April 14, 2014

Commercial Crew, Crimea, and Congress (Source: Space Review)
The increase in tensions between the US and Russia would appear to provide NASA with a strong case for funding the agency's commercial crew program and thus reducing reliance on Russia for accessing the International Space Station. Jeff Foust reports that while NASA has been making that case, some in Congress are not necessarily receptive to it. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2492/1 to view the article. (4/14)

Special Operations Takes the Fight to the High Ground (Source: Space Review)
While interest in small satellites is growing, the utility of such small spacecraft remains open to debate. Ethan W. Mattox discusses an effort by one element of the US military to test the feasibility of smallsats to provide communications support for special operations forces. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2491/1 to view the article. (4/14)

Robust and Reusable? (Source: Space Review)
If reusable launch vehicles can dramatically lower launch prices, as some have argued about SpaceX's efforts to develop a reusable Falcon 9, what markets does such a vehicle enable? Ajay P. Kothari examines the economics of RLVs regarding one well-known potential market, space tourism. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2490/1 to view the article. (4/14)

Creating "Believable" Aliens: an Interview with James L. Cambias (Source: Space Review)
As interest in astrobiology increases along with the prospects of alien life, science fiction often remains rooted in conventional descriptions of what intelligent alien life would be like. John Hickman interviews an author of a new novel that offers a different, and perhaps more credible, view of what they could be like. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2489/1 to view the article. (4/14)

Helium Leak Delays SpaceX Launch (Source: Space Today)
A helium leak in the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket will delay the launch of a Dragon cargo spacecraft until at least Friday. NASA announced the scrub a little more than an hour before the scheduled 4:58 pm EDT liftoff time of the Falcon 9 v1.1. SpaceX and NASA later reported the scrub was caused by a leak on a helium pressurization system in the rocket's first stage, which should be fixed by the time the next launch window opens at 3:25 pm EDT (1925 GMT) Friday.

However, initial forecasts are less promising for the the launch, with only a 40% chance of acceptable weather then. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch a Dragon spacecraft on the third of twelve commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station, delivering new experiments and supplies for the station. NASA station managers approved plans to launch yesterday despite the failure of a backup computer mounted on the station's exterior; managers concluded there was sufficient redundancy in other station systems to allow the launch to proceed. (4/14)

Continents May Be A Key Feature of Super-Earths (Source: Astrobiology)
Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth planets orbiting distant stars have exposed continents rather than just water-covered surfaces. Super-Earths likely have more stable climates as compared to water-worlds, and therefore larger habitable zones where alien life could thrive.

In the new study, researchers used the Earth as a starting point for modeling how super-Earths might store their water on the surface and deep underground within the mantle. Researchers typically expect super-Earths to exist as water-worlds because their strong surface gravity creates relatively flattened surface geography and deep oceans. But the new study found that super-Earths with active tectonics can have exposed continents if their water is less than 0.2 percent of the total planetary mass. (4/14)

Early Mars Couldn't Hold Liquid Water Long (Source: Science News)
Ancient Mars may have resembled Antarctica (but without penguins). The frozen Red Planet probably had liquid water on its surface for only relatively short times, according to a new analysis of craters on the surface. The finding that the Martian atmosphere was not dense enough to keep flowing water for more than a few hundred thousand years at a time adds to a growing pile of evidence that Mars probably remained cold and dry throughout most of its history, punctuated by brief periods of relative warmth.

Mars today has a very tenuous atmosphere, not nearly dense enough to keep water from instantly boiling away. But deep canyons and ancient river deposits point to a time when water flowed across the Red Planet. Researchers, however, disagree on whether those features indicate long-lasting temperate climates or brief bursts of warming interspersed throughout a long, dry winter. (4/14)

Pluto May Have Deep Seas and Ancient Tectonic Faults (Source: Discovery)
In July 2015 we get our first close look at the dwarf planet Pluto and its moon, Charon -- a fact that has scientists hypothesizing more than ever about what we might see there. Astronomy leaders vote to take away Pluto's planetary status, leaving the solar system with eight celestial bodies.

One of the latest ideas put forward is that perhaps the collision that likely formed Pluto and Charon heated the interior of Pluto enough to give it an internal liquid water ocean, which also gave the small world a short-lived plate tectonics system, like that of Earth. “We predict that when New Horizons gets there it will see evidence of ancient tectonism,” said Brown University's Amy Barr. By 'ancient' Barr means sometime way back during the first billion years of the solar system's history. (4/14)

5 Weird Things Launching Into Space on SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft (Source: Space.com)
When private spaceflight company SpaceX launches its newest mission to the International Space Station next week it will carry some strange cargo to space. Among the 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kilograms) of cargo riding aboard Dragon are a set of legs for a robotic astronaut, an experimental mini-farm for space vegetables and a wealth of other odd items. Click here. (4/14)

Space Entrepreneur Seeks End to Spy Satellite Launch Monopoly (Source: LA Times)
A high-stakes battle is underway in Washington over launching the U.S. government's most sophisticated national security satellites. Space entrepreneur Elon Musk is pitted against the nation's two largest weapons makers, Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., in a fight for military contracts worth as much as $70 billion through 2030. (4/14)

Egyptian Satellite to be Launched in Cooperation with Russia (Source: Egypt Independent)
"The Egyptian satellite Egy SAT will be launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Wednesday, in cooperation with the Russian government, the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia," said Hussein al-Shafei, advisor to the Russian Space Agency in Egypt.
Shafei added this step will mark the beginning of cooperation to build a modern government that can capture huge amounts of information through space. He added that the satellite will also help secure Egypt's borders. "Egypt will benefit from Egyptian-Russian cooperation in the field of aerospace as it will prompt it (Egypt) to be part of the aerospace industry and will encourage other industries in Egypt to rebuild," Shafei said. (4/14)

XCOR One Step Closer to Becoming Reality (Source: CBS7)
A preliminary launch schedule for XCOR Aerospace at the Midland International Airport, shows the company will be sending it's spaceplane into orbit twice a week by 2015. The company applied for a spaceport license with the FAA. The deadline to approve or deny the license is Sep. 15. If approved, the Midland International Airport would be the first to offer both commercial and space flights. It is on schedule to send two planes into orbit per day by 2018. (4/14)

Gravitating to Conflict? (Source: Russia Today)
Space has been militarized ever since humanity could reach it, but with treaties only banning nuclear weapons in space, and tensions simmering on the ground, a second Space Race seems inevitable. Is cooperation between Russia and the West a good enough driver of progress, or do we need competition to stop space exploration from stagnating? Oksana is joined by former Commander of the International Space Station and Twitter sensation Chris Hadfield to discuss the gravity of these issues. Click here. (4/14)

A Path to Nowhere and the Absence of Leadership (Source: America Space)
The recent geopolitical tensions resulting from the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine have indirectly helped to reveal in a sobering fashion one of the major problems that has been plaguing the U.S. public space program for many years: the overall lack of foresight and national leadership.

The deterioration in U.S.-Russian relationships that resulted from the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by Russia last month has awakened many in the U.S. to the implications of the lack of a domestic crew launch capability to low-Earth orbit, as evidenced in the various hearings that took place on Capitol Hill in recent weeks regarding NASA’s budget. Click here. (4/13)

Contingency Spacewalk Planned After Dragon Arrival (Source: Universe Today)
As contingency spacewalks go, the urgent task should be easy: a quick 2.5-hour run to swap out a failed backup computer that controls several systems on the International Space Station, including robotics. But NASA doesn’t want to go ahead with it until spare spacesuit parts arrive, in the aftermath of a life-threatening suit leak that took place last summer.

Those parts are on board the much-delayed SpaceX Dragon spacecraft sitting on a launch pad waiting for its next window to open. For this and other reasons, NASA decided to move ahead with the launch as planned Monday at 4:58 p.m. EDT (8:58 p.m. UTC). The spacewalk would take place April 22 — if Dragon gets there as planned on Wednesday. (4/13)

NASA Hosts Launch Complex 39A Status Update (Source: NASA)
NASA will provide a status update on Launch Complex 39A at 2:30 p.m. EDT, Monday, April 14 at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The update, which will be held at pad 39A, will not be carried live on NASA Television. (4/13)

TrepHub Exploring How to Grow Food on Mars, Other NASA Challenges (Source: CF News 13)
NASA is relying on people around the world this weekend to help them solve some of the agency's biggest challenges. It's called the International Space Apps Challenge 2014. NASA has come up with 45 challenges for people to tackle. TrepHub, a nonprofit technology startup incubator in Melbourne, is looking at issues from how to grow food on Mars to how to mine asteroids for valuable minerals. (4/13)

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