December 20, 2013

Given Flexibility in Choosing Site, NASA Selects California for Next Mars Launch (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
All of NASA's probes to other planets have launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport but the specifics of the InSight spacecraft gave officials flexibility in choosing the launch site, according to mission managers. The InSight spacecraft is based on the Phoenix lander launched to the red planet in 2007. Phoenix was sized to fly on the smaller Delta 2 rocket, meaning an Atlas 5 has plenty of power to dispatch InSight to Mars from Florida or California. (12/20)

Astrium Wraps Up 2014 on High Note but Faces Months of Uncertainty (Source: Flight Global)
Astrium, EADS's space division, ended 2013 on a note of triumph, with the Gaia star-mapping satellite it built for the European Space Agency enjoying a perfect Soyuz launch from the agency’s spaceport in French Guiana.

But the company – which is also prime contractor for ESA’s Ariane 5 and in-development Ariane 6 rockets – faces several months of uncertainty as EADS reorganises in a bid to boost its cost-competitiveness in the face of reduced military spending, by combining Astrium with its Cassidian defence unit into a single division, to be called Airbus Defense and Space. (12/19)

Inmarsat Signs Astrium Services as Global Xpress Distributor (Source: Space News)
Mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat on Dec. 19 filled a big gap in its preparations for the Ka-band Global Xpress system by signing Astrium Services, long its biggest distributor, to a strategic agreement on Global Xpress distribution. Astrium Services, which on Jan. 1 is changing its name to Airbus Defense and Space, became London-based Inmarsat’s biggest distributor in late 2011 with the billion-dollar purchase of Vizada. (12/19)

Private Red Planet Mission to Beam Video to Earth in 2018 (Source:
The Mars One colonization project plans to bring live video of the surface of Mars to Earth via a privately built communications satellite and lander to launch as part of an unmanned mission to the Red Planet in 2018. "When we land on Mars, we will have the most unique video footage in the solar system," Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp said. "Anyone with Internet access will be able to see what the weather's like on Mars." (12/20)

2013 Review: The Year in Space (Source: New Scientist)
An exploding meteor, twin water worlds, India's Mars probe and the first interstellar traveller are among this year's space highlights. Click here for a rundown. (12/19)

NASA Extends Deadlines for Student Exploration Design Challenge (Source: NASA)
NASA is extending deadlines for its Exploration Design Challenge, an educational program connected to Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) -- the first mission for NASA's new Orion spacecraft, launching in 2014 from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The new deadline for high school students to submit payload design notebooks has been extended to Feb. 28. The deadline for all students to complete a radiation learning module and fly their names on EFT-1 now is June 30. Click here. (12/19)

United Rocket and Space Corporation to be Created by Feb 2, 2014 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia will create the United Rocket and Space Corporation by February 2, 2014, Roscosmos Deputy Head Igor Komarov said. The corporation to be created on the basis of the Space Instrument-Making Research Institute will become a full-fledged legal entity in 2015.

Its development strategy consists of several stages. The first stage is consolidation to be completed by April 2015. The second stage is reorganisation: from 2014 through 2017, the corporation will restructure its capacities and create a management system. The third stage is development and growth (until 2020): the corporation will enter international markets and position Russia as a key player and leader in certain areas of space activities. (12/20)

No Agreements for NASA, Roscosmos on Astronauts’ Launch to ISS After 2016 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Roscosmos and NASA have failed to reach an agreement on astronauts’ launch to the International Space Station (ISS) by Russian transport manned spacecraft after 2016, Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko told reporters at the Federation Council, the upper house of Russian parliament, on Thursday. (12/20)

NASA's 'Asteroid Hunter' Is Back in Action (Source: National Journal)
You can have the moon, China. Leave the asteroid re-routing to us. NASA's asteroid hunter is back in action, and it's looking for a rock where we can land humans next decade. The agency calls its plan—on pace for 2025—"the first mission to identify, capture, and relocate an asteroid." In less than two years of operation, NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) discovered more than 34,000 asteroids as part of its initial mission. Now, after two-plus years of hibernation, the ship is on the job again. (12/20)

With China, Bolivia to Launch its First Satellite (Source: New Zealand Herald)
Authorities say President Evo Morales is in China to witness the launch of Bolivia's first telecommunications satellite. Public Works Minister Vladimir Sanchez says the launch will be on Friday during Morales' visit to the Asian country. Bolivia is among South America's poorest countries.

The satellite is named Tupac Katari, an indigenous Aymara hero who led 18th century resistance to Spanish colonizers. It was financed with a credit from the China Development Bank for $302 million. Ivan Zambrana is director of the Bolivian Space Agency. He says the satellite should be fully operational by March and help bring down communications costs and improve television and Internet services for people living in rural areas. (12/20)

New Technique Measures Mass of Exoplanets (Source: MIT News)
To date, scientists have confirmed the existence of more than 900 exoplanets circulating outside our solar system. To determine if any of these far-off worlds are habitable requires knowing an exoplanet’s mass — which can help tell scientists whether the planet is made of gas or rock and other life-supporting materials. But current techniques for estimating exoplanetary mass are limited.

Radial velocity is the main method scientists use: tiny wobbles in a star’s orbit as it is tugged around by the planet’s gravitational force, from which scientists can derive the planet-to-star mass ratio. For very large, Neptune-sized planets, or smaller Earth-sized planets orbiting very close to bright stars, radial velocity works relatively well. But the technique is less successful with smaller planets that orbit much farther from their stars, as Earth does.

Now scientists at MIT have developed a new technique for determining the mass of exoplanets, using only their transit signal — dips in light as a planet passes in front of its star. This data has traditionally been used to determine a planet’s size and atmospheric properties, but the MIT team has found a way to interpret it such that it also reveals the planet’s mass. (12/19)

SpaceX Launch Contracts Gave It Edge to Win KSC Pad (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX’s significant roster of launches under contract gave it the edge over Blue Origin to win use of a historic Kennedy Space Center launch pad, according to a NASA selection statement released today. NASA last week chose to negotiate with SpaceX to lease launch pad 39A, the launching point for the Apollo moon landings and dozens of shuttle missions.

Both companies proposed 20-year leases and said launches could begin in 2015, and NASA evaluators found both the billionaire-backed companies had the financial resources to operate the pad. A key difference was that SpaceX wanted exclusive control of the pad while Blue Origin planned to make it available to multiple rockets. (12/19)

Wolf Asks for White House Conference on Return to Moon (Source: Space Policy Online)
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) may be retiring, but that's not till the end of next year. Until then, he clearly plans to remain passionately involved in both civil and national security space policy as evidenced by two letters he sent today.  The one addressed to President Obama calls on the President to hold a White House conference early in 2014 to develop an international plan to return humans to the Moon within the next 10 years.

In his letter to Obama, Wolf references China's landing of a rover on the Moon over the weekend as an indication of China's growing influence in space. He wants the President to hold a conference at the White House early next year "to bring together the best minds from around the country and among our international partners to develop a mission concept for a U.S.-led return to the Moon within the next ten years, using the SLS and Orion systems and identifying areas for our international partners and private industry to contribute." (12/19)

Wolf, Rogers Want Answers on Implications of China's Space Program (Source: Space Policy Online)
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) wrote to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper today asking five questions about the implications for U.S. leadership in space and U.S. national security of China's recent accomplishments in space, including landing a rover on the Moon last weekend.

Wolf chairs the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA, among other departments and agencies.  Rogers chairs the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces with oversight of many U.S. national security space programs as well as ballistic missiles, strategic weapons and other programs.

The letter cites not only the landing of China's Chang'e-3 spacecraft and its Yutu rover on the Moon, but the number of Chinese space launches in 2012 as indications that the United States could lose its leadership position in space.   China conducted 19 launches in 2012 compared with 13 in the United States according to the letter. (12/19)

Beijing 'Ready' to Launch Mars Mission (Source: Global Times)
China is likely to expand its horizon in space travel by possible Mars exploration, expert said. After the unmanned Chang'e-3 successfully completed its soft-landing on the moon, people from both home and abroad have been wondering whether China will send probes to Mars, which has become a key goal for many foreign space organizations. According to the chief designer of China's lunar probe program, Wu Weiren, China is ready. (12/18)

NASA Awards Launch Services Contract to ULA for InSight Mission (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has selected United Launch Services LLC of Centennial, Colo., to launch the Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to Mars. InSight will launch in March 2016 aboard an Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 3E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (12/19)

Orbital Completes 40th Successful Suborbital Mission for NASA (Source: SpaceRef)
Orbital Sciences Corp.'s NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract II (NSROC II) team at Wallops Island, Virginia recently completed its 40th consecutive successful mission over the last 24 months for NASA's Sounding Rocket Program (NSRP). Orbital began operations as the NSROC II prime contractor in October 2010 and has completed a total of 57 missions in the last three years. (12/19)

Is an Obsession With Safety Stifling Space Exploration? (Source: Popular Mechanics)
In his new book Safe Is Not An Option, space technology consultant, tech entrepreneur, and PopMech contributor Rand Simberg says risk aversion is holding us back from achieving amazing feats in spaceflight. To reach farther out into the universe, he says, we need to embrace the inherent risk that comes with exploration, much like the aviation pioneers and explorers who came before. Click here. (12/18)

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