March 31, 2014

A Footstep to Mars – and Beyond (Source: WIRED)
Robots are much cheaper than astronauts, though arguably less capable. Astronauts are more capable than robots, yet are fragile, with so many requirements for survival and risk avoidance that their missions tend to be very expensive... Robotic exploration is human exploration. The army of people behind every move Curiosity makes on Mars is an army of explorers, even if not one of them ever dons a space suit.

Similarly, human exploration is robotic exploration. Astronauts are dependent on machines that transport and support them in the alien environment of space. The Space Shuttle, though flown by astronauts in certain circumstances, was a robot during the critical phases of ascent and reentry. Click here. (3/31)

Space Tourism: "Shuttle Landing Experience" Offers Approach Flights to KSC Strip (Source: SLE)
"The Shuttle is gone, but the dream lives on." Shuttle Landing Experience takes you on a flight in a modified aircraft, duplicating the sensation of landing in the actual Space Shuttle. Prices start as low as $59.00 per seat. Click here. (3/31)

Florida Companies Put Drones in the Sky (Source: News-Press)
Some southwest Florida firms aren't waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to craft rules regarding drone use. The Naples Studio and a Sanibel Island Realtor are sending drones into the sky to get aerial shots for their businesses. "The FAA will work it out," said Drew Townsend, president of The Naples Studio, speaking about commercial drone use. "I'm not concerned about it." (3/29)

Wild New Solar System Comes Into Focus (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
A ring around an asteroid, a new dwarf planet, a fresh gully on Mars, and preparations to land on a comet – it’s all happening in the solar system at the moment. The last week or two has brought a slew of new discoveries and the promise of many more to come in the very near future. Click here. (3/31)

Spaceport America Southern Road Gets $6.4M Boost (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
With the addition of $6.4 million approved by the New Mexico Legislature this year, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority now has about $14.5 million total for a paved southern road to the remote spaceport. That is just $500,000 less than what it was before the spaceport authority dipped into the road budget because of a delayed start to operations by the spaceport's main tenant, Virgin Galactic, and the fact it doesn't have a visitors center built and running, spaceport officials said.

Both are expected to be key revenue streams for the $212 million taxpayer-owned facility. Spaceport officials said they were pleased lawmakers granted the additional funding. "It means we can build the road," said Spaceport Authority chief Christine Anderson. The roughly 24-mile road branches off from Interstate 10 north of a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. It heads north from the Upham exit through northern Doña Ana County and crosses into Sierra County before reaching Spaceport America. The route now is a dirt road, but spaceport and county officials are proposing to pave it. (3/31)

India Delays GSLV Mk-III Debut (Source: New Indian Express)
Space buffs will have to wait at least until June this year to see the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-III (GSLV Mk-III), India’s biggest rocket, flight-tested. The original plan was to have the sub-orbital test flight of the GSLV-Mk III in April, but the mission has been put off by two months. “Work has progressed quickly on the core stage of the rocket and its two strap-on boosters, but the upper stage which uses a cryogenic engine will take another month to complete,” ISRO officials said. (3/31)

Can Musk Convince Senate to Level the Playing Field -- and Save Taxpayers Billions? (Source: Motley Fool)
"SpaceX was founded to radically improve space transport technology. ... Today, it is one of the leading aerospace companies in the world, with nearly 50 missions contracted ... eight [Falcon 9 rockets launched] with 100% mission success, including four launches for NASA, three to the International Space Station, and sophisticated geostationary spacecraft for the world's leading satellite companies."

So began SpaceX founder Elon Musk when he sat down before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee earlier this month. But while all this sounds impressive already, Musk was just getting warmed up -- and his next promise will shock you. Musk wants to wipe out two-thirds of the cost of launching satellites into space, and break Boeing and Lockheed Martin's monopoly over space launches in the process.

As Musk reminded the Senate panel members, the U.S. government pays the United Launch Alliance ("ULA" -- a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture) $1 billion a year to stand ready to send rockets into space. Washington pays even if no launches actually happen. The actual cost when a satellite goes up? On average, $380 million. Musk says SpaceX can do the same job for just $100 million and would waive the $1 billion annual retainer. Click here. (3/31) 

Dwarf Planet Discovery Could Help Show Life's Spread Through Solar System (Source: Astrobiology)
Mapping tiny worlds at the Solar System's edge could one day show scientists how life arose on Earth. That's because many of these objects could contain organics, carbon-based material that are ingredients for life. As the scientists continue their search, they expect that 2012 VP133 will be the first of a series of discoveries of such objects.

Finding such a world has a value of its own, but the team is also thinking of a greater astrobiological question as they study 2012 VP133. Are the possible organics —which show up as ultra-red material in telescopes — a possible source for life on Earth? And could be this be true of other planetary systems as well? Curiously enough, 2012 VP133 has none of this material on it, but Sedna does. It will take more discoveries of such objects to figure out if ultra-red material is common outside of the Kuiper Belt, and how organics could have been transported to Earth early in our Solar System's history.

In a 2012 paper in the Astronomical Journal, "The Color Differences of Kuiper Belt Objects in Resonance with Neptune," Sheppard examined 58 Kuiper Belt objects that have a resonance with the gas giant. He found that those resonant objects that are embedded in the Kuiper Belt are full of this ultra-red material, indicating likely organics. On the edge of the belt, some of those objects also still have the material, showing that it is somehow leaking into the inner Solar System. Those that are quite far away, however, show none of the material. (3/31)

Indian Satellite Launch Planned on April 4 (Source: New Indian Express)
The Indian Space Research Organization is gearing up for the launch of the second satellite, out of a total of seven, which will provide the country with its very own navigation system. The satellite, IRNSS 1B is scheduled to take off from Sri Harikota on April 4 at 5.14 pm.

The satellite, which is part of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), will join the IRNSS 1B in a geosynchronous orbit which will operate in a figure 8 path in space. Three other geo stationary satellites will be launched and the total constellation of seven satellites is expected to be put into orbit by the end of 2015. (3/31)

GenCorp Reports First-Quarter Results (Source: GenCorp)
Net sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2014 totaled $329.7 million compared to $243.7 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2013. Net loss for the first quarter of fiscal 2014 was $2.1 million, compared to a net loss of $14.0 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2013. Funded backlog was $1.6 billion as of February 28, 2014 compared to $1.7 billion as of November 30, 2013. (3/31)

Multiverse Controversy Heats Up over Gravitational Waves (Source: Scientific American)
The multiverse is one of the most divisive topics in physics, and it just became more so. The major announcement last week of evidence for primordial ripples in spacetime has bolstered a cosmological theory called inflation, and with it, some say, the idea that our universe is one of many universes floating like bubbles in a glass of champagne. Critics of the multiverse hypothesis claim that the idea is untestable—barely even science. But with evidence for inflation theory building up, the multiverse debate is coming to a head.

The big news last week came from the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) experiment at the South Pole, which saw imprints in the cosmic microwave background—the oldest light in the universe, dating from shortly after the big bang—that appear to have been caused by gravitational waves rippling through the fabric of spacetime in the early universe. The finding was heralded as a huge breakthrough, although physicists say confirmation from other experiments will be needed to corroborate the results.
If verified, these gravitational waves would be direct evidence for the theory of inflation, which suggests the universe expanded exponentially in the first fraction of a nanosecond after it was born. If inflation occurred, it would explain many features of our universe, such as the fact that it appears to be fairly smooth, with matter spread evenly in all directions (early inflation would have stretched out any irregularities in the universe). (3/31)

Global Conflict Could Threaten Geostationary Satellites (Source: Scientific American)
During the Cold War the U.S. and Soviet Union had a gentlemen's agreement to avoid targeting one another's geostationary satellites, which are crucial for weather forecasts, satellite TV, global communications and, of course, military intelligence and surveillance. Decades later mistrust over military intentions in space has cast fresh uncertainty over the security of the numerous geostationary satellites orbiting more than 22,000 miles above Earth's equator.

This year, the U.S. Air Force unveiled its formerly classified Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP), which envisions a pair of maneuverable satellites, capable of operating both above and below the zone of geosynchronous Earth orbit, to monitor spacecraft and space debris throughout the entire GEO belt. The first pair of GSSAP satellites received a priority launch slot scheduled for September 2014 after U.S. officials bumped back a test flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft, the space agency’s next-generation manned spacecraft.

The Air Force satellites will complement existing ground and low Earth orbit telescopes that currently keep track of all objects in geostationary orbit by providing a much closer view of objects in that belt, Weeden explained. That would make it easier to eyeball potential antisatellite threats—a form of "neighborhood watch" deterrence that the U.S. wants other countries to know about. Click here. (3/31)

Florida Launches Grounded for Up to Three Weeks (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Rocket launches from Cape Canaveral are grounded until at least mid-April after an electrical short damaged an Air Force radar at the Kennedy Space Center, officials said Friday. Owned by the U.S. Air Force, the radar is instrumental in tracking rockets as they fly downrange from Cape Canaveral.

The Air Force did not disclose which radar had the problem, but a NASA spokesperson said it was located at the TEL-4 facility, which lies on Kennedy Space Center property but is owned by the Air Force. NASA said KSC firefighters responded to a fire at the TEL-4 tracking station March 24. "Initial assessment indicates repair of the tracking radar will take approximately three weeks," the Air Force statement said. "The Air Force is evaluating the feasibility of returning an inactive radar to full mission capability to resume operations sooner."

Editor's Note: The Air Force is supposed to maintain redundant Eastern Range capabilities to ensure that such a failure doesn't impact national security missions. Was this "inactive radar" made inactive due to Eastern Range budget cuts? I hope this is viewed as a wake-up call for the Air Force, NASA, and Congress. They need to fund accelerated Eastern Range upgrades that eliminate the need for expensive legacy systems. GPS-based tracking (including ADS-B) and autonomous flight-termination systems, which are slowly being developed and qualified today, should be on the front burner. (3/31)

NASA Makes Push For Mars-Exploration Technology (Source: Aviation Week)
Technology for NASA's proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) will be needed wherever the agency goes beyond low Earth orbit, and NASA is casting a wide net to get it. Science, human-exploration and technology managers are keeping their eyes on Mars—or at least its two moons—as they collaborate on a suite of technologies nominally focused on the ARM. NASA is literally polling the world for exploration concepts that go beyond nudging a space rock into lunar orbit, with a new call for ideas backed with study money to flesh them out. (3/31)

NASA Plans Additional NEEMO Missions with Florida International University (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA/JSC intends to rent the Aquarius Reef base and associated services from the Florida International University for NASA Extreme Environments Mission Operations (NEEMO) / Space Environment Analog for Testing Extravehicular Systems & Training (SEATEST) missions. Florida International University operates the Aquarius Reef Base undersea habitat on behalf of NOAA.

This undersea laboratory is the only operational one in the world. The Aquarius infrastructure resembles similar conditions to that of human spaceflight. Florida International University provides the requred services for mission and the rental fo Aquarius undersea habitat. (3/31)

Long March Rocket Launches Chinese Satellite (Source: Space Today)
A Long March rocket placed what Chinese officials said was an experimental satellite into orbit on Monday. The Long March 2C rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and placed the Shijian 11-06 satellite into orbit. Official Chinese media said that the satellite, whose launch was not announced in advance, will be used to conduct scientific experiments, without providing additional details. Western observers speculate that the satellite has a military mission, perhaps as part of a missile early warning constellation. (3/31)

Another Russian Rocket Crashes in Kazakhstan (Source: Space Daily)
A weather rocket launched from Russia's Kapustin Yar spaceport crashed in Kazakhstan's western region. The incident happened early in the morning on Mar. 27. The rocket fell less than one kilometer away from a local village named Shungai with no casualties reported. According to reports from Kapustin Yar, it was an accident caused by a propulsion system failure. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry said it will suspend all Russian missile experiments on leased testing fields in Kazakhstan until the cause of the crash is identified.

"The Ministry of Defense of Kazakhstan has suspended Russia's testing on the leased military grounds in Kazakhstan until the cause of the accident is found," the press office of the Defense Ministry said on Friday. Kazakhstan's Environmental Regulation and Control Department said soil and air samples will be collected from the crash site to assess the environmental impact. Kapustin Yar is known to be a launch site for smaller space vehicles. It is also one of Russia's first missile test ranges. During Soviet time a number of intermediate and short range missile projects were tested there. (3/31)

Astronomers Encourage Investments in Science on Capitol Hill (Source: SpaceRef)
Fifteen members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) traveled to Washington, DC, 25-26 March to thank Congress for recent appropriations supporting the astronomical sciences and to express the need for sustained and predictable federal funding of scientific research, which is critically important to American economic growth. The delegation was part of a group of more than 275 scientists, engineers, and business leaders from nearly all 50 states converging on Capitol Hill for the 19th annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD).

Space Coast Chamber Joins Citizens for Space Exploration in Washington (Source: Florida Today)
Although most people will never travel in space, everyone likely uses a NASA by-product on a daily basis. From cell phones to invisible braces, the technologies and products discovered while working on manned space travel have improved our daily lives. To ensure these discoveries continue, the Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce has joined forces with Citizens for Space Exploration to inform Congress of the importance of space exploration.

Citizens for Space Exploration (CFSE), is a multi-state, grassroots initiative to support American leadership in space. It is comprised of diverse group of area space and non-space businesses, university students and community leaders who will meet with the House and Senate members of Congress to advocate for continued investment and U.S. leadership in space research and exploration during their annual trip to the nation's capital May 20-22, 2014. (3/31)

Astrobotic Autolanding Flight-Tested on Masten Vehicle at Mojave (Source: Astrobotic)
Astrobotic's autonomous landing technology, the Astrobotic Autolanding System (AAS), performed successfully throughout an open-loop flight campaign on the Masten Aerospace Xombie, a vertical-takeoff vertical-landing suborbital rocket. Testing was conducted at the Mojave spaceport in February 2014. The test was made possible through funding by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which is managed by NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center.
The AAS provides precise real-time location updates for spacecraft through visual navigation and automatically avoids hazards during landing on unknown terrain. The landing sensor uses two cameras, an inertial measurement unit (IMU), and a scanning laser. "The pair of cameras work together like human eyes to measure distance and track motion. The scanning laser gives precise distance measurements and enables us to pick out hazards as small as a curb." (3/31)

The Space Age, Race and a Quiet Revolution (Source: Huffington Post)
In 1992, the Space Shuttle Endeavour made world history. I was on that flight, it was noted in the news: the first woman of color in space. When the Endeavour left the earth, the face of the space exploration changed. When I returned to Earth, I was interviewed about my flight. "It is important, yes for young black girls to see me aboard exploring space. But it is just as critical that older white men who make so many decisions about engineering scholarships see me and understand the talent and potential of those girls," I said.

Growing up in the 60's, I avidly followed the Apollo missions and our journeys to the moon. I assumed I would travel to Mars to work as a scientist. My childhood was also right in the middle of the modern-day Civil Rights movement, and my parents made sure my brother, sister and I knew African American achievement was not new, nor did the push for full rights start or end with Martin Luther King Jr. Click here. (3/28)

Dark Energy Hides Behind Phantom Fields (Source: Space Daily)
Quintessence and phantom fields, two hypotheses formulated using data from satellites, such as Planck and WMAP, are among the many theories that try to explain the nature of dark energy. Now researchers from Barcelona and Athens suggest that both possibilities are only a mirage in the observations and it is the quantum vacuum which could be behind this energy that moves our universe.

Cosmologists believe that some three quarters of the universe are made up of a mysterious dark energy which would explain its accelerated expansion. The truth is that they do not know what it could be, therefore they put forward possible solutions. One is the existence of quintessence, an invisible gravitating agent that instead of attracting, repels and accelerates the expansion of the cosmos. Click here. (3/31)

High School 'Final Five' Compete for Out-of-This-World Test on Orion (Source: Space Daily)
Five teams of high school student engineers have made it to the final round in a competition to build and test designs for radiation shields for NASA's new Orion spacecraft. The competition is part of the Exploration Design Challenge (EDC), developed by NASA and Lockheed Martin, with support from the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA). Click here. (3/31)

After a Year, NASA's Asteroid Mission Still Seeks Definition (Source: Space Review)
Last April, NASA unveiled plan to redirect an asteroid into lunar orbit to be visited by astronauts, a plan that was criticized for some for the lack of details. Jeff Foust reports that, nearly a year later, NASA is refining those plans, but still faces critics of the proposed mission on Capitol Hill. Visit to view the article. (3/31)

Prospects for the Indian Human Spaceflight Program (Source: Space Review)
This week marks the 30th anniversary of the first Indian astronaut, Rakesh Sharma. Gurbir Singh examines the prospects for India's own human spaceflight program after many years of waiting for someone to follow Sharma. Visit to view the article. (3/31)

If at First you Don't Succeed (Source: Space Review)
In part 2 of his look back at early Soviet planetary missions, Andrew LePage recounts what happened to the fleet of Mars and Venus missions launched by the USSR in the latter half of 1962. Visit to view the article. (3/31)

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