January 19, 2014

Mars Mystery Rock 'Like Nothing We’ve Ever Seen Before’ (Source: Independent)
Steve Squyres said the images, from 12 Martian days apart, were from no more than a couple of weeks ago. “We saw this rock just sitting here. It looks white around the edge in the middle and there’s a low spot in the centre that’s dark red – it looks like a jelly doughnut.

“We had driven a meter or two away from here, and I think the idea that somehow we mysteriously flicked it with a wheel is the best explanation,” Squyres said. Yet the story got even stranger when Opportunity investigated further. Squyres explained: “We are as we speak situated with the rover’s instruments deployed making measurements of this rock.

“We’ve taken pictures of both the doughnut and jelly parts, and the got the first data on the composition of the jelly yesterday. “It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” he said. “It’s very high in sulphur, it’s very high in magnesium, it’s got twice as much manganese as we’ve ever seen in anything on Mars. “I don’t know what any of this means. We’re completely confused, and everyone in the team is arguing and fighting (over what it means)." (1/19)

Steve Knight to Run for Congress (Source: Parabolic Arc)
California State Sen. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), a key supporter of commercial space, could be heading to Congress next year with the pending retirement of Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita). McKeon, 75, announced on Thursday that he would not seek an 11th term representing California’s 25th District, which includes parts of the aerospace-rich Antelope Valley that Knight represents in the State Legislature. Knight earlier stated that he would run for Congress if McKeon decided not to seek re-election. (1/17)

Get Used to Saying 'NASA Armstrong' (Source: Parabolic Arc)
President Barack Obama has signed HR 667, the congressional resolution that redesignates NASA’s Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center as the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center, into law. The resolution also names Dryden’s Western Aeronautical Test Range as the Hugh L. Dryden Aeronautical Test Range. Both Hugh Dryden and Neil Armstrong are aerospace pioneers whose contributions are historic to NASA and the nation as a whole. NASA is developing a timeline to implement the name change. (1/17)

ESA Faces Large Cost for Ariane 5 Upgrade, New Ariane 6 Rocket (Source: Parabolic Arc)
The preliminary cost estimates are in the planned upgrade of the Ariane 5 launch vehicle and its Ariane 6 successor, and the one general conclusion can already be drawn: Europe is in deep trouble. European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said on Friday that it will cost 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) for the Ariane 5 ME upgrade, which will allow the rocket to carry large payloads by 2018.

The upgrade is needed to allow the rocket to keep up with the growth in the size of communications satellites, which Ariane 5 launches in pairs. While that project is going on, it looks like Europe will have to find an addition 3 billion and 4 billion euros ($4 to $5.4 billion) to fund Ariane 6, which is set to enter service in 2021. The new rocket is being designed to launch single communications satellites into orbit for no more than 70 million euros ($94.7 million). (1/18)

Japan to Test 'Magnetic Net' for Space Junk (Source: Space Daily)
Japan's space agency is subcontracting a fishing net company to develop a technology to clean up the space junk that poses a direct threat to Earth's communication networks. The mission is planned for 2019, with first tests scheduled for this February.

Tokyo's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Nitto Seimo Co, a company with almost a century-long experience in fishing net manufacturing, have already developed a space net measuring 1 kilometer long and 30cm wide in a bid to clear Earth's orbit from some 100 million pieces of man-made junk. (1/19)

NASA Prepare for Space Launch System Engine Tests (Source: SEN)
NASA is making preparations for testing the engines which will power the core stage of its next rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS will have four RS-25 engines -- the same type which powered the space shuttle -- to power its core stage. Each engine is designed to provide 530,000 pounds of thrust. The testing of the engines is due to begin this summer at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. A test platform is being prepared for the installation of the first RS-25 engine arriving in May ahead of a hot-fire test in July. (1/19)

NASA’s Mars Design Reference Mission Goes Nuclear (2001) (Source: WIRED)
In October 2001, nuclear engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center described a variant of NASA’s 1998 Mars Design Reference Mission (DRM) 3.0 based on Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket (BNTR) propulsion. The BNTR DRM concept, first described publicly in July 1998, evolved from nuclear-thermal rocket mission designs Borowski and his colleagues developed during the abortive Space Exploration Initiative (1989-1993). Click here. (1/18)

Is India’s Space Program Worth the Money? (Source: PBS)
India's Mars Orbiter Mission is a point of great national pride. It will be completed for just over $70 million dollars, a tiny fraction of the cost spent by NASA on similar programs. But is spending any resources on a mission to Mars wise when hundreds of millions of Indians struggle to meet basic needs? Click here. (1/19)

How Scientists Tackle NASA's Big Data Deluge (Source: Space.com)
Every hour, NASA's missions collectively compile hundreds of terabytes of information, which, if printed out in hard copies, would take up the equivalent of tens of millions of trees worth of paper. This deluge of material poses some big data challenges for the space agency. But a team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is coming up with new strategies to tackle problems of information storage, processing and access so that researchers can harness gargantuan amounts data that would impossible for humans to parse through by hand. Click here. (1/18)

Arizona Considers Spaceflight Liability Legislation (Source: Phoenix Business Journal)
A bill at the Arizona Legislature would give space flight companies — yes space flight companies — protections against being sued. The measure is aimed at helping possible space tourism and commercial space flights being planned in southern parts of the state. House Bill 2163 creates some legal protections for commercial and private space flight companies by codifying liability release forms the companies could have passengers sign. Click here. (1/17)

Why We Want to Spend the Rest of Our Lives on Mars (Source: The Guardian)
Since its announcement in May 2012, the Mars One project hasn't had an easy ride. Critics have questioned all aspects, from the technical feasibility to its funding model. But recent developments from the project seem to be bringing the goal of starting a human colony on Mars by 2025 a little closer. Click here. (1/18)

Grissom's Corvette on Auction in Florida (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Just two days before the 47th anniversary of his death, Mercury Seven astronaut Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom’s 1967 Corvette will be on display at Mecum Auto Auctions, located at Osceola Heritage Park (1875 Silver Spur Lane) in Kissimmee, Florida. On January 25, the astronaut’s convertible will be auctioned for an estimated $150,000 to $175,000. Grissom took possession of the vehicle just a few weeks before his untimely death in the Apollo 1 launch pad accident, making this occasion bittersweet.

The Mercury Seven astronauts were known as the height of cool in the early 1960s. Magazines and newspapers dedicated full-color layouts to the lives and hobbies of the earliest U.S. space explorers. One of the bastions of “old school cool” from that era was none other than Grissom, the second U.S. astronaut to fly into space on Liberty Bell 7 in 1961. He was also the first person to fly in space twice (he was partnered with New Nine astronaut John W. Young on Gemini 3 in 1965). (1/19)

RSC Energia Sales Grew by Quarter in 2013 (Source: Interfax)
The Rocket and Space Corporation Energia ended 2013 with good business indicators, its president and general designer Vitaly Lopota said. "The expected sales revenues of RSC Energia in 2013 will grow 25% compared to 2012. The main growth was generated by the Piloted Rocket and Space Systems division," he said.

Meanwhile, "the company profit will somewhat decline which is related to a drop in the prices under a contract for the production of transport vehicles in the middle of the year and the completion in 2012 of an international contract for ATV to which RSC delivered a number of systems, in particular, the docking unit," he said. "Sales revenues are expected to increase by 8% in 2014 and profit will grow accordingly," Lopota said. (1/19)

"Super-Earths" May Have Oceans & Continents (Source: Astrobiology)
Finding habitable, Earth-like planets is a Holy Grail of astrobiology. But so far the hunt has been something of a boon and bust. 'Super-Earths'--rocky planets slightly larger than our own--are particularly common outside our Solar System. Some have even been found in the habitable zone--the area around a star where a planet could have liquid water on its surface. Click here. (1/19)

Birds' Migration Secrets to be Revealed by Space Tracker (Source: The Guardian)
Small birds, butterflies, bees and fruitbats will be fitted with tiny radio transmitters and tracked throughout their lifetimes from space when a dedicated wildlife radio receiver is fitted to the International Space Station next year. The ability to follow the movements of very small organisms hour by hour from space will revolutionize our understanding of long-distance bird migrations, and give advance warnings of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

And it should also help protect human populations from animal-borne diseases like Sars, bird flu and West Nile Virus, say conservationists. Many animal species migrate continuously but biologists know the exact movements of only very few, mostly large ones. But the low-orbit Icarus wildlife receiver circling 200 miles (320km) above Earth should allow even butterflies to be followed, said Uschi Müller. (1/18)

SpaceX Courtship Quietly Continues as FAA Report Nears (Source: Brownsville Herald)
When now 20-year-old James Murray was a student a Porter High School he remembers his classmates saying they couldn’t wait to leave Brownsville once they graduated from high school and college. There was nothing in this border town to keep them grounded. No big employers to make them want to stick around. With the prospect of SpaceX possibly building a launch pad outside Brownsville, Murray hopes to land a job with the company and stay put so he can raise a family where he grew up.

Nearly two years since SpaceX announced that Texas is one of three sites under consideration for the launch pad, officials on the local, county and state level have courted the company, offering deals to lure the private commercial company to set up shop here on Boca Chica Beach. Texas has reportedly offered $15 million in incentives to lure SpaceX to South Texas. Gov. Rick Perry late last year signed House Bill 2623, which would temporarily close Boca Chica Beach for rocket launches in anticipation of SpaceX operations there. The beach closures would only be allowed at specific dates of the year. Click here. (1/18)

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