wide Angle Search for Planets (Wasp). Although the number has rapidly increased in recent years, due to a lack of funding this figure is much lower than it could be. (10/22)

Orlando Space Conference Plans Free Access to Real-Time Webcast (Source: ASGSR/ISPS)
ASGSR and ISPS are delighted to announce that portions of their upcoming joint meeting will be live webcast starting on Nov. 4. The webcast will be live from Orlando, Florida, and will include the opening plenary session, several symposiums and workshops. During the webcasts, you will have the ability to ask the presenter questions IN REAL TIME! It's free - you just need to create an ASGSR login. Go to http://www.asgsr.org to sign up today!! (10/22)

Space Cannon Ready: Japan to Shoot Asteroid for Samples (Source: Russia Today)
A unique space cannon developed for Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has successfully test-fired on Earth in preparation for a 2014 mission. During its upcoming journey into space, the cannon will blast an asteroid and mine samples of its soil.

The test took place in the Japanese prefecture of Gifu, paving the way for the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft to extract soil samples from the asteroid, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on Monday. During the mission of Hayabusa 2, scheduled to begin in December 2014, the space probe will extract soil from inside the asteroid.

In order to do this, it will be equipped with a collision device designed to shoot at the surface of the asteroid from a distance of 100 meters with metal shell ammunition moving at a speed of two kilometers per second. JAXA hopes to create a small (a few meters in diameter), artificial crater from which Japanese scientists can extract valuable samples. (10/22)

Bolden: Capabilities-Based Approach Is All NASA Can Afford (Source: Space News)
Speaking Oct. 21 before a National Research Council panel evaluating NASA’s human spaceflight goals, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden defended the agency’s plan to build deep-space hardware before settling on a destination, saying it is the only realistic way to set the stage for a manned Mars mission given the current budget climate.

“I’m trying to do anything I can to prepare for the eventuality that the nation decides that human exploration, deep space exploration, is the right thing to do,” Bolden told members of the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board’s Committee on Human Spaceflight. “And until the Congress and the nation make that decision and decide that they are going to put additional funds in, we’ll continue to develop the technologies needed to do it when called upon.”

However, Bolden acknowledged it has been difficult to generate public interest in the human spaceflight program while NASA is developing hardware  with no deep-space mission anywhere in the agency’s five-year budget horizon. Unlike Cold War-era Moon expeditions, or the roar of a space shuttle liftoff, there is little in a capabilities-based approach for the public to see or get excited about, Bolden said. (10/22)

It’s About to Get Exciting in the Search for Life as We Know It (Source: The Telegraph)
The next stage is not looking for planets, but determining what they’re like. The next generation of telescopes will be able to look directly at the light coming from these worlds’ surfaces. It’s already been done with some super-large, super-hot planets, but funding has already begun for missions to look at smaller, rocky examples – similar to Earth. And that is where it gets exciting. Scientists will be able to analyse the chemical make-up of the atmospheres, and look for the tell-tale signs of life as we know it: oxygen and methane.

“You need to look at a planet for a really long time for that to work,” says Dr Dartnell, “so these telescopes won’t be looking for planets themselves. The planet-hunting telescopes will pass on a 'shopping list’ of potentially habitable candidates, and they’ll study the light that’s come through the planet’s atmosphere, stripping away the much brighter light of the star.” (10/22)

Legal Advice or Loopholes Needed for Manned Space Program (Source: WIRED)
A DIY manned space program like Copenhagen Suborbitals is kept alive by keeping total independence, cutting the red tape and simply just doing it all in a garage. We basically try to stay below the radar at all time and are reluctant in engagements leading to signing papers or do things (too much) by the books.

Our biggest advance is the absence of requirements for a homemade space rocket in the law. At least in Denmark they forgot to write about this and we have more or less free hands – which does gives us a certain responsibility for the future. If we f*** it up it will be more difficult for some else to do a manned space program this way.

For is reason are we launching from international waters. The law of the land stops 12 nautical miles from any coast and out there you can pretty much do whatever you want. By doing so, we simply morph a legal issues into a technical problem which we can solve by ourselves. However, we do cooperate with both Danish and Swedish authorities. We ask politely about using the test range areas and skies and they smile back and everyone is having fun. Click here. (10/21) 

South Korea's Astronaut Agency Is Lost in Space, Opposition Says (Source: WSJ Korea)
South Korea’s much-lauded space-development project came under fire at the National Assembly Monday, and fired back Tuesday. Choi Jae-cheon, a lawmaker from the major opposition Democratic Party, complained during an annual audit session that the Korean Astronaut Program—after spending more than $20 million in taxpayer money to produce the country’s first space traveler back in 2008—has failed to lead to meaningful follow-up research.

“The fact that the symbol of (Korea’s) space science has gone to the U.S. to take an M.B.A. course, not working in the space industry,” Mr. Choi said, “demonstrates (the Korea Aerospace Research Institute) fails to nurture science talents in a systematic way.” Five years post-flight, the country’s only space traveler, biosystems engineer Yi So-yeon, is a student at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

But back in 2006 Dr. Yi was selected from 36,000 applicants and sent for a year of hard training in Russia. Joining the crew of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, she flew to the ISS in 2008, staying in space for 10 days and conducting 18 scientific experiments. The space agency explained that the M.B.A. program—though not directly related to space research—is meant to help Dr. Yi become an “expert on space policy.” The institute also argued that it has created an astronaut-training manual based on Dr. Yi’s experiences. (10/22)

Lessons from Terrestrial Exploration for Earth Orbit (Source: Space News)
It is a truism known to all that the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, funded Christopher Columbus’s voyages of discovery as a national program for the good of their emerging European power. It is also trite to enumerate the many expeditions, from Henry Hudson to La Salle to Lewis and Clark, that various national leaders supported for the public good with blood and treasure.

In every case, I hasten to note, these European monarchs sought tangible results — usually wealth, often geopolitical advantage, and sometimes less-specific positive outcomes — that accrued to the nation through the exploration paradigm. In the Space Age we have not seen a corresponding infusion of wealth to the nations undertaking its exploration in comparison with that obtained by the exploring European nations of 500 years ago. Click here. (10/22)

Editorial: Ransoming Our Future (Source: Space News)
We live in a world of short attention spans and instant gratification. Also a world where the basic grease of the United States’ democratic form of government — the requirement for compromise — has been completely cast aside, resulting in the binding, locking and subsequent halt of the gears of government. And because of this our future has been held for ransom on the altar of “my way or the highway” and over the lack of an ability to focus on the future and implement a long-term vision.

The situation that has developed in the nation’s aerospace industry serves as only one example of the ransoming of America’s future. Research shows that the aerospace and defense industry supports 3.5 million jobs, representing some $109.14 billion in salaries — real earnings that are pumped back into our economy as workers go about their daily lives. This makes the R&D associated with our industry one of our nation’s leading economic powerhouses.

The recent shutdown, the specter of future shutdowns and Congress’ recent history of adopting continuing resolutions instead of actual budgets destabilize the industry as well as hurt the current and future economy and jobs... The result of not having a coherent and stable funding policy for aerospace, defense and R&D funding may be invisible initially, but in five to seven years we will wake up and all of a sudden be behind in science and technology with no quick or easy way to catch up. (10/22)

Leading Dark Energy Theory Incompatible with New Measurement (Source: Scientific American)
Why is the universe being ripped apart? It’s a question that has plagued astronomers since the discovery in the 1990s that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. The story is only further complicated by new observations of distant exploding stars that cast doubt on the leading explanation, called the cosmological constant. Click here. (10/22)

World View Plans High-Altitude Passenger Balloon Flights (Source: NewSpace Journal)
A new company featuring some familiar faces is planning to develop a high altitude balloon system that will carry passengers to the edge of space on multi-hour flights. The company expects to begin these flights no earlier than 2016, charging $75,000 a ticket.

Tucson-based World View Enterprises is formally unveiling its plans today for developing a system that will transport eight people in a pressurized capsule up to an altitude of 30 kilometers (98,400 feet), where they will remain for up to several hours before descending to Earth under a parafoil.

Paragon Space Development Corporation is the vehicle developer. The company brings over 20 years of spaceflight experience and patent-pending technologies to World View, and has already begun component testing.  Subscale testing will soon get underway, demonstrating the flight characteristics of the overall integrated system. (10/22)

FAA to Regulate World View as Commercial Space System (Sources: SpaceRef, NewSpace Journal)
The FAA recently determined that World View’s spacecraft and its operations fall under the jurisdiction of the office of Commercial Space Flight (51 U.S.C. Chapter 509). That determination means that World View flights would take place under a launch license, just like commercial suborbital and orbital rocket launches. (10/22)

Crowdfunded Lunar Spacecraft Reaches Funding Milestone (Source: Space Daily)
The Aerospace Research and Engineering Systems (ARES) Institute is excited to announce the successful completion of the first phase of crowdfunding and conceptual development of a unique spacecraft to explore the Moon with the public and classrooms across the country.

Based in Titusville, Florida, Ares Institute is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization dedicated to promoting space exploration and STEM education through hands-on educational projects and public outreach. Ares Institute created the LunarSail project to involve students and the public in the excitement of space exploration and promote STEM education by collaborating to design and build a small spacecraft and place it in orbit around the Moon. (10/22)

MAVEN Launch Preps on Schedule at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Space Daily)
MAVEN launch preparations remain on schedule and have continued to go well since spacecraft processing resumed earlier this month. On Oct. 22, MAVEN is slated for a spin test without propellant aboard. Once complete, the spacecraft will be prepared for fueling. The Atlas V rocket payload fairing will be moved into the clean room on Oct. 21 in preparation for MAVEN's encapsulation beginning in early November. (10/22)

Iridium Lowers 2013 Forecast Despite Pentagon Contract Renewal (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services operator Iridium Communications on Oct. 21 said the U.S. Defense Department has committed to purchasing $400 million in Iridium airtime for five years starting Oct. 22. Iridium also announced that it was trimming the upper end of its service revenue, gross profit and subscriber growth for 2013. In August the company had told investors to expect 10-15 percent growth in billable subscribers; the new forecast is for a 10 percent increase. (10/21)

Axe/Unilever Spaceflight Competition on Track for December in Orlando (Source: Space Review)
XCOR struck a deal with Unilever early this year where Unilever purchased more than 20 flights from XCOR to give away as part of a global promotion for its Axe brand of personal care products. Andrew Nelson said that 118 people from 67 countries that won regional and national competitions as part of the “Axe Apollo Space Academy” promotion will be coming to Orlando in the first week of December to compete for those flights. “It’s going to be very fun and exciting,” he said, adding he couldn’t divulge the details of that competition. (10/21)

Space Tourism Insurance: What Happens When You Crash into a Space Station? (Source: Space Safety)
For tourists, space travel represents an exciting and unexplored frontier. For insurers, the prospect of insuring commercial space travel offers great opportunity, but it is also riddled with uncertainty.

If SpaceX and Virgin Galactic succeed in providing mainstream commercial space flight, they will need to offer insurance. Insurance helps commercial space flight operators to better manage and assess risk and therefore allow them to grow. However, since commercial space flight is a fledgling industry, insurers will have trouble calculating insurance risks and premiums.

“In my opinion, two of the most pressing issues faced by insurance companies hoping to cover space tourism is first, lack of a track record upon which a statistical analysis can be made,” University of Mississippi Professor Joanne Gabrynowicz said. “The second is a large enough pool of funds that needs to be available in the event a claim is made for which a payment has to be made.” Click here. (10/22)

Vitter to Block Energy Dept. Nominee, Wants Answers about Work at NASA (Source: SpaceRef)
U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) put a hold on President Obama's nomination of Elizabeth Robinson to be Undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Energy. Robinson is currently the CFO at NASA, and has been directly involved with the lack of approval for a contract to build vehicles at the Michoud Assembly Facility. In his letter to Robinson, Vitter asks questions about the use of private emails at NASA too.

"Under the Obama administration, NASA has been stalling on a job creating project at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans for no apparent reason," Vitter said. "Ms. Robinson needs to answer questions about why they've delayed the project, and other questions about NASA's operations before she leaves her job overseeing their finances." (10/21)

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