December 23, 2013

JAA, Generation Orbit Sign First Agreement at Cecil Spaceport (Source: Fort Mill Times)
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) has signed its first tenant agreement at Cecil Spaceport with Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. (GO). Atlanta-based GO will utilize Cecil’s hangar space, its 12,500-foot runway and the safe flight paths that have already been coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), among other things, to support its commercial flight and horizontal launch program.

GO plans to develop a suborbital space launch platform to conduct microgravity and hypersonic research (GOLauncher 1) and later, a dedicated orbital launch platform for nano and micro satellites (GOLauncher 2). Test flights are expected to begin at Cecil as early as 2014, with operational launches forecast to begin in 2015 and 2016. (12/23)

First Exomoon Possibly Glimpsed (Source: Scientific American)
Exoplanets are almost old hat to astronomers, who by now have found more than 1,000 such worlds beyond the solar system. The next frontier is exomoons—moons orbiting alien planets—which are much smaller, fainter and harder to find. Now astronomers say they may have found an oddball system of a planet and a moon floating free in the galaxy rather than orbiting a star.

The system showed up in a study using micro lensing, which looks for the bending of starlight due to the gravitational pull of an unseen object between a star and Earth. In this case the massive object might well be a planet and a moon. But the signal is not very clear, the researchers acknowledge, and could instead represent a dim star and a lightweight planet. (12/23)

China: Another Step Toward Space (Source: Beijing Review)
On December 14, China's lunar probe Chang'e-3 successfully landed on the moon. Later, the lunar rover Yutu, meaning jade rabbit, separated from the lander and set out on its adventure across the moon's surface. The monumental event makes China the third country to successfully soft land a probe on the moon after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

According to Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's lunar exploration program, the country has mapped out three phases for exploring the moon: unmanned exploration, a manned lunar landing, and eventually establishing a base on the moon. It will mainly focus on the unmanned exploration before 2020. (12/23)

Arrival of the "New Era" in US Space Policy (Source: Space Review)
A confluence of several events, including activities inside and outside the United States, threatens to reshape national space policy. Roger Handberg argues these events are the latest evidence of a new era in space policy that further distances the country from the Apollo paradigm. Visit to view the article. (12/23)

Can "Gravity" Attract Attention to the Orbital Debris Problem? (Source: Space Review)
Nearly three months after its release, the film "Gravity" is collecting accolades and award nominations, but can the movie's success translate to greater interest in the real problem of orbital debris? Jeff Foust reports on a recent panel session that examined how well the movie matched up with reality when it comes to orbital debris. Visit to view the article. (12/23)

A Legal Regime for Lunar Peaks of Eternal Light (Source: Space Review)
Some of the most valuable real estate in the solar system beyond Earth may turn out to be peaks in the lunar polar regions that get near-continuous sunlight. Babak Shakouri examines the legal issues associated with access to those regions and proposes a solution to make them as freely available as possible. Visit to view the article. (12/23)

NASA Robots Compete in Florida-Based DARPA Challenge (Source: BBC)
A robot developed by a Japanese start-up recently acquired by Google is the winner of a two-day competition hosted by the Pentagon's research unit DARPA. Team Schaft's machine carried out all eight rescue-themed tasks to outscore its rivals by a wide margin. Three of the other 15 teams that took part failed to secure any points at the event near Miami, Florida.

More than 100 teams originally applied to take part, and the number was whittled down to 17 by DARPA ahead of Friday and Saturday's event. Some entered their own machines, while others made use of Atlas - a robot manufactured by another Google-owned business, Boston Dynamics - controlling it with their own software. Valkyrie - a robot entered by NASA's Johnson Space Center - failed to score any points. NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab's Robosimian fared better coming fifth in the competition. (12/23)

Water in Ageing Spacesuit Caused Problems for Astronaut (Source: ABC)
NASA's Mission Control has revealed the problem that prompted the early end of the latest spacewalk: Water in one of the astronaut's 35-year-old spacesuits. Expedition 38 Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio and fellow astronaut Michael Hopkins ran into trouble while they were conducting an urgent repair outside the International Space Station during a spacewalk that lasted five hours and 28 minutes. The spacewalk ended short of its anticipated six-and-a-half-hour time frame when Mastracchio, the lead spacewalker, began complaining about chilly temperatures in his space suit.

The seven-time spacewalker said his feet were cold during at least part of the nearly five-and-a-half-hour walk and at times had to re-adjust temperature controls in his suit. Even before the emergency repair mission began, NASA acknowledged it was working with aging spacesuits, which were designed in the same era of the space shuttle.

The engineers raced to successfully remove, ahead of schedule, the cooling pump that has jeopardized operations aboard the ISS since it broke on Dec. 11. While the astronauts successfully removed the pump on Saturday, plans to replace it two days later have been delayed. The pair will now spend Christmas Eve trying to finish the work, after NASA cancelled Monday's spacewalk to investigate what caused the latest malfunction. (12/23)

First Touchdown on a Speeding Comet (Source: New Scientist)
In 2013, comet ISON flew into our skies. In 2014, we will return the favour when the European Space Agency's Rosetta craft begins orbiting comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko and touches down on its surface. That would mean two firsts for comet exploration – plus the most ambitious deep-space landing ever attempted.

Rosetta is a veteran traveller. Launched in March 2004, it has spent a decade looping around the sun, gaining momentum – and passing two asteroids. Its target travels at about 16 kilometres per second, and Rosetta is now catching the comet by 800 meters each second.

The craft has been a virtual zombie since June 2011 to preserve its resources, with only a flicker of power to keep its computer brain alive. The alarm clock is set for 20 January 2014, when Rosetta will wake up to prepare for a May rendezvous with Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (12/23)

Incredible Technology: How to Mine Water on Mars (Source:
The bone-dry desert of present-day Mars may seem like the last place you would look for water, but the Red Planet actually contains a wealth of water locked up in ice. Evidence that Mars once supported liquid water has been mounting for years, and exploratory missions have found that water ice still exists on the planet's poles and just beneath its dusty surface.

Accessing that water could require digging it up and baking it in an oven, or beaming microwaves at the soil and extracting the water vapor. Yet no mission has attempted to extract water on Mars or any celestial body beyond Earth in appreciable quantities. NASA's Phoenix lander detected water ice at its landing site in 2008. The spacecraft dug up chunks of soil, and its onboard mass spectrometer found traces of water vapor when the sample was heated above freezing.

The most obvious method for extracting water would be to dig up the frozen soil and bake it in an oven until the water vaporizes. But there's another method that could be more efficient and require less digging. "For mining water off Mars, you want to get a high quantity of water," said Edwin Ethridge, a senior ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization) scientist and retired NASA consultant. Ethridge and his colleagues have studied water extraction in simulated lunar and Martian environments using microwave beams. (12/23)

Medically Fit for Commercial Spaceflight (Source: Liebert Publishers)
Concerns over the unknown health implications for upcoming commercial space travel have prompted many questions, including “who is ‘safe’ for spaceflight and who is not?” In the most ambitious and largest space research study of its kind, aeromedical physiologists from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) have partnered with the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center to probe answers to this important and vital question.

But what should the astronaut selection criteria be? Some suggested that individuals with a high level of ambition and an ability to cope with solitary isolation such as Antarctic explorers, mountain climbers, scuba divers, or parachute jumpers might be good candidates. In the end, military test pilots were chosen, in part because they already were medically screened by their respective service branches, and because many were used to putting their life on the line flying experimental vehicles. Thus, the initial criterion for astronaut selection was established to include the following:

Age: Less than 40 years; Height: Less than 5 feet, 11 inches; Physical condition: Excellent; Education: Bachelor's degree or equivalent, graduate of test pilot school; Flying Qualifications: Qualified jet pilot with at least 1,500 hours flight time. Using this criterion, the records of 508 military test pilots were selected, of which 110 candidates were chosen. Of these candidates, only 62 volunteered. Click here. (12/23)

Sierra Nevada Completes Dream Chaser Safety Review (Source: SNC)
Sierra Nevada Corp. has completed the second Dream Chaser Space System (DCSS) Integrated Systems Safety Analysis Review, marking the company’s completion of NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative Milestone six. This critical safety review evaluated not only the Dream Chaser spacecraft, but also the launch vehicle, vehicle integration and the ground and mission systems, which comprise the entire DCSS.

Milestone six represents a major step forward in the maturation of the systems safety and reliability analysis, which is critical to achieving a safe and effective design of the DCSS. During the milestone review, SNC provided NASA with significant and detailed systems safety analysis products including hazard analysis and failure tolerance analysis of the entire DCSS. (12/23)

Argentina Successfully Launches Research Rocket (Source: Space Daily)
Argentina has successfully launched a research rocket as part of its space program, the Defense Ministry said on Friday. The launch took place on Wednesday in the city of Chamical, in La Rioja province, 880 km northwest of the capital. The rocket was "launched through the joint efforts of the Air Force, the state-owned military manufacturing company, universities and companies related to the field," Defense Minister Agustin Rossi said. (12/23)

No comments: