July 19, 2014

Will Science Burst the Multiverse's Bubble? (Source: Discovery)
In its most basic sense, the multiverse is a collection of universes popping in and out of existence, bustling around in a foamy mess, embedded in a vacuum of non-zero energy. Through quantum fluctuations, universes are born while others die — each universe taking on different forms and different kinds of physics. But, if the multiverse hypothesis has any shred of reality behind it, how can scientists prove (or at least gather some observational evidence) that we exist inside one of an infinite ocean of universes?

This question is a tough one for scientists as many critics will argue that the multiverse hypothesis is nothing more than metaphysics, or a philosophical discussion. We are forever cocooned inside our universal ‘bubble’ and can therefore never experience what is going on ‘outside’ — if, indeed, there is an outside -- so what's the point in thinking about it? But in a thought-provoking news release from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, in Ontario, Canada, theoretical physicists are working hard to marry the multiverse with observational science collected from the furthest-most frontiers of the Cosmos.

“We’re trying to find out what the testable predictions of (the multiverse) would be, and then going out and looking for them,” said Matthew Johnson of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. If the multiverse is real, it stands to reason that, in this rampaging mess of neighboring universal “bubbles,” there should be frequent collisions, much like the jostling balls in a ball pit. (7/18)

Rebooting ISEE-3: Space for All (Source: New York Times)
When we think about space missions, what generally comes to mind are large rooms filled with rocket scientists at consoles that control expensive new spacecraft doing unintelligible things. That’s still the norm but, in fact, there doesn’t need to be an entrance exam for people who want to explore space, and we’ve proved it. Click here. (7/18)

Soyuz Rocket Launches Foton Research Capsule into Orbit (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
A Russian Soyuz 2-1A rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrone at the very opening of a launch window at 4:50 p.m. EDT with the fourth Foton M spacecraft. The Foton M-4 carried aloft an array of biological and other experiments. It will now remain on orbit for several weeks before returning to Earth via parachute.

The Foton-M is used by both Russia and the European Space Agency (ESA) for microgravity research, designed to be conducted in orbit and then recovered. The Foton-M is an upgraded version of the Foton complete with upgraded telemetry systems, better thermal control and increased battery life. (7/18)

Hank Hartsfield, First Alabamian in Space, Dies at 80 (Source: Huntsville Times)
The first Alabamian to enter space has died. Henry W. (Hank) Hartsfield Jr. passed away Thursday following an illness, NASA reports. He was 80 years old. His astronaut career began in 1966 when he joined the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program. He became a NASA astronaut in 1969 as support crew for Apollo 16. He would also serve on support crews for the Skylab 2, 3 and 4 missions. (7/19)

Chelyabinsk Study Confirms Origin of Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid (Source: SEN)
A meteor that broke up over Russia in February last year helped confirm a theory on where the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago came from, according to a new study. The 17-meter-wide asteroid broke up over the city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15, 2013, causing injuries in hundreds of people as glass shattered and debris flew below. The event caused a resurgence in asteroid-watching campaigns worldwide to track those interluders that could cause a threat to Earth. Click here. (7/19)

Texas Site Likely Spaceport Winner (Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
The Federal Aviation Administration has given the OK for SpaceX to develop a commercial spaceport in Texas, which local officials say could deal a blow to efforts to bring a similar spaceport to southern Volusia.

“Obviously we’re disappointed, but we fully understand it’s a business decision,” said Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida. “Right now, what Texas can offer is a fundamentally more attractive business environment to compete with the Chinese and the Russians. We’re working to enable Florida to offer an equivalent capability but right now it’s not available,” Ketcham said. (7/19)

UK Spaceport Support? (Source: The Engineer)
This week’s announcement of eight shortlisted sites for a potential UK spaceport caused much excitement. But there was also some confusion over whether it was actually feasible to launch vehicles into space from the UK. And while the government was enthusiastically championing the idea, the companies actually developing spaceplanes didn’t appear to show the same level of support. So is a UK spaceport likely or even possible?

Most current space launches tend to be from sites much closer to the equator than the UK, and the latitude of a launch site has a significant effect on the amount of fuel needed to reach certain orbits. The closer you are to the equator, the faster the Earth beneath you is spinning. This means you get a bigger boost from the planet’s revolution so you need less fuel to reach the required speed when you take off.

There’s also a different story for space tourism. Unless visiting some kind of space hotel in orbit or on the Moon, most commercial space flights are likely to be sub-orbital, flying up out of the atmosphere but returning to the ground before completing a full revolution.  ‘These are only parabolic arcs so they don’t get anywhere near orbit and the location doesn’t really matter – beyond of course what the tourist gets to see out of the window,’ said MacDonald. (7/19)

Live Animals Launched on Two-Month Space Mission (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A high-flying package of live animals, plant seeds, and materials samples shot into space Friday aboard a retrievable Russian Foton satellite, launching a two-month mission focusing on microgravity research into biological and physical sciences. The more than 15,000-pound Foton M4 space capsule launched by the Soyuz rocket is due to spend up to 60 days in orbit, hosting 22 experiments supplied by Russian and German institutions probing questions in biological and materials sciences. (7/19)

Today’s Space Race: Google Lunar X Prize (Source: MSNBC)
MSNBC’s Craig Melvin dives into today’s space competition organized by the X Prize foundation and sponsored by Google. Joined by Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, the pair discusses a $30 million dollar prize awarded to the team and nation that lands a robot safely on the moon, moves 500 meters on, above, or below the Moon’s surface and sends back HDTV Mooncasts for everyone to enjoy. Click here. (7/19)

Indian Delicacies to Help Astronaut Survive in Space (Source: Times of India)
Some sumptuous Indian delicacies will help astronaut Tim Peake - the first Briton heading to the International Space Station, survive in space. The UK Space Agency on Friday revealed the winners of the Great British Space Dinner that gave people a chance to decide on what Peake will be tucking in during his six month mission to the ISS.

One of the winning entries was from the pupils of Emmanuel College in Gateshead. Calling themselves the KFSpacegirls, their 'Rocket Lolly' menu is a mouth-watering three-course meal that consists of a tomato and basil soup and a spicy mackerel Indian curry. The second winner was Chloe Cockshull's 'Nova Tiffin Capsule'. Chloe from the Nova Hreod Academy in Swindon won the competition with his Anglo-Indian meal of spicy fusion food and a rhubarb and custard dessert in a tiffin carrier. (7/19)

U.S. Military Stepping Up Space Cooperation with Japan, Australia (Source: National Defense)
The U.S. military plans to strengthen its alliance in the space realm with allies such as Japan and Australia in order to help it cover the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean, a senior Defense Department official said July 17. A DOD official said representatives of the three nations first discussed closer cooperation in 2012. The topics were improving space situational awareness, and satellite communications coverage in remote regions.

The strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific has called into question the ability of the U.S. military to link with its forces where there is little, if any, military or commercial communications satellites. The key to improving the space architecture is to use more affordable and more resilient space systems provided by the commercial sector, said Powers. The United States cannot pay for these systems on its own, and needs to collaborate with other countries, who can provide needed funds, she said at a Future Space Leaders Foundation panel discussion on Capitol Hill. (7/19)

“How Can You Talk About Space Exploration at a Time Like This?” (Source: Discover)
That is the question that a colleague of mine posed in response to the horrific events unfolding in Ukraine, Iraq, and Gaza (not to mention Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Burma, and many other places that have been pushed out of the headlines in the hierarchy of bad news). In essence she was saying: “Time for some perspective. Stories about space sails and black holes are fun, but there comes a time when you have to focus on the real problems right here on Earth.”

I agree, and I disagree completely. I’ve thought a lot about this question. I report extensively on topics in physics, space, and astronomy. The people I write about rely heavily on university and government support. They are well aware that, in most cases, their research has no immediate, hard practical benefits, yet they care passionately about their work. I do, too. The reason I feel so strongly is that I agree about the need for perspective, but I think this kind of big-picture science offers exactly the kind of perspective people need–especially in times of trouble.

It is easy to feel like human existence is all about the fight for resources. People squabble over taxes and spending; they battle openly over territory of political and religious control. Things are different in theoretical physics, astronomy, cosmology, and space exploration. Advances in these areas typically require enormous patience and a great deal of collaboration. (7/19)

Neil Armstrong's Training Led To Mankind's Giant Leap (Source: Investor's Business Daily)
In May 1968, Neil Armstrong was strapped into a lunar landing training vehicle and was about to take off on his 21st practice flight. He was focused on the LLTV, which had a turbofan engine that lifted it 450 feet above Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. At that point, the pilot could throttle down power to a level that simulated the reduced gravity and landing conditions on the moon.

Suddenly an emergency light went on in his cockpit and he lost control of the ship. He managed to eject and parachute to safety. Ultimately, investigators discovered a design flaw. While praising Armstrong's quick reactions, NASA executives wanted to shut the training program before someone died in another accident. Armstrong strongly objected: "Forget about punching buttons in a safe ground trainer. Would you have us train for real only once — when we were 200 feet above the moon's surface, or would you rather for us to learn above Earth where we have help?"

Armstrong (1930-2012) ultimately made about 60 practice landings, which paid off handsomely on arguably the greatest day in space-travel history: July 20, 1969. That's when Armstrong's landing module, the Eagle, overshot the moon's target. With Buzz Aldrin at his side shouting out altitude, Armstrong took over manual control of the vehicle from the computers and shepherded it to the Sea of Tranquility. (7/19)

Apollo Program a Flameout at 45 (Source: USA Today)
Forty-five years ago this coming Sunday, in a stunning, unimaginable historical achievement, men from earth first walked on its moon. But for over four decades now, no one has gone further than a couple hundred miles or so, a thousand times less distant, from our home planet. Why did we spend so much to go to another world, and then almost completely abandon the effort?

It was because we did it for the wrong reason. The Apollo moon program was never really about space, or opening it to America or humanity. It was a peaceful battle in an existential war. In the post-Sputnik panic, the priority was not to do it affordably or sustainably but, to do it quickly — before the end of the decade, and win the race. (7/18)

U.K. Space Stimulus Begins To Show Results (Source: Aviation Week)
In late 2012, amidst a sagging economy, the U.K. government announced a sizable increase in space spending based on the assumption that such financial backing would spur Britain’s already fast-growing space economy. The £1.2 billion ($2 billion) investment—a 25% increase over five years in Britain’s contribution to the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA)—led to the immediate establishment of a new satellite technology center at Harwell, Oxford, including ESA’s telecommunications director, Magali Vaissiere, who relocated from Paris to run the large technology campus. (7/18)

Growth Prospects Limited for Israeli Satellite Builder (Source: Space News)
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), like Canada’s MDA before its purchase of satellite builder Space Systems/Loral of California, risks having its space business growth stunted by a domestic government whose demand is too small to permit expansion, and whose industrial strategy likely would not permit an outright sale of the space division.

Meanwhile, the company is stuck with a production volume, in both communications and Earth observation satellites, that is insufficient to generate even modest space-industry-level scale economies. Cutting costs will not only help IAI on the export market, but also make it easier for the company to maintain the loyalty of the Israeli government and Israel’s domestic satellite fleet operator, Spacecom. (7/18)

Senate Bill Directs Air Force To Develop Alternative GPS Payload (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Senate’s newly drafted defense spending bill for 2015 directs the Air Force to allocate at least $20 million for work on a space-based digital navigation instrument as a possible alternative to the payload developed for the service’s new-generation GPS 3 satellites.

Those satellites are two years behind schedule due primarily to delays with the payload being developed by Exelis Geospatial Systems of Rochester, New York. Those delays have frustrated the Air Force, prompting the service and GPS 3 prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver to explore possible alternatives. (7/18)

NanoRacks Aims Sale of ISS Research Time by Year’s End (Source: Space News)
By the end of 2014, Houston-based space services company NanoRacks plans to expand its payload accommodation services with the installation of an external platform at the international space station that can be booked by researchers on a commercial basis.

The NanoRacks External Research Platform, which is about twice the size of a microwave oven, was made for NanoRacks by Astrium North America for about $10 million, Manber said. It will be launched to station aboard Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Cygnus space freighter during a cargo delivery mission slated to lift off Oct. 21, Jeff Manber said. (7/18)

Bezos Investment in Blue Origin Exceeds $500 Million (Source: Space News)
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has invested at least half a billion dollars of his own money into Blue Origin, his spaceflight venture, a company official said July 17.

“We’re very fortunate to have a founder who has a vision and the funding and resources to match it,” Brett Alexander, director of business development and strategy at Blue Origin, said during a panel session of the Future Space 2014 conference in Washington. Bezos, best known as the founder and chief executive of Amazon.com, established Blue Origin in 2000.

Blue Origin has received a small amount of funding from NASA in the form of awards in the first two phases of the agency’s commercial crew program: $3.7 million in 2010 and $22 million in 2011. “We got $25 million from the NASA commercial crew program, and that represents less than 5 percent of what our founder has put into the company,” Alexander said. (7/18)

A Reality Check for 3D Printing in Space (Source: Air & Space)
Like nanotechnology and genetic engineering, 3D printing is one of those technologies that makes the futurist’s heart beat faster. Everything will be different, or so they say, when desktop machines can churn out physical objects as easily as they print your family photos. “Additive manufacturing,” as practitioners call it, also has great potential for use in space. But the National Research Council is here to tell you: It’s not ready for prime time just yet.

“Many of the claims made in the popular press about this technology have been exaggerated,” says the NRC in its just-released report on 3D printing in space. Former Air Force Major General Robert Latiff, who chaired the study committee, said , “For in-space use, the technology may provide new capabilities, but it will serve as one more tool in the toolbox, not a magic solution to tough space operations and manufacturing problems.”

For one thing, additive manufacturing typically requires a good deal of human involvement, even if it’s just moving parts from one machine to the next. That’s not an option when astronaut crew time is allocated down to the minute. And 3D printers that use metal require lots of power, another scarce commodity in space. Still, the NRC panel wholeheartedly believes NASA and the Air Force should keep developing this capability, and should use the International Space Station as a laboratory. (7/18)

When Orbital Sciences Corp. Warns, Orbital Sciences Stock Burns (Source: Motley Fool)
Yesterday was not a fun day to own Orbital Sciences stock. That's actually strange, when you think about it. After all, reporting on its fiscal Q2 results Thursday, Orbital Sciences was able to boast of a $0.05 "earnings beat" over analyst estimates. Its merger plans with new partner ATK -- a combination roundly praised on Wall Street -- appears to be on track for completion by year-end as well. So... what was it, exactly, that investors didn't like about yesterday's news?

Let us count the ways. In Q2 2014, Orbital Sciences reported: Revenues of $318 million, down 4.5% against Q2 2013, and 11% below consensus estimates. Higher input costs, and rising expenses for selling, general, and administrative costs (probably inflated by the costs attendant on getting the merger done). Less investment in research and development. And lower operating profit margins of 4.8% on these revenues (down more than 300 basis points versus last year's Q2 profit margin). (7/18)

The Quest to Brew Beer With Space Yeast (Source: WIRED)
A small team of people gathered in the Nevada desert earlier this week to take another step toward answering one of mankind’s most pressing questions: What does beer taste like in space? At least that’s one of the most pressing questions that comes up when a bunch of brewers get together with a bunch of amateur rocket builders.

To find an answer, Ninkasi Brewing Company of Eugene, Oregon teamed up with the Civilian Space eXploration Team and Team Hybriddyne to launch some live yeast to space, bring it back to Earth, and then brew beer with it. The rocket they launched On July 14 performed beautifully, shooting up from the Black Rock Desert, crossing the boundary into space at around 62 miles, and then parachuting back to Earth. (7/18)

Britain Plots Course for Domestic Small-satellite Launcher (Source: Space News)
The British government on July 15 unveiled a broad strategy document designed to create the necessary regulatory regime to permit suborbital spaceplane flights by 2018, with a longer-term goal of establishing a small-satellite launch capability on British territory.

The review accepts market assessments showing that space tourism, meaning taking passengers to the edge of the atmosphere for several minutes of low-gravity conditions, could become a sizable business in the next decade. The report concludes that Britain, as part of its broader goal of growing its commercial space industry, should not stand on the sidelines as the market develops.

The most likely near-term spaceplane scenario is for Britain to allow flights of U.S.-developed vehicles at British spaceports. But ITAR rules make it difficult for these planes to operate outside the U.S. and sharply limit the amount of safety-related technical data that can be shared with foreign regulators. Officials from the U.S. State and Commerce departments acknowledged the issue and said they could only suggest that Britain start a bilateral dialogue with a view to winning ITAR exceptions for Britain. This has been done in the past for other technologies. (7/18)

Vintage NASA Probe, Once Abandoned in Space, Still Has Fuel (Source: Space.com)
After refusing to fire its engines last week for a course correction, a vintage NASA spacecraft did produce a bit of thrust Wednesday (July 16), proving it still has at least some fuel left after 36 years in space.

The International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3), which launched in 1978, is close to Earth right now, but on a trajectory that will send it further out into the solar system. A private group, called the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, is sending commands to the aged NASA probe with the goal of moving it to a stable location nearby our planet to do citizen science. (7/18)

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