October 26, 2013

Billion-Dollar Babies: Far-Out Pet Projects of the Tech Elite (SourceL C/Net)
From Ellison to Musk to Bezos, technology's richest can't seem to stay away from wacky desires to live forever, colonize other planets, and recreate the plot line of "Deep Impact," minus the apocalypse. The industry's wealthiest company founders and CEOs have so much money that each day offers a new invitation to chase their wildest dreams and indulge, from flying catamarans to building floating cities.

Consider this: Thanks to a surge in Google stock, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin made roughly $3 billion each in 24 hours last week. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has seen his personal fortune balloon as the social network's stock has soared more than 70 percent in the last two months, while Elon Musk has watched his Tesla Motors shares jump from $24 to as high as $194 in just one year. Amazon may not be churning out profits but its share price has jumped 150 percent since 2010, boding well for the personal fortune of CEO Jeff Bezos.

When he's not launching SpaceX rockets that can move laterally and land themselves or planning an 80,000-person Mars colony, Musk chases his childhood dreams with cash on hand. But unlike the rest of us who don't run two huge tech companies after cashing out of PayPal, those dreams involved hatching ideas more akin to a mad scientist's. Click here. (10/26)

The Effects of Space Weather on Aviation (Source: NASA)
The next time you step onto an airplane, consider the following:  In any given year, the pilot of your aircraft probably absorbs as much radiation as a worker in a nuclear power plant. And you are about to follow him wherever he goes. The FAA classifies pilots as "occupational radiation workers."  Flying high above Earth with little atmosphere to protect them, they can absorb significant doses of cosmic rays and solar radiation. During a typical polar flight from Chicago to Beijing, for instance, a pilot is exposed to the equivalent of two chest x-rays.

Multiplied over the course of a career, this can cause problems such as increased risk of cancer and possibly cataracts. The exposure depends on factors ranging from the altitude and latitude of the flight path (polar routes are irradiated most) to sunspot counts and solar activity (a powerful solar storm can boost radiation levels a hundredfold).  To help airline companies safeguard passengers and personnel, NASA is developing an experimental tool to predict exposures in real time. Mertens is the PI of the system, called NAIRAS--short for "Nowcast of Atmosphere Ionizing Radiation for Aviation Safety."

If a flight controller wants to know the situation around the poles right now, NAIRAS can help.  It is, essentially, an online global map of radiation dose rates for different flight paths and altitudes.  Maps are produced in near real-time by a computer at Langley, which combines cutting-edge physics codes with realtime measurements of solar activity and cosmic rays. (10/25)

Dream Chaser Suffers Landing Gear Failure After Drop-Test Flight (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser ETA (Engineering Test Article) conducted her maiden flight at the Dryden Flight Research Center on Saturday. However, the Commercial Crew prospect – after enjoying a perfect flight in the air – suffered a mechanical failure during landing, resulting in her flipping over on the runway.

Preparations for Saturday’s major test began earlier in the week, with a series of three captive carry flights taking place on Tuesday. These tests included the ETA mimicking what she was required to conduct when flying on her own, evaluating the flight computer was ready for the series of events during the flight – all of which proved to be nominal. Notably, the third test involved the helicopter flying at high speed, followed by the ETA dropping her gear at the end of the sequence. This too was classed as a nominal test. (10/26)

Crew Capsule Construction About to Take Off at Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
Pieces of a hatch, windows and other parts Boeing will use to build a prototype commercial space taxi should begin arriving in town within a few weeks. By year’s end, several hundred components needed to assemble a structural test article of the company’s CST-100 spacecraft will be housed in a former shuttle hangar at Kennedy Space Center.

“We’re really on the upswing,” said John Mulholland, head of Boeing’s development team, in an interview this week. Jobs will follow the hardware — if Boeing wins a NASA contract next summer to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. (10/26)

The Space Station’s Scientific Payoff is Real and Increasing (Source: Washington Post)
A recent article by Joel Achenbach in The Washington Post posed a fundamental question about the International Space Station (ISS): “What is it for?” While conceding that the space station is an engineering marvel and a monument to international cooperation, the article contrasts the costs and dangers of life on the ISS with the lack of a clear scientific rationale for continued operations.

John Logsdon put it this way: “It’s an awfully expensive engineering demonstration. If that’s all it is, that’s a hell of a price to pay.” Demanding that ISS supporters identify concrete, immediate, substantial benefits from station operations is setting the bar unrealistically high. The ISS is designed for basic research, which is a long-term bet with an uncertain payoff.  

A better way to judge the productivity of the ISS in the short-term is to use criteria that are familiar to any research scientist: the likelihood that ISS research projects yield published papers, the willingness of individuals from outside NASA to become Principal Investigators (PIs) on ISS projects, and the trend in the amount of research taking place on the ISS. Analyzing the trend in research activity tests NASA’s claim that as researchers become aware of the station’s capabilities, they will develop new projects that leverage the station’s unique features. (10/26)

Hadfield: Virgin Galactic 'Not Much of a Space Flight' (Source: Guardian)
Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who achieved global fame during a stint aboard the International Space Station, has questioned what kind of experience future space tourists will have with Virgin Galactic, saying they are "just going to go up and fall back down again". The 54-year-old, who spent five months commanding the ISS this year, also said the nature of space travel meant that at some point it appeared inevitable that a Virgin Galactic craft would crash.

Hadfield nonetheless praises the Virgin Galactic concept, under which passengers who have booked seats with a $250,000 deposit will fly to 68 miles above Earth and experience zero gravity. He says the Virgin chief, Richard Branson, has been in touch with him for advice. He said: "I'm all for the idea. I commend him for it. But it's not much of a space flight.

"They'll get a few minutes of weightlessness, and they'll see the black of the universe. And they'll see the curve of the Earth and the horizon, because they'll be above the air. But whether that'll be enough for the quarter-million-dollar price tag? I don't know." Hadfield added: "Eventually they'll crash one. Because it's hard. They're discovering how hard. (10/26)

Life on Earth Was Not a Fluke (Source: Scientific American)
How life came about from inanimate sets of chemicals is still a mystery. While we may never be certain which chemicals existed on prebiotic Earth, we can study the biomolecules we have today to give us clues about what happened three billion years ago.

Now scientists have used a set of these biomolecules to show one way in which life might have started. They found that these molecular machines, which exist in living cells today, don’t do much on their own. But as soon as they add fatty chemicals, which form a primitive version of a cell membrane, it got the chemicals close enough to react in a highly specific manner.

This form of self-organization is remarkable, and figuring out how it happens may hold the key to understanding life on earth formed and perhaps how it might form on other planets. Click here. (10/24)

Carbon Worlds May be Waterless, Finds NASA Study (Source: NASA JPL)
Planets rich in carbon, including so-called diamond planets, may lack oceans, according to NASA-funded theoretical research. Our sun is a carbon-poor star, and as result, our planet Earth is made up largely of silicates, not carbon. Stars with much more carbon than the sun, on the other hand, are predicted to make planets chock full of carbon, and perhaps even layers of diamond.

By modeling the ingredients in these carbon-based planetary systems, the scientists determined they lack icy water reservoirs thought to supply planets with oceans. "The building blocks that went into making our oceans are the icy asteroids and comets," said Torrence Johnson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (10/25)

Earth's Water Likely Came from Very Early Asteroid Strikes (Source: Space.com)
Earth got most of its water from asteroid impacts nearly 4.6 billion years ago, shortly after the solar system first took shape, a new study suggests. Researchers studying a meteorite that fell to Earth in 2000 found evidence that the water in its parent asteroid disappeared soon after the space rock formed, when its insides were still warm. Asteroids that slammed into Earth several hundred million years after the solar system's birth were thus probably relatively dry, scientists said. (10/25)

Detecting and Deflecting a Killer Asteroid (Source: Popular Mechanics)
The explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia this past February made the danger of asteroids loud and clear. Although it is only 17 meters (56 feet) in diameter, the asteroid's explosion injured 1000 people and shattered nearly every window in the Russian city. And humans know of merely one percent of dangerous near-Earth objects, so there are many more asteroids out there that could potentially strike the planet.

This week, the United Nations adopted measures to create an international decision-making mechanism for planetary asteroid defense. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium, moderated a panel today with several of the experts who have been studying potential asteroid impacts and helping to form the recommendations for the U.N. Click here. (10/25)

Khrunichev Strikes Again: New Russian ISS Module Full of Flaws (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Russian media are reporting that the latest screw up by disaster-prone Khrunichev involves the long-delayed Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), which was originally set to be launched to the International Space Station next April. “The Energia Corporation is completing factory tests of this product,” a source said. “But the module cannot be accepted the way it is. When the electrical tests are over it will be returned to ... Khrunichev ... which may work on it for another 12-18 months.”

Details are a bit sketchy, but reports indicate there are a number of issues with the new scientific module, including material found inside the pipes. Khrunichev has been the most problem plagued company in the Russian space industry. Over the past three years, it has suffered repeatedly failures of its Proton rocket. The most recent failure occurred in July, when a Proton launched three GLONASS satellites into the ground at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (10/25)

Editorial: It’s Still Too Soon for Those Affected by the ‘Challenger’ Tragedy (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Yesterday, WSJ tech reporter Katie Rosman tweeted a cartoon printed by the New York Post comparing the launch of Obamacare to 1986′s Challenger tragedy. While the disaster happened nearly 28 years ago, to most space watchers – myself included – it’s still too soon to use anything remotely related to this tragedy to prove a point and make a “funny” joke, political or otherwise. Here are some reasons why. Click here. (10/25) /

A Debris-Control Report (Source: Space News)
Five satellites in geostationary orbit owned by the governments of the United States, China, India and Indonesia were retired in 2012 into too-low orbits that did not meet internationally accepted debris mitigation guidelines, according to an annual assessment by European experts using U.S., Russian and European data.

For four of the five — the U.S. GOES-7, India’s Insat-2E, China’s Beidou 3 and Indonesia’s Palapa C1 — the owners made an attempt to raise the spacecraft into acceptable graveyard orbits, generally viewed as 250 kilometers above the geostationary belt 36,000 kilometers over the equator, but fell short.

Two other objects, a Russian Proton-K DM-2 upper stage and the apogee-boost engine on China’s Fengyun 2F satellite, were placed in disposal orbits that are far below IADC guidelines. The geostationary orbit’s popularity as a destination for telecommunications and meteorological satellites is why orbital debris experts are concerned about its being polluted by dead spacecraft. Click here. (10/25)

All of the Above (Source: Huffington Post)
The opening of space to human development and settlement is the most important activity of the human species. From hope to health, from wonder to wealth, the environment and the very act of living, space is the future. It affects all other activities and unless it is allowed, encouraged and yes, supported, all other human activities will in the end be meaningless (literally, as in The End).

Next, there are three basic things we should all always highlight when we speak to the press, friends and politicians, as these are the Three Keys to the Frontier: 1) Regular, reliable and low cost access to and from space; 2) Utilization of the resources of space, wherever they are, for whatever purpose we need; and 3) A government that understands and supports the idea of an open and expanding human frontier in space, by, of and for the people. (Meaning -- at a minimum they get out of the way. Click here. (10/26)

Interorbital Qualifies Rocket Engine (Source: Parabolic Arc)
At dawn on October 21, 2013, Interorbital Systems conducted a short-burn flight qualification run of its main rocket engine in a spectacular hot-firing at the Mojave Spaceport. An incandescent 24-foot beam of fire thundered from the engine’s ablative combustion chamber, generating 7,500-lbs of thrust.

The test verified several new software systems including automated launch control and launch system health reporting. In addition, the test verified the combustion stability of the engine’s secondary hypergolic liquid ignition propellant in an extended igniter burn phase. (10/26)

Russia, Cuba Sign Space and Customs Agreements (Source: Itar-Tass)
Joint programs in space activity and customs procedures have been signed by Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov and Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investments, Rogrido Malmierca. Projects were confirmed by the Russia-Cuba Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic and Scientific-technical Co-operation. Russia's Federal Space Agency and the Ministry of Revolutionary Armed Forces in Cuba signed details of co-operation for three years of research into the peaceful use of outer space. (10/25)

Russia Mulls Development of New Super-Heavy Carrier Rocket (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia’s Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, is to discuss with leading Russian scientists development of a new launch vehicle capable of carrying up payloads to 70 tons. “We will analyze and use all the existing potential…to choose the optimal solution [for the super-heavy rocket],” newly-appointed Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko told reporters.

The results of the discussions will be used to outline the design and technical characteristics of the rocket, including its environmental safety. The new rocket should be capable of delivering spacecraft to geotransitional (up to eight tons), geostationary (five tons) and low-Earth (at least 20 tons) orbits. Russia’s Energia space corporation earlier proposed the development of a new launch vehicle based on the Soviet-era Energia rocket that was used in the late 1980’s as the launcher for the Buran space shuttle. (10/26)

Roscosmos Deputy to Create United Rocket Space Corporation (Source: Interfax)
Roscosmos Deputy Head Igor Komarov will deal with creating the united rocket and space corporation, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. "Roscosmos Deputy Head Igor Komarov has been ordered to work on creating the united rocket and space corporation," Rogozin tweeted on Friday. (10/25)

Kazakhstan's Decaying Soviet Space Murals (Source: Boing Boing)
Esquire Kazakhstan features photos of the country's decaying Soviet space murals, which do not have protected status, and are coming to bits. They're still towering, heroic Soviet Realist paeans to space travel, sorrowful as they may be. Click here. (10/26)

Why Do We Call Them "Asteroids"? (Source: Sky & Telescope)
A 211-year-old mystery has finally been solved by an astronomy historian, who's identified the person responsible for naming those rocky objects orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Herschel has long been credited with coining the term asteroids, derived from a Greek word meaning "starlike," because he introduced the term at a meeting of London's Royal Society in May 1802 and later published it in the Society's Philosophical Transactions.

But according to astronomy historian Clifford Cunningham (National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand), "Asteroid was Herschel's choice, but it was not his creation." Documents found by Cunningham in Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library show that credit instead goes to a little-known Greek specialist named Charles Burney Jr. (10/25)

Observatories Team For Deepest Ever Probe of Universe (Source: SEN)
The Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes are teaming up to look deeper into the universe than ever before. With a boost from gravitational lensing they hope to uncover galaxies 100 times fainter than those observatories typically can see.

The Frontier Fields is an ambitious collaborative program of observations over the next three years peering at six massive clusters of galaxies to learn not only what is inside the clusters but also what is beyond them. The clusters are among the most massive assemblages of matter known, and their gravitational fields can be used as natural "zoom lenses"  to brighten and magnify more distant galaxies so they can be observed. (10/25)

No comments: