January 9, 2014

Orbital Launches Cargo Craft to Space Station (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
An Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket has successfully launched from the MARS spaceport at Virginia's Wallops Island, carrying a fully loaded Cygnus cargo module to the International Space Station. The commercial cargo mission is funded by a NASA contract and includes a planned docking/capture at the Space Station on Jan. 12. (1/9)

Space Radiation Can Affect Rocket Launches (Source: SpaceRef)
On Jan. 8, 2014, Orbital Sciences Corp. elected to scrub that day's launch attempt of an Antares rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., due to unusually high levels of space radiation - an example of the ways in which space weather can affect human technology.

Monitoring for space radiation - which refers to excessive high-energy protons in near-Earth space, often funneled in from space in association with an event on the sun such as the solar flares and associated coronal mass ejections that occurred on Jan. 7, 2014 - is a standard protocol for any launch attempt.  Excess radiation can affect the critical computer systems aboard the launch vehicle.

"The launch vehicle avionics do everything from guiding the rocket, to telling it when to start up, to moving it through the various stages, to communicating with the payload after it has been ejected," said Chris St. Cyr, a space weather scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "If there's too much radiation these crucial systems could be damaged." (1/9)

China Fears Spur DOD to Track New Technology (Source: USA Today)
As China becomes a hothouse of new technology, the Pentagon is going to start keeping track of the new developments emerging. The Defense Department will record new patents and search for new technology research that has "disruptive potential," according to Pentagon documents. (12/29)

Silicon Valley's New Spy Satellites (Source: The Atlantic)
Imagine an energy company which manages a pipeline through Canada’s taiga. The company’s charged with maintaining that pipeline, with making sure it isn’t leaking and hasn’t been compromised. So, every day, the company pays a local to get in a plane and fly over the otherwise inert, massive metal tube, looking for objects, organic or otherwise, that shouldn’t be there.

Or that’s what they’ve done for many years. Five years from now, that pilot might be out of a job. Tiny satellites, whizzing over head in low Earth orbit, could photograph every meter of the pipeline. It won’t seem like anyone’s nearby, but, should a truck or stain appear on the ice, a system administrator in Houston would get a text message warning of a problem. Click here. (1/7)

Nelson Supports ISS Extension (Source: Space Politics)
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) endorsed the ISS extension, citing the benefits of continued ISS operations for Kennedy Space Center in his state. “This means more jobs at the Kennedy Space Center as we rebuild our entire space program,” he said in a brief video message provided by his office. “This is a robust future for KSC and our space program.” (1/8)

ISS Extension Plan Meets International Uncertainty (Source: Space Politics)
It’s not yet clear what kind of support the ISS extension has among NASA’s international partners. “We’ve talked to the partners about this,” Bill Gerstenmaier said. He acknowledged that an extension was a “big deal” for them. “They’ll continue to evaluate that over the next several years. I think in general they see this as a positive step that we’re moving forward” on this, he said.

One European official said Wednesday that while he endorsed an extension, getting others in Europe to support continued use of ISS may be a challenge. Germany supports use of the ISS “until 2020 and beyond,” said Johann-Dietrich W├Ârner, head of the German space agency DLR. Germany is the biggest supporter of the ISS within ESA, and has lobbied other ESA member nations to fund Europe’s share of station operations.

“However, there are some problems,” he added. “Some of the member nations are reducing their financial support due to the economic crisis, and now we are in a very complicated discussion process at ESA concerning the future of the ISS.” He said ESA members need to “intensify” their use of the station rather than look to whatever comes after the station. An extension of the ISS could open the door to adding new partners to the program. (1/8)

U.S. Backs Space Station Through 2024 (Source: CNN)
The Obama administration wants to keep the International Space Station open for another decade, keeping the orbital research platform open through 2024, the White House and NASA announced Wednesday. The decision extends U.S. support for the station by four years. In a joint statement Wednesday afternoon, White House science adviser John Holdren and NASA administrator Charles Bolden said the station "offers enormous scientific and societal benefits." (1/8)

Embry-Riddle Among Top Online Educators (Source: ERAU)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has been named one of the nation’s top online educators, according to a U.S. News & World Report listing released today. Embry-Riddle Worldwide undergraduate degree programs placed No. 5 out of nearly 300 institutions ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Embry-Riddle shares the fifth spot with the University of Florida. Additionally, the university’s online graduate business programs were named 70th among more than 200 institutions ranked. (1/8)

Virgin Galactic Propulsion VP Leaves for New Launch Company (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Virgin Galactic Vice President of Propulsion Thomas Markusic has left Richard Branson’s space tourism company for Firefly Space Systems, a start-up company developing a ground-based, small satellite launch vehicle. Markusic had been at Virgin Galactic since May 2011. He headed up the company’s liquid propulsion program and oversaw the development of LauncherOne, a small satellite rocket that will be air launched from WhiteKnightTwo.

Firefly has its headquarters in Austin, Texas, and research and development operations in Hawthorne, Calif. Markusic’s former employer, SpaceX, has its operations in Hawthorne. Markusic formerly served as director of SpaceX’s rocket engine test site in McGregor, Texas. After leaving SpaceX in April 2011, the Princeton University graduate spent two months as a senior systems engineer at Blue Origin prior to joining Virgin Galactic. (1/9)

Asia's Space Exploration Push to the Moon (Source: Arirang)
China plans to return to the moon to build a manned base there by 2030. India has also been advancing its space program. Its first mission to Mars successfully left Earth's orbit last month. The satellite is expected to reach the Red Planet by mid-September, and India's space agency plans to launch 58 additional space missions over the next four years.

Not to be left behind, NASA says it's planning to build a permanent base on the moon by 2025 and also send astronauts to nearby asteroids. "In addition, NASA is planning a human mission to the vicinity of the moon to assist lunar space [exploration] probably early in the next decade. And this will be very exciting as well, because not only will we be visiting the area near the moon, but we will be taking a piece of an asteroid and bringing it back there to show we can use resources, not just from the moon, but also from asteroids."

Meanwhile, Korea is pushing ahead with its own space exploration program with an early lunar probe set to launch in 2017. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute says its ongoing collaboration with NASA will help train personnel and develop core technologies. With the full support of the government, Korea's space agency has accelerated its plans to reach the moon by 2020 with an unmanned rover in search of rare metals and other resources. (1/9)

How to Convince the Public That We Need to Invest in Space Exploration (Source: Slate)
Another year, another round of budget woes for NASA. NASA will suffer, especially when it comes to planetary science. Once again, advocates of space exploration face the daunting challenge of devising compelling arguments to justify spending money on space despite pressing needs on Earth, which raises the question of how to convince politicians and the public that space is a worthwhile investment.

The past holds the answer: Space advocates should leverage competition between countries and companies.  Kennedy’s overtness seems inappropriate today, but countries can compete without fostering hostility or hatred. Preserving diplomacy should take precedence—Kennedy demonstrates how powerful single words such as “first” can be. Competition could increase the return on NASA investments, creating a universally beneficial relationship, as well as new opportunities to pivot back to collaboration with a renewed sense of purpose.

A less delicate competition to exploit is that between private companies. While it may feel indecorous to leverage capitalism over curiosity, space isn’t just an infinite expanse—it’s also a business. Space advocates need to make arguments that move politicians and average people, not just stargazers. The end justifies the means—any rhetoric is good rhetoric, as long as it gets us into the cosmos. (1/8)

Kazakh Space Chief Discusses Plan for Baikonur (Source: Itar Tass)
At the end of last year, the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan fixed a roadmap for the use and development of the space launch facilities of the Baikonur cosmodrome and of the city of the same name. Talgat Musabayev, Head of the National Space Agency of Kazakhstan, discussed rules according to which the world's largest space launch center would begin to operate in future.

"Changes will concern the launch complex for Zenit carrier rockets and Baikonur city proper...We agreed on arrangements for their joint use and servicing. We agreed ... that a project for the establishment of a space rocket complex 'Baiterek' will be implemented with the use of the carrier rocket Zenit. Before January 2015 that complex will be withdrawn from Russia's lease holding and turned over to Kazakhstan which will assume spending on its maintenance — about $10 million."

"However, this also refers to a joint use of the complex.... We also plan in future to upgrade Zenit space rocket so as to develop on the basis of the complex a heavy-duty space rocket capable of replacing Proton subsequently. We also agreed to mull the possibility of co-development of a light-class rocket for Baikonur," Musabayev said. He emphasized that Kazakhstan "eyes becoming a space faring power." (1/9)

Massive Radiation Hurtling Toward Us, But Not to Worry (Source: ABC)
Just as we Earthlings were trying to adjust to the polar vortex, now comes a CME from the Sun. Massive radiation is now hurtling toward us from the Sun’s Coronal Mass Ejection. CME’s occur when “the fluctuations of the sun’s magnetic fields cause a large portion of the surface of the sun to expand rapidly, ejecting billions of tons of particles out into space [and producing] a magnetic shockwave that extends billions of miles out into space. If Earth is in the path of that shockwave, our planet’s magnetic field will react to the event.”

When the CME hits (predicted at 4 a.m. Thursday), the Earth’s magnetic field will be disturbed: high-frequency radio, GPS applications, airline routes, possible power grid transients may be affected during the geomagnetic storm. Here on Earth, the CME may affect communications. Or your plane may be rerouted. But not to worry: You, dear Earthling, should be safe. (1/9)

Cost Savings Minimal in Latest Ariane 5 Contract (Source: Space News)
The contract signed in December for the production of 18 Ariane 5 rockets and valued at about $3 billion reflects only a 5 percent per-launcher cost reduction from the previous version of the contract inked nearly five years ago for the same rockets, according European government and industry officials.

These officials said the PB-Plus contract for 18 Ariane 5 rockets — but only 13 upper stages — is valued at more than 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) and highlights the challenge in Europe of reducing the cost of a vehicle now facing more global competition than ever.

Entrenched interests in industry and government resist any major price cuts in part because of the incentive structure that has long been part of the Ariane launcher system, officials said.  The Arianespace launch services consortium orders rockets from a contracting team made up largely of its own shareholders. These companies would prefer to generate revenue from building high-cost rocket components rather than take dividends from their Arianespace equity holdings. (1/8)

France-UAE Satellite Deal Shaky After US Spy Tech Discovered Onboard (Source: Space Daily)
The sale of two intelligence satellites to the UAE by France for nearly a billion dollars could go south after they were found to contain US technology designed to intercept data transmitted to the ground station. The equipment, costing $930 million, constitutes two high-resolution Pleiades-type Falcon Eye military intelligence satellites, which a UAE defense source has said contain specific US-made components designed to intercept the satellites' communications with their accompanying ground station. (1/9)

Why Spotting Alien Life Just Got Easier (Source: CSM)
The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) might just bring us one step closer to finding life on another world. With "its eye to the sky," the GPI, an intricate astronomical instrument the size of a small car, positioned on the 26-foot-diameter Gemini South telescope in Chile, is the world's most powerful exoplanet camera, according to a press release by Gemini Observatory. An exoplanet is a planet outside our solar system.

The GPI took its first "light image" of Beta Pictoris b, a planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris, last November. The imager also took images of Jupiter's moon Europa. Looking at a normal star through the Earth's atmosphere causes the image to distort due to turbulence, but the GPI's mirror can change its shape 1,000 times each second, canceling out distortions and sharpening its image, says Dr. Macintosh. (1/9)

New Kind of Planet, or Failed Star? (Source: U of T News)
An object discovered by astrophysicists at the University of Toronto nearly 500 light years away from the sun may challenge traditional understandings about how planets and stars form. The object is located near – and likely orbiting – a very young star about 440 light years away from the sun, and is leading astrophysicists to believe that there is not an easy-to-define line between what is and is not a planet.

“We have very detailed measurements of this object spanning seven years, even a spectrum revealing its gravity, temperature, and molecular composition. Still, we can’t yet determine whether it is a planet or a failed star – what we call a ‘brown dwarf’. Depending on what measurement you consider, the answer could be either,” said Thayne Currie. (1/9)

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