January 7, 2014

India: Let’s Not Waste Time Gloating Over GSLV-D5 (Source: Economic Times)
It might sound carping to suggest that our cryogenic engine success, demonstrated in the flawless launch of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV)-D5, remains partial and comes too late. But that is the reality. It has taken 20 years to complete at least the first stage of the cryogenic engine program, which was touted to get over in 3-5 years. (1/7)

Dark Matter Near Earth Peaks Every March, New Study Suggests (Source: Scientific American)
Billions of particles of invisible "dark matter" are probably flying through your body right now, passing through the spaces between your atoms without a trace. According to conventional thinking, these particles should be somewhat less abundant during the winter and should peak around June 1. But a new study suggests this calculation is way off; the real peak is at the beginning of March.

Dark matter is thought to constitute almost 27 percent of the universe's total mass and energy, but its nature is a mystery. One of physicists' best guesses is that theorized particles called WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles) make up this matter, but WIMPs have so far eluded detection. Whatever dark matter is, it appears to clump into large clouds called haloes that engulf galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

As the solar system makes its regular progression around the galaxy, it flies through this halo, causing dark matter to bombard the sun and planets with a steady "wind," just as flies will hit the windshield of a fast-moving car. Earth, however, is also revolving around the sun. Astrophysicists have assumed that when it is moving against the direction of the dark matter wind (which happens to be during summer), we should see an uptick in dark matter particles of a few percent, and a corresponding decrease when Earth is traveling with the tide during winter. (1/7)

Polar Vortex: Colder in U.S. Than on Mars? (Source: PolitiFact)
The polar vortex takes no prisoners. At the start of 2014, the Midwest, East Coast and parts of Canada experienced brutally cold temperatures, some of them record-breaking. What really caught our eye was the number of people comparing the climates of Earth and Mars. The assertion that Earth is colder than Mars is based on temperatures from NASA’s robotic rover, Curiosity, which measured a maximum ground temperature of minus 33 degrees Fahrenheit at the time we wrote this story.

That’s roughly on par with one of the coldest U.S. cities. Minneapolis saw minus 23 F, with a wind chill that made it feel like minus 48 F. Winnipeg, Canada, the reference point for Yahoo’s Geekquinox post, which other news sources and tweets referenced, experienced similar temperatures. So the "real feel" is colder in those cities than on Mars -- at least in one sense. But not so fast. The air on Mars is much colder than its surface.

Curiosity reports that the air temperature from its location is between minus 193 and minus 76. And again, that’s just at one location on the planet. Samuel Kounaves, a chemistry professor at Tufts University who specializes in planetary sciences, said the average air temperature on Mars is about minus 50. (1/7)

FSDC President Among Award Finalists (Source: Florida Today)
LEAD Brevard has announced its “2014 LEAD Brevard Leadership Awards,” including the 10th annual 4 Under Recognition ceremony, scheduled for Feb. 28. The 4 Under 40 Recognition showcases the many young adults who are working to make a positive impact in Brevard County through their leadership and commitment to community service. Among the 4 Under 40 finalists are Laura Seward, president of the Florida Space Development Council. (1/6)

Resolution Opposes Spaceport Tax Change (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The Las Cruces City Council just said "no" Monday. There wasn't much discussion from the seven-member council during Monday's meeting at City Hall. But their actions spoke loudly as the council unanimously adopted a resolution that opposes proposed state legislation to reclassify a portion of Spaceport America taxes assessed to Doña Ana and Sierra County residents that are used for public education. (1/7)

Spacesuit for Exploring Mars Is a Form-Fitting Math Problem (Source: WIRED)
In science fiction, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Ender’s Game, astronauts zip around zero-g environments clad in stylish, skin-tight spacesuits. In reality, outfits designed for outer space are bulky, hard to maneuver, and have all the charm of adult diapers. Even their name, Extravehicular Mobility Units, or EMUs, is clumsy. Enter Dava Newman, fashion designer to the stars. You won’t see her work on the red carpet, but if this MIT professor has her way, all the most fashionable space explorers will be wearing her designs when they set foot on the red planet. Click here. (1/7)

Kepler Spots 237 Confirmed ‘Exo-Planets’ Showing Similarities To Earth (Source: CBS)
One of NASA’s orbiting telescopes, tasked with identifying planets similar to Earth outside the Milky Way, is reporting promising results. NASA’s Kepler telescope, which has been scanning deep space in search of Earth-like worlds since its launch into orbit in 2009, has spotted around 3,600 planetary candidates outside the solar system,  a deputy project scientist for Kepler at JPL said Monday.

Of that number, 237 have been confirmed as planets, which brings the total number of so-called exo-planets to over 1,000, according to Nick Gautier. However, as Gautier describes that number as conservative, some astronomers believe that more exo-planets have been confirmed. (1/7)

Twin Planets: The Same, But Very Different (Source: TIME)
It’s often said—we said it again ourselves just last week, in fact—that our own Solar System isn’t as typical as scientists once imagined. We’ve got four small, close-in, rocky planets (Mercury through Mars) and four big, gassy ones, starting with Jupiter and proceeding out to Neptune. But the very first exoplanets ever found, back in the mid-1990’s, didn’t fit the mold at all: they were big and gaseous like Jupiter and Saturn, but orbiting so close to their stars that they were hotter than Mercury.

More recently, astronomers have been finding something else we don’t have: so-called super-Earths, bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune—and planetary theorists are pondering how these worlds might have formed and what they’re made of.

The goal, of course, is to find a mirror Earth, a planet with a diameter and mass similar to our own, orbiting a sun like our own, in a thermally comfortable spot where water could exist in a liquid state. That hasn’t happened yet, but astronomers are edging closer and closer, and with each new world they discover, they’re developing a better understanding of how different species of planets form and, by implication, our odds of actually finding an Earth 2.0. (1/7)

Following Lunar Landing, China Outlines Next Steps (Source: Space News)
China completed its first robotic Moon landing Dec. 14 and two days later offered a glimpse of its plans for a follow-on mission launching in 2017. In a Dec. 16 report, Wu Zhijian, a spokesman for the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, said work on the follow-on mission, dubbed Chang’e 5, is proceeding smoothly. The report did not provide much in the way of specifics about Chang’e 5, but did say a lunar sample-return mission is part of China’s near-term plan. (1/7)

Japanese Travel Agency Offers Trip to Space Tourists for $250,000 (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
A Tokyo-based travel agency is selling slots on a U.S. commercial space flight program for $250,000 (25 million yen) each. Club Tourism International Inc. on Jan. 6 set up subsidiary Club Tourism Space Tours Inc., which has exclusive rights to sell the slots in Japan. Customers will join the space flight program operated by Virgin Galactic LLC of the United States that is expected to start by the end of the year. (1/7)

SpaceX Buys More Texas Acreage (Source: Morning Valley Star)
SpaceX, through its ongoing land purchases, now controls about 85 acres of land in Cameron County. Additional acreage was purchased during the last quarter of 2013, in addition to the earlier lease of land in the Boca Chica Beach area where the California-based space exploration firm proposes to build a private commercial rocket-launching facility.

SpaceX increased its land holdings in the last quarter of 2013 from 72 undeveloped lots to 80 lots totaling about 26 acres. This land is in addition to the 56.5 acres that SpaceX has leased. The year-end purchases consisted of eight lots, with a property tax debt of $16,580. Cameron County and the Point Isabel Independent School District sold the properties to SpaceX through Dogleg Park LLC, in a property tax resale. The vacant property is a 2.3-acre tract of land. (1/7)

President Xi Urges Science Innovations After Lunar Probe Success (Source: Xinhua)
Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed science and technology innovation to support productivity and national strength. Xi made the remarks on Monday while meeting space scientists and engineers who participated in the research and development of the Chang'e-3 mission. Click here. (1/7)

UAS Test Site Selection Good News for NASA Langley, Wallops (Source: Space Daily)
The selection of six unmanned aircraft system (UAS) test sites by the FAA may have an impact on NASA aeronautics research, especially at two NASA Virginia facilities. NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton and NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore are expected to work with the Virginia Tech team, which is based in Blacksburg. According to the FAA, Virginia Tech plans to conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas. This proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey. (1/7)

Earth May Be Heaver Than Thought Due to Dark Matter (Source: Space Daily)
A study of GPS satellite orbits suggests the Earth is heavier than thought, perhaps due to a halo of dark matter, a U.S. researcher says. Dark matter is thought to make up about 80 percent of the universe's matter, but scientists have been unable to determine much else about it, including its presence in the solar system.

Using data on the satellites in the U.S. GPS, Russian GLONASS and European Galileo groups, Ben Harris calculated Earth's mass as "felt" by each satellite. "The nice thing about GPS satellites is that we know their orbits really, really well," he said. His research yielded an average figure for the weight of the Earth between 0.005 and 0.008 per cent greater than the value for Earth's mass established by the International Astronomical Union. (1/6)

Arianespace Reports Slight Loss for 2013, Girds for Busy 2014 (Source: Space News)
Arianespace launch consortium expects to report a ‘slight loss’ for 2013 following a revenue drop of some 27 percent compared to 2012 as a result of lower-than-planned launch activity, Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said. The company said it had set aside sufficient reserves to cover most of the loss and will not need to request a fresh cash injection from its shareholders, a group made up mainly of Ariane 5 rocket contractors and the French space agency, CNES. (1/7)

Astronauts Practice Launching in NASA's New Orion Spacecraft (Source: Space Daily)
NASA astronauts recently experienced what it will be like to launch into space aboard the new Orion spacecraft during the first ascent simulations since the space shuttles and their simulators were retired. Ascent simulations are precise rehearsals of the steps a spacecraft's crew will be responsible for - including things that could go wrong - during their climb into space. (1/6)

SpaceX Delivers Thaicom-6 Satellite to Orbit (Source: Space News)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 6 successfully placed the Thaicom 6 commercial telecommunications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit in the vehicle’s second fully commercial mission in a month, SpaceX said. SpaceX waited many minutes after the scheduled separation into orbit of Thaicom 6 before announcing, on its Twitter feed, that Thaicom had been released into the target orbit.

The Thaicom 6 launch demonstrated the company’s ability to return to flight in short order following the successful Dec. 3 launch of Luxembourg-based SES’s SES-8 telecommunications satellite. For Thaicom 6, SpaceX placed the satellite into a higher apogee – 90,000 kilometers – than was used for SES-8. Higher apogees of supersynchronous orbits are used to remove the inclination relative to the equator as the orbit is lowered toward final geostationary orbit. (1/7)

Space Florida Supports Parts Manufacturer Expansion (Source: Space Florida)
PFMan, a high precision parts design-to-manufacturing company announces the opening of a 20,000 sq. ft. facility in Hardee County Commerce Park under a partnership with Hardee County Industrial Development Authority (IDA). Space Florida has enabled financing for one of the two state-of-the-art CNC machines to be used on site. This manufacturing equipment is first of its kind in North America and, due to its high speed and extreme accuracy, has applications in a wide variety of sectors, including aerospace. (1/7)

Orbital Rolls Antares to Pad for Jan. 8 Launch (Source: Space News)
Orbital Sciences Corp. has moved its Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo capsule to the launch pad at Wallops Island, Va., in preparation for the company’s first contracted cargo launch to the international space station on Jan. 8. The mission had been scheduled to launch Jan. 7, but Orbital and NASA decided to delay a day to wait out a cold front approaching the U.S. East Coast. Temperatures at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a Virginia-owned part of NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility where Antares launches, could be as low as 12 below zero Celsius Jan. 7. (1/6)

EchoStar Buys Struggling Solaris S-band Satellite Venture (Source: Space News)
EchoStar Corp., which has already purchased from bankruptcy the S-band mobile satellite assets of two U.S. companies, on Jan. 6 said it has purchased a European S-band spacecraft payload from its two fed-up owners, satellite operators SES of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris. EchoStar said its purchase of 100 percent of the Solaris Mobile Ltd. joint venture of Dublin, which has one S-band payload in orbit, would be followed “immediately” by deployment of another satellite for Solaris to cover Europe. (1/6)

Mock Mars Mission Begins in Utah (Source: Space.com)
It's rare that a space mission starts exactly as planned. The weather sometime delays a launch, for example, or a technical problem may keep a spacecraft on the ground for longer than originally planned. In the case of Crew 133 — with six people flying from as far away as France to meet here for a simulated Mars mission — weather and other logistics issues meant most of the crew arrived later than planned. (1/6)

Weird Small 'Puffed-Up' Exoplanet Discovered (Source: Discovery)
NASA’s Kepler space telescope has discovered a veritable menagerie of alien worlds orbiting other stars, but this most recent exoplanetary find is perhaps one of the strangest. The world is of the approximate mass of the Earth, yet it has a ‘puffed-up’ atmosphere, making it appear 60 percent larger than our planet. Located 200 light-years away, KOI-314c orbits its dim red dwarf star once every 23 days.

The close proximity to its star ensures that it has a rather toasty atmosphere of around 220 degrees Fahrenheit (or 104 degrees Celsius) — a little above the boiling point of water at sea-level (on Earth). Any discussion of the possibility for life as we know it is moot, but this new discovery is notable nonetheless; this is the first Earth-mass exoplanet discovered that had its mass measured by using Transit Timing Variations (TTVs).

Russia 2013 Space Year in Review (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Russia once again led the world in orbital launches in 2013, keeping the International Space Station supplied with a study stream of crew members and cargo while earning hard currency with commercial satellite launches. Although the vast majority of Russia’s launches were successful, the spectacular failure in July of a Proton rocket — which nosedived into the ground shortly after liftoff — accelerated efforts to reform the nation’s failure-prone space program.

By the end of the year, the Russian space agency Roscosmos had a new leader and a major effort was underway to consolidate a large part of the bloated and inefficient space sector under a single government-owned company. During 2013, Russia introduced a new variant of its venerable Soyuz rocket while also making progress on constructing a new spaceport in the Far East and developing a larger human spacecraft to replace the Soyuz transport and a heavy-lift booster to facilitate deep space exploration. Click here. (1/6)

Astronomers’ Bold Visions Clash with Limited Budgets (Source: Space Politics)
This week, thousands of astronomers will gather outside Washington, DC, for the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). During the meeting, astronomers will share the latest results on everything from exoplanets to cosmology. However, there will also be plenty of discussion about future ground- and space-based observatories, as plans for ambitious future missions run into conflicts with budgets that struggle to maintain even existing facilities. Click here. (1/5)

Robots Aren't Yet Ready to Work Alone in Space (Source: New Scientist)
Twenty years after fixing the Hubble Space Telescope by hand, former NASA astronaut Tom Akers believes the trickiest jobs in space still need the human touch. Click here. (1/6)

Defense Bill: "11th Hour" Passage Likely, Lawmaker Says (Source: Bloomberg)
The defense spending bill is likely to be brought at "the 11th hour" for a vote so it is less likely "to be picked apart," says Rep. James Moran, D-Va., the second-ranking Democrat of the House defense appropriations subcommittee. The defense spending bill cuts $25 billion from earlier levels but gives the Pentagon some sequester relief and is a measure "people can live with," Moran says. (1/3)

Virginia Drone Tests May Take Place at NASA Site (Source: Red Orbit)
Teams from Virginia Tech, chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration as one of six groups to test drone use in commercial air space, may join with NASA on some of the drone testing. Drone research may take place at Langley Research Center and Wallops Flight Facility. (1/3)

Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 10th Birthday (Source: Space.com)
The Martian rover Opportunity was only supposed to operate for 90 days, but apparently, nobody told the rover. The robot continues to explore the Red Planet, a decade later. "Opportunity is still in excellent health for a vehicle of its age," mission project manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The biggest science may still be ahead of us, even after 10 years of exploration." (1/3)

$1B Mission to Check Out Asteroid That May Threaten Earth ... in 2182 (Source: Florida Today)
The University of Arizona is leading a $1 billion project to land an unmanned craft on an asteroid that may pose a hazard to Earth around 200 years from now. The school is heading a project called OSIRIS-Rex that is scheduled for a September 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral. According to the project's mission, the unmanned NASA craft is slated to bring back a sample of asteroid Bennu, which is a third of a mile in diameter. (1/6)

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