February 1, 2014

Hacking Space: Event Opens New World of Innovation (Source: Houston Business Journal)
As it turns out, space technology research isn't just for astronauts and NASA scientists. A new local event has a way for creative types to develop innovations that could potentially be disruptive here on earth and in outer space. The Space Health Innovation Challenge, a new “hackathon” taking place Feb. 7 – 9 at at Rice University, is inviting creative innovators and entrepreneurs to take on some of NASA Johnson Space Center’s greatest challenges.

The hope is that designers, developers, doctors and others will form a dialog with Houston’s space community, and this joint community will get the ball rolling on developing new innovations for both space and earth. NASA, which isn’t formally affiliated with the event but provided the challenges that event attendees will try to tackle, has publicly expressed its need to prove its relevance amid massive budget cuts. (1/31)

UCF Supports Space Flies Experiment (Source: UCF)
Fuit flies bred in space are offering scientists a clue as to how astronauts’ immune systems may be damaged during prolonged space travel. A team of researchers from the University of California at Davis and the University of Central Florida has been studying the impact weightlessness has on fruit flies in space. “Our study showed that a biochemical pathway needed to fight fungal infections is seriously compromised in the flies after space flight,” said Laurence Von Kalm, a UCF biologist. “More work will be needed to determine if similar effects occur in humans, but this gives us some clues." (2/1)

NASA Selects Space Launch System Adapter Hardware Manufacturer (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville, Ala., to design and build a key component of the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket the agency is developing to send humans farther than ever into deep space. The component is the Launch Vehicle/Stage Adapter (LVSA), which will be used to connect the rocket's 27.5-foot diameter core and 16.4-foot diameter interim cryogenic propulsion stages. (1/31)

UK To Invest $25 Million in French Environmental Satellite Projects (Source: Space News)
The British government on Jan. 31 agreed to invest 15 million British pounds ($25 million) in two French satellite Earth observation programs — one being run with the United States, the other with European governments — as part of a bilateral framework agreement punctuating the growing space policy relations between the two nations.

The heads of the two nations’ space agencies signed agreements that will see British scientists enter into partnership with France for the IASI Next Generation instrument for Europe’s weather satellite organization, Eumetsat. The infrared sounding instrument, which measures atmospheric temperature and humidity, will be placed aboard the Eumetsat Metop polar-orbiting meteorological satellites, now in development. (1/31)

Slow, Cold Start to Universe Suggested (Source: Science News)
The universe may have emerged not with a hot Big Bang but with a long, cold slog, a physicist proposes. Over the last half-century, most cosmologists have come to agree that all matter initially exploded from a single point. An instant later, the hot, dense universe ballooned dramatically in an event called inflation. A slower expansion then proceeded for billions of years.

But the Big Bang model requires the universe to start from what physicists call a singularity, a point of infinite density at which physical laws break down. A theory that avoids a singularity without introducing other complications would fit better with quantum mechanics and general relativity, physicists’ best explanations of nature’s fundamental forces.

Christof Wetterich, a theoretical physicist at Heidelberg University in Germany, says he has created such a picture. In Wetterich’s theory, fundamental particles become heavier over time, while gravity weakens. This logic leads to a cosmic history in which the universe still underwent inflation but did not necessarily continue expanding. And instead of starting with a Big Bang, time before inflation could stretch into the infinite past. (1/31)

Shelton Reaffirms Commitment To Critical But Costly Thule Base (Source: Space News)
The U.S. armed forces’ northernmost base, one that provides key space surveillance and missile warning capabilities but costs more than $100 million a year to operate, is undergoing a major consolidation as budgets shrink and maintenance dollars become scarce. The sprawling installation, some 1,200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle and about 100 kilometers from the nearest town, is so remote all of its supplies must come in via ship or aircraft. Electricity is provided almost exclusively by generators powered by costly jet fuel.

Air Force leaders describe the base, which is ideally located to detect and track missiles flying over the North Pole, and to communicate with polar-orbiting satellites, as absolutely critical. “This place is not going away,” Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said during a two-day visit here Jan. 27-29. But Thule’s operating costs, which Shelton said are about 10 times higher than most other Air Force bases, are putting pressure on the service to continue shrinking the facility as a way to find savings. (1/31)

Shelton Says He’s Laying Groundwork for Successor (Source: Space News)
Gen. William Shelton, commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command and the service’s top uniformed officer for space, whose concerns about future defense funding have pushed the industry out from a comfortable status quo, has signaled that his departure is close at hand. Shelton became commander of Air Force Space Command in January 2011.

“There’s nothing formally announced but I’ve been in my job three years already,” Shelton said in an interview with SpaceNews en route to Thule Air Base in Greenland. “Typically it’s a three-year job. There will be a time when it gets announced officially but … it will happen.” (1/31)

Super Bowl Space Tech: NASA Makes the Big Game Possible (Source: Space.com)
NASA and the Super Bowl may not be two things you'd normally put in the same sentence together, but Sunday's big game wouldn't be the same without innovative spinoff technologies from space exploration. From helmets to headsets to the communications satellites that allows fans to watch around the world, NASA's legacy can be found throughout the Super Bowl Sunday experience.

So when the Seattle Seahawks face off against Denver's Broncos, the teams will have NASA to thank for some of their basic tech needs. Here's a look at some of the NASA's space technology spinoffs (and some pop culture, too) that have found their way into Super Bowl. Click here. (1/31)

Obama Honors Fallen Astronauts of NASA Spaceflight Disasters (Source: Space.com)
President Barack Obama recalled the heroism of Americans who lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration to mark NASA's somber memorial on Jan. 31 for three spaceflight disaster anniversaries this week. "On this Day of Remembrance, we join the American people in honoring the men and women of NASA who have given their lives in our nation’s space program," Obama said. (1/31)

Star Next Door May Host a 'Superhabitable' World (Source: New Scientist)
Earth may be our home, but another planet even cosier for life could be orbiting the star next door. A detailed analysis of what might make planets suitable for life says that Alpha Centauri B, the star closest to our sun, would be the perfect star to host a "superhabitable" planet – a world of islands, shallow seas and gentle slopes, where the conditions needed to support a diverse array of life forms would persist for up to 10 billion years.

But the near-paradise would come at a cost to visitors from Earth: the pull of gravity would be about one-quarter stronger than on our home turf. We normally assume that the best places to look for alien life are Earth-sized planets orbiting sun-like stars. But our best models for habitability consider only a few criteria, such as the planet's size and distance from its star, seeking rocky worlds like Earth in similar orbits to our own. (1/31)

One Planet, Two Stars: New Research Shows How Circumbinary Planets Form (Source: Bristol)
There are few environments more extreme than a binary star system in which planet formation can occur. Powerful gravitational perturbations from the two stars on the rocky building blocks of planets lead to destructive collisions that grind down the material. So, how can the presence of such planets be explained?

Dr. Zoe Leinhardt and colleagues from Bristol's School of Physics have completed computer simulations of the early stages of planet formation around the binary stars using a sophisticated model that calculates the effect of gravity and physical collisions on and between one million planetary building blocks. They found that the majority of these planets must have formed much further away from the central binary stars and then migrated to their current location. (1/31)

Meet the Man Who Keeps SpaceX’s Rockets on Track (Source: Spectrum IEEE)
As a kid, he piled up the sci-fi novels in the closet of his California bedroom. He dreamed of going to space, not as an astronaut but as a citizen of a spacefaring society. But by the time Brandon Pearce reached high school in 1986, that dream was fading. When he looked at the missions going on at NASA, he just didn’t see how they would lead to moon colonies, interplanetary travel, and deep-space adventures. Click here. (1/28)

NASA Island Packs Emotional Wallop (Source: Standard-Examiner)
In early January, on a field a couple of miles from a launchpad on Virginia's Wallops Island, I gazed eastward and listened to a countdown. The numbers descended, and then in the distance, a rocket lifted silently, gracefully, as if in slow motion. Ten seconds later, a wave of sound hit me square in the chest with such power that I felt as if a Harley were rumbling through my body. Click here. (1/31) 

Drill Developed for Moon Would Kick-Start Space Mining Industry (Source: Canadian Press)
A space drill developed by a firm based in Sudbury, Ont., could be boring for water on the moon in less than five years — if everything goes according to plan. It would also signal the start of the space mining industry. Deltion Innovations Ltd. has announced it's been awarded a contract by the Canadian Space Agency to advance the design of its "DESTIN" drill and then test it in a moon-like environment on Earth.

Deltion spokesman Dale Boucher says the tests are aimed at advancing technology so the space drill would be ready for a lunar prospector mission in 2018. The mission's objective is to prospect for water ice near the south pole of the moon, extract samples and then analyze them. Boucher added that the mission would kick-start space mining as an economic activity.

"The really neat thing about this project is that it's the first of many missions that are actually looking for usable resources — either on an asteroid or the moon. And Canada has an opportunity here to take the leader position." The Canadian drill would be mounted on Artemis Jr., a lunar mining rover being developed by Ottawa-based Neptec Design. (1/31)

$350M NASA Project Completed, Mothballed Because of Lack of Need (Source: Washington Times)
NASA is supposed to build machines that launch into space, not structures that stay grounded on Earth and send spending into the stratosphere. But that is exactly what is happening this year as NASA completes the $350 million rocket-engine testing A-3 tower at its research facility in Mississippi. There is just one problem: The space exploration agency doesn’t want it.

Instead, NASA is forced to complete the project — which now won’t be put to use — because of legislation handed down from Congress in what critics say is a classic example of earmarking. “Because the Constellation Program was cancelled in 2010 the A-3’s unique testing capabilities will not be needed and the stand will be mothballed upon completion,” NASA’s internal watchdog, the inspector general, said this month.

NASA does not expect to use the tower after construction but is compelled by legislation from Sen. Roger F. Wicker, Mississippi Republican, who wants to ensure the project is completed. Ironically, Congress says it has been operating under a self-imposed ban on earmarks — pet projects that funnel money back to lawmakers’ home districts, often at taxpayer expense. But recent examples show members are still finding ways around the self-imposed prohibition. (1/31)

Thyroid Cancer Cells Become Less Aggressive in Space (Source: FASEB)
For those who think that space exploration offers no tangible benefits for those of us on earth, a new research discovery involving thyroid cancer may prove otherwise. Researchers from Germany and Denmark show that some tumors which are aggressive on earth are considerably less aggressive in microgravity. By understanding the genetic and cellular processes that occur in space, scientists may be able to develop treatments that accomplish the same thing on earth. (1/30)

New NASA Satellite to Survey Detailed Climate Data (Source: Information Week)
NASA will begin close monitoring of rain, snow and other climate information with the help of one of its newest crop of science satellites, set to launch Feb. 27. The detailed weather data, gathered every three hours, will help scientists study floods, droughts and other major weather events. (1/30)

NASA Extends Moon Exploring Satellite Mission (Source: NASA)
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, observatory has been approved for a 28-day mission extension. The spacecraft is now expected to impact the lunar surface on or around April 21, 2014, depending on the final trajectory. The extension provides an opportunity for the satellite to gather an additional full lunar cycle worth of very low-altitude data to help scientists unravel the mysteries of the moon’s atmosphere. (1/31)

Is the Relationship Between NASA and Private Space About to Sour? (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Many space nerds were smiling when they saw details of the 2014 budget: NASA's big-ticket missions have been spared the Congressional ax. The Orion crew vehicle gets $1.2 billion, the Space Launch System (SLS) gets $1.9 billion. Together, these are supposed to get humans to Mars or an asteroid, or both. But there's some who are not quite so happy: the private space companies vying to get astronauts to orbit by 2017.

The White House request for $821 million to support the commercial crew program was trimmed to $696 million. The effort to replace the space shuttle with a new private-sector vehicle is also going well, with the three companies hitting milestones and setting dates for flights. But the true test of how much NASA can really change from a spacecraft developer to a customer of flight services will start this year. Click here. (1/31)

How Does NASA Test a Martian Parachute? With a Rocket Sled (Source: WIRED)
NASA engineers used a rocket sled to test an enormous supersonic parachute that could one day land spacecraft on Mars. The pulse-pounding test took place recently at the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, California. The sled has four rockets to quickly accelerate an enormous supersonic parachute about 110 feet in diameter to see how it holds up under such stress.

The data will help researchers refine their designs for this parachute, which could one day be deployed on Mars to slow a lander down from Mach 2, nearly 1,100 mph, to less than 175 mph. NASA needs such technology if they ever want to put an object larger than the Curiosity rover down on Mars’ surface. Currently, the agency has been living off the legacy of its 1970s Viking-era technology, which has reached its limit. Click here for the video. (1/31)

CNES Tech Budget Focused on Competitiveness in Telecom Satellites (Source: Space News)
The French space agency is aligning its research and technology budget behind an attempt to increase French and European satellite telecomm prime contractors’ share of the global commercial market to 50% by 2020, up from 30% now. Europe’s principal weapon in the battle for increased market share is the Neosat satellite platform, developed with ESA and employing an all-electric propulsion system to reduce satellite weight and launch cost, as well as other new technologies. (1/31)

U.S. Air Force Claims Big Savings on EELV Block Buy (Source: Space News)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the U.S. Air Force have come to contractual terms for the first batch of rockets in a long-awaited bulk purchase that the service said forms the core of its strategy for saving money on a program whose soaring costs once made it a lightning rod for criticism. ULA and the Air Force claim the new contracting structure has already saved taxpayers billions of dollars.

The Air Force in 2013 announced three contracts with ULA value at just under $2.6 billion, including an initial $1 billion order in June to support seven EELV missions. In December, the Air Force announced a $530 million contract modification “for fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2017 launch vehicle production services and options for that associated launch capability for fiscal 2015 through fiscal 2019.”

Also included in ULA’s current Air Force contract portfolio is a one-year deal worth nearly $1 billion, announced in October, for so-called EELV Launch Capability. This is the latest in a series of contracts ULA gets on an annual basis to cover services not necessarily associated with a given launch, and which have been branded as a subsidy by ULA’s prospective competitors. (1/31)

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