May 24, 2014

Binary Supermassive Black Hole System Discovered (Source: Sci-News)
Astronomers using ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory have discovered, for the first time, a pair of supermassive black holes in orbit around one another in an ordinary galaxy. Most massive galaxies in the Universe are thought to harbor at least one supermassive black hole at their center. Two supermassive black holes are the smoking gun that the galaxy has merged with another. Click here. (5/24)

Thanks to Budget Cuts, We May Never Know Why the Universe is Expanding (Source: Washington Post)
The funding that supports advanced particle physics research is drying up, threatening America's leadership role in international science. A series of budget scenarios laid out by the Department of Energy finds that if funding for high-energy particle experiments were frozen for the next three years, before it's then allowed to rise 3 percent a year thereafter, DoE would have to scale back some of its most important projects.

These are studies that can potentially teach us about the most basic workings of the universe. The picture gets even grimmer under an alternative scenario that has DoE's budget for high-energy physics frozen for three years and rising for 2 percent every year after that. The difference, when you account for the various budgetary starting points for each scenario, amounts to about half a billion dollars over the next decade. Spread out like that, $500 million doesn't sound like much. But the constraints would be "precarious" for future energy research. (5/24)

Iridium's Second Coming and How Govt Nearly Missed the Boat (Source: Phoenix Business Journal)
As CEO Matt Desch describes it, Iridium Communications was a company that spent about $5 billion to develop a system that would do one thing poorly. But that was two decades ago. He considers what has happened since a second coming. That second coming is about to come to fruition, with next year's launch of the first of 81 satellites to replace the existing network circling the entire globe at low orbit.

But Desch is the first to say that this next phase, called Iridium NEXT, was never a sure thing for the company, recalling a request from the board to figure out what might happen if the company just shut off the lights and called it a day. Iridium, formerly Motorola Inc. in Arizona, has several hundred workers in the Valley. The company also has connections to KinetX and Orbital Sciences, which builds Iridium's satellites. Click here. (5/24)

H-2A Rocket Launched, Puts Earth-Observation Satellite in Orbit (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
An H-2A series rocket lifted off on May 24 and placed into orbit a satellite capable of peering into volcano crater engulfed in smoke, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said. The rocket blasted off at 12:05 p.m. from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center, and the H-2A Launch Vehicle No. 24’s solid rocket boosters separated two minutes later.

After 15 minutes, the space agency confirmed that the primary payload, the Daichi-2 advanced land observation satellite, reached its intended orbit about 600 kilometers over the Pacific Ocean. The Daichi-2 is the successor to Daichi, which recorded movements in the Earth’s crust caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. (5/24)

At NASA Wallops, the Rockets' Green Glare (Source: DelMarVaNow)
Wallops Flight Facility, NASA's only owned and operated launch range, has conducted more than 16,000 launches since 1945. Commonly referred to by locals simply as "the base," the 6,000-acre facility and the activities that take place there are sometimes taken for granted by Eastern Shore residents. Still, jobs there are coveted for their good wages and working conditions. While Wallops is one of NASA's smallest facilities, it is the largest technology-oriented employer within a 100-mile radius in this rural area.

Reports about the economic impact of the NASA facility and its partners appear regularly. Behind the big numbers and abstract statements are people like Bundick, whose lives would be different if NASA Wallops Flight Facility were not there.

Among recent studies is a November 2013 analysis prepared for NASA Langley Research Center, which found NASA Wallops Flight Facility last year had a nationwide economic impact of nearly $830 million and 5,875 jobs. The impact in Virginia was estimated at $267.5 million and 2,278 jobs. Wallops Flight Facility directly employs 272 workers, with a total payroll of $40.2 million. Of the total, 163 workers live in Virginia. (5/24)

McCain Amendment Prohibits Contracts for Russian Engines (Source: Space Policy Online)
While one part of official Washington worries that Russia will follow through on a recent threat to prohibit use of RD-180 engines for U.S. national security space launches, another part is working to ensure exactly that outcome. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) yesterday adopted a McCain amendment that prohibits future contracts to purchase Russian rocket engines to launch national security satellites. (5/23)

Musk: Contract Lost When SpaceX Didn’t Hire a Public Official (Source: Quartz)
The National Legal and Policy Center, a Washington ethics watchdog, has issued a warning about the Aerojet hiring of  Scott Correll, saying that in the worst case scenario it compares to another scandal where an Air Force procurement official was prosecuted for making a lucrative deal with Boeing then accepting a position with the company.

Senator John McCain has also written to defense department officials raising questions about how the contracts were awarded and asking for a full investigation. Given the huge cost disparities between the two companies—SpaceX launches cost about $100 million, while ULA launches cost two to four times as much—taxpayers are likely to be interested, too. (5/24)

Engineers Test NASA's SLS Booster Forward Skirt to the Limits (Source: Space Daily)
A critical connection between NASA's new rocket and its twin solid rocket boosters that will help it get to space proved it could withstand millions of pounds of launch stress during a series of ground tests that ended May 20.

The booster forward skirt, which houses the electronics responsible for igniting, steering and jettisoning the two five-segment boosters and carries most of the forces acting on the boosters during launch, is one of two places at the top and bottom of the booster where it is attached by struts to the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage. (5/24)

New North Korea Complex for Possible ICBM Launch (Source: Space War)
North Korea is building a new complex at its main rocket launch site, possibly for training and launches of road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, a US think-tank said. Satellite imagery from May 10 suggests the North is conducting a number of important construction projects at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on its western coast.

"One working hypothesis is that the North is building a new complex to conduct future training and launches for mobile missiles such as the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)", the US-Korea Institute said on its website, 38 North. The May 10 imagery also indicates that Pyongyang's effort to upgrade the existing Sohae launch pad to handle space launch vehicles larger than the Unha-3 is continuing but work has slowed, possibly due to the greater priority placed on these new construction projects. (5/21)

Boeing and Samsung Explore Mobile Tech for CST-100 (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Boeing and Samsung will be working together to integrate the latest mobile technology into Boeing’s CST-100 Crew Space Transport that is in the works. The effort builds on an already established partnership between the two companies. Boeing and Samsung began working together in 2012 with efforts to develop technologies to improve communications and in-flight entertainment aboard commercial airliners.

The two companies  will start their new collaborative effort by identifying ways that mobile technology can improve crew and mission operations aboard the CST-100. Initial results are expected to be outlined later this year. “Just as they’ve done on Earth, mobile tools and devices will enhance the way we operate in space day-to-day, making mission operations more efficient,” said Chris Ferguson, director of crew and mission system for the Boeing Commercial Crew Program. (5/23)

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