December 12, 2013

Space Station's Coolant Problem Casts a Cloud Over Cargo Craft's Launch (Source: NBC)
NASA managers say they're still troubleshooting a problem with a coolant pump aboard the International Space Station — and although the crew is not in any danger, a commercial cargo flight might have to be postponed. A decision on the Dec. 18 launch of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus cargo ship atop an Antares rocket will be deferred until Monday, said Kenny Todd, NASA's space station mission integration and operations manager.

Editor's Note: As NASA was telling folks to calm down, that this was not a life-threatening situation, the nightly news (on CBS, at least) highlighted this 'breaking news' as a potential disaster for NASA, taking the opportunity to show clips from Gravity as they described the need for a spacewalk to repair the faulty hardware. (12/12)

JSC to Get Another New Representative as Stockman Aims for Senate (Source: Space Politics)
Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), whose district includes NASA’s Johnson Space Center, surprised many late Monday when he announced he would challenge incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) in next year’s Republican primary. Stockman is considered a long shot to unseat Cornyn—he has just $32,000 in the bank for his campaign, versus $7 million for Cornyn—but his decision does give Cornyn more serious, and more conservative, competition than previously expected.

The decision also means that Stockman won’t be running for reelection for his House seat. Stockman, in his brief time back in Washington (he served a term in Congress in the mid-1990s) he’s served on the House Science Committee and been active on space issues, but has been better known—or, perhaps, infamous—for controversial positions, such as calling for the President’s impeachment.

Five Republicans have filed to run for Stockman’s seat, including Chuck Meyer, who advocated for “Space Bonds” to fund NASA’s human spaceflight program during his unsuccessful 2012 campaign for the seat. Thanks to election outcomes and redistricting, JSC has been represented in recent years by Tom DeLay, Nick Lampson, Pete Olson, and, currently, Steve Stockman; by January 2015, another person will have that distinction. (12/11)

How Will Space Commuters Navigate A Thicket Of Air Traffic? (Source: Popular Science)
"When space traffic becomes routine, there's going to be significant conflict between commercial air traffic and space traffic," says Juan Alonso, a Stanford professor of aeronautics and astronautics. Right now, orbital launches are infrequent -- about 70 per year around the world. So if there is, say, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled from Cape Canaveral, the FAA decrees the area to be a "special use airspace" and bars plane traffic from the area for hours to accommodate it.

The suborbital “up-and-down” space tourism flights offered by carriers like Virgin Galactic and XCOR may number anywhere from several hundred to multiple thousands a year – from zero today. Airline passengers will be less than thrilled to accept a lengthy delay so a rock star can sing in space or a billionaire can hang out in a "space hotel." Also, airlines lose money from delays, or from re-routing around special-use airspace, requiring extra fuel burn.

So Alonso and other research teams at the FAA’s Center for Excellence in Space Transportation are hard at work crunching numbers and simulating flights, trying to estimate space and air traffic levels in the near future – all to determine how to most equitably divvy up the national airspace. The timing is good for space traffic control, because the FAA is in the midst of a $40 billion transition from the ground-based, radar-based air traffic control system that exists today to a satellite-based system called NextGen. Click here. (12/12)

Swiss Space Systems Opens Subsidiary in Spain (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The aerospace company, Swiss Space Systems (S3), officially inaugurated its daughter company, S3 Spain, in the presence of the Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism M. Jose Manuel Soria Lopez, representatives of the local and national authorities as well as international guests. The company will be run by Augusto Caramagno. Swiss Space Systems Group already has a partnership with both Elecnor and its technology branch, Elecnor Deimos, but the new S3 Company represents another important step in the development of its activities in Spain. (12/12)

Astronaut Calls Boy Trying to Save NASA (Source: KUSA)
It has been 41 years to the day that the last American walked on the moon. One of those astronauts was Gene Cernan. Cernan heard the story about the 6-year-old who is trying to save NASA. So on the anniversary of Cernan's dream mission, he took a moment to encourage a little boy he never met. "I am an astronaut. This is Gene Cernan calling. I'm the last person to have walked on the moon," Cernan told Connor.

Connor's eyes lit up and he had a huge smile on his face while a living legend spoke with him about dreams coming true and never giving up. Connor Johnson says ever since he launched his petition on the White House website, he has received thousands of signatures. He knows he has a long way to go, but says he's encouraged by all of the people who have helped out. (12/12)

Quails in Orbit French Cuisine Aims for the Stars (Source: Space Daily)
It's your 150th day in space, and life is starting to resemble the movie "Groundhog Day" -- a repetitive daily routine interspersed with tugs of longing for life back on Earth. Then, all of a sudden, things start to look up. Mission Control has declared that today will be a "special day," and you can look forward to a lip-smacking, finger-lickin'-good gourmet meal at the end of it.

This is where France's space chefs come in. In an initiative backed by top-of-the-line cuisinier Alain Ducasse, a team of cooks design and make "Special Event Meals" -- SEMs -- to enliven the nutritious but often dull freeze-dried diet of life in space. About once a month, as the distant Earth rolls slowly beneath them, astronauts can feast on roasted quail, Breton lobster, hand-reared chicken from the Landes, casserole of Burgundy beef cheek, Riviera-style swordfish or duck breast in a caper sauce. (12/11)

Scientist: Near-Miss Solar Storm Should be a Wake-Up Call (Source: Space Daily)
A massive solar storm that narrowly missed Earth last year should open the eyes of policymakers to the threat of severe space weather, a U.S. scientist says. The coronal mass ejection traveling at more than 7 million miles per hour was likely more powerful than the famous Carrington storm of 1859 that blasted Earth's atmosphere so hard it kit up they skies with auroras from the North Pole to Central America, University of Colorado Boulder Professor Daniel Baker said. (12/10)

Mercury Is Shrinking More Than Thought (Source: Scientific American)
The planet closest to the sun has shrivelled much more over its lifetime than previously thought, scientists have found. Studies of Mercury show that it has shrunk by about 11 kilometers across since the solar system's fiery birth 4.5 billion years ago. As the planet cooled and contracted, it became scarred with long curved ridges similar to the wrinkles on a rotting apple.

A new census of these ridges, called lobate scarps, has found more of them, with steeper faces, than ever before. The discovery suggests that Mercury shrank by far more than the previous estimate of 2-3 kilometers, says Paul Byrne. The finding helps explain how Mercury's huge metallic core cooled off over time. It may also finally reconcile theoretical scientists, who had predicted a lot of shrinkage, with observers who had not found evidence of that—until now. (12/11)

'Wake Up' Competition for Europe's Sleepy Comet-Chaser (Source: Space Daily)
Citizens of Planet Earth are being invited to make a "video shout-out" to wake up a deep-space probe, Rosetta, that has been in hibernation since June 2011. The European Space Agency (ESA) is offering prizes for the best video clip of people shouting "Wake up, Rosetta!" to help end its scout's long sleep next month. Launched back in March 2004, Rosetta is designed to rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko next year at 673 million kilometers (420 million miles) from the Sun. (12/11)

Minerals in Giant Crater May Yield Clues to Moon's Makeup, Origin (Source: Space Daily)
Mineralogical discoveries in the moon's largest impact crater could yield clues to the evolution of our companion's crust and mantle, U.S. researchers say. The evidence is data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that flew aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter showing a diverse mineralogy in the subsurface of the giant South Pole Aitken basin, scientists at Brown University reported. (12/10)

200-Kilometer-High Jets of Water Discovered Shooting From Europa (Source: WIRED)
Jupiter’s icy moon Europa may be showing us its insides. Data from the Hubble space telescope suggests that enormous jets of water more than 200 kilometers tall (roughly twice as high as Earth’s atmosphere) may be spurting intermittently from the moon’s surface.

The frozen body Europa is known to have a vast liquid water ocean beneath its cold crust, a potential home for life. Should these newly observed water plumes be tapping into some Europan sea, they could be bringing material to the surface that would otherwise stay hidden. Follow-up observations from Earth or with probes around Europa could sample the fountains, hunting for organic material and perhaps finding evidence of living organisms beyond Earth. (12/12)

Clay-Like Minerals Found on Icy Crust of Europa (Source: Astrobiology)
A new analysis of data from Galileo has revealed clay-type minerals at the surface Europa that appear to have been delivered by a spectacular collision with an asteroid or comet. This is the first time such minerals have been detected on Europa's surface. The types of space rocks that deliver such minerals typically also often carry organic materials. (12/12)

How Pop-Music Helps in Space Debris Detection (Source: Space Safety)
As odd as it may sound, popular music can help detect space debris – at least pop-music broadcast via radio waves by terrestrial radio stations. Radio waves transmitted by ground-based stations find their way to space where they are reflected by orbiting space junk and bounce back to Earth. Back on Earth, these waves can be intercepted and their characteristics analyzed to determine the distance and size of objects that reflected them.

Australian researchers have proved such a concept really works. However, they needed a very powerful ear to be able to listen to the reflected pop music – the Murchinson Widefield Array (MWA). With a study recently published in the Astronomical Journal, new avenues are now opening in front of the Murchinson researchers as the telescope might join the space debris mitigation front.

Editor's Note: This kind of passive detection, similar to Lockheed Martin's Silent Sentry announced in 1998 (which itself has gone silent, probably black), represents a threat to some military stealth capabilities. I doubt the U.S. military would want other nations to have the capability to passively track any object in the air or in space using this technology. (12/10)

Mysterious Space Plane Spent a Year Orbiting Earth on Secret Mission (Source: LA Times)
A year after the Air Force blasted it into orbit, an experimental space drone continues to circle the Earth. Its mission and hush-hush payload remain a mystery. The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle was launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport on Dec. 11, 2012. It was set to land on a 15,000-foot airstrip at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara. But the Air Force has never announced an exact landing date.

Although the X-37B program is classified, some of the particulars are known. More than 10 years ago, it began as a NASA program to test new technologies for the space shuttle. But when the government decided to retire the aging fleet of shuttles, the Pentagon took over the program and cloaked it in secrecy. Two X-37B vehicles were built by Boeing Co. in Huntington Beach. Engineering work was done at the company's facilities in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach. Components also came from Boeing's satellite-making plant in El Segundo. (12/11)

Shrinking Budget Prompting Air Force Cuts (Source: Federal Times)
The Air Force will eliminate 900 civilian jobs next year because of a smaller budget, and some jobs may be eliminated through involuntary cuts. The Air Force plans to first offer early retirement to reach its target reduction numbers. (12/11)

Congressman  Visits Montana College, Learns About NASA Projects (Source: Valley Journal)
It may be a tad difficult for most people to understand the immensely complex programming, technological, and engineering feats a team of Salish Kootenai College science and technology students are completing in preparation for a December 2014 launch of a space cube satellite they built. Congressman Steve Daines, a Montana State University engineering graduate, fared well in grasping the concepts when he met with SKC students last Friday. (12/11)

Space Station Cooling System Malfuctions (Source: NASA)
Earlier Wednesday, the pump module on one of the space station’s two external cooling loops automatically shut down when it reached pre-set temperature limits. These loops circulate ammonia outside the station to keep both internal and external equipment cool. The flight control teams worked to get the cooling loop back up and running, and they suspect a flow control valve actually inside the pump itself might not be functioning correctly.

At no time was the crew or the station itself in any danger, but the ground teams did work to move certain electrical systems over to the second loop. Some non-critical systems have been powered down inside the Harmony node, the Kibo laboratory and the Columbus laboratory while the teams work to figure out what caused the valve to malfunction and how to fix it. The crew is safe and preparing to begin a normal sleep shift while experts on the ground collect more data and consider what troubleshooting activities may be necessary. (12/11)

House Committee Approves Bill To Shield Big NASA Programs (Source: Space News)
The House Science Committee on Dec. 11 approved a bill that would require NASA to obtain legislative permission to cancel some of its most expensive human spaceflight and science programs, while at the same time allowing contractors for these programs to tap into hundreds of millions of dollars in reserve funding.

The bill, H.R. 3625, was introduced Dec. 2 by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), whose district includes the Marshall Space Flight Center. It had 15 co-sponsors, including five Democrats, as of Dec. 11. The proposal was approved by a voice vote and now heads to the House floor. The bill's provisions apply to the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the international space station, and the James Webb Space Telescope. (12/11)

US Military Testing Nanosatellites with Latin America (Source: Inside Costa Rica)
The U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) took a first step in an effort to evaluate how low-cost space communication capabilities can support information sharing and tactical communications across wide geographic expanses, including remote and densely forested areas. A SOUTHCOM-sponsored nanosatellite was one of the payloads of a Atlas V rocket launched on Dec. 5. Two additional nanosatellites are scheduled to launch in December 2014.

The nanosatellite will be set to a low-earth orbit and evaluated in partnership with Brazil and Peru as part of a technology program. “This is just an evaluation, but we think this space capability could help improve communication during various operations,” said Gen. John Kelly. “Investing in nanosatellites is also an opportunity for us to collaborate from the ground up with partner nations who are looking to develop this capability for a variety of security and commercial uses.”

Editor's Note: This is a good sign. China has been bending over backward to support the space aspirations of less-developed countries, building strategic alliances and economic ties. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has propped up tech-transfer barriers and criticized NASA for international outreach efforts in the Middle East. (12/11)

Earth is Only Just Within the Sun's Habitable Zone (Source: Nature)
If our planet were just a little closer to the Sun, a runaway greenhouse effect would render it unliveable, a climate model suggests. The simulation, which helps to define the inner edge of a star system’s 'habitable zone', drastically reduces the fraction of Sun-like stars that might harbor a rocky planet suitable for life, some scientists suggest. But others note that the model, although detailed, might be too restrictive because it applies only to Earth-like planets on which water is abundant. (12/11)

Audit Says Google Execs Saved Millions with Jet Fuel Discount (Source: LA Times)
Google executives got a steep discount on jet fuel from the federal government for their fleet of private aircraft over a six-year period, a new audit from the NASA inspector general says. A company owned by tech billionaires Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt got a discount worth $3.3 million to $5.3 million, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin estimated.

Martin called on NASA to explore whether it could recover the funds from the company, H211. H211, which manages the Google executives' private aircraft, began paying market rates for jet fuel on private flights in September amid controversy in Washington that it was getting a special deal on jet fuel that was not offered to other businesses. (12/11)

Boeing Appoints New Commercial Satellite Chief (Source: Space News)
Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems has selected Jim Simpson to replace retiring Stephen T. O’Neill as president of the company’s commercial satellite division, including its new services business, with immediate effect, Boeing announced Dec. 10. (12/11)

Dinosaur Asteroid 'Sent Life to Mars' (Source: BBC)
The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs may have catapulted life to Mars and the moons of Jupiter, US researchers say. They calculated how many Earth rocks big enough to shelter life were ejected by asteroids in the last 3.5bn years. The Chicxulub impact was strong enough to fire chunks of debris all the way to Europa, they write in Astrobiology.

Thousands of potentially life-bearing rocks also made it to Mars, which may once have been habitable, they add. Researchers first estimated the number of rocks bigger than 3m ejected from Earth by major impacts. Three meters is the minimum they think necessary to shield microbes from the Sun's radiation over a journey lasting up to 10 million years. (12/11)

Shiny SpaceShipTwo Performs Glide Test in Mojave (Source: Parabolic Arc)
SpaceShipTwo performed a glide flight over the Mojave this morning. Pilots Mark Stucky of Scaled Composites and Mike Masucci of Virgin Galactic tested the ship’s nitrous oxide dump system before separating from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and gliding to a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. SpaceShipTwo had a shiny coating of reflective Kapton on the inboard sections of its two tail booms. The material is designed to allow the ship to manage temperatures from its hybrid engine. (12/11)

ODU President Elected Chairman of Virginia Space Grant Consortium (Source: Daily Press)
Old Dominion University President John R. Broderick was elected chairman by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium board of directors. He succeeds Virginia Tech President Charles Steger and is the consortium's fifth board chairman, according to an ODU news release.

The consortium was selected as a National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program by NASA in 1989. Since 1990, the university has been the host institution at the ODU Peninsula Higher Education Center. The consortium has placed more than 4,500 STEM students in paid internships with government and industry, provided professional development programs for more than 25,000 educators and offered STEM enrichment programs for thousands of students in Virginia and nationally. (12/11)

Stennis Space Center Hitting on All Cylinders with SpaceX, Others (Source: MBJ)
It was a big win for Stennis Space Center when SpaceX said in October that it would use SSC to test its next generation Raptor engine. The decision added another commercial company to SSC’s already impressive roster of private companies using SSC facilities to get them into space. Fifty years after South Mississippi was transformed by the U.S.-Soviet space race, a new race between entrepreneurial companies promises another boost for this unique federal center.

The future looks bright for SSC on multiple fronts: It’s test stands, the cornerstone of the nation’s premier rocket engine test site, are staying active as NASA eyes deep space and the commercial space race revs up; calls are coming in about acreage that’s available for development; the Navy, largest agency at SSC, is continuing to increase its footprint, as is the Department of Homeland Security’s data center. (12/11)

European Space Probe to Attempt Comet Landing (Source: Russia Today)
In an unprecedented mission, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to land an unmanned spacecraft on a comet next year in a very tricky maneuver. The Rosetta probe, which has been traveling through space since its launch in 2004, will attempt to drop a lander onto the surface of an icy comet - known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko - on Nov. 11, 2014.

Scientists will attempt to fly the probe alongside the comet and send down the barrel-sized lander, which is equipped with drills, to analyze samples from the comet’s surface. “Nobody has ever done this before,” Paolo Ferri, head of mission operations at the European Space Agency, said. Rosetta has been practicing the maneuver during fly-bys of Earth, Mars, and the Sun. More than two years ago, when the probe was on course to rendezvous with the comet, the ESA put it into hibernation to conserve energy. (12/11)

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