January 13, 2014

Planetology Comes of Age (Source: The Economist)
To come up with a theory that brings meaning to a pile of observations—whether of Galapagos finches, planetary orbits or pea plants—you have to do the hard graft of collecting those observations in the first place. Take planetary science. For almost all its history, it could study only the eight planets that make up the local solar system. But the boom in exoplanet research over the past decade or so has furnished the field with a wealth of data from elsewhere in the galaxy.

Much of this has come from a specially designed space telescope called Kepler, some of the discoveries of which are illustrated in the artist’s impression above, along with objects from the local solar system, for comparison. Kepler’s discoveries, and others, have done plenty of exciting violence to old theories of what planets are and how they form. Several papers discussing what is happening were presented at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society which took place this week in Washington, DC. Click here. (1/11)

Starting Fire with Water (Source: Phys.org)
When firefighters want to extinguish a blaze, they often douse it with water. Astronauts on board the ISS, however, are experimenting with a form of water that does the opposite. Instead of stopping fire, this water helps start it. "We call it 'supercritical water,'" says Mike Hicks of the Glenn Research Center in Ohio. "And it has some interesting properties."

Water becomes supercritical when it compressed to a pressure of 217 atmospheres and heated above 373o C. Above that so-called critical point, ordinary H2O transforms into something that is neither solid, liquid, nor gas. It's more of a "liquid-like gas. When supercritical water is mixed with organic material, a chemical reaction takes place—oxidation." Says Hicks. "It's a form of burning without flames." (1/13)

The US Seeks to Extend the ISS, But Will its Partners Join? (Source: Space Review)
Last week, the White House and NASA announced that the US wants to operate the International Space Station to at least 2024, four years later than previously planned. Jeff Foust reports on the reaction to those plans both in the US and among the international partners, who have yet to agree to such an extension. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2434/1 to view the article. (1/13)

Why Greens Should be Pro-Space (Source: Space Review)
A recent op-ed criticized space tourism for being environmentally unfriendly, with a carbon footprint per person much larger than for commercial aviation. Joe Mascaro makes the case that environmentalists should actually embrace the growing opportunities of commercial spaceflight. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2433/1 to view the article. (1/13)

Doing the Right Thing When it's Steamboat Time (Source: Space Review)
Much of the criticism regarding the Space Launch System has been about its large size and cost. John Strickland argues that the true root of the SLS's costs is not that it's large, but that it is expendable, and thus unaffordable. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2432/1 to view the article. (1/13)

The International Lunar Decade (Source: Space Review)
As more nations and companies show an interest in going to the Moon and making use of its resources, a regime to effectively govern access to those resources may be needed. Vid Beldavs discusses a proposal to study those resources and develop technologies to access them within the framework of an existing treaty. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2431/1 to view the article. (1/13)

Is Texas ahead of Florida in battle for SpaceX? (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
As the battle for luring SpaceX of California to Florida continues, a federal review of the competing Texas site is near completion, and media outlets there are reporting that SpaceX already has bought land in the area. Meanwhile, Florida's plan to build a launchpad inside the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge where a number of endangered species live has come under fire from environmentalists.

Even so, whether or not the state wins the battle to lure SpaceX, Space Florida President Frank DiBello said he plans to go ahead with the Spaceport Shiloh project with or without the California company. Space Florida also has looked at trying to lure Washington-based Blue Origin, started by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. However, because Blue Origin is developing at a slower pace than the Elon Musk-headed SpaceX, luring that company to Florida likely would mean fewer jobs. (1/13)

A Busy Year Begins for New Horizons (Source: Space Daily)
With Pluto encounter operations now just a year away, the New Horizons team has brought the spacecraft out of hibernation for the first of several activities planned for 2014. Mission operators at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Md., "woke" New Horizons on Jan. 5.

Over the next two weeks the team will test the spacecraft's antenna and repoint it toward Earth; upload commands into the onboard Guidance and Control and Command and Data Handling systems, including a check on the backup inertial measurement unit and update of the spacecraft's navigational star charts; and conduct some navigational tracking, among other routine maintenance duties. (1/10)

Launch Presages Economic Benefits for Virginia (Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
The first of hundreds of commercial spaceflight participants — private astronauts — will begin earning their wings from fledgling American commercial spaceports in 2014. Almost twice as many have signed up to take the ride to space in this decade than have flown to space over the past 50 years.

The Jan. 9 launch of the commercial freighter from Wallops Island to the International Space Station marks the first operational flight of a private space cargo carrier from Virginia to low Earth orbit. Commercial space passenger services will commence operations later this year from California and New Mexico, and subsequently, Colorado, Florida and Texas.

Virginia’s $150 million Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) asset awaits Richmond decision-making on whether it is to be a part of the future of human spaceflight. A leap to include commercial spaceflight passenger service to the commercial cargo launch manifest from the Eastern Shore requires public-private partnership investment and long-term planning. Click here. (1/13)

Zero Gravity + Light Painting = Super Awesome (Source: It's OK To Be Smart)
Awesome things are happening on the International Space Station (as usual). This time the awesomeness comes in the form of light paintings created in space by ISS Commander Dr. Koichi Wakata using a spinning toy called the “Spiral Top”. The “Spiral Top” was developed by Dr. Takuro Osaka. You can check out more photos of the toy in action on on his website. While we understand what light painting is, we prefer to think that the astronauts on the ISS are developing super powers. Click here. (1/9)

National Space Society Opposes HR 3625 (Source: SpaceRef)
The Washington DC-based National Space Society (NSS) strongly opposes the passage of House of Representatives bill HR 3625. This bill would (a) require NASA to obtain legislative permission to cancel four of its most expensive human spaceflight and science programs, and (b) allow contractors for these programs to have immediate access to hundreds of millions of dollars in funds which currently are held in reserve to pay the government's obligations in the event of such termination.

The four covered programs are the Space Launch System, the Orion crew capsule, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and the International Space Station. Ordinarily, government agencies like NASA have the right to terminate a project if it no longer appears necessary or cost effective, provided it pays "termination liability costs" which are sometimes provided for in such contracts.  It is unusual to require an act of Congress in order to stop a program. Click here. (1/13)

Space-Faring Nations Lay Groundwork for Human, Robotic Exploration (Source: Reuters)
Officials from 32 of the world's space-faring nations concluded a trio of summits on Friday to tackle expanding participation in the International Space Station and planning for eventual human expeditions to Mars. Fifteen nations collaborated to build the space station, a permanently staffed research complex that flies about 250 miles above Earth. On Wednesday, the Obama Administration announced its intent to extend station operations to at least 2024, four years beyond when it was slated to be removed from orbit. (1/10)

Promise of Space Age a Bit Closer with Billionaire's Craft (Source: Orange County Register)
After riding high above the Earth in the clasp of its mother ship, the spaceship detaches, and the rocket ignites. When the rocket burn ends, the passengers in Richard Branson's SpaceShipTwo will be floating weightless in space. Virgin Galactic plans to make its first tourist flight sometime this year. Branson and his two adult children, Holly and Sam, will take that first flight, though whether other passengers will join them is so far undetermined.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides took some time recently to explain the flight, the risks involved and the passenger experience Virgin Galactic hopes to create. Click here. (1/13)

Two Chinese Businessmen Booked Space Trips on Lynx for 2015 (Source: Xinhua)
Two Chinese businessmen have already booked tickets for space trip in 2015 since registration began on the Chinese mainland on Dec. 27. More than 100 people have expressed their interest to explore space since such trips became accessible to Chinese travelers late last year, Zhang Yong, chief executive officer of Dexo Travel, a Chinese travel agency focusing on high-end travelers, was quoted as saying.

If everything goes well, the first group of private Chinese astronauts will likely to travel into space before the end of 2014 by boarding Lynx Mark I spacecraft and paying a minimum of 95,000 U.S. dollars for a one-hour journey. The Lynx Mark I spacecraft is designed to take travellers to a height of 60 km and there will be six minutes for tourists to experience weightlessness during the one hour long journey. (1/13)

Central Florida Man Dreams of Martian Address (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Matthew Liam Mason longs to go to Mars. Last month, Mason was among the 1,058 candidates plucked from a pool of more than 200,000, who now have a shot to compete for a one-way ticket to Mars that a Dutch nonprofit group hopes to provide four astronauts in a decade.

"As a kid, all I ever wanted to do was go up in space 'cause it was cool," says Mason, 27. "As an adult, I wanted to do things that change and impact the world. I thought this was an opportunity to do both. Putting us on another planet and colonizing are the first steps. This step, 100 years from now, is going to be monumental."

After he graduated in 2012, Mason — who matter-of-factly drops phrases like the "Malthusian effect" in conversation — planned to launch a life of social change on a global scale with the Peace Corps. Then, he read about Mars One. Its mission: plant a permanent human colony on Mars, starting in 2024. Click here. (1/13)

More Wonders to be Discovered with Space Exploration (Source: The Lantern)
Fact: the universe is an awfully big place. In recent international space exploration news, the Indian Space Research Organization has sent an orbiter to Mars, NASA has sent MAVEN, another Mars orbiter, NASA’s Curiosity, the Mars rover, continues to roam the surface, and the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope seem to consistently release photos and updates from ongoing missions.

I was raised with the science of outer space all around me, between the countless Discovery Channel specials my family would watch, astronomy and science fiction books stuffed side-by-side in bookshelves around the house or the conversations with my father, the engineer, whom I usually bombarded with questions. So my fascination with outer space and its scientific study has been with me since a very young age.

A society with an ingrained mindset of curiosity is encouraging innovation, emphasizing problem solving and inspiring new ways of thinking. A society like this one doesn’t just produce people who will figure out which planet to inhabit next; this society will figure out how we can sustain life on Earth over time and solve other Earthly issues through the study of astronomical phenomena. Scientific development and application is just part of the essence of space exploration. (1/13)

Astronauts 'Impressed' with Cygnus Delivery (Source: Florida Today)
A fresh batch of supplies and science experiments, including one designed by local high school students, safely reached the International Space Station early Sunday. Expedition 38 astronauts captured Orbital Sciences Corp.’s unmanned Cygnus cargo freighter at 6:08 a.m., three days after its launch from Virginia on an Antares rocket. Steering a 58-foot robotic arm, astronaut Mike Hopkins snared the barrel-shaped spacecraft carrying nearly 2,800 pounds of supplies as the two vehicles flew 260 miles over the Indian Ocean, traveling 17,500 mph.

Hopkins radioed congratulations to the ground, noting that the Cygnus, which was developed privately with NASA support, was the second he’d seen in three-and-a-half months, since a maiden demonstration mission last fall. “I think that’s very impressive,” he said. The capture Sunday completed the first of eight planned Cygnus trips to the station under a $1.8 billion NASA resupply contract. (1/13)

Boeing Transmits Protected Government Signal Through Military Satellite (Source: Boeing)
Boeing has applied new anti-jamming technology to an existing military satellite for the first time, expanding the military's potential to access secure communications more affordably. In the test conducted Dec. 15, Boeing successfully sent a government-developed, protected signal through the sixth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-6) satellite.

Engineers confirmed that the signal met all targets for accuracy and strength. The demonstration follows a successful transmission of data over the ViaSat-1 commercial satellite in July, showing that the technology offers an affordable option for enhancing anti-jam communications using existing commercial and U.S. government satellites and terminals. (1/13)

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