April 6, 2014

Aging Tech, Budget Cuts Hit Hard at Eastern Range (Source: Florida Today)
The lack of a backup radar or other redundant systems that might have minimized the disruption highlight the effects of budget cuts and a need to accelerate modernization of the range, which continues to rely on decades-old technology, according to interviews and records. “There’s no question that this was recognized as a risk,” said Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida. “It wasn’t a question of if it happened, it was a question of when. And that’s been known for a while.”

The range tracks rocket flights and would enable the destruction of one if it veered off course. But it has struggled to maintain aging systems based on “1950s paradigms,” according to a 2012 strategic plan on the 45th Space Wing’s Web site. The Eastern Range also has had to cope with spending cuts and other military programs being given greater priority.

While a shortage of radars may have exacerbated the impact of the recent outage, the goal is to reduce reliance on the aging and costly networks. Modernization plans aim to take better advantage of GPS technology to track a rocket’s location, and to enable rockets to destroy themselves if they stray dangerously from programmed trajectories. Now, a “human in the loop” is required to end a flight. The technologies have been discussed for more than a decade and have begun testing, but more test flights are needed before they can be certified. Click here. (4/6)

Bankrupt LightSquared Resumes Payments to Inmarsat (Source: Space News)
Bankrupt satellite/terrestrial wireless broadband provider LightSquared has resumed cash payments to mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat after a two-year hiatus following LightSquared’s filing for Chapter 11 reorganization, Inmarsat said April 4. Inmarsat said LightSquared made a $5 million deposit on April 3 to reactivate an agreement with the two companies on the reorganization of L-band radio spectrum. (4/4)

With Much More than ISS at Stake, Europe Stays Course on Russian Partnerships (Source: Space News)
Europe has no intention of modifying its space-program relationship with Russia despite Russia’s takeover of Crimea and despite NASA’s decision to pull back on dealings with Moscow, European government officials said. Attending the launch of a Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket and applauding the announcement of a new contract for seven more Soyuz vehicles from the Russian space agency, officials said the diplomatic tensions are like a choppy sea surface.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the 20-nation European Space Agency, said none of his governments — almost all members of NATO — nor anyone from the 28-nation European Union has suggested that Europe shut down any of its multiple space-policy arrangements with Russia. Unlike NASA, Europe has multiple programs with Russia. Launching Russian Soyuz rockets here, which entails the arrival of up to 300 Russian engineers for weeks at a time for each launch, is expected to expand to four this year and to remain at an average cadence of three each year through 2018. (4/4)

ULA, SpaceX Reschedule Florida Launches After Radar Outage (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
After a two-week delay to wait for the U.S. Air Force to restore a critical radar tracker, United Launch Alliance and SpaceX have rescheduled their next rocket missions from Cape Canaveral for April 10 and April 14. Officials put the launches on hold after a component on a rocket tracking radar short-circuited March 24, causing it to overheat and knock the radar offline. (4/4)

Plans Proceed for Crew Launches from KSC (Source: Florida Today)
Nearly three years after the final shuttle mission, NASA recently highlighted planning that could lead to a resumption of human launches from KSC in the not-too-distant future. In an update by its Commercial Crew Program partners, NASA said SpaceX in February completed an early design review of “ground systems it anticipates using at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center” for crewed flights of Dragon capsules, including “plans to adapt existing structures at KSC to accommodate the (Falcon 9) rocket.” (4/5)

Rethinking Space Science, Exploration to Help Solve Global Problems (Source: ASU)
Could a paradigm shift in space science and exploration that aligns businesses with research universities lead to new mining resources, a cure for cancer or even world peace? Astronaut and planetary scientist Tom Jones, who performed three spacewalks in 2001 to deliver the Destiny Laboratory to the Space Station, hailed a new generation of space exploration: “Not just the government, but also a lot of academic and commercial contributions, will make things go more quickly and more productively.”

Jones suggested in this next chapter of space exploration, we could return to the moon and conduct resource extraction, snare an asteroid and send astronauts to study it, then lead more expeditions to asteroids, and eventually bridge our way to Mars: “Ultimately, I think there’s going to be a way for commercial and academic innovation to really pave the way for the first human expeditions to Mars,” he said.

Cheryl Nickerson of ASU's School of Life Sciences said that academics cannot realistically expect the commercial industry to fund their spaceflight biomedical research projects until the government first commits the funding to enable the breakthrough scientific discoveries, and then commercial interest and engagement will follow. Once the government puts the infrastructure in place, then commercial support will come. (4/4)

Space Subcommittee Chairman: US-Russia Relations Require Tough Decisions (Source: Rep. Palazzo)
Rep. Steven Palazzo, (R-MS), Chairman of the House Space Subcommittee, released a statement regarding NASA operations in light of strained U.S. relations with Russia: “When the Obama Administration ended the Constellation program, our nation was forced to depend upon Russian rockets to carry American astronauts into space and maintain a U.S. presence on the International Space Station (ISS)."

"Thankfully, NASA currently maintains access to ISS. But as relations with Russia have been strained over the past few weeks, we can no longer afford to ignore the issues NASA faces. If we are serious about once more launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, we must make tough decisions within NASA’s budget. Only when the budget has been stripped of costly and complex distractions will it once again reflect the priorities of the sole government agency tasked with space exploration.”

Editor's Note: I have to point out that the cancellation of Constellation is not what caused our reliance on Russia for ISS crew transport. It was retirement of the Space Shuttle. Rep. Palazzo's gratuitous swipe at President Obama is not helpful. It is the kind of deliberate partisan-driven misinformation that now passes for serious discourse in the Congress, and it is a big reason that our space program (along with so much else in our government) is gridlocked. (4/4)

Is "Divorce" Between Russian and US Space Agencies Possible? (Source: Voice of Russia)
NASA's withdrawal from communication with Russia would cause damage, first of all, to the US itself and its space programs. If someone may probably win anything from this withdrawal, this would be only a bunch of certain American private companies. At present, these companies are adhering to all kinds of rhetoric around "the Crimean issue" for trying to convince the US Congress to allocate more sums on NASA's needs – which, in the end, would mean that this money will be allocated on these companies' projects.

It looks like the US is using the threat of stopping cooperation in the sphere of space exploration with Russia as a means for punishing Russia for what the US is depicting as Russia's "annexation" of the Crimean Peninsula (it reality, it was a free-will wish of Crimea's residents for the peninsula to become a part of Russia).

American rocket engineer and writer James Oberg says that the refusal to cooperate with Russia would only hamper the fulfillment of the US's own space projects. If a space project is abandoned for a rather long time, it would be pretty hard to successfully return to it later, Mr. Oberg is convinced. (4/6)

How Many People Does It Take to Colonize Another Star System? (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Back in 2002, John Moore, an anthropologist at the University of Florida, calculated that a starship could leave Earth with 150 passengers on a 2000-year pilgrimage to another solar system, and upon arrival, the descendants of the original crew could colonize a new world there—as long as everyone was careful not to inbreed along the way.

It was a valiant attempt to solve a thorny question about the future of humans in space. The nearest star systems—such as our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light-years from home—are so far that reaching them would require a generational starship. Click here. (4/2)

Heads Up! No Major Asteroid Impacts With Earth Since 2001 Were Detected In Advance (Source: Forbes)
Last year, a meteor streaked across the skies in Russia, shattering thousands of windows and causing numerous injuries on its way to a final crash landing in a remote frozen lake. According to the B612 Foundation, these kind of violent visits from asteroids happen much more often than previously thought and the only thing that’s kept a major city from being flattened by a visiting space rock is “blind luck.”

B612 says it has data from the International Monitoring System of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty Organization that detected 26 explosions since 2001 measuring over a kiloton of destructive power, all of which can be traced to asteroid impacts. “It shows that asteroid impacts are NOT rare — but actually 3-10 times more common than we previously thought,” said Dr. Ed Lu, CEO of the B612 Foundation. ”The fact that none of these (impacts) was detected in advance is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a “city-killer” sized asteroid is blind luck.” (4/5)

Scientists Discover How Soil Forms on Small Asteroids (Source: SEN)
Studies of small asteroids that pass close to Earth show that their surfaces are not simply hard rock. Instead, like the Moon, they are covered in layers of loose soil that is termed regolith. But why is it there? Scientist have gathered evidence that the primary process producing the regolith is rock weathering and fragmentation caused by their ever-changing temperatures as they spin around, and in and out of sunlight. (4/6)

Spacecraft Launched from Virginia Soon to Crash Onto Moon (Source: Washington Post)
The science spacecraft launched from Virginia’s coast last year has been orbiting the moon for months and is about to conclude its mission with a crash into the lunar surface, authorities said. The unmanned spacecraft was the first to be sent from Virginia to the moon, NASA said.

With its primary scientific mission completed and its fuel almost exhausted, the intricate package of instruments is being lowered gradually into an orbit as little as a mile or two above the pocked and cratered surface of the moon, NASA said last week. The orbit is designed to let the craft continue gathering data as close as possible to the surface, as a kind of scientific bonus. (4/5)

NASA Mars Rover Funding in Doubt (Source: MSNBC)
The reason Opportunity is at risk of being abandoned is an accounting trick in NASA’s 2015 budget proposal. The budget does not include any funding for it. Instead, NASA is planning to use a $35 million line item called the Planetary Science Extended Mission Funding to pay for both Opportunity and the space agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter program.

That $35 million is buried within a $52 billion White House package called the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative which includes funding for everything from job training, climate change research, and pre-schools. Therein lies the problem. The Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative is likely to be more controversial to spending-obsessed House Republicans than NASA’s standalone budget, and that has members of Congress concerned.

NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown tells msnbc the reason is there was “insufficient budget available” for the Opportunity Rover and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, adding “As these are our next highest priorities, they were included in the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative.” He also stated that if NASA’s 2015 funding requests aren’t fully met the space agency will use a review process to “establish funding priorities.” (4/6)

China Eyes 'Global Monitoring Network' of Surveillance Satellites (Source: Space Daily)
To compensate the frustration over the endless search for missing the Malaysian airliner, Chinese scientists have doubled efforts to promote their project of a huge satellites network, which will enable Beijing to monitor the whole world. The space surveillance net project is gaining strong backing from key government officials in Beijing, the South China Morning Post reports. China currently has satellites in the orbit but they largely focus on its region and surrounding area. The exact number of them is a state secret. (4/3)

Taxpayer-Backed Utah Satellite Project Reboots with New Backer (Source: Salt Lake Tribune)
Four years ago, a Las Vegas-based company promised to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to the Logan area to build advanced weather-sensing satellite instruments at Utah State University. The state put nearly $3 million of taxpayer money into the project. USU dissolved its contract with GeoMetWatch after the company failed to secure $150 million to send the instrument into space.

Now, a new Ogden-based firm has less than 90 days to pull together the cash to put the instrument on board an Asian telecommunications satellite. Alan Hall has launched a new company, Tempus Global Data Inc., to market and sell the data from the instrument, which uses infrared technology to predict weather hours earlier than current technology.

The state money came to USU over the last four years from the Utah Science and Technology Research initiative (USTAR), a state program designed to leverage university research into businesses and jobs. USTAR has come under scrutiny in recent months for inflating its numbers of jobs and revenue. Among other problems, state auditors said in October that USTAR leaders reported a $134 million contract with GeoMetWatch as revenue it helped produce — even though that contract hadn’t yet paid out. (4/6)

Huge 'El Gordo' Galaxy Cluster Packs Mass of 3 Quadrillion Suns (Source: Space.com)
The most massive galaxy cluster ever observed in the early universe is quite a bit bigger than astronomers had thought. New measurements by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope suggest that the cluster nicknamed "El Gordo" (Spanish for "the fat one") contains about as much mass as 3 quadrillion suns. That's 43 percent larger than previous work had estimated, researchers said. (4/6)

First Direct Imaging of Exoplanet in Visible Light by Ground-Based Telescope (Source: America Space)
The advent of digital photography and the development of digital imaging technologies like Charged Coupled Devices, or CCDs, have made digital cameras the method of choice for amateur and professional astronomers alike, when it comes to capturing the beauty of the night sky. Now, in what constitutes a step forward in the direct imaging of exoplanets, astronomers have used this technology to capture the light from an alien world in visible wavelengths for the first time, with a CCD camera mounted on top a ground-based telescope.

Obtaining the direct images of other worlds around distant stars has been one of the biggest technical challenges in astronomy. Lost in the intense glare of their host stars, exoplanets are extremely difficult to be resolved in visible light. “If our Solar System were viewed from 70 light-years away (average for a nearby star), Jupiter would appear roughly a billion times fainter than our Sun with a separation on the sky comparable to the size of a dime viewed from 5 miles away.” (4/6)

Editorial: Is the Ukraine Crisis Being Used as a Wedge to Kill SLS? (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Is the Obama Administration using the crisis in the Ukraine as a wedge to cancel SLS? When President Obama canceled the Constellation Program, he didn’t want to retain any of it, not even the Orion capsule. In the four years since his attempt at ending the program – the Space Launch System was created to salvage the nation’s manned space program. It now appears that world events are being used to try and once again cancel U.S. human beyond-Earth exploration efforts.

NASA's Charlie Bolden testified before Congress that should the Russians deny American astronauts access to the Space Station, he would recommend canceling the Space Launch System. He must have known that this decision was on the table. It does seem curious that he made the extraordinary statement, and then a week later NASA takes the initiative in escalating the deterioration of those relations. It is tempting to think that Bolden—and President Obama—might be deliberately hastening the end of SLS. (4/6)

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