April 21, 2014

Secretive X-37B Space Plane Nears Day 500 in Orbit (Source: Space.com)
The U.S. Air Force's mysterious robotic X-37B space plane is sailing toward the 500-day mark in Earth orbit on a secret military mission. The X-37B space plane presently in orbit is carrying out the Orbital Test Vehicle 3 (OTV-3) mission, a classified spaceflight that marks the third long-duration flight for the unmanned Air Force spaceflight program. The miniature space shuttle launched on Dec. 11, 2012. (4/21)

NASA Selects Commercial Crew Program Manager (Source: NASA)
NASA has selected Kathy Lueders as program manager for the agency's Commercial Crew Program (CCP). Lueders, who has served as acting program manager since October 2013, will help keep the nation's space program on course to launch astronauts from American soil by 2017 aboard spacecraft built by American companies.

Lueders, who will be assigned to the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, previously served as the International Space Station Program's transportation integration manager, where she managed commercial cargo resupply services to the space station. Lueders also was responsible for NASA oversight of international partner spacecraft visiting the space station, including the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle, the Japanese Space Agency's H-II Transfer Vehicle, and the Russian Federal Space Agency's Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. (4/21)

The Uncertain Road to Mars (Source: Space Review)
There's growing acceptance that NASA's space exploration program should have the long-term goal of landing humans on Mars, perhaps in the mid-2030s. However, Jeff Foust reports there's less information on exactly how NASA should go about achieving that goal, and whether any NASA strategy is affordable in the long run. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2497/1 to view the article. (4/21)

Humans and Robots to the Moon and Mars: a Unified, Integrated Strategy (Source: Space Review)
Too often debates about space exploration have focused on destinations, or whether robots or humans should be in the lead. John Strickland offers an integrated approach that maximizes the capabilities of both humans and robots to explore destinations throughout the solar system. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2496/1 to view the article. (4/21)

The Growth of Public-Private Partnerships in Commercial Space Ventures (Source: Space Review)
While the capabilities of commercial space ventures continue to grow, those efforts are increasingly being done in cooperation with governments. Anthony Young examines the rise of these public-private partnerships through several recent examples. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2495/1 to view the article. (4/21)

Everest, the Camps, and the Sherpas (Source: Space Review)
NASA first reached the Moon thanks to tremendous resources at its disposal during the Apollo era. Derek Webber argues that for NASA to explore in more fiscally constrained times, it must borrow a page from mountaineering and establish an infrastructure of "base camps" leading into the solar system. Visit http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2494/1 to view the article. (4/21)

Microlaunchers Seeking to Transform Launch Business (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The popular view of space flight is that it is dominated by such monster vehicles as the Saturn V and space shuttle. Since the first space launch in 1957, the image of a rocket has been of a lumbering, towering behemoth that costs millions of dollars. If a company wants to put a small payload into space, it must ride as a secondary payload. But now a Las Vegas company is aiming to make space flight affordable, as well as and small.

Microlaunchers LLC, is working on launch vehicles not much larger than a car or truck in order to send small payloads into orbit, which may allow for twice the missions to space at half the cost of a medium-class or heavy-class launch vehicle. CEO Charles Pooley founded Microlaunchers in 1995 after working on an amateur rocket design with the Pacific Rocket Society. He hopes the Microlaunchers model will serve as a starting point to a whole new kind of space industry and compares the new space age to the early days of the computer field—before microcomputers. Click here. (4/21)

A Star's Early Chemistry Shapes Life-Friendly Atmospheres (Source: Astrobiology)
Born in a disc of gas and rubble, planets eventually come together as larger and larger pieces of dust and rock stick together. They may be hundreds of light-years away from us, but astronomers can nevertheless watch these planets as they form. One major point of interest is the chemistry of the rubble that forms around a star before a planetary system is formed, known as the protoplanetary disc.

The gas molecules that float in the disc could eventually become part of the atmosphere of the planets. If these molecules contain oxygen or nitrogen, the odds increase of a life-friendly planet forming. "It's very interesting to think about the molecular composition (of these discs)," said Catherine Walsh, an astronomer at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands. "The molecules that are in those discs will make up the molecules in planetary atmospheres, and planetesimals such as comets." (4/21)

From Mines to NASA (Source: Ore Digger)
Interested in aerospace? Ever wanted to know what living on the International Space Station is like? Penny Pettigrew, ISS Payload Communications Manager at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Colorado School of Mines graduate, will return to Mines this Friday, April 25 to talk to students about her career at NASA as well as her journey to NASA. This talk is geared toward anyone interested in learning more about what happens on the ISS. (4/21)

Elon Musk's Sacramento Pay Pals (Source: Wall Street Journal)
California Democrats carved out another tax break for SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk. The top 1% pay about half of California's income taxes. To maintain the cash flow of these VIPs amid rising tax rates, politicians in Sacramento are apparently offering concierge service. Behold the special tax treatment the legislature is lavishing on billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX. Upon his request, Democrats who dominate the legislature are moving to exempt SpaceX and other space-travel companies from California's personal property tax. (4/20)

Canadian Space Agency Boss Insists Appointment Doesn't Spell Militarization (Source: Globe & Mail)
The head of the Canadian Space Agency, a former top general, insists his appointment as president last August does not signal the militarization of the federal department. “I have to support the mandate that the Government of Canada has given the space agency and that is the peaceful use of space and it doesn’t change whatsoever,” Walt Natynczyk said. (4/20)

The Most Earth-Like Planet is Only 500 Light Years Away (Source: Ars Technica)
Less than two months ago, NASA’s Kepler mission announced the confirmation of 700 new exoplanets, but its latest news of a single exosolar system may be a bit more exciting. Kepler has now found an Earth-like planet that may have liquid water on its surface, and the new discovery is located less than 500 light years away.

Since its launch in 2009, Kepler has been finding exoplanets with a deceptively simple technique. At any given time, it stares at thousands of stars, looking for a dip in the amount of light received from them. That dip can be caused by a planet passing in front of whatever star it is orbiting (from the perspective of Earth). By observing the time interval between these dips and the size of the dip, Kepler can calculate the planet’s orbit and radius. When this data is combined with other data from the star, astronomers can build a rough picture of what the planetary system looks like.

Although NASA can’t be sure about the mass of 186f, it can make an educated guess based on previous data from planets this size. Given that estimate and the planet's size, their guess is that 186f might be a rocky planet. The other planets in this planetary system are all smaller than 186f and orbit too close to the star to have any liquid water. Although the orbit of 186f is about 53 million kilometers from the star (Mercury's distance from the Sun), the star is much smaller. (4/20)

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