March 8, 2014

'Red Dragon' Mars Sample-Return Mission Could Launch in 2022 with SpaceX Capsule (Source:
Scientists have blueprinted a low-cost Mars sample-return mission that would use a souped-up Dragon capsule from the private spacefligth company SpaceX and the firm's planned Falcon Heavy rocket to get to the Red Planet by the early 2020s.

The new study demonstrates the viability of the entry, descent and landing of the unmanned Dragon space capsule at Mars. Moreover, the spacecraft's descent technique would help set the stage for future human missions to the Red Planet, researchers said. The idea is to leverage emerging commercial capabilities to achieve Mars sample-return (MSR) without breaking the bank, perhaps in 2022. Click here. (3/7)

SpaceX Advances Drive for Mars Rocket via Raptor Power (Source:
SpaceX Co-Founder and Vice President of Propulsion Development Tom Mueller has revealed the company is deep into the development of the first “full flow methane-liquid oxygen” rocket engine. Known as the Raptor, nine of these immensely powerful engines – one or three cores – will be utilized to send SpaceX’s Super Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (SHLV) uphill on missions to Mars. Click here. (3/7)

Mojave Crater My be Source of Many Martian Meteorites (Source: Science News)
Many of the rougly 150 Martian meteorites that have been found on Earth may have been launched into space during the impact that created the Mojave Crater on Mars. The minerals in the meteorites, called shergottites, are similar to those found in the crater, and the age of the crater — which is at least 3 million years old — matches evidence of when the meteorites were ejected. But the meteorites may have crystalized as far back as 4.3 billion years ago, making them among the oldest known material from Mars. (3/7)

Disaggregation Gets Traction in 2015 Pentagon Budget Request (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force plans to take its initial steps toward adopting a new military space architecture in 2015, a move service officials say is evident in a budget blueprint that tables procurement of two large secure communications satellites and funds development of a new generation of low-cost weather satellites.

The space portion of the Air Force’s 2015 budget request, unveiled March 4, also calls for slowing production of the service’s next-generation GPS 3 constellation and purchasing two fewer launches than had been expected. In a March 5 briefing with reporters, Air Force officials said the upcoming fiscal year provided one of the first opportunities to act on the emerging architectural concept for military space called disaggregation, whereby capabilities are dispersed on a wider variety of platforms than currently is the case. (3/7)

Lasers to Clean Up Space Junk (Source: ANU)
Mount Stromlo Observatory will play a lead role in cleaning up space junk under a new $20 million Cooperative Research Center (CRC), announced by the Australian Government’s Industry Department. The new CRC will help scientists find and track tiny pieces of debris orbiting the Earth, which pose serious risk of collision with satellites, space stations and other space craft. (3/7)

Why Cosmos Should Matter, Especially to Hollywood (Source: Planetary Society)
For a town dependent on Stars, there are far too few people here who look up at the sky. But come this Sunday, March 9, everyone will have a chance to marvel at our sky's brilliance and fly through the depths of the Universe...all via their living room's flat screen. The epic series of science, space and humanity has returned. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

The new Cosmos, co-written by Sagan' partner, widow (and ever-inspiring) Ann Druyan, executive-produced by Seth MacFarlane, and hosted by astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson aims to change that. It looks to once again bring the majesty of space and time to the masses by way of an engaging narratives and mind blowing visual effects… with the hopes of stimulating interest in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.

Fox is changing the paradigm of TV distribution. It's not just changing it, it's blowing it up. It is releasing Cosmos on 10 channels simultaneously, Fox national network and all Fox and National Geographic affiliates -- a first in cross-network simulcast. Then, one week later, it will launch on 120 Fox International channels and 90 National Geographic affiliates. This will equal 400 million potential viewing households outside the United States. (3/7)

SpaceX Delays Static Test Fire for CRS-3 Mission (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
SpaceX has postponed a test fire of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket which had been scheduled to take place Mar. 7 at 1 p.m. EST. The Falcon 9 v1.1 on the pad at Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida is poised to launch the third of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) under the $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract SpaceX has with NASA. Liftoff is currently slated to take place at 4:41 a.m. EST on March 16. (3/7)

Univ. of Texas to Join Giant Magellan Telescope Project (Source: Space Today)
The regents of the University of Texas agreed Friday to join a project to build the world's largest telescope in Chile, agreeing to contribute $50 million to the effort. The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will consist of seven mirrors each 8.4 meters in diameter, aligned to create a single telescope with an effective aperture of 24.8 meters. Total cost of building the GMT is estimated to be $1 billion; the University of Texas plans to provide $100 million of that total.

The $50-million contributed approved by university regents Friday will be augmented by fundraising to reach the planned $100 million total. Another Texas university, Texas A&M, plans to provide $50 million for GMT construction. Several other institutions in the US, Australia, and South Korea are also partners on the GMT project, which expects to be completed in 2020. (3/8)

NASA Picks 108 Small Business Tech Proposals, Two From Florida (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected 108 research and technology proposals from U.S. small businesses that will enable NASA’s future missions while benefiting America’s new high technology-driven economy right here on Earth. The selected proposals now will enter into negotiations for contract awards as part of Phase II of the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. The selected aerospace technology and innovation projects have a total value of approximately $87 million, supporting 99 U.S. firms in 26 states.

Two of the projects are from Florida, including: Accelerating Communication-Intensive Applications via Novel Data Compression Techniques, by Accelogic LLC of Weston, FL; and High Temperature Sensors Using Vertically Aligned ZnO Nanowires, by HARP Engineering LLC of Gainesville, FL. Click here for a complete list. (3/7)

Tethers Unlimited’s Trusselator Selected for NASA SBIR Phase II Award (Source: Parabolic Arc0
NASA announced today that it has selected Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) for award of a $750,000 contract to continue development of its “Trusselator” technology. The Trusselator is a device for in-­space additive manufacture of high-­performance truss structures for systems such as large solar arrays and antennas. (3/7)

FAA Appeals Judge's Ruling on Drone Regulatory Authority (Source: FAA)
The FAA issued a notice appealing a decision by an NTSB Administrative Law Judge in the civil penalty case, Huerta v. Pirker. "The FAA is appealing the decision of an NTSB Administrative Law Judge to the full National Transportation Safety Board, which has the effect of staying the decision until the Board rules. The agency is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground." (3/7)

NASA Enhances Dream Chaser Agreement with Sierra Nevada (Source: NASA)
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) will host a news conference on March 11 to announce a newly expanded Space Act Agreement. Under this new agreement, Marshall will provide technical expertise to SNC as it plans for integration of on-orbit science payloads on its Dream Chaser spacecraft. Teledyne Brown Engineering, which will provide support to SNC under a Teaming Agreement, will also participate. (3/7)

NASA Selects 10 Proposals for Unprecedented Twin Astronaut Study (Source: SpaceRef)
Only one set of twins has ever been into space, and now those twins are providing an unprecedented opportunity for scientists to understand better the effects of microgravity on the human body.

NASA's Human Research Program (HRP) will fund 10 short-term, first-of-its-kind investigations into the molecular, physiological and psychological effects of spaceflight in a continuous effort to reduce the health impacts of human space exploration. The National Space Biomedical Research Institute is partnering with HRP to provide genetic counseling and assisting in the management of the research.

This unique opportunity is made possible by NASA's decision to fly veteran astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Station for one year, beginning March 2015, while his identical twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, remains on Earth. (3/7)

U.S. Senate Confirms Former Astronaut as New NOAA Chief (Source: Science)
The U.S. Senate yesterday confirmed former astronaut and earth scientist Kathryn Sullivan as the 10th administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency issued a press release to mark the voice vote, and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who leads NOAA’s parent department, issued a statement saying she was “pleased” with the move. (3/7)

New Tool Could Help Spot Alien Life (Source: Science)
Earth’s atmosphere is heavy—it’s what keeps water from flying off into space. So astronomers looking for alien worlds that can harbor life have also been looking for heavy atmospheres. Now, they’ve found a way to gauge the atmospheric pressure of distant planets using molecules that couple up to form larger molecules called dimers, in this case, two oxygen molecules. When a planet passes in front of its star, starlight shines through the planet’s atmosphere and continues through space until it reaches us.

Dimers in the atmosphere absorb light like a color filter on a camera lens, creating anomalies detectable once the pressure of the planet is at least 0.25 bars—high enough to hold down liquid water. To gauge the pressure of the planet, researchers will measure the strength of the signals using the new James Webb Space Telescope once it comes online in 2018.

But the signals are also detectable only if the atmosphere is well oxygenated, and the only way scientists know how to make an oxygenated atmosphere is with photosynthetic life. If scientists find oxygen dimers on a planet, they may have not only found a world with water we can drink and air we can breathe, but also a living world. For now, though, the pressure is on to launch the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit. (3/8)

Why Earth Needs a Defense System Against Incoming Asteroids (Source: CBC)
The Earth was grazed by three space bullets this week in the cosmic shooting gallery that is our solar system. Each small asteroid carried more energy than a nuclear weapon, yet we didn't see them coming until the last minute and there is no system in place to protect us from getting hit.

Scientists estimate that these close encounters with small asteroids happen every couple of weeks, which means there are about 25 chances every year that the Earth could get hit by one of them. It is also estimated that there are more than a million small asteroids out there, crossing the Earth's orbit, and so far, only 10,600 have been found. Perhaps the odds have been on our side so far, but it's obvious that sooner or later, we are going to get pounded by one of these marauders from space. (3/7)

Challenger Center Shut Due to Poor Attendance (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Susan Unser and her husband, racing legend Al Unser Sr., have shuttered a NASA-based education learning center they opened three years ago behind their racing museum in the North Valley. The Challenger Learning Center of New Mexico is part of a larger network of similar centers around the country that aims to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and math through hands-on learning. The center provided a 2½-hour “mission” that allowed students to participate in a mock space mission.

“We had to make a choice,” Susan Unser said. “It’s sad, but we said we will give it three years to turn a corner.” The center closed Jan. 15. Unser said she will know soon whether another group will take over. She said there was not enough participation to make the endeavor financially successful. During March through May, the center was booked every day, but attendance was spotty during the rest of the year, she said. (3/8)

University of Arizona Findings Light a Fire Under Europa Mission (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
A recent study by a UA scientist provides new evidence that Jupiter’s moon Europa has a thin crust of ice over a vast ocean. NASA included money to plan a mission to Europa in its budget this week, agreeing with Europa researchers at the University of Arizona and elsewhere that Jupiter’s smallest moon is a good place to search for forms of life.

Veronica Bray began her study of Europa for her doctorate in 2004 while focusing on impact cratering of icy moons. She was attracted to Europa because of the “gigantic controversy about how thick the ice shell is.” The debate has carried on for many years because the overall thickness determines whether life can exist in the liquid-water ocean under Europa’s ice surface, she said. In order for life to exist, the ice crust must be thinner than 10 kilometers, or about 6 miles thick, she said.

If the crust is thicker, the ocean would not be able to receive the necessary ingredients for life such as energy and food, said Richard Greenberg. Greenberg came to the conclusion that the crust was thin in the mid-1990s when he was studying various crack patterns in Europa’s ice crust, he said. “There’s evidence that those cracks actually penetrated to the water layer below the ice,” he said. In order for that to happen, “the crust can’t be too thick.” (3/8)

Russia Must Focus on Profits in Space Industry (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia’s space industry must be improved to ensure a return on government investments in the sector, a senior official said Friday. "We can no longer tolerate the lag behind world standards,” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said. Rogozin, who oversees the space and defense sectors, said the government must focus on building public-private partnerships to make the space industry more profitable.

Last month, Rogozin said the government would introduce stiffer penalties for companies that did not manufacture and deliver spacecraft on schedule. “Another important aspect is to secure outside funding,” Rogozin said. “It’s embarrassing that Russia has 3 percent of the international space market.” Rogozin also emphasized the need for further international cooperation in space, and called for long-term planning for the country’s fleet of rockets to serve future needs through the 2040s. (3/8)

NASA's WISE Survey Finds Thousands of New Stars, But No 'Planet X' (Source: NASA JPL)
After searching hundreds of millions of objects across our sky, NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has turned up no evidence of the hypothesized celestial body in our solar system commonly dubbed "Planet X." Researchers previously had theorized about the existence of this large, but unseen celestial body, suspected to lie somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto. In addition to "Planet X," the body had garnered other nicknames, including "Nemesis" and "Tyche."

This recent study, which involved an examination of WISE data covering the entire sky in infrared light, found no object the size of Saturn or larger exists out to a distance of 10,000 astronomical units (au), and no object larger than Jupiter exists out to 26,000 au. One astronomical unit equals 93 million miles. Earth is 1 au, and Pluto about 40 au, from the sun.

"The outer solar system probably does not contain a large gas giant planet, or a small, companion star," said Kevin Luhman of the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University. But searches of the WISE catalog are not coming up empty. A second study reveals several thousand new residents in our sun's "backyard," consisting of stars and cool bodies called brown dwarfs. (3/7)

Virgin Galactic Nearing Approval for SpaceShipTwo Launch License (Source: Space News)
Virgin Galactic is in the “final phases” of its efforts to receive an Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial launch license for SpaceShipTwo, and plans to resume powered test flights of that suborbital vehicle in the near future, the company’s chief executive said March 6.

“I think we’re in the final phases of our commercial launch application with the FAA, and that’s going well,” George Whitesides said in a luncheon speech at the Goddard Memorial Symposium here. Virgin Galactic had submitted that application to the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation last August, where it has been under review. “We hope to progress that to conclusion soon.” (3/7)

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