June 26, 2014

DARPA to Review X-Plane Contenders (Source: Jane's)
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is preparing to review designs for the new X-Plane, a vertical take-off and landing aircraft capable of high-speed flight and hovering. DARPA plans to review the submissions by Aurora Flight Sciences, Sikorsky, Boeing and Karem in coming weeks. (6/25)

China Plans to Land Rover on Mars by 2020 (Source: Russia Today)
China is planning to land a rover on Mars by 2020 and bring back samples from the Red Planet a decade later, according to a top scientist with the country’s Lunar Exploration Program. The Mars probe will be launching an orbiter and a landing rover, Ouyang Ziyuan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and one of the chief scientists of China’s Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) said at a Conference in Beijing, with 35 other countries in attendance. (6/26)

Canadian Province Poised to Enter the Space Industry (Source: Bay Today)
A major announcement involving North Bay's Jack Garland Airport Aviation Park is expected tomorrow---one that MP Jay Aspin has been hinting at for months. It's expected that FEDNOR will announce funding, in partnership with provincial and private participation, that will trigger the foundation for a new space industry for this region. The first partners are anticipated to be Canadore College and Swiss Space Systems. (6/25)

House Lawmakers Agree on Little, but Concur NASA Needs Change To Get to Mars (Source: Space News)
Lawmakers on the House Science Committee doubled down on partisan talking points about NASA’s human spaceflight program in a June 25 hearing called to discuss a blue-ribbon panel’s finding that the U.S. is not on a path to put astronauts on Mars in the 2030s.

As they have for more than a year, committee Republicans complained the Obama administration has deprioritized NASA’s human spaceflight program in favor of climate change research, while Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of hamstringing the whole agency by playing favorites with NASA programs instead of finding more funding for all of them.

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and fellow Republicans seized on the congressionally ordered National Research Council (NRC) report as proof that NASA’s human spaceflight program is being short-changed by the White House. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said the NRC report was an “important wake-up call,” but derided Smith’s jabs at the Obama administration’s human spaceflight plans as “comical.” Johnson bashed Smith and committee Republicans for their attempt last year to authorize future NASA funding at levels no higher than allowed by sequestration. (6/25)

Better to See the Beautiful, Ugly Truth of the Cosmos (Source: New Scientist)
"The great tragedy of science," as Victorian biologist Thomas Huxley observed, is "the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact". He was talking about the origins of life, but scientists of all stripes would have agreed – perhaps more today than ever. The beautiful idea at hand: the universe looks much the same in any direction you look, and no matter where you are. The ugly fact: it doesn't. Our hope that the universe is symmetrical, or homogeneous, at very large scales just doesn't seem to be coming true. Click here. (6/26)

Nearby Alien Planet May Be Capable of Supporting Life (Source: Space.com)
A newfound alien world might be able to support life — and it's just a stone's throw from Earth in the cosmic scheme of things. An international team of astronomers has discovered an exoplanet in the star Gliese 832's "habitable zone" — the just-right range of distances that could allow liquid water to exist on a world's surface. The planet, known as Gliese 832c, lies just 16 light-years from Earth. (For perspective, the Milky Way galaxy is about 100,000 light-years wide; the closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light-years away.)

Gliese 832c is a "super-Earth" at least five times as massive as our planet, and it zips around its host star every 36 days. But that host star is a red dwarf that's much dimmer and cooler than our sun, so Gliese 832c receives about as much stellar energy as Earth does, despite orbiting much closer to its parent, researchers said. (6/25)

Scientists Discover 3 Closely Orbiting Supermassive Black Holes In Distant Galaxy (Source: IB Times)
A team of scientists has discovered a trio of supermassive black holes, closely orbiting the center of a distant galaxy more than four billion light years away from Earth. Examining six galaxies, the scientists spotted the three supermassive black holes in one of those systems. According to them, this is the “tightest trio of black holes” ever discovered -- with two of the black holes orbiting each other like binary stars -- at such a great distance.

 The new discovery is expected to help astronomers in their search for gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein. Scientists believe that gravitational waves originate among merging black holes and the current study of the tightly-packed black hole trio is expected to provide significant insights into this theory. (6/26)

Airbus, Safran Take First Step In Consolidating (Source: Aviation Week)
As European governments approach a self-imposed deadline in December to decide a strategy on launchers, Europe’s two biggest aerospace companies have won French government endorsement for combining their rocket divisions—which could lead to a complete redesign of the successor to the Ariane 5. The reorganization could help win much-needed German backing for a new generation of launch vehicles while appealing to the performance demands of an increasingly competitive commercial market.

But the proposed merger of the space units of Airbus Group and Safran SA could also mean scrapping 18 months of work by the European Space Agency (ESA) and French space agency CNES on the Ariane 5 rocket’s proposed successor, known as the Ariane 6. (6/26)

Latest SpaceX Delay Costing Orbcomm Money (Source: Space News)
The latest delay in the launch schedule of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket to early July will deprive customer Orbcomm of at least some of the revenue it had told investors would arrive soon after the six Falcon-launched satellites entered service. Orbcomm, which sells satellite- and terrestrial-wireless-based machine-to-machine messaging services, has seen its planned launch schedule buffeted by a series of apparently unrelated launch cancellations. (6/25)

Arianespace CEO Says Price Cuts Are Bearing Fruit (Source: Space News)
Arianespace’s decision to lower prices for smaller satellites riding on its heavy-lift Ariane rockets — a move Europe’s launch service provider made in response to price pressure from SpaceX — has already resulted in several contracts to be announced in the coming weeks, Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said.

With the new pricing policy bearing fruit, Israel said the next step will be to realign the company’s cost structure. Arianespace and its industrial contractors — which are also its principal shareholders — are scheduled to present the basis for a new, lower-cost industrial structure to European governments later this year. (6/25)

ATV Shielding Takes a Bullet To Show Space Station’s Stopping Power (Source: Space News)
The European Space Agency fired a 7.5-millimeter-diameter aluminum bullet traveling at 7 kilometers per second into a bulletproof-vest-type fabric resembling the outer skin of Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to check for space-debris resistance.

The resulting damage, shown in a photo of the bullet’s exit hole ESA published June 24, illustrates the expected resistance of the ATV and other international space station modules. It also shows the power of a small piece of debris colliding with the space station at orbital velocity. Click here. (6/25)

Astronomers Discover Coldest Ever White Dwarf (Source: The Independent)
Astronomers have identified what might be one of the strangest stars in our galaxy: an incredibly cold, ancient and faint white dwarf that has crystallized into a diamond the size of Earth. “It’s a really remarkable object,” said Professor David Kaplan of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “These things should be out there, but because they are so dim they are very hard to find.” (6/25)

Asteroid Zoo Asks Public to Find Dangerous Space Rocks (Source: NBC)
A citizen-science project called Asteroid Zoo wants you to join an online asteroid hunt. Participants will look closely at images collected by the Catalina Sky Survey and identify asteroids. (A tutorial shows you how to go hunting.) The project is presented by Zooniverse, the creators of more than two dozen other citizen-science projects; and Planetary Resources, an asteroid mining company that promised to support Asteroid Zoo during its $1.5 million Kickstarter campaign.

The results will help experts train computers to conduct better automated searches for near-Earth asteroids that might pose future hazards — or present future opportunities. "With Asteroid Zoo, we hope to extend the effort to discover asteroids beyond astronomers and harness the wisdom of crowds to provide a real benefit to Earth," Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources' president and chief engineer, said. (6.15)

NRC Report Gets Warm Reception Amid Partisan Tensions (Source: Space Policy Online)
The new National Research Council (NRC) report on the future of human space exploration received a warm reception today at a House committee hearing, but partisan tensions among committee members were evident even if they were not directly aimed at NASA.

The NRC study is fairly well aligned with the views of many members of Congress in terms of the long term goal for human exploration (landing people on Mars), a lack of enthusiasm for President Obama’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), and the need for the U.S. to be the global leader in human space exploration with significant international partnerships.

That long term goal has broad support, including from the Obama Administration. The seemingly endless debate is about the steps for getting there. In the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, Congress directed NASA to contract with the NRC for this study to get closer to resolving those steps. Today’s hearing before the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee was the first opportunity for Congress to hear the results of the study formally. (6/25)

Ahead of Hearing, NASA Floats Phobos Pit Stop on Road to Mars (Source: Space News)
With debate over NASA’s long-term strategy for sending humans to Mars set to continue this week, NASA scored an opportunistic first word with a soft-launch of a new intermediate destination on the long road to the red planet: the martian moon Phobos.

In a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee, Jason Crusan said getting astronauts to Mars sometime in the 2030s could involve a pit stop at the planet’s largest moon Phobos —  a staging area where NASA could leverage both the technology and the lessons learned from the Asteroid Redirect Mission that would culminate with a crewed launch to a small space rock in a lunar storage orbit by 2025.

“The moons of Mars pose a significant advantage as a waypoint on the way to the surface of Mars,” Crusan said. “If we choose to go through Phobos on our way to the surface of Mars, that environment of interacting with the asteroid will be nearly the same environment as interacting with Phobos.” (6/25)

Ten Years Since SpaceShipOne Made History (Source: The Star)
On June 21, 2004, Mike Melvill flew an odd-looking craft called SpaceShipOne to the edge of space and successfully returned it to earth. In doing so, he became the first person to pilot a privately-built spaceship - an event that will always stand as an iconic aviation milestone. Click here.

Editor's Note: SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X-Prize against a field of several competitors, most of which are no longer in the spaceflight game. Nearly everyone expected the space tourism industry to be up and running by now. (6/23)

SpaceX IPO Rumors – Real Stock Launch or Science Fiction? (Source: Investor Place)
For the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of buzz over the prospects for a public stock offering of SpaceX, a spacefaring venture that makes and launches the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon launch vehicles to transport cargo and deliver satellites for clients including NASA, the US Military and private sector companies.

However, perhaps the reason most people want to see a SpaceX IPO is because it’s one of the many brainchildren of Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk, who has consistently made huge returns for stock investors since the late 1990s. Despite the very real prospects, investors would be taking a substantial risk buying into a SpaceX IPO, should it ever see the light of day.

Space travel is extremely dangerous, and because the company wants to pull off manned flights, the stakes will be even higher. Musk himself has said he’s not in a rush to execute a SpaceX IPO — in fact, not until the Mars Colonial Transporter is up and running. And there’s no need, either — Musk has access to huge amounts of capital. (6/25)

Russia Loses its Last Early Warning Satellite (Source: Voice of Russia)
A source in the Russian Defense Ministry said that the last satellite of the Oko-1 ballistic missile attack early warning system has been lost. In April, the 71XC satellite codenamed Cosmos-2479 stopped sending signals and became de-facto unmanageable, the source said, adding that attempts to reanimate it had failed. (6/25)

Lockheed Martin Wins Contract For Two SBIRS Missile Defense Satellites (Source: Lockheed Martin)
The Air Force has awarded to Lockheed Martin a $1.86 billion fixed-price contract to complete the production of the fifth and sixth Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites, known as GEO-5 and GEO-6, for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS). SBIRS provides our nation continuous early warning of ballistic missile launches and other tactical intelligence. (6/25)

General Dynamics to Build 100-Ton Radio-Telescope Antenna for LLAMA Observatory (Source: General Dynamics)
General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies will build and install a 100-ton, 12-meter (40-foot), submillimeter-wavelength radio telescope antenna for the new Large Latin American Millimeter Array (LLAMA) observatory. The LLAMA project is a joint venture between Argentina and Brazil to provide scientists from around the world with a high-powered 'lens' to study black holes, the molecular evolution of interstellar clouds and the structure of the universe. (6/25)

Hispasat Blames Exchange Rates for Flat 2013 Revenue (Source: Space News)
Satellite fleet operator Hispasat of Spain on June 25 reported flat revenue but increased net profit for 2013, saying its results were hurt by foreign-exchange turbulence. Madrid-based Hispasat reported revenue of 201.4 million euros ($277 million) for the year ending Dec. 31, up just 0.5 percent from a year ago. At constant foreign-exchange rates, the company said, revenue would have grown by 4.4 percent. (6/25)

Parachutes for NASA's Orion Spacecraft Hit No Snags in Most Difficult Test (Source: NASA)
NASA completed the most complex and flight-like test of the parachute system for the agency's Orion spacecraft on Wednesday. A test version of Orion touched down safely in the Arizona desert after being pulled out of a C-17 aircraft, 35,000 feet above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground. It was the first time some parachutes in the system had been tested at such a high altitude.

Engineers also put additional stresses on the parachutes by allowing the test version of Orion to free fall for 10 seconds, which increased the vehicle's speed and aerodynamic pressure. After Orion's free fall, its forward bay cover parachutes deployed, pulling away the spacecraft's forward bay cover, which is critical to the rest of the system performing as needed. (6/25)

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