October 30, 2013

Can the Southern African Large Telescope Live Up to its Potential? (Source: Nature)
The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is only now finishing its second year of normal science operations, and pressure is mounting for the facility to prove itself. Along with the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) of radio telescopes, SALT is a major component of South Africa's effort to establish its scientific reputation and inspire a new generation of African scientists.

Yet its teething problems have prompted questions about its design, the way it was built and how it has been managed so far. SALT's defenders counter that problems could not have been avoided in building one of the world's largest telescopes on a shoestring. The telescope's first-generation suite of detectors wasn't even complete until the arrival of the HRS. And the spectrograph still needs to be tested and calibrated before it opens for routine use early next year. (10/30)

Eutelsat: U.S. Military Business Bounced Back During First Quarter (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on Oct. 29 said 90 percent of its satellite capacity-lease contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense that were due to be renewed in September and October have been renewed, with prices at about the level Eutelsat expected.

A 90 percent renewal rate is higher than what happened during the previous renewal period in February and March, when the U.S. military cut back on leases with Eutelsat under budgetary pressures, causing investors to fear that one of the company’s fastest-growing business lines was slowing down. (10/30)

Sequestration Threatens Key NASA Programs, Schedules (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Congressional and NASA officials are warning of deep cuts to the NASA budget mandated by sequestration could delay and imperil key programs and missions. Until Congress is willing to properly fund the U.S. space program, all of its talk about sending humans back to the moon and then on to Mars is only so much hot air. It really doesn’t matter what destination we set for beyond Earth orbit, it’s not going to happen as long as Congress is more focused on reducing debt than making sure NASA can actually carry actually carry out its mandated programs. (10/30)

Scientists Discover the First Earth-Sized Rocky Planet (Source: NASA)
Astronomers have discovered the first Earth-sized planet outside the solar system that has a rocky composition like that of Earth. Kepler-78b whizzes around its host star every 8.5 hours, making it a blazing inferno and not suitable for life as we know it. Kepler-78b was discovered using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which for four years simultaneously and continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars looking for telltale dips in their brightness caused by crossing, or transiting, planets. (10/30)

New Mexico Taxpayers Foot Bill as Virgin Galactic Delays Lengthen (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Commercial flights of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America have slipped another six months to August 2014, resulting in $6.9 million in additional costs to taxpayers, New Mexico officials said. To pay for spaceport operations during the delay, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority will raid $6.9 million from a $15 million budget designated for the paving of a southern road to the remote site

Officials will ask the state legislature to replenish the road paving fund when the next legislative session begins early next year. Taxpayers are on the hook for $5 to $6 million for each year that Virgin Galactic delays commercial flights from the southern New Mexico spaceport. (10/30)

Huge Dark Matter Experiment Finds Nothing But More Mysteries (Source: WIRED)
The hunt for dark matter just keeps getting more confusing. Today scientists released findings from the first three months of the Large Underground Xenon experiment, which looks directly for the invisible particles thought to make up dark matter.

Many physicists hoped that the highly anticipated results would clear up the situation surrounding dark matter experiments, which have so far led to contradictory conclusions about the nature of the mysterious substance. Some thought that LUX might show them which way to go, narrowing the types of particles they might pursue. Instead, the experiment turned up empty. (10/30)

NASA Suborbital Mission Probes Role of Interstellar Gas (Source: NASA)
The area between the star systems in our galaxy, also known as the interstellar medium, is populated with dust and hot gas. This gas is thought to have a role in planetary and solar system formation. On Nov. 1 NASA will launch a Black Brant IX sounding rocket carrying the X-ray Quantum Calorimeter (XQC) payload from the White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico, to study the role of this hot gas in solar system formation via the X-rays that it produces. (10/30)

Brazil's Embraer Expands in Florida (Source: Flight Global)
Embraer will add assembly lines for the Legacy 500/450 business jets to the expanding Melbourne, Florida, production complex. Embraer started building Phenom 100 and 300 jets in Melbourne in 2011. An engineering and technology center is opening in Melbourne next year. Last year, Embraer confirmed it would consider building Legacy series jets in Florida if market demand could support it.

The Legacy 500/450 are midsize jets featuring fly-by-wire flight controls, a first for a commercial aircraft of its size. Embraer has assembled the first flight test aircraft at its headquarters in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil. Embraer delivers roughly half of its executive jets to customers in the USA. US suppliers and industrial partners also contribute more than 60% of the parts and systems on board the aircraft.

In a separate program, Embraer also is assembling 20 Super Tucano light attack aircraft in Jacksonville, Florida. The turboprop-powered fighters will be modified by Sierra Nevada and delivered to the Afghan Air Force, under a contract awarded by the US Air Force. Editor's Note: Space Florida supported the state's incentive/financing package to secure this expansion in the state. (10/30)

Editorial: New Mexico Must Stay at Front of U.S. Spaceport Race (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
New Mexico has a state-of-the-art, built-from-the-ground-up commercial Spaceport. It has a cutting-edge anchor tenant in Virgin Galactic, on track to start launching passengers into suborbital space early next year. It has a forward-thinking tenant in SpaceX, a rocket company already sending cargo to the International Space Station and poised to have high-altitude test rockets lift off from the site before the end of the year.

It has informed consent liability waivers that level the playing field for spacecraft operators and manufacturers. It has high altitude, restricted airspace, three Air Force bases, a missile range, two national laboratories, and a long history of space flight. In down-to-earth terms, New Mexico has impressive natural and man-made leads in this next space race.

So it is vital not to squander them. Because not only do New Mexico taxpayers have hundreds of millions at stake in Spaceport America’s success, but plenty of other states want to enter that orbit. Spaceport Colorado is set to apply for a commercial license by the end of 2013. Florida’s Kennedy Space Center is working on renting its launch pad to commercial spacelines. Texas has projects working in Midland and Houston. And Hawaii, Georgia, Alabama and Puerto Rico are fueling up proposals of their own. (10/30)

Did China Succeed in Capturing One of Its Own Satellites? (Source: Space Policy Online)
A Chinese satellite may have captured another Chinese space object using a remote manipulator system according to analysis by Bob Christy of Zarya.info. Christy has been tracking the activities of a trio of Chinese satellites launched in July using data from Air Force Space Command (AFSC) through its SpaceTrack website.  China announced the names of the three satellites -- Shiyan-7 (SY-7 or Experiment 7), Chuangxin-3 (CX-3), and Shijian-7 (SJ-7 or Practice-7) -- but AFSC continues to refer to them only as Payload A, Payload B and Payload C.   

Christy and other analysts were interested in the maneuvers of Payload C in August, then thought to be SY-7.  Now it is "Payload A" that is capturing attention and it may be SY-7 instead.   China had indicated that SY-7 would be testing a robotic manipulator system. New data issued by SpaceTrack show Payload A and its subsatellite either very close or in identical orbits, but "whether capture occurred is still open to confirmation." (10/26)

Helms' Promotion Still Stalled (Source: Florida Today)
For six months, a prominent Democratic lawmaker has blocked Lt. Gen. Susan Helms’ nomination to be vice commander of Space Command, making it unlikely that she will ever be confirmed. Helms continues to serve as commander of 14th Air Force. Lt. Gen. John Hyten has already been confirmed to replace her, but the Air Force is waiting for Helms to be confirmed before moving forward, Air Force spokesman Capt. Adam Gregory said. Helms’ nomination will expire in January 2015.

Helms is a former astronaut who served as commander of the 45th Space Wing in Florida from June 2006 until October 2008. Both Helms and Hyten declined to comment for this story, Gregory said. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri first objected to Helms nomination in April and then reaffirmed her stance in June, citing Helms’ decision to overturn the sex assault conviction of a captain at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in February 2012. (10/30)

Space Frontier Foundation Laments $1.2 Billion J-2X Dead End (Source: SFF)
The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) is distressed by the announcement that the J-2X Engine will never fly. NASA has numerous projects running on tight budgets that could have used the now-vaporized resources spent on J-2X. The engine was developed under NASA’s now-defunct Constellation program in 2004, and cost in excess of $1.2 billion, before being repurposed into the Space Launch System (SLS) in 2010.

Due to budgetary constraints, the engine will not finish testing until 2014. Now, after nearly ten years of development, NASA has come to the realization that it has no need for the J-2X, and will be put on hold for at least ten years, if the Senate Launch System (SLS) isn’t canceled by then. (10/30)

NASA's Next Mars Mission: Five Things to Know (Source: National Geographic)
NASA's next Mars mission aims to uncover the red planet's ancient atmosphere. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, or MAVEN, will launch on November 18, weather permitting, for a ten-month trip to Mars. Here are five things to know about the $671 million mission to the planet that most looks like Earth, and that some hope still harbors life. Click here. (10/29)

Why Aliens Won't Look Like Flipper (Source: NBC)
You hardly ever see depictions of extraterrestrials that live underwater — and there's a good reason for that, says Don Lincoln. The reason? It's hard to build a fire underwater. Some experts speculate that many of the habitable planets in our galaxy are water worlds, with no land in sight. But those wouldn't the best places for technologically advanced civilizations to take root.

"There could be alien cavemen underwater," Lincoln, a physicist at Fermilab in Illinois, told NBC News. "But truly, you can't smelt metal." And that means it's unlikely that intelligent dolphins will ever develop the technology for spaceflight. (10/30)

Trailer Truck-Size Asteroid to Buzz Earth Inside Moon's Orbit (Source: Space.com)
A space rock the size of a tractor-trailer is set to fly harmlessly by Earth today (Oct. 29), zipping between our planet and the moon. "Small asteroid 2013 UV3 will safely pass Earth Oct. 29," reads a Twitter post from NASA's Near-Earth Object Program, based at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The space rock was first observed just a few days ago, on Oct. 25, according to data from JPL. (10/29)

Damaged Dream Chaser Can be Fixed and Program to Move Forward (Source: Universe Today)
The privately built Dream Chaser ‘space taxi’ that was damaged after landing during its otherwise successful first ever free-flight glide test on Saturday, Oct 26, is repairable and the program will live on to see another day, says the developer Sierra Nevada Corp., (SNC).

The Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle skidded off the runway and landed sideways when its left landing gear failed to deploy at the last second during touchdown on runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president for SNC Space Systems, at a media teleconference. The vehicle is “repairable and flyable again,” Sirangelo noted. More good news is that the ships interior was not damaged and the exterior can be fixed. (10/30)

Watching Earth's Winds, On a Shoestring (Source: NASA JPL)
Built with spare parts and without a moment to spare, the International Space Station (ISS)-RapidScat isn't your average NASA Earth science mission. Short for Rapid Scatterometer, ISS-RapidScat will monitor ocean winds from the vantage point of the space station . It will join a handful of other satellite scatterometer missions that make essential measurements used to support weather and marine forecasting, including the tracking of storms and hurricanes.

It will also help improve our understanding of how interactions between Earth's ocean and atmosphere influence our climate. Scatterometers work by safely bouncing low-energy microwaves - the same kind used at high energy to warm up food in your kitchen - off the surface of Earth. In this case, the surface is not land, but the ocean. By measuring the strength and direction of the microwave echo, ISS-RapidScat will be able to determine how fast, and in what direction, ocean winds are blowing. (10/29)

Two Roads to Mars (Source: FrontLine)
November will see two interplanetary missions of two space-faring nations but with incomparable capacities—in terms of availability of resources, infrastructure, past experience and expertise, widely different numbers of scientists and institutions engaged in space science, and hugely disparate financial capacities to absorb failures—head for Mars.

Interestingly, both missions have planned for their respective insertions into the Martian orbit on the same date of September 21, 2014. This is because the earth-Mars configuration is such that this is when the two spacecraft will reach the closest approach to Mars (periapsis) and will enable easy capture by the planet into its orbit.

For the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), which is slated for launch on Nov. 5, will be a maiden journey to the red planet. For NASA, whose missions to Mars date back to 1964, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), which is scheduled for launch on Nov. 18, it will be its 22nd mission. (10/30)

India is Going to Mars! But Don’t Call it a Space Race. (Source: Washington Post)
India's upcoming Mars mission is a thumb in the eye of China, whose own Mars ambitions came apart in 2011 when technical issues forced Beijing to abandon its launch. But even though India might benefit from beating China to the red planet, experts say gaining an edge back on Earth is the last thing scientists at ISRO, India's space agency, have on their minds.

Unlike the space race of the Cold War, where getting to the moon first held important geopolitical ramifications, India's interest in space — much like China's — is very closely tied to its economic goals. India's space program might be obscure to most, but millions of Indians are beneficiaries of it. Not in the American sense that it's produced fun inventions like Tang and Velcro, says Dean Cheng, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation. (10/30)

North Korea Expands Launch Site (Source: Huffington Post)
North Korea has undertaken major construction work at its main missile launch site, possibly to cater to larger and more mobile weapons, a US think-tank said. Satellite images taken earlier this month suggest construction of a second flat mobile launch pad at the Sohae missile site.

Work has also been carried out on Sohae's main launch pad, "possibly to upgrade that facility to handle future larger rockets," the post said. The pad was used for the launch in December of the North's Unha-3 carrier, which successfully placed a satellite in orbit. (10/29)

Unique Chemical Composition Surrounding Black Hole (Source: Space Daily)
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) successfully captured a detailed image of high density molecular gas around an active galactic nucleus harboring a supermassive black hole. The observations at the highest ever achieved reveal a unique chemical composition characterized by enhancement of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) around the black hole. (10/30)

Suborbital Spaceport in Wales Feasible (Source: E&T)
The UK should focus on the nascent sub-orbital spaceflight sector and become a future hub, opening its own spaceports, if it wants to make the best out of the emerging technology, think tank believes. Dan Lewis said that despite the high population density and the extremely dense air-traffic in its airspace, the UK should seize the opportunity brought about by companies such as Virgin Galactic, XCOR or Blue Origin.

So far, telecommunications and satellite services have been the most thriving part of the UK’s space industry, creating more than £1.5bn in revenues annually. However, this dynamics could soon change, thanks to the emerging sub-orbital technology. “The next 20 years will be suborbital, the question is how to dig into these opportunities,” Lewis said.

Lewis believes there are several locations in the UK offering favourable conditions to become future sub-orbital space flight hubs. “We are now examining the options, looking at various airfields. Right now, we believe the best location could be either in Torquay, Kinloss or Wales,” he said. (10/30)

Texas County Discusses SpaceX in Executive Session (Source: Brownsville Herald)
A special meeting of Cameron County Commissioners’ Court that lasted roughly two hours provided no new details into economic incentive negotiations with SpaceX. During the meeting, which was mostly in executive session, commissioners discussed the proposed SpaceX and Cameron County economic development agreement for the Boca Chica Beach Spaceport project. (10/30)

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