March 27, 2014

California Aerospace Association Forms (Source: SPACErePORT)
It seems that multiple member states of the Aerospace States Association are forming 'chapters' to represent their aerospace interests to state legislatures. The California Aerospace Association held an organizational meeting in Sacramento on Mar. 24. An Alabama chapter is also being formed. Click here. (3/27) 

Alabama Aerospace Roundtable Planned on Apr. 2 (Source: ASA)
The Alabama chapter of the Aerospace States Association is organizing an Alabama Aerospace Roundtable on Apr. 2 in Montgomery in the State Capitol Building. Lt. Governor Kay Ivey will open the event. Click here. (3/27)

Starshade Concept Waiting in the Wings If WFIRST-AFTA Falters (Source: Space News)
Among alternatives NASA is studying should plans to build the next big astrophysics observatory from a donated spy telescope fall through is a 1.1-meter telescope that would fly in formation with a new, flower-shaped external occulter known as a Starshade to search for faraway Earth-like planets.

Known as Exo-S, the mission concept is being developed to fit into a $1 billion budget. It is one of two exoplanet telescopes backstopping NASA’s first choice for a big, new astrophysics start: a combination planet-hunter and dark energy observatory called the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). (3/27)

Air Force Retirements Put Engineers in Short Supply (Source: Defense News)
The Air Force is worried that a wave of retirements plus a slowing of scientists in the recruitment pipeline will worsen the engineer shortage that already exists. Young engineers are more likely to pick an industry job over a military one, some experts say, especially with the threat of sequestration hanging over the Air Force. (3/26)

Cutting the Cost of Space Defense (Source: Space & Tech Policy Group)
There isn't one simple solution to cutting the cost of U.S. space defense, says the Aerospace Industries Association in a new report, "Easing the Burden: Reducing the Cost of National Security Space Capabilities." Some ideas -- block buys, hosted payloads, and more -- can help. But, said AIA Vice President of Space Systems Frank Slazer, speaking at a recent panel discussion of the issue, there is "not a one-size-fits-all solution." (3/24)

Asteroid Initiative Opportunities Forum Highlights Progress, Public Participation (Source: NASA)
NASA officials discussed latest progress and new opportunities in the agency's Asteroid Initiative in a March 26 forum with members of the aerospace industry, academia and space enthusiasts. The forum followed a March 21 Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) calling for additional mission concept studies led outside of NASA, with $6 million in potential awards.

NASA’s Asteroid Initiative is comprised of an Asteroid Grand Challenge (AGC) to develop new partnerships and collaborations to accelerate NASA’s existing planetary defense work, and a mission to capture and redirect an asteroid and visit it with astronauts to collect samples. NASA refers to the latter effort to identify, redirect and send astronauts to explore an asteroid as the "Asteroid Redirect Mission" (ARM). Click here. (3/27)

Jet's Flaming Space Junk Scare (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)
Pieces of space junk from a Russian satellite coming out of orbit narrowly missed hitting a jetliner over the Pacific Ocean overnight. The pilot of a Lan Chile Airbus A340, which was travelling between Santiago, Chile, and Auckland, New Zealand, notified air traffic controllers at Auckland Oceanic Centre after seeing flaming space junk hurtling across the sky just five nautical miles in front of and behind his plane about 10pm. (3/27)

SpaceX Launch Delayed Due to Range Problem (Source:
“(SpaceX is) standing down for this weekend due to an issue with a mandatory range asset that’s required to support launch,” said SpaceX spokesperson Emily Shanklin to No realigned launch date has been announced at this time. (3/27)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Trims Workforce (Source: LA Daily News)
Aerojet Rocketdyne is expected to announce layoffs of 162 workers in Canoga Park today, as the company continues to merge its operations with new owner GenCorp. Rocketdyne employees will learn their fate this morning, said company spokesman Glenn Mahone, who would not otherwise elaborate before the official notifications. (3/25)

Don't Forget F-Type Stars in Search for Life (Source: Space Daily)
Scientists searching for habitable planets beyond Earth shouldn't overlook F-type stars in favor of their more abundant, smaller and cooler cousins, according to new research from University of Texas at Arlington physicists. Stars fall into seven lettered categories according to their surface temperature, but they also differ in other factors such as mass, luminosity and abundance in the universe.

Scientists looking for habitable planets typically have focused on the less massive end of the spectrum, where our own G-type Sun as well as the even less massive K and M-type stars reside. F-types are the in the middle of the scale, more massive and hotter than our Sun. Their increased ultraviolet radiation has been thought to be a limiting factor for sustaining life. In addition, there just aren't as many of them.

There is a gap in attention from the scientific community when it comes to knowledge about F-type stars, and that is what our research is working to fill. It appears they may indeed be a good place to look for habitable planets," said UT Professor Manfred Cuntz. (3/27)

Dish and DirecTV Surge on Merger Reports (Source: CNN)
Shares of Dish Network and DirecTV soared higher Wednesday following reports that the two satellite television companies are considering a merger. Dish and DirecTV declined to comment on news reports of the possible deal. (3/27)

New Object Offers Hint of "Planet X" (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Two observers have found an object orbiting the Sun, designated 2012 VP113, that they first spotted 17 months ago. With an estimated diameter of roughly 280 miles, this blip hardly ranks as one of the giants of the outermost solar system. More interesting is 2012 VP113's distant, highly elongated orbit, which brings it 80 astronomical units from the Sun at its closest and a whopping 472 a.u. away at its farthest. It takes 4,600 years to loop around the Sun. Another such object, 90377 Sedna, is likewise distantly adrift.

What's got dynamicists buzzing about this new find is not so much its distance, but what it has in common with Sedna's orbit. Both have perihelia near the plane of the ecliptic. So do several other far-out objects, 12 in all, whose distance from the Sun averages at least 150 a.u. This isn't due to some kind of observational bias, and it's statistically unlikely to be mere coincidence. Instead, the observers suggest, this might be the handiwork of a super-Earth-size planet roughly 250 a.u. from the Sun.

This rogue world would have enough mass to perturb objects like 2012 VP113 and Sedna inward. Computer simulations suggest that such a planet would indeed push objects into these otherwise unexplained orbits. "This is at the suggestive stage," Chad Trujillo cautions. "There are many possible configurations of perturber(s) that could cause the effect." (3/27)

Why We Can't Name a Planet After Joe Biden—Yet (Source: National Journal)
"The newfound object's official name is 2012 VP113, but the discovery team calls it VP for short, or just 'Biden,' " the journal Nature, which published the findings, reports. It will be some time before the dwarf planet gets an official name. The International Astronomical Union needs iron-clad evidence that the celestial body does in fact exist and adheres to the definition of a dwarf planet.

But when it comes down to deciding, the planet's name will not be Biden. It won't be for any fault in the vice president. Rather, according to the IAU, "names for persons or events known primarily for their military or political activities are acceptable only after 100 years elapsed since the person died or the event occurred." So there will be no Dwarf Planet Biden, Bush, Clinton, or Obama until the next century. (3/26)

Europe Begins Mars Site Selection (Source: BBC)
The European Space Agency (ESA) has published the "longlist" of eight sites it is considering as a destination for the ExoMars rover. The 300kg vehicle will be put on the surface of the Red Planet in January 2019 to search for evidence of past or present life. It should operate for at least seven months and will carry a drill to probe up to 2m underground.

The sites are generally clustered in a relatively tight zone close to the equator. They are: Hypanis Vallis, Simud Vallis, Mawrth, Oxia Planum (x2), Coogoon Valles, Oxia Palus and Southern Isidis. The ExoMars Landing Site Selection Working Group is meeting now in Madrid to begin the process of downselection. The teams that proposed these locations will make their case during the Spanish gathering. (3/26)

Tweeting Astronaut  Hadfield Reveals Space Tech Secrets (Source: BBC)
At the recent TED conference in Vancouver, Cdr Hadfield was one of the star speakers. The BBC talked to him afterwards and he revealed that getting a broadband connection to the ISS was similar to the slow progress towards connectivity on Earth. "It's incremental, rather like wiring your house. First you get a telephone line and then you get a wireless network. It is incredibly complex to get internet on to the space station," he said.

When I log on to my laptop, it goes through a wire in the space station, through to a conversion box that takes it to the outside of the station and converts it to an antenna signal that then goes up many thousands of kilometres from the Earth to a geo-satellite that takes it and converts it and sends it down to White Sands, New Mexico.

"That goes back through Maryland and back to White Sands and from there via a landline to Houston, and from there it is routed and all processed and comes through to mission control and on a desk in mission control is a computer that is hooked up to the internet." The astronauts only get internet access for a few hours each day. (3/26)

NASA KSC Marks Major Multi-User Milestone for Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: NASA)
NASA achieved a major milestone this month in its effort to transform the agency's Kennedy Space Center into a multi-user spaceport by successfully completing the initial design and technology development phase for the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program.

The major program milestone on March 20, called the Preliminary Design Review, provided an assessment of the initial designs for infrastructure at Kennedy and allowed development of the ground systems to proceed toward detailed design. The thorough review has validated the baseline architecture is sound and aligns with the agency's exploration objectives.

Unlike previous work at KSC focusing on a single kind of launch system, engineers and managers in GSDO are preparing the spaceport's infrastructure to support several different spacecraft and rockets in development for human exploration. In December 2012, the GSDO Program completed a combined system requirements review and system definition review to determine the center's infrastructure needs for future programs and establish work plans for the preliminary design phase. Click here. (3/26)

Mars Rover Funding is Once Again in Jeopardy (Source: KPCC)
It’s the little rover that could – but next year, maybe not. It’s been 10 years since the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars. The robotic explorers were built at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Spirit sent its last message from the red planet four years ago, but Opportunity is still chugging away, currently exploring the “Murray Ridge” on the rim of Endeavour Crater. But the $17.5 billion budget NASA sent to Congress for next year contains no money for Opportunity. (3/26)

Asteroid Found with Rings! First-of-Its-Kind Discovery Stuns Astronomers (Source:
Scientists have made a stunning discovery in the outer realm of the solar system — an asteroid with its own set of rings that orbits the sun between Saturn and Uranus. The space rock is the first non-planetary object ever found to have its own ring system, researchers say.

The pair of space rock rings encircle the asteroid Chariklo. They were most likely formed after a collision scattered debris around the asteroid, according to a new study unveiled today (March 27). The asteroid rings also suggests the presence of a still-undiscovered moon around Chariklo that's keeping them stable, researchers said. (3/26)

Meet the New Planet That’s Way Out Past Pluto (Source: National Journal)
The solar system has a new kid on the (far end of the) block. Thanks to a NASA discovery, we now know of our most-distant fellow sun-orbiter. "This discovery adds the most distant address thus far to our solar system's dynamic neighborhood map," NASA's Kelly Fast said. The space agency says its discovery could be a dwarf planet, the same designation given to Pluto when it lost its regular planet status. For now, it's calling the object 2012 VP113.

In lieu of a catchy name, NASA provided some fun facts about its discovery. At its closest, 2012 VP113 is about 80 astronomical units (the distance between Earth and the sun) from the sun. By contrast, Pluto gets within 30 AU. The next-closest object we know about is Sedna, which comes within 76 AU and veers as far away as 937 AU. Sedna's orbit takes some 11,400 years to complete. Scientists believe as many as 900 objects with similar orbits await our discovery. (3/26)

Roscosmos Set to Launch Seven Soyuz Rockets From Kourou (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia will deliver seven Soyuz spaceships for the launch from Kourou in French Guiana. The relevant agreement was fixed in a joint program of Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos and France’s Arianespace, the world-leading supplier of commercial launch services, for 2016-2019.

“In general, the agreement has already been initialled. At present, some details have to be finalized,” the source said. "The talks have been underway for more than a year and their participants have no intention to abandon the goals they have set. The sides consciously did not mix politics and space research,” the source said, reminding of the situation around Ukraine. (3/26)

The Long Story of the Soyuz 2-1v Launcher (Source: Space Safety)
Not many can imagine what the thoughts of Sergei Korolev were on October 5 1957 at 1:28 am, Baikonur Time. At this crucial moment in history, Launch Site No.1 of the soviet base of Baikonur in what is now Kazakhstan was calm. On it sat a modified intercontinental ballistic missile nicknamed “small seven,” only a few seconds away from lift-off. After a series of failures in the short missile development program, the rocket with the serial number 8K71-8 had been selected to bring Object D, later renamed Sputnik, into orbit.

The latest family from the R-7 dynasty is the well-known “Soyuz” launcher which is named after the Soyuz spacecraft used by the Russians for manned spaceflight. Several configurations of this launcher exist, one of which is even launched from the tropics by Arianespace as a commercial launcher. But the latest addition to the Soyuz family is the quite secretive Soyuz 2-1v launcher, which made its maiden flight last December.

In many ways this evolution is quite a revolution in the Soyuz family as it abandons the strap-on booster architecture used on the R-7 since its birth. This modification requires replacing the standard Soyuz core stage engine RD-118, which does not have enough thrust to lift the rocket at launch, with another more powerful engine. The choice made was to use the NK-33 engine as a replacement for the main thrust chamber and to keep an RD-0110R Vernier engine (a small four-chamber auxiliary steering engine) for maneuvering. Click here. (3/26)

Chris Hadfield Fronts Ireland Tourism Campaign (Source: Daily Mail)
A retired astronaut who became an internet hit with his cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity aboard the International Space Station is spearheading a tourism campaign for Ireland. Canadian Chris Hadfield, who also posted images to Twitter from space, began his new role as an ambassador to promote the Emerald Isle today. He shot the online films - called An Astronaut's Guide To The Island Of Ireland - during a trip earlier this where he spent several days taking in the attractions. (3/26)

Downrange Tracking Radar Fire Pushes Atlas Launch to NET April 10 (Source: America Space)
An ongoing issue related to a fire with a radar tracking system downrange of the Cape Canaveral Spaceport has pushed back this week’s planned launch of a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload, forcing United Launch Alliance (ULA) to roll their Atlas-V rocket off the launch pad to wait a few more weeks before another launch attempt is made. Launch is now scheduled for no earlier than Thursday, April 10. (3/26)

SpaceX Gets Contract To Study Integration of Satellite and Rocket (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force has awarded SpaceX a $4.2 million contract to study the integration of an unspecified satellite with the company’s Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket. SpaceX is expected to become the first new competitive entrant in the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, which is used to launch virtually all operational U.S. national security satellites. (3/26)

The Search for Seeds of Black Holes (Source: NASA JPL)
How do you grow a supermassive black hole that is a million to a billion times the mass of our sun? Astronomers do not know the answer, but a new study using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has turned up what might be the cosmic seeds from which a black hole will sprout. The results are helping scientists piece together the evolution of supermassive black holes -- powerful objects that dominate the hearts of all galaxies. Click here. (3/27)

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