January 3, 2014

Bill Nye Wants To Save the Planet From Asteroids (Source: Mother Jones)
William Sanford Nye (his friends call him "Bill") made his first mark on history while sitting in a college classroom in 1976. It was just another day at Cornell University for Nye as an energetic, Ultimate Frisbee-playing undergraduate student. He was chatting with fellow students when in walked their professor—the legendary astronomer and author Carl Sagan—with an unexpected request.

Sagan asked the class which Chuck Berry song should be included on the Voyager Golden Record, the collection of songs and images placed aboard the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. Sagan left an indelible mark on Nye, but his his love for science and engineering was inspired much earlier. "The spark was before kindergarten," Nye says. His mother, Jacqueline, was a codebreaker during the Second World War, fighting fascism with math and science. Click here. (1/3)

For 2nd Time Ever, We Saw an Asteroid Before It Hit Us (Source: Newser)
While working a solo shift on New Year's Eve, an Arizona astronomer spotted a car-sized asteroid en route to Earth. There are a few amazing things about this: 1) It's only the second time ever that an asteroid has been spotted before impact, and 2) The previous one was spotted by the same guy. Astronomer Rich Kowalski is part of the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona, a group "that has found more than half the near-Earth asteroids known to mankind." (1/3)

National Association of Rocketry Plans Space Coast Convention (Source: NAR)
The National Association of Rocketry’s (NAR) annual National Convention (NARCON) will be held in Cocoa Beach at the International Palms Resort and Conference Center, February 28 - March 2, 2014. This conference is the NAR’s preeminent technical conference for exchange of the latest sport rocketry trends and techniques. Click here for information. (1/3)

More Than 1,000 People In Line for Mars Colony (Source: Space.com)
More than 200,000 people signed up to take a one-way trip to Mars to be part of a colony run by Netherlands nonprofit Mars One, and now the organization has winnowed applicants down to a short list of 1,058. Mars One co-founder Bas Lansdorp said the group had to eliminate those who did not appear to take the one-way trip seriously. (12/31)

Entrepreneurs See Business Opportunities at Drone Sites (Source: Seattle Times)
Drone makers and other companies are eager for business opportunities now that the Federal Aviation Administration has named the six states where it will test integration of drones into the commercial domestic airspace. "There is enormous pent up demand for the opportunity to legally test the systems, because it's been extremely difficult for manufacturers to do so," said Ro Bailey, deputy director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. (1/1)

U.S. Air Force Targets 2016 for CHIRP Follow-On (Source: Space News)
Following a funding-driven decision by U.S. Air Force leaders to decommission an experimental missile-warning sensor hosted aboard a commercial satellite, the service hopes follow-on technology will be ready for a flight demonstration in 2016. In December, the Air Force announced it was ending the pioneering Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload (CHIRP) mission that launched in September 2011. (1/2)

SpaceX's Falcon 9 Launch Slips to Next Week (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX’s planned Friday launch of a commercial broadcasting satellite from Cape Canaveral has slipped to no earlier than Monday, according to the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing. No reason was given immediately for the delay. The Air Force said additional launch opportunities would be available from Jan. 8 to Jan. 12, if necessary. (1/2)

ESA Creates Gecko Robot Prototype for Repairs in Space (Source: ESA)
The European Space Agency (ESA) is creating a gecko robot for repairs in outer space, which will have six legs imitating the stickiness of the gecko lizard feet. Scientists have built a 240-gram robot prototype named Abigaille. Its six legs are provided with microfibers that are much rougher than those of lizards whose feet are sticky due to little hairs with ends a thousand times thinner than a human hair.

And yet this is enough to keep a small robot in place on various smooth man-made surfaces or allow it crawl from one such surface to another even at an angle of 90 degrees. Michael Henrey of Simon Fraser University, who is the project manager, said “this approach is an example of ‘biomimicry’, taking engineering solutions from the natural world.” (1/2)

Small Asteroid 2014 AA Hits Earth (Source: Sky & Telescope)
New Year's Eve didn't stop observer Richard Kowalski from scanning the sky for near-Earth objects (NEOs). Using the 60-inch telescope on Arizona's Mount Lemmon, he noticed a 19th-magnitude blip skimming through northern Orion in a seven-image series begun at 5:16 p.m. (1:16 Universal Time on January 1st). After confirming that it was a new find, Kowalski dutifully submitted positions and times to the IAU's Minor Planet Center. (1/2)

Garver Says NASA Should Not Build the SLS: “Where is it Going to Go?” (Source: Houston Chronicle)
Lori Garver, NASA’s powerful former deputy administrator who left the space agency in September, was once an advocate for the Space Launch System. In 2011, for example, she said of NASA’s human exploration program: “We plan a very robust future for not only human spaceflight, but for NASA generally.” But after leaving NASA Garver appears to either have changed her mind or, more likely, she feels free to say what really is on her mind.

Garver was asked what programs NASA should cancel in order to allow it to achieve more meaningful things in space. "It was something that Congress dictated to NASA, it had to do with the Orion spacecraft," she said. "It is a holdover from Constellation, which the Obama administration tried to cancel, and it’s $3 billion a year of NASA’s $17 billion. Is that how you would be investing in the space program? Where is it going to go? When will it even fly?"

Later Garver also says NASA should scrap its Mars 2020 rover in favor of a robotic exploration of Europa, a moon of Jupiter that may harbor life in its water oceans. The significance of Garver’s comments, in regard to the SLS, is that they are consistent with those of most observers who do not work directly for NASA, and thus are not beholden to the program of record as mandated by Congress and the White House. (1/2)

Space Tourists Flock to the Heavens (Source: MacLean's)
Only 550 or so people have ever flown into space. It’s remarkable, then, that almost 700 clients have already signed up with Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s private space-tourism company, which has yet to begin offering commercial space flights. The year 2014 will be big for Virgin Galactic. If all goes according to plan, Branson and his adult children, Holly and Sam, will be the first private passengers to travel into space aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo craft, ushering in a new era of space flight for the masses. (1/2)

Space Missions and Events We’re Looking Forward to in 2014 (Source: WIRED)
While our spaceflight missions come to fruition in the heavens, they all have to start here on Earth. The next year in space will see a lot of changes, as new technologies get tested and exciting missions get going. National space agencies and, increasingly, private companies are preparing for their next adventures in space. There will also be great celestial phenomena to enjoy and, very likely, a number of unexpected surprises cropping up. To help prepare for it all, we take a look at what next year holds for spaceflight. Click here. (1/2)

Eutelsat Closes Satmex Purchase (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on Jan. 2 said it had completed its $831 million cash purchase of Mexico’s Satmex, giving Eutelsat a major beachhead in the robust Latin American market alongside rivals Intelsat, SES, Telesat and others. The acquisition, which includes the assumption of some $300 million in Satmex debt, was announced in July. Eutelsat said its mid-December issue of 930 million euros ($1.28 billion) in six-year bonds, paying a 2.63 percent annual interest rate, would be used to finance the deal. (1/2)

What an Exomoon Would Look Like From Earth (Source: Scientific American)
In “Astronomers Search for Moons Circling Distant Exoplanets” author Lee Billings explores the hunt for moons orbiting distant planets—exomoons. The project uses data from the Kepler satellite mission, which (until technical issues sidelined it earlier this year) had been focusing on a single spot in the sky in the hope of catching so-called “transits”—instances when an exoplanet would pass in front of its host star, blocking some of the light.

If any moons orbited those planets, they could also be visible in the data. This video animation by Alex Parker, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, shows what a theoretical exomoon would look like. Click here. (1/2)

Can ISRO Pull Off GSLV-D5 Launch This Time? (Source: Business Today)
After several setbacks in its attempt to master the cryogenic rocket technology, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is finally set to launch a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with an indigenous cryogenic engine. The launch of the GSLV-D5 will take place at 4.18 pm on January 5 and the 29-hour countdown will begin a day before. (1/2)

Hat Tip to SpaceX as Rebranded Airbus Defense and Space Takes Flight (Source: Space News)
Airbus Defense and Space, formerly named Astrium, rendered homage to its newest commercial launch competitor, SpaceX, saying the Hawthorne, Calif., company has been able to retain a focus on cost efficiency without veering off into fascinating but unnecessary engineering challenges.

Company officials also described how it will use the reorganization inside the Airbus Group — the new name for the former EADS and Europe’s biggest aerospace company — to find synergies between the construction of Earth observation and telecommunications satellites, and between electronics components for military aircraft and for satellites, to improve profitability. (1/2)

Titan’s Seas Get an Earthly Stand-In as Robot Explores Chilean Lake (Source: Scientific American)
Early Mars rovers had little more intelligence than a fancy remote-controlled car. NASA’s Curiosity rover is somewhat more evolved: It can navigate around simple obstacles and spot a dust devil on its own. Much more brainpower would be required for a robotic exploration of Saturn’s moon Titan. Home to one of the solar system’s liveliest environments outside of Earth, Titan has tidal seas of methane, a stormy atmosphere and perhaps ice volcanoes.

With the aim of building a robot smart enough for Titan, Trey Smith and a team of other engineers and scientists spent three weeks this month at a remote lake in the high Chilean Andes. They were field-testing the Planetary Lake Lander, an early prototype of a floating space probe that could, among other things, notice an octopus swimming past. (1/2)

Forgotten Aliens: We Should Hunt for Viruses in Space (Source: New Scientist)
Imagine you are from an alien civilization, tasked with collecting a sample from Earth to take back to your planet to look for signs of life. You will only be able to return a small representative sample, which means you will be collecting a small amount of seawater from your visit to this "pale blue dot".

In a thimbleful of Earth seawater there will be perhaps 10 million viruses, up to a million microbes and certainly no humans. So it's only a small leap to imagine that, if we ever found life on another planet, viruses would be present too. Why, then, don't space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency look for viruses on other planets? Before we can begin to think about extraterrestrial viruses, however, we need a good understanding of the viruses on our own planet. This is where things get complicated. (1/2)

Space Launch Highlights for 2014 (Source: SEN)
Commercial companies will play an increasingly important part in space flight in 2014. Some will continue to fly satellites or carry supplies to the International Space Station. But a highlight is expected to be the first sub-orbital flights by Virgin Galactic. After flight tests of the WhiteKnightTwo mother ship and its spacecraft SpaceShipTwo, plus firings of the rocket engine in 2013, Sir Richard Branson’s company is aiming to carry its first fare-paying passengers before the new year is over. Click here. (1/2)

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