April 23, 2014

Future of Space Medical Devices: Robotics, Cold Plasma and Compact MRI (Source: Space Safety)
Manned solar system exploration will need more than powerful rockets and spaceships capable of sustaining human life for a long period. The on-going evolution of medical technology and accurate risk analyses continually raises the bar for the medical devices needed for a long-duration mission. In order for humans to travel and live outside “the cradle,” it is necessary to develop technology able to provide early diagnosis and effective treatment of health conditions.

Current space medical technologies are still far from having the same effectiveness of ground medical equipment. Zero-gravity, power requirements, and size are the most important limits preventing the direct transfer of medical technology from ground applications to orbit. However, these same restrictions create incentives to find innovative solutions. Click here. (4/23)

How Apollo 12 Helped Solve the Skydiver Meteorite Mystery (Source: Planetary Society)
The news went viral a couple of weeks ago. A team in Norway announced that a skydiver was almost struck by a meteorite in flight. The event was actually two years ago. Since then, a team performed an impressive amount of analysis to measure the falling rock and predict where it had fallen. If confirmed as a meteorite, this would be the first time one had ever been filmed after the fireball when it has gone cold and is falling at terminal velocity.

When they compared it to a typical meteorite falling at terminal velocity, it seemed most likely that it was 4.6 meters away from the skydiver, making it 12 by 16 centimeters in size, and an estimated 4.6 kilograms in mass. The shape, albedo, texture, and other details of the rock also reasonably agreed with common meteorites. Our analysis suggests the rock was either quite close – about a meter away and only a few centimeters in diameter – or else quite far – about 13 meters away and very large in diameter. Thus, it was either a very, very large meteorite, or it was just a small piece of gravel.

A meteor at the larger size would have made a brilliant fireball in the sky and would have been much easier to find on the ground. This leads to the idea that the smaller sized rock was more likely the correct solution, so it might have been just a stowaway piece of gravel that had fallen out of the parachute pack. It was also suspicious that the rock flew by the camera so near the time the parachute was released. Click here. (4/23)

NASA’s Extended Science Missions in Peril (Source: Air & Space)
The community of planetary scientists is abuzz over the upcoming “Senior Review” of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), as managers at NASA decide which ongoing robotic science missions will receive necessary funding to continue their extended missions.  Up on the chopping block are missions that cover a wide range of targets and levels of effort.  

Some, like the MESSENGER mission currently orbiting Mercury, are nearing the end of their useful lifetime (MESSENGER is running low on propellant to maintain a stable orbit). Others, such as the Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn, have momentum by virtue of their stability; it has little need for propulsive maneuvers and runs on a long-lived (nuclear) power source. Click here. (4/22)

Spacewalkers Swap Out Failed Computer on Space Station (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson replaced a failed computer on the International Space Station's power truss Wednesday, efficiently racing through a short spacewalk to restore full functionality to a critical control network. (4/23)

Northrop Grumman Reports First-Quarter Results (Source: SpaceRef)
Northrop Grumman reported first quarter 2014 net earnings increased 18 percent to $579 million, compared to $489 million in the first quarter of 2013. (4/23)

Pentagon Undecided on Future Path for Space Systems (Source: National Defense)
Defense officials agree that the military must change the way it buys satellites and space services. They just can’t settle on exactly how it should be done. The debate over the future of military space programs has dragged on for years. There is consensus within the Defense Department and space agencies that military satellites are too complex, and expensive to buy and maintain.

And everyone agrees that satellites will become increasingly vulnerable to anti-satellite weapons, jamming and cyber attacks. There is also widespread agreement that the market offers attractive alternatives to the status quo. Companies are designing smaller, cheaper satellites that can do most of the functions now performed by military spacecraft. Satellites that already are being built for civilian users could host military payloads.

But parties remain split over how the Defense Department should go about transitioning to a less expensive, more secure future in space. Despite concerns about spending cuts across the military, the Pentagon still has a considerable budget of $17 billion a year for space systems. Some officials have argued the military should continue to develop its own systems because commercial technology is not as trustworthy. Click here. (4/23)

Musk and Gass Go Toe-to-Toe in Q&A (Source: Space News)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk called out rival United Launch Alliance for its $1 billion in annual U.S. Air Force support funding, while ULA CEO Michael Gass questioned SpaceX’s ability to launch the full slate of government missions at its advertised prices in a written exchange recently submitted to the U.S. Senate. Click here for ULA's questions to SpaceX, and here for SpaceX's questions to ULA. (4/23)

NASA’s Lofty Mars Goal Doesn’t Match Budget Reality (Source: Washington Post)
Budget realities require a modest approach to human space exploration and not an Apollo-style moonshot. Yet NASA officials admit humans won’t reach Mars at current funding levels, and it’s difficult to see where extra money will come from in an age of shrinking budgets. Rather than attempting to send people to Mars on the cheap, there’s a compelling argument that we could accomplish more with a less expensive strategy of unmanned exploration.

The Congressional Budget Office said last fall that eliminating NASA’s human space exploration program (but leaving robotic exploration intact) would save $73 billion over a decade. The CBO noted that “increased capabilities in electronics and information technology have generally reduced the need for humans to fly space missions. The scientific instruments used to gather knowledge in space rely much less (or not at all) on nearby humans to operate them.”

I asked Bolden about the CBO report. He said that robots can’t “reason and make logical decisions about alternative courses” the way humans can, and he pointed out that “if the ultimate goal is to make humans multi-planet species, then you’ve got to do it at some point.” That’s true. But our current trajectory won’t get us there anyway. Click here. (4/23)

Bitcoins in Space One Step Closer - BitSat Design Study Announced (Source: SpaceRef)
Bitcoins took one small step towards space today with the announcement of a preliminary design contract between Jeff Garzik's Dunvegan Space Systems and Deep Space Industries Inc. as part of a drive to develop an orbital system for the not-for-profit BitSat project. The BitSats will comprise an orbital node for the bitcoin network now on Earth with a constellation of tiny BitSats continuously broadcasting the latest bitcoin block from orbit, enhancing the resiliency of bitcoin in the event of disruptions or outages to the terrestrial bitcoin P2P mesh network. (4/23)

Space Operations Degree Featured at Speaker Series Event (Source: ERAU)
At Embry-Riddle's Daytona Beach Campus, two faculty members — Dr. Lance Erickson, Commercial Space Operations program coordinator and author of Space Flight: History, Technology, and Operations, and Diane Howard, assistant professor of Commercial Space Operations — will spoke on Wednesday, April 23. This event is an offering of the President’s Speaker Series, sponsored by Embry-Riddle President Dr. John Johnson. (4/23)

The Hackers Who Recovered NASA’s Lost Lunar Photos (Source: WIRED)
Sitting incongruously among the hangars and laboratories of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley is the squat facade of an old McDonald’s. Its cash registers and soft-serve machines have given way to old tape drives and modern computers run by a team of hacker engineers who’ve rechristened the place McMoon’s. These self-described techno-archaeologists have been on a mission to recover and digitize forgotten photos taken in the ‘60s by a quintet of scuttled lunar satellites.

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project has since 2007 brought some 2,000 pictures back from 1,500 analog data tapes. They contain the first high-resolution photographs ever taken from behind the lunar horizon, including the first photo of an earthrise (first slide above). Thanks to the technical savvy and DIY engineering of the team at LOIRP, it’s being seen at a higher resolution than was ever previously possible. (4/23)

First, Lasso an Asteroid. NASA Reveals Plan for Man on Mars (Source: The Times)
A manned mission to Mars is “feasible, affordable and necessary” if the human race is to survive, NASA chiefs insisted yesterday as they set out a path to land on the Red Planet soon after 2030. Charles Bolden plotted a series of “stepping stones” to Mars that included “lassoing” an asteroid; using 3D printers for on-board repairs; cultivating plants in space in advance of a three-year return trip to the planet’s surface and — essentially — more cash from Congress. (4/22)

A Mars Mission for Budget Travelers (Source: National Geographic)
Sending astronauts to Mars could be done at a small fraction of the cost of developing and flying the F-35 fighter jet, according to a rough estimate put forward by a panel of NASA, industry, and academic experts. While a two-decade campaign to prepare a manned mission to Mars would certainly be expensive, it would cost nothing close to the $1 trillion figure that has sometimes been cited, the panel concluded.

Instead the mission could be funded out of the current NASA budget, with allowances for inflation, along with contributions from other countries. "It's feasible, it's affordable, and it can be done without impacting the federal budget or the NASA budget," he said. "This message is getting across, and there's more support now in Congress and the public for [sending] humans to Mars than ever before." (4/22)

NASA's Confused Mission Apparent (Source: Bloomberg)
NASA’s long-confused mission was evident today -- Earth Day 2014 -- when Administrator Charles Bolden keynoted a conference about Mars, the red planet, before zipping across downtown Washington to give a speech about the blue-green one. The search for NASA's singular post cold-war or even post-Nixon identity has been op-ed fodder for years -- be it "black hole budgets" (2008), post-Moon wins (1998) or skewed priorities in (1981), to name just three.

NASA's official vision in the 21st century should be to explore life's origin and its future. Full stop. Manned exploration of the Solar System was a dream for baby boomers when they were kids. Our kids deserve something no less inspirational and even more practical. Charity starts at home, not Mars. In his Mars speech, Bolden made the case for why the history of Mars is important for understanding the history of Earth.

He doesn’t successfully make the case that sending humans is a more effective way to study it than sending, say, mass spectrometers. An "explore life's past and future" vision statement would cover a lot of ground. It’s vague, and a little confounding, which is important because bureaucracies always seem to like their statements vague and a little confounding. It also constrains NASA’s work in a way that celebrates life and avoids the costs and risks of sending humans to other orbs. (4/22)

NASA Chief Tells the Critics of Exploration Plan: 'Get Over It' (Source: NBC News)
For years, critics have been taking shots at NASA's plans to corral a near-Earth asteroid before moving on to Mars — and now NASA's chief has a message for those critics: "Get over it, to be blunt." NASA Administrator Charles Bolden defended the space agency's 20-year timeline for sending astronauts to the Red Planet on Tuesday. That timeline calls for NASA to develop a new Orion crew capsule and a heavy-lift rocket called the Space Launch System while continuing research on the International Space Station.

By the mid-2020s, astronauts would travel to a near-Earth asteroid that was brought to the vicinity of the moon. That'd set the stage for trips to Mars and its moons sometime in the 2030s. Some members of Congress want NASA to forget about the asteroid and go directly to Mars or the moon's surface instead. But Bolden said NASA needed the asteroid mission as a "proving ground" for the farther-out missions to Mars. "We don't think we can just go," the former astronaut and Marine general said. (4/22)

Russia’s GLONASS Fully Restored After System Failure (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) has resumed normal operations after suffering an outage earlier this month caused by a malfunctioning satellite, the leading research institute of the Russian Space Agency said Tuesday. “The GLONASS orbital group is now fully operational,” the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash) said in a statement. (4/22)

China Considers Russian Satellite-Based Emergency Response System (Source: RIA Novosti)
Chinese officials have expressed interest in participating in a Russian emergency response system, said the CEO of Russia’s Navigation Information Systems. The system, called ERA-GLONASS, provides data from Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System to emergency responders. Based on the European eCall/E112 standard, ERA-GLONASS allows emergency services to immediately pinpoint the location of car accidents or similar critical situations. (4/22)

Planets’ Wacky Orbits Solved (Source: Sky & Telescope)
By combining nearly 1,500 observations with sophisticated computer models, astronomers have shed light on a nearby planetary system, proving that the planets' bizarre orbits will actually remain stable for the next 100 million years. Click here. (4/22)

Exploding Meteors Still Surprise (Source: Space Safety)
Last year about this time, the faces of politicians everywhere were turned to the skies, fearfully wondering “Will we be next?” A natural response to the spectacular (no, it’s not possible to avoid the adjective, I’ve tried) bolide that exploded above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, the question was welcomed by Near Earth Object (NEO) experts the world round, thankful that someone was finally paying attention to this very real threat – and that no one had to actually die to make it happen. Click here. (4/22)

Risk of Asteroid Hitting Earth Higher Than Thought (Source: Reuters)
The chance of a city-killing asteroid striking Earth is higher than scientists previously believed, a non-profit group building an asteroid-hunting telescope said. A global network that listens for nuclear weapons detonations detected 26 asteroids that exploded in Earth's atmosphere from 2000 to 2013, data collected by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization shows.

The explosions include the Feb. 2013, impact over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which left more than 1,000 people injured by flying glass and debris. Asteroids as small as about 131 feet -- less than half the size of an American football field - have the potential to level a city, Ed Lu said. Editor's Note: The Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) at Patrick AFB on Florida's Space Coast manages part of the monitoring network for worldwide nuclear detonations. (4/22)

Space Conferences, Engine Claims and Silly Putty (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Over the years, I’ve heard many speakers at various space conferences and events say all sorts of things that I felt…oh, comment on dit?…stretched the truth like Silly Putty. Yes, that’s a polite way to put it. After a while, I’ve become quite numb to it all — the hype, promises, publicity stunts, optimistic schedules that get blown away like fallen leaves on a windy Mojave day.

But, sometimes I hear something that stretches the rhetorical Silly Putty beyond the breaking point. I had just such an experience three weeks ago at the Space Tech Expo. The speaker was Dream Chaser Co-program Director John Curry, who was giving an update on Dream Chaser that caught my attention. It was when Curry veered off into describing Sierra Nevada’s work on a hybrid motor for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital space plane that I really saw the Silly Putty begin to break. Click here. (4/22)

Radiation Standards Might be Relaxed for Mars Trip (Source: Florida Today)
One of many factors complicating a trip to Mars is the space radiation that would bombard astronauts during the approximately two years they would spend getting to the planet, exploring it and returning home. NASA is already working to develop more radiation-resistant space suits and stronger magnetic shields for the spacecraft. Agency officials also are exploring a new tack: relaxing NASA's health standards for astronauts so it would be easier to meet them.

Getting to Mars -- and living there -- will take a lot more than a big rocket, an inexhaustible fuel supply and a crew of gritty astronauts. It also will require attention to myriad details, including oxygen systems, communication networks, power generation and, yes, health concerns. NASA is aiming for a landing in the early 2030s. Even with two decades to prepare, such a journey to a planet millions of miles away requires hundreds of steps every day.

One such step involves calculating an acceptable level of radiation for astronauts, a question NASA took to the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies. The institute says medical standards for radiation exposure should remain in effect, though exceptions could be granted "in rare circumstances." If an exception were permitted, NASA would be ethically bound to provide astronauts with health care beyond the end of their missions, the committee said. (4/22)

Sara Seager’s Tenacious Drive to Discover Another Earth (Source: Smithsonian)
Two months shy of turning 40, MIT astronomer Sara Seager decided to throw herself an unconventional birthday party. She rented an auditorium in the university’s Media Lab. She invited a few dozen colleagues, including an influential former astronaut and the director of the Space Telescope Science Institute. In lieu of presents, she asked 14 of her guests to respond to a challenge: help her plot a winning strategy to find another Earth, and do it within her lifetime. Click here. (4/22)

SI Organization to Acquire QinetiQ North America (Source: The SI)
The SI Organization, Inc. has signed a definitive agreement to acquire QinetiQ North America, a provider of differentiated, engineering services and solutions to the U.S. Government. This transaction will create a geographically dispersed organization of 4,800 employees with revenue of approximately $1.3 billion from across a broad spectrum of government customers.

The SI is paying $165 million for QNA’s Services and Solutions Group includes everything except for the Cyveillance, a cybersecurity firm QNA acquired in 2009. The company will pay an additional $50 million as part of an earnout based on performance as of March 2015. Editor's Note: QinetiQ serves as the prime contractor for Kennedy Space Center's engineering services contract. (4/22)

Lockheed Profit Rises, but Revenue Falls (Source: Reuters)
Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's largest supplier, reported a 23 percent jump in net profit in the first quarter and raised its earnings per share outlook. But Lockheed said U.S. government budget cuts continued to depress revenue this year, with sales to the U.S. military likely to drop by 6.0 percent in 2014 after a 4.0 percent drop in 2013. The company reported net earnings of $933 million for the quarter, up from $761 million in the first quarter of 2013. (4/22)

Costa Rica’s First Satellite to be Launched Into Space in 2016 (Source: Tico Times)
The Central American Aeronautics and Space Administration (ACAE) on Monday officially announced that the first Central American satellite, built in Costa Rica, will be launched into space in 2016. The satellite will collect and relay daily data on carbon dioxide to evaluate the effects of climate change. That data will be sent to monitoring bases in tropical forests at the Santa Rosa National Park in Costa Rica’s northwestern province of Guanacaste. (4/22)

How to Go Viral From Space (Source: National Journal)
Chris Hadfield knows all about spacewalking, piloting a fighter jet, and living on the ocean floor. The mustachioed Canadian might also be the Internet's most unlikely music-video superstar. But of course, when you can film your performance in zero gravity, why wouldn't you expect to get 22 million hits?

But Hadfield's world-famous rendition of "Space Oddity" isn't his proudest achievement. For him, it's the fact that millions of people who have watched his YouTube videos have become interested in science and space. Most gratifying, he says, is "seeing people change their mind and do something more challenging and productive with their life as a result of seeing me as an example." (4/22)

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