November 6, 2013

Eyewitnesses Help Scientists Resolve Meteor Mysteries (Source: Scientific American)
Based on testimony from people near the Chelyabinsk meteor impact zone, as well as the copious video footage caught by residents’ dashboard cameras and security video feeds, scientists have calculated the precise trajectory of the inbound Chelyabinsk meteor, as well as the power of the explosion in the atmosphere and the dynamics of the shockwave it produced.

They found that the rock started out about 19 meters wide, and broke into small pieces as it descended from 45 to 30 kilometers over Earth. The airburst explosion of the meteor packed an energy equivalent to 500 kilotons of TNT, they calculated. The relatively small asteroid had escaped detection prior to impact, but by computing its velocity and direction of flight, the scientists were able to deduce the rock’s orbit around the sun, which proved to be markedly similar to the orbit of a known, much larger asteroid—a two-kilometer-wide object called 86039 (1999 NC43). (11/6)

Canada Blocks MDA Corp. from Russian Radar Satellite Competition (Source: Space News)
Canada’s MDA Corp. on Nov. 4 said its government has rejected the company’s request to take part in an international competition to provide radar Earth observation satellites to Russia, a competition that now may have narrowed to focus on European bidders.

MDA also said it spent 3 million Canadian dollars ($2.91 million) in the three months ending Sep. 30 performing due diligence in pursuit of a major acquisition that MDA scrapped when the seller raised the price. MDA balked at the new price and withdrew its participation. The company was later purchased by another bidder. Industry officials said MDA had been bidding for satellite fleet operator Satmex of Mexico.

Paris-based Eutelsat ultimately purchased Satmex for $831 million in cash and the assumption of $311 million in Satmex debt, a transaction expected to close in early 2014. An MDA purchase of Satmex on the heels of its billion-dollar acquisition of satellite manufacturer Space Systems/Loral (SSL) of Palo Alto, Calif., would have transformed MDA into a company not dissimilar to SSL’s previous owner, Loral Space and Communications. (11/6)

Astronauts, Cosmonauts Call for Global Cooperation on Asteroid Threat (Source: EarthSky)
The Association of Space Explorers (ASE) – a professional society of astronauts and cosmonauts – issued a challenge to the global community to take the next vital steps to confront the threat from dangerous asteroids. Neil deGrasse Tyson moderated the event. The ASE Committee on Near-Earth Objects statement follows the United Nations General Assembly adoption of a suite of proposals to create an international decision-making mechanism for planetary asteroid defense. (10/28)

Lady Gaga to Sing in Space in 2015 (Source: US Weekly)
No one ever said she was down-to-earth! In early 2015, Lady Gaga will become the first artist to sing in outer space. The "Dope" performer, 27, is set to blast off in a Virgin Galactic ship and belt out a single track during the Zero G Colony high-tech musical festival in New Mexico. "She has to do a month of vocal training because of the atmosphere," says a source, who adds that the diva's glam squad will join her in the shuttle. (11/6)

Japan's Robot Astronaut Awaiting 'Compatriot' Spaceman (Source: Space Daily)
The world's first robot astronaut is pining for a conversation partner as he waits for Japanese spaceman Koichi Wakata aboard the International Space Station. "Mr. Wakata, are you not here yet? I really want to see you soon," the pint-sized android said in a message released by its project team in Japan Wednesday. (11/6)

Paleontologist Presents Origin of Life Theory (Source: Space Daily)
It has baffled humans for millennia: how did life begin on planet Earth? Now, new research from a Texas Tech University paleontologist suggests it may have rained from the skies and started in the bowels of hell. Sankar Chatterjee at Texas Tech University believes he has found the answer by connecting theories on chemical evolution with evidence related to our planet's early geology.

"This is bigger than finding any dinosaur," Chatterjee said. "This is what we've all searched for - the Holy Grail of science." Thanks to regular and heavy comet and meteorite bombardment of Earth's surface during its formative years 4 billion years ago, the large craters left behind not only contained water and the basic chemical building blocks for life, but also became the perfect crucible to concentrate and cook these chemicals to create the first simple organisms. (11/6)

Study: Humble Clays May Have Been Birthplace of Life on Earth (Source: Space Daily)
Clay may have been the birthplace of life on Earth despite being a seemingly infertile and inhospitable blend of minerals, some U.S. scientists say. Life, or at least the complex biochemicals that make life possible, could have formed within a kind of clay known as a hydrogel, containing a mass of microscopic spaces capable of soaking up liquids like a sponge.

We propose that in early geological history clay hydrogel provided a confinement function for biomolecules and biochemical reactions," biological and environmental engineering Professor Dan Luo said. In seawater, clay forms a hydrogel, and over billions of years chemicals confined in those spaces could have carried out the complex reactions that formed proteins, DNA and eventually all the machinery that make a living cell work, the Cornell researchers suggest. (11/5)

NASA Creates New Virtual Solar System Exploration Institute (Source: Parabolic Arc)
NASA has selected nine research teams from seven states for a new institute that will bring researchers together in a collaborative virtual setting to focus on questions concerning space science and human space exploration. The teams participating in the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) will address scientific questions about the moon, near-Earth asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and their near space environments, in cooperation with international partners.

Based and managed at NASA’s Ames Research Center, the institute will support scientific research and complement and extend existing NASA science programs. SSERVI represents an expansion of NASA’s Lunar Science Institute, established at Ames in 2008, to include other solar system destinations. SSERVI members include academic institutions, non-profit research institutes, private companies, NASA centers and other government laboratories.

The winning teams, which SSERVI will support for five years at a combined total of about $12 million per year, were selected from a pool of 32 proposals based on competitive peer-review evaluation. Editor's Note: Among the winners is the UCF-based Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science. Click here. (11/6)

Globalstar Wins FCC Review on Use of Satellite Airwaves (Source: Space News)
Globalstar won regulatory review of its proposal to let mobile devices use airwaves now set aside for satellite service, potentially increasing the value of the spectrum it controls. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission issued a notice on Nov. 1 saying it will consider rules Globalstar requested last year. A final decision depends on votes under new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who was confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 29. (11/6)

Blue Origin and Planetary Defense (Source: NewSpace Journal)
Blue Origin is best known for its work developing suborbital and orbital reusable spacecraft (well, that, and its infamous secrecy about that work.) But the company at least once had interest in a different topic, according to an unusual source: planetary defense. That’s the claim of the obituary of William Wright Kuhn, a mathematician and consultant who passed away last month.

The obituary states that Kuhn worked as a consultant for Blue Origin from 1999 to 2006. (The start date is one year before the company was formally incorporated.) “His primary work was to help develop a sunlight-powered spacecraft whose purpose was to prevent asteroids or comets from hitting Earth,” the obituary claims, adding that, besides its space transportation work, Blue Origin “is also working on the problem of Earth being bombarded by astronomical drifters bent on destruction.” (11/6)

Area 51 Declassified: Documents Reveal Cold War 'Hide-and-Seek' (Source:
Newly declassified documents reveal more detail about past use of the mysterious Nevada test site known as Area 51 and the concern for maintaining secrecy about the work done at the facility. The recently released papers, which date mostly from the early 1960s into the 1970s, spotlight the U.S. government's desire for tight security at Area 51, also known as Groom Lake.

The area was photographed with American reconnaissance assets to better assess what the Soviet Union's spy satellites might be able to discern. The documents also detail the debate over the possible release of a photograph "inadvertently" taken of the secret facility by NASA astronauts aboard the Skylab space station in 1974.

More than 60 declassified documents in an Area 51 file were posted on the Internet by the National Security Archive late last month, compiled and edited by archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson. The archive is located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Click here. (11/6)

How Safe Can You Make Space Without Stifling Innovation and Enterprise? (Source: Reason)
Though the verisimilitude of the special effects were groundbreaking, Gravity, the harrowing disaster blockbuster that opened recently, is unrealistically over the top in terms of the actual dangers that NASA astronauts currently face in low earth orbit. But it’s a useful reminder that the high, and final, frontier is the harshest, most hazardous and most unforgiving one humanity has confronted since we first climbed down from the trees onto the African savanna.

Previous frontiers offered extremes of weather and unknown and often dangerous wild animals, and the means to get to them, by sea or others, were often hazardous in themselves. But at least the settlers had air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat using the technology of the time. In space, exposure of an unprotected human body to the environment kills not in days or hours, as in many hostile environments on earth, but in a brief few minutes. Click here. (11/6)

Grasshopper’s Journey Hints at New Era in Spaceflight (Source: Space Safety)
In 1997 McDonnell Douglas was the prime contractor in the Delta Clipper-Experimental project, commonly known as DC-X. During the years of 1993-1996, DC-X achieved several successful tests in the quest to become the first single stage to orbit reusable launch vehicle, ascending vertically, moving laterally, and then descending to the ground.

Originally a project of the US Department of Defense, in 1996, NASA became the premier sponsor of the project, supporting the vehicle to its highest altitude of 3,140 meters. Its last flight was in July of 1996 when, at the moment of landing, one of the struts failed to deploy and the DC-X was severely damaged.

SpaceX pursued the goal of the original DC-X through the Grasshopper, which is a 40 meter tall VTVL rocket, consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage tank powered by a Merlin 1D engine, and four steel and aluminum legs with hydraulic dampers. Grasshopper was never intended to be an operational spaceship. It was just a development tool to get to the real goal: a VTVL Falcon to make the ever-elusive long sought reusable launch system a reality. Click here. (11/6)

Astronaut Taking Treasure-Hunt 'Travel Bug' to Space Station (Source: Collect Space)
The countdown is underway for the launch of a treasure-hunt token to the International Space Station (ISS). The same Russian spacecraft that will lift off Wednesday evening (Nov. 6) with three crew members and an Olympic torch for the orbital outpost is also carrying a "travel bug," a device used to mark the location of a hidden cache or container. On the ISS, it will serve as a tool for students and enthusiasts to track the astronaut who is bringing it to space.

"We are going to bring up a geocache travel bug, which is basically just a small dog tag," NASA flight engineer Rick Mastracchio said in a televised media interview. "The kids are going to follow it online and I'll answer questions while I'm on orbit with them. It gives them a reason to follow the mission and learn about NASA." (11/6)

NASA Selects UCF to Lead Research Center (Source: Florida Today)
NASA has awarded the University of Central Florida leadership of a $6 million center that will study asteroids and planets in support of human and robotic exploration. UCF’s Daniel Britt, a physics professor who has designed instruments for Mars rovers, will lead the new Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science, or CLASS.

CLASS is one of nine centers named Tuesday as part of the newly formed Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, which NASA says will focus researchers on questions concerning space science and human space exploration. UCF’s winning bid was selected from among 32 proposals submitted to competitive peer-reviewed evaluation.

In addition to Britt, UCF said the center involves 15 lead researchers from the university, the Florida Space Institute, Kennedy Space Center, other NASA centers, and universities around the nation, in addition to 23 collaborating researchers from the U.S. and four other nations. (11/5)

India to Mars? A Guide to the Dangers Ahead (Source: New Scientist)
History points to a difficult journey ahead. Despite the success of NASA's Mars Curiosity rover, which landed on the Red Planet in August 2012, Mars is a notoriously tough target – even for spacecraft that are designed to orbit, not land.

Of the five other space agencies that have launched orbiters to Mars, just one – the European Space Agency – made it on the first attempt (see diagram, below). Only two more – NASA and the USSR – have ever made it to the planet. Despite attempts by the Japanese and Chinese space agencies, no Asian nation has ever succeeded in orbiting, let alone landing on, the Red Planet. Click here. (11/5)

Space Bacteria Defy Zero Gravity (Source: Science)
Astronauts of the future may have a new foe to contend with: space bacteria. Scientists have found that Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common contaminant of medical equipment and a cause of urinary tract infections, among other diseases, grows better in zero gravity than it does on Earth, even when starved of nutrients.

The researchers grew the microbes in simulated urine both in an Earth-bound lab and onboard the space shuttle Atlantis (experimental setup shown) in July 2011. In some of the samples, the team dramatically reduced the concentrations of dissolved phosphate and oxygen to simulate conditions that might exist inside equipment used to recycle urine into water on spacecraft during long-duration flights.

When nutrients were plentiful, the growth rates of the bacteria in zero-g conditions—and particularly, the concentrations of cells after 72 hours—were the same as those grown in the lab under normal conditions. But in samples with lower concentrations of phosphate and oxygen, the Earth-bound bacteria didn’t grow as quickly as they did when fully nourished, while those cultured in microgravity grew as prolifically as those provided with a full complement of nutrients. (11/5)

Western Countries Could Use Baikonur – Kazakh Space Agency (Source: RIA Novosi)
Kazakhstan’s National Space Agency, Kazcosmos, is not ruling out launches of Western spacecraft from the Baikonur space center currently rented to Russia until 2050. Many Western countries and former Soviet states have expressed interest in using the space center, the agency’s officials were quoted as saying. Kazcosmos has not ruled out that it “could work jointly with Western countries [in the future] if it is economically viable,” the officials said. Russia has rented the space center from Kazakhstan since 1994. The annual fee is $115 million. (11/5)

High Cost Deters Mars Launch Insurance (Source: Times of India)
ISRO has decided against insuring its Mars mission, given the high cost of a cover. Insurers say that the cost of cover for the launch in the international market would have been very high and may have amounted to almost half the cost of the project. (11/5)

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