October 8, 2013

First Ever Evidence of a Comet Striking Earth (Source: Science Daily)
The first ever evidence of a comet entering Earth’s atmosphere and exploding, raining down a shock wave of fire which obliterated every life form in its path, has been discovered by a team of South African scientists and international collaborators. The comet entered Earth’s atmosphere above Egypt about 28 million years ago.

As it entered the atmosphere, it exploded, heating up the sand beneath it to a temperature of about 2 000 degrees Celsius, and resulting in the formation of a huge amount of yellow silica glass which lies scattered over a 6 000 square kilometer area in the Sahara. A magnificent specimen of the glass, polished by ancient jewellers, is found in Tutankhamun's brooch with its striking yellow-brown scarab. (10/8)

NASA Flunked its Cloud Computing Audit. Are You Next? (Source: Computer World UK)
Ok, so NASA failed an audit. Don’t we all? I think it is important to understand the government’s cloud computing adoption timeline before passing judgment on NASA for failing to meet its cloud computing requirements. As someone who has read NASA’s risk management program (and the 600 pages of supporting documentation), I can say that this wasn’t a failure of risk management policy or procedure effectiveness.

Clearly, this was a failure of third-party risk management’s monitoring and review of cloud services. Back in 2009, NASA pioneered cloud technology with a shipping container-based public cloud technology project named Nebula -- after the stellar cloud formation. During 2009, NASA, to determine if current cloud provider service offerings had matured enough to support the Nebula environment, did a study. The study proved that commercial cloud services had, in fact, become cheaper and more reliable than Nebula.

NASA, as a result of the study, moved more than 140 applications to the public sector cloud environment. In October of 2010, Congress had committee hearings on cybersecurity and the risk associated with cloud adoption. But remember, NASA had already moved its non-critical data (like www.nasa.gov or the daily video feeds from the international space station, that are edited together and packaged as content for the NASA website) to the public cloud in 2009. That is before anyone ever considered the rules for such an adoption of these services. (10/8)

Cygnus Status Update (Source: Orbital)
The Expedition 37 crew aboard the International Space Station has completed unloading the cargo from the Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) Cygnus and has loaded the first layer of waste for disposal. The crew will be working this week loading the second layer of trash. The third layer is expected to be loaded the week of 10/14, followed by PCM close out. Unberthing from the station is expected on October 22, with reentry into Earth's atmosphere on October 24. (10/8)

Virgin Galactic Was a Total Punt, Says Richard Branson (Source: Telegraph)
Sir Richard has admitted that he didn’t have a clue about space travel, or even how he would raise the money to start the business when he registered the name “Virgin Galactic”. “It was 10 years ago and I knew nothing about space travel or building rockets,” he said. “I just said, 'I’m going to find someone who can build us a rocket and send people into space’.”

“Of course, when you’ve already had some successes behind you, it’s much easier to raise the money to make it happen,” he added. Sir Richard confirmed that Virgin Galactic is now just three months away from having a fully-functioning rocket that is capable of taking passengers into orbit. (10/8)

Higgs Boson Physicists Snag Nobel Prize (Source: Space.com)
The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to two physicists who predicted the existence of the elusive Higgs boson particle, which is thought to explain why other particles have mass, the committee announced today (Oct. 8). Two teams of scientists at the world's largest atom smasher, CERN's Large Hadron Collider, announced last year they had discovered a new particle that was likely the Higgs boson. The particle's identity was then confirmed earlier this year. (10/8)

Gravity’s Space-Diaper Fiasco (Source: Daily Beast)
Although movie critics gave Gravity, the new film featuring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, generally positive reviews, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson had a bone to pick with producers over some scientific inaccuracies. The most pressing matter, Tyson pointed out, was the absence of Maximum Absorbency Garments—or adult space diapers. (10/8)

Why a Sixth-Grader Wants to Brew Beer in Space (Source: CS Monitor)
Mankind may be one step closer to getting extraterrestrial breweries – thanks to an eleven-year-old. Michal Bodzianowski, 11, is among the winners of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, which sends student experiments to the International Space Station. His project, "What Are the Effects of Creation of Beer in Microgravity and Is It Possible?,” will be ferried upward this November as part of the program's "Mission 4."

Bodzianowski, a sixth-grader at the STEM School and Academy
in Colorado’s Douglas County School District, says he wants to find out if it’s possible to brew beer in space, mixing crushed malted barley, bottled water, and yeast. It's an idea that he says could help in developing backup water supplies for future extraterrestrial colonies, since alcohol is lethal to bacteria. (10/8)

Spaceports on Agenda at Smart Airports Conference (Source: Airport World)
Warnings about the dangers of losing State aid for Europe’s smaller airports, a possible 2029 opening date for a new Thames Estuary Airport in London, and the launch of a Spaceport at Curaçao Airport in 2014, were all on the agenda during the opening sessions of the SMART Airports Conference in Munich today.

Simon Kloppenburg, commercial developer airport development with Curaçao Airport, revealed that the gateway would open its own Spaceport next year in a move designed to help boost its non-aeronautical revenues. He said that operator, XCOR Aerospace, would launch commercial space flights from the airport in 2014, and that more than 250 people had already signed up for sub-orbital flights from the Caribbean airport. (10/8)

New Falcon 9 Falls Short On Stage Functions (Source: Aviation Week)
SpaceX engineers will have some changes to make on the company's new Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle before its next mission, following lessons learned from its Sep. 29 demonstration flight. A preliminary test of a reusable-booster concept intended to hold down costs showed the need for more work after an uncontrollable spin apparently hampered pre-spashdown braking. The vehicle also aborted a planned restart of its upper-stage engine during the otherwise successful debut of the upgraded rocket. (10/7)

XCOR Transitions to Midland, Awaits Spaceport License (Source: My West Texas)
XCOR Aerospace still plans to move to Midland, but its chief operating officer acknowledged the move is taking longer than expected. Despite Midland International Airport’s lack of spaceport designation license, Andrew Nelson, COO and vice president of business development for XCOR, said he is confident the situation will get better.

He said the spaceport license process has been a coordinated effort with no pushback, but then the government shutdown affected the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency responsible for granting spaceport licenses. Nelson also explained that the license application itself is complicated because it requires several components such as a physical security plan and an emergency response plan.

As of now, the application is at the environmental assessment phase, as previously reported. So in the interim, XCOR has made several measures to make its transition from Mojave, Calif., to Midland. The company is currently evaluating proposals and negotiating with local contractors for hangar renovations at the airport. Continuing its presence on the local community, XCOR has also hired five employees from Midland and plan to hire more in the next few months. The company has also made agreements with local suppliers. (10/8)

Spaceport Colorado Lands Agreement with Swiss Space Company (Source: Denver Post)
Spaceport Colorado will serve as Swiss Space Systems' North American headquarters, marking the first foreign-based company to commit to the regional enterprise and helping to validate the effort. The Switzerland-based company, known as S3, signed a memorandum of understanding with representatives from the Colorado coalition after meeting with the team last month.

Spaceport Colorado is a statewide initiative to create an aerospace hub at Front Range Airport in Adams County that is designed to attract high-tech research, commercial space development and eventually the creation of a horizontal launch pad for space transport. But the enterprise is currently undergoing feasibility and environmental studies and still must gain approval from the FAA. (10/8)

'Huge Milestone' Coming for SLS (Source: America Space)
In August, the Space Launch System Program (SLS) passed its Preliminary Design Review (PDR). The next major milestone for the program is Key Decision Point C (KDP-C). If SLS passes this decision point, it will progress from the formulation phase to the implementation phase of the program. It is not known how the current government shutdown will affect the timing of KDP-C. Most NASA websites are not operating during the shutdown, nor are public affairs offices.

KDP-C is the last major go-no-go point in the program’s development life-cycle. Once NASA grants permission for SLS to proceed, it becomes far less likely that the program will be cancelled. A program that has reached the implementation phase, particularly if it has some political momentum, stands a much better chance of surviving, even if it goes over budget. (10/8)

Swiss Space Systems to Launch 28 Satellites for Spacepharma (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The aerospace company S3 and the Spacepharma SA enterprise, specialised in solutions for medical experiments in microgravity, announce today the signature of a contract relating to the launch of four small satellites in 2018, followed by a monthly launch over two years, making a total of 28 planned launches.

This is an important step for S3, who is also in advanced discussions in relation to other launches. Spacepharma intends to become a world leader in the market for researches into microgravity for the life science industries. In S3, the company has found a partner which will permit it to place its satellites in orbit thanks to its system, which is efficient, flexible, reliable, and economical.

With the Research & Development phase of its satellite launch system well advanced, S3 announces today the signature of a significant launch contract with Spacepharma SA, the Swiss company specialised in laboratory solutions in microgravity for the life science industries. This contract relates to putting four small satellites into orbit in 2018, followed by one satellite per month for a period of two years. (10/8)

Space Florida and UCF Plan Tech Business Competition (Source: Space Florida)
Space Florida and the University of Central Florida (UCF) announced a call for applications by companies interested in participating in an event that will match financing sources with small, high-tech businesses based in Florida. The "CAT5 Awards," (which stands for "Capital for the Acceleration of Technologies in early stage companies) will showcase 10 selected companies in an event that will enable them to present their business cases to venture capitalists, angel investors and financiers, among others.

In addition to having the opportunity to present to potential funding sources, the top two business plans will receive $150,000 in monetary awards - with first place receiving $100,000 and second place receiving $50,000, both through Space Florida sponsorship. (10/8)

Quick Fusion-Powered Trips to Mars No Fantasy, Scientists Say (Source: Space.com)
Sending astronauts to Mars aboard a superfast spacecraft powered by nuclear fusion may seem like a sci-fi dream, but it's entirely attainable, scientists say. The physics behind a fusion-driven rocket have been demonstrated in the laboratory, so such a device may well be propelling people on 90-day trips to the Red Planet in a matter of decades, according to a team of researchers working on the technology. (10/7)

Hawaii, Alaska Partner Up on Space Exploration Efforts (Source: Honolulu Civil Beat)
Hawaii and Alaska officials came together today at the state Capitol to sign a memorandum of understanding outlining the states’ plans to join forces on aerospace activities serving the Pacific region. The two states “are geographically situated to provide rapid, focused, and cost-effective aerospace services,” a Hawaii Office of Aerospace Development press release says.

Hawaii for its part is strategically located, has Moon- and Mars-like terrain, is home to a cohort of aerospace experts and maintains long-standing ties with Asia-Pacific countries that invest in space exploration. Alaska, through the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, owns and operates its own spaceport complex.

The agreement comes on the heels of Act 169, which was signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie last June and gave the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism oversight of the state’s space exploration endeavors. Soon after, he released $275,000 in capital improvement funds to plan and prepare for state aerospace projects. (10/8)

Russia Could Build Manned Lunar Base (Source: Space Daily)
The federal space agency Roscosmos has launched a feasibility study of a project to build a manned base on the Moon, Academician Lev Zelyony, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Space Research Institute, said on Friday. "Our nearest task within the limits of the planning horizon is the construction of a piloted outpost on the Moon. A working group was recently set up at the order of Roscosmos's head Vladimir Popovkin," Zelyony said. (10/8)

Inmarsat to Purchase Fourth Inmarsat-5 Satellite From Boeing (Source: Space Daily)
The fourth Inmarsat-5 satellite will have a dual strategic role. Initially the satellite will serve to provide an early available spare in the unlikely event of a launch failure of any of the first three Inmarsat-5 satellites. As a result, Inmarsat will be able to achieve global service launch for Global Xpress ("GX") more rapidly than if a replacement satellite were only commissioned following a launch failure. (10/8)

Apollo Landing Remembered as a Promise of a 'Future Which Never Happened' (Source: Space Daily)
Footage of the first moon landing promised a future of sci-fi heroism that never came to pass, according to a new study. The first moon landing is overwhelmingly remembered as an exciting and important turning point in world history, which continues to inspire space exploration projects to Mars and beyond today.

However, the new study shows how NASA used images of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing to develop a narrative of its own importance for the future. The academics claim NASA carefully selected footage to present Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts as pioneering "cowboys" supported by "technological efficiency". NASA's shots of the astronauts walking purposefully towards the launch bay - repeated regularly in TV coverage of the landing - were carefully crafted to mimic the slow walk of Cowboys in the cinematic tradition of Westerns, they argue. (10/8)

Higgs Boson’s Effects on Universe Boosted (Source: Science News)
Higgs particles may get an upgrade from by-product to big player in the explanation of how the universe ended up with more matter than antimatter. They could also explain one possible way dark matter was made. New calculations suggest that if an early-universe imbalance existed between the Higgs boson and its antiparticle, then the resulting physical processes could account for how the universe developed more matter than antimatter. The Higgs may also have decayed into dark matter and influenced how densely packed the material is in the cosmos. (10/7)

Texas Rep. Meets With JSC Employees to Support Restoring NASA Funding (Source: Steve Stockman)
The office of Congressman Steve Stockman Monday gladly met with local NASA employees to discuss the effects of the government shutdown and Obama administration funding cuts to NASA. “With a wife who is a JSC employee I know better than most how important full NASA funding is and how many hits JSC employee have taken under Obama,” said Stockman.

“I’ve been voting since Day One to keep NASA fully funded and to end the government shutdown.  We’ve been voting as late as 1:00 a.m. to end the shutdown, but the Democrat-run Senate hasn’t held a vote since September,” said Stockman. “Our calls from JSC employees this week are about nine to one in favor of standing strong against Obama’s budget.”

“I’ve also led the fight to restore the billions Obama cut from JSC operations.  We get more return on NASA than nearly any other agency and we need expand out investment in it,” said Stockman. Stockman also opposed Obama’s proposal for sequestration of NASA funding. Stockman proposed an alternative to sequester that would fully restore NASA funds. (10/7)

Trolls Gonna Troll While NASA is Away (Source: Houston Chronicle)
A curious website purported to be affiliated with NASA went live last week just as the government shutdown whittled the space agency down to a skeleton crew. The site was heralding the announcement of “The biggest discovery that will shake the earth, It will never be the same again.” That made most ears and fingers perk up on social media. How about a line like “NASA has made a historic discovery that will shake the entire planet”?

Obviously none of us could ring up a spokesperson at NASA proper and get a word on it since anyone who could answer any questions about it has turned off their government-issued Blackberry phones and gone home. Initially, the site was hyping up an announcement set for Nov. 13, but as the site went viral and everyone on the Internet began writing about it, the said the special announcement would be moved up to Oct. 6. The site was built on Oct. 1, the day before the shutdown, and the domain name came from namecheap.com.

Monday morning I came into the office and checked out http://www.rememberthe13th.com to find that it linked to a music video and song called “Purple Ninja” by Beeki Vendi. It didn’t even have the decency to be catchy either, like the Korean pop song with the horses or that other one about letting the dogs out. All those dreams of alien life and futuristic rocketry — sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground. (10/7)

Editorial: Orbital Makes Good with Cygnus (Despite Congress) (Source: Space News)
Washington was an important milestone in NASA’s effort to commercialize human spaceflight and related operations in low Earth orbit: the Sep. 29 berthing of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Cygnus cargo capsule with the space station. The accomplishment stands out in stark contrast to the entrenched fecklessness of the U.S. Congress, in particular the House of Representatives, which orchestrated a paralyzing federal government shutdown that has hit NASA especially hard.

More than 90 percent of the space agency’s 18,000-strong workforce has been forced on unpaid furlough. Thankfully, NASA — with no help from Capitol Hill — found a way to resume preparations for the planned November launch of a $670 million Mars mission that had been temporarily halted by the shutdown. Had it missed this launch opportunity, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission would have had to wait two more years for its next window.

Congress’ failure to pass a simple spending bill to keep the government running represents yet another dereliction of duty for a group that seems to never miss an opportunity to sink to a new low. Among the ironic injustices of it all is that while the vast majority of NASA employees are having their paychecks clipped, these so-called lawmakers will continue to draw their handsome, taxpayer-funded salaries. (10/7)

Editorial: American Human Spaceflight Floundering (Source: Space News)
The ultimate goal is Mars. To do what exactly, and for how long, is unknown. The path has varied wildly across the past two U.S. administrations. The George W. Bush administration would have had us return to the Moon and use it as a springboard for Mars. Funds sufficient to accomplish this were never requested.

Faced with a depressed economy, the Barack Obama administration decided to scrap the Moon plans, and the balloon payment needed, and send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid in the 2020s. The long-duration spaceflight would support the future Mars goal. Suddenly, the administration changed gears and decided to capture a small asteroid and bring it back to lunar orbit for subsequent exploration by astronauts — or maybe not. The objectives are not clear.

A workshop of experts met recently in Washington to review and discuss the Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM). It is apparent that the mission is poorly conceived and lacking in basic planning, and carries huge cost and schedule risk that is more dumb than heroic. NASA may not know it yet, but ARM is dead, and the future of American human spaceflight is again in question. Perhaps it is time to move away from stunt as policy — a tragic legacy of the Apollo program. (10/7)

Shutdown Prompts Aerospace Corp. to Furlough More than Half its Workforce (Source: Space News)
The Aerospace Corp., the federally funded not-for-profit research center that provides engineering advice on U.S. Air Force space programs, furloughed more than 2,000 workers as the result of a government shutdown, according to an Oct. 7 press release. The work stoppages began Oct. 3. Workers involved in mission-critical tasks – such as near-term activities in launch operations and support, resolution of on-orbit anomalies, and execution of ongoing satellite flight operations – were exempt from the furlough. (10/7)

Quick Fusion-Powered Trips to Mars No Fantasy (Source: Space.com)
Sending astronauts to Mars aboard a superfast spacecraft powered by nuclear fusion may seem like a sci-fi dream, but it's entirely attainable, scientists say. The physics behind a fusion-driven rocket have been demonstrated in the laboratory, so such a device may well be propelling people on 90-day trips to the Red Planet in a matter of decades, according to a team of researchers working on the technology. (10/7)

Life Harder to Find on Exoplanets Than Previously Thought (Source: (Xinhua)
Finding life on exoplanets, or planets outside the solar system, may be more difficult than people thought, researchers from China, the United States and Argentina said Monday. Current efforts to find a second Earth focus on so-called M dwarfs or red dwarfs, stars that are smaller than the Sun but make up more than 75 percent of the stars in the solar neighborhood. High levels of atmospheric oxygen are considered the most promising indicator for life on exoplanets.

However, recent observations of several planet-hosting M dwarfs showed that the ultraviolet (UV) properties of these small stars are quite different from those of the Sun, which could further complicate the search for alien life, the researchers said. The atmosphere of a hypothetical habitable planet around an M dwarf star could build up significant levels of oxygen even in the absence of life. (10/8)

ILS Regains Confidence in Proton-M Booster (Source: America Space)
Only days after the spectacular 29 September return to flight of the troubled Proton-M booster, International Launch Services (ILS) is gearing up for its next mission in two weeks’ time. The three-stage Proton and its Briz-M upper stage is reportedly scheduled to liftoff from Pad 39 at Site 200 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:13 a.m. local time on 21 October. (10/8)

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