July 28, 2014

The Most Precise Measurement of an Alien World's Size (Source: Space Daily)
Thanks to NASA's Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the radius of a planet outside our solar system. The size of the exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-93b, is now known to an uncertainty of just 74 miles (119 kilometers) on either side of the planetary body. The findings confirm Kepler-93b as a "super-Earth" that is about one-and-a-half times the size of our planet. (7/28)

NSBRI Establishes Space Radiation Center (Source: Space Daily)
The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) will establish, fund, and operate the Center for Space Radiation Research (CSRR) under the leadership of Marjan Boerma, Ph.D. Dr. Boerma is an Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences within the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Pharmacy Division of Radiation Health. (7/28)

NASA Explores Additional Undersea Missions With NEEMO (Source: Space Daily)
NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) is gearing up for two underwater projects, 18 and 19, off the coast of Florida during the months of July and September. Aquanauts participating in the NEEMO project will conduct activities on the ocean floor that will inform International Space Station and future exploration activities. The NEEMO project sends groups of astronauts, engineers and scientists to live in an underwater habitat for up to three weeks at a time.

The crew members, called aquanauts, live in the world's only undersea laboratory: Florida International University's Aquarius Reef Base undersea research habitat. These studies provide information that correlates directly to life aboard the space station, where crew members must frequently perform critical tasks that present constraining factors similar to those experienced in an undersea environment. Editor's Note: Embry-Riddle will support multiple projects during these NEEMO missions. (7/28)

Expert Says Launch Business Overblown (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Florida and other states appear eager to catch the next wave of the rocket-launch business. But before they throw big public money at private commercial space interests, state officials should do a serious reality check, a top expert says. While the space industry's commercial future may promise riches, there are still many unanswered questions about the costs vs. benefits, said Dr. Henry R. Hertzfeld at George Washington University.

"There is a sort of war between the states for the next big thing in the space business," he said. "They are all jockeying for position. But nobody really knows how big this thing is going to be in terms of jobs and all the rest of the economic impact — which might actually turn out to be not that significant." He insists that expectations for jobs and revenue growth may be overblown. Demand for launch services has been flat, he said. Potentially blockbuster new businesses — such as space tourism – could take decades to develop. Meanwhile, starting and maintaining a new spaceport would be very expensive.

Editor's Note: Hertzfeld is right. Florida's space push has historically been aimed at protecting the (largely federal) jobs and investment at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, in response to several other states attempting to take portions of this business away. These other states are learning that the prize is not as shiny as they had hoped. Sure there's opportunity for launch industry growth in Florida and elsewhere, but the real goal here has been to leverage the launch industry to attract other higher value space industry jobs, like satellite and launch vehicle manufacturing, other value-added R&D and design engineering activity. (7/28)

Innovation Earth: Bringing NASA Technology Back to Earth (Source: Huffington Post)
Harnessing asteroids. Sending humans to Mars. NASA has laid out some pretty sci-fi sounding plans for the next 20 years of space travel, but a more critical mission -- at least for the sustainability of human life here on earth -- may be the one it launched in Mountain View, California, just over two years ago: The Sustainability Base at the NASA Ames Research Center. Click here. (7/25)

UAE’s Space Program Could Inspire Innovation (Source: The National)
The UAE’s space program could inspire innovation and spur further diversification of the country’s economy. A mission to Mars would promote a focus on making breakthroughs in the development of new technologies, which could be patented and sold to foreign space agencies. It could also inspire thousands of Emiratis to pursue careers in the space industry, opening the door to new research bodies and university courses in aerospace engineering. (7/27)

South Africans Hitching a One-Way Ticket to Mars (Source: Tech Central)
The Mars One program is offering civilians, including South Africans, the opportunity to create a human colony on Mars. Is this a revival of the golden age of discovery, when explorers left their homes to begin new civilizations? Or is it a “suicide mission” in which people die in space while we watch from Earth, more than 200 million kilometers away?

Adriana Marais, a PhD student in quantum biology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, is one of the candidates shortlisted for a one-way ticket to the planet. “What the first colonizers will do on Mars is really the pinnacle of four billion years of evolution,” she told me. In her Mars One video, she explains: “I would volunteer to leave my life on Earth behind to see what’s out there. I’m prepared to sacrifice my personal joys, sorrows and day-to-day life for this idea, this adventure, this achievement that would not be mine but that of all humanity.” (7/28)

Canucks Shooting to Colonize Mars (Source: Sudbury Star)
Mars One — a not-for-profit foundation — plans to establish a colony of humans on the Red Planet. The foundation recently created a shortlist of applicants — reducing the number of volunteers from 200,000 to just 705. During the next phase of elimination, candidates will meet face-to-face with members of the Mars One selection committee. The interviews will happen over the summer.

The journey to Mars will take seven months. Earthlings hoping to leave the planet will be handed a one-way ticket as there’s no way to bring them back. Mars One plans to send four people every two years — starting in 2024 — with astronaut training expected to begin within a year. There are 54 Canadians still left in the running. Click here. (7/28)

Does Canada Need its Own Rockets to Launch Satellites? (Source: Leader-Post)
For decades, Canadian space specialists have debated whether the country needs its own fleet of rockets so it can launch satellites without being beholden to other nations. As relations with Russia, one of the world's top providers of such launchers, further deteriorates over the Ukraine crisis, some are reviving that call.

The Canadian government decided in late April to scuttle the launch of one of its satellites on a Russian rocket to protest that country's actions in Ukraine. It is still looking for another nation or company to put the spacecraft into orbit. And with more Canadian sanctions brought in against Russia, the likelihood of future launches on Russian rockets seems remote. "The sanctions on Russia are increasing and they are going to come back and bite us when it comes to our space efforts," said Chuck Black.

"Building our own (launcher) is something that Canada could do and something that would be a worthwhile investment for the country." Such a capability would be designed for small and micro-satellites, not full-sized spacecraft, Black and others have suggested. Small satellites are around the size of breadbox, while micro-satellites are about milk-carton size. (7/28)

Random Bits, True and Unbiased, From Atmospheric Turbulence (Source: Nature)
Random numbers represent a fundamental ingredient for secure communications and numerical simulation as well as to games and in general to Information Science. Physical processes with intrinsic unpredictability may be exploited to generate genuine random numbers. The optical propagation in strong atmospheric turbulence is here taken to this purpose, by observing a laser beam after a 143 km free-space path. In addition, we developed an algorithm to extract the randomness of the beam images at the receiver without post-processing. The numbers passed very selective randomness tests for qualification as genuine random numbers. (6/30)

Modifications Underway in Vehicle Assembly Building for Space Launch System (Source: NASA)
History was made in the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center. It was inside the VAB that NASA's Apollo/Saturn V rockets and space shuttles were prepared for their rollout to Launch Pads 39A and B to begin their missions. Today, the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program and support contractors at KSC are busy upgrading the massive building for the next chapter in human exploration.

The Space Launch System (SLS), NASA's new heavy-lift rocket, will be the largest launch vehicle ever built and more powerful than the Saturn V rocket. The SLS will send astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft to explore deep space destinations including an asteroid and eventually Mars. "We have a lot of work to complete, and now is the time to refurbish and upgrade the VAB before we begin processing launch vehicles," said Steve Starr, a senior project manager with Vencore on the Engineering Services Contract. (7/24)

Camden County Manager to be Part of Georgia Space Summit (Source: Jacksonville Times-Union)
Camden County manager Steve Howard will travel to Atlanta on Tuesday to attend a meeting of aerospace industry professionals, state politicians and academic leaders. Howard has been invited to sit on a panel at the Georgia Space Leadership Summit where he will provide a local government’s perspective as to how to attract businesses from the aerospace industry to the state.

“This is an exciting opportunity to promote Camden County and its assets,” Howard said of his decision to attend. The summit, presented by the Georgia Tech Center for Space Technology and Research, will consist of three panels, scheduled to speak for about an hour each. The panels will address issues the aerospace industry faces in the state from the academic, investor and government or legal perspectives. (7/27)

End Dawns for Europe's Space Cargo Delivery Role (Source: Space Daily)
Europe will close an important chapter in its space flight history Tuesday, launching the fifth and final robot ship it had pledged for lifeline deliveries to the International Space Station. The 20-tonne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) dubbed Georges Lemaitre, the size of a double-decker bus, is set to blast off from South America with fuel, water, oxygen, food, clean clothes and 50 kilogrammes (110 pounds) of coffee for six Earth-orbiting astronauts.

Named for the father of the Big Bang theory of how the Universe was formed, the heaviest ATV yet follows on the hi-tech trail of four others sent into space by the European Space Agency (ESA) since 2008. "Georges Lemaitre may be the last ATV, but the programme is just the first important step in ESA's human space adventure," said the agency's director of human spaceflight and operations, Thomas Reiter. (7/27)

Will SpaceX Land Falcon-9 on a Barge? (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Blogger Rand Simberg spoke with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell and was told they will conduct their next landing attempt on a barge. Unconfirmed reports have it that the next few flights of the uprated Falcon 9 v1.1 would fly without the landing gear that the rocket has used during the April 18 and July 14 2014 flights. The rationale for the lack of this new system on these flights has been suggested to be due to the request of the payload’s customer.

Simberg added in another tweet that there would be “No more water landings.” SpaceX has stated that it plans to have the Falcon 9′s first stage conduct a return to the launch site. If the company can get this system to work – it would mean that the cost to launch to orbit would plummet and that the booster cores produced by SpaceX could be reused. Given the prices charged to launch payloads, this could serve to be a game-changer in terms of how missions are conducted.

Editor's Note: So what does this mean for Spaceport America, where SpaceX has been planning follow-on (post-Grasshopper) tests of its Falcon-9 (and Dragon?) landing system? Spaceport America was to offer higher altitude testing with greater flexibility than was available at SpaceX's Texas test site. Among Simberg's tweets -- presumably based on discussions with Shotwell --  was one suggesting that "Spaceport America has cost more and taken longer than expected." (7/27)

Flashback: Blue Origin Holds Patent for Barge Landings (Source: SPACErePORT)
In March 2014, Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin's patent for "Sea landing of space launch vehicles and associated systems and methods" was published, after the original filing in June 2010. Could this impact SpaceX's plans for barge landings off the Florida (and ultimately Texas) coast? Maybe not, since Blue Origin's concept features some active positioning technology that might apply to SpaceX's plans. Click here. (7/28)

SAMI Is Like Google Earth for the Universe (Source: Daily Beast)
In just 64 nights, SAMI, an instrument attached to the Anglo-Australian telescope in Sydney, Australia, has recorded demographic information for 1,000 galaxies. Its goal is 3,400 galaxies over the next two years. The observable Universe contains 100 billion galaxies, give or take (not that we’ve mapped all of them, not least since many of them are too far for reliable imaging). Many astronomical projects are dedicated to the task of placing as many galaxies as possible in the atlas, to complete our understanding of the history and evolution of the cosmos.

But there’s a complementary task as well: understanding the variety of galaxies in themselves. If galaxy mapping is like doing a population map, the complementary study is like a demographic survey. Galaxies are products of their location in the cosmos, but also of their individual histories and local environments. Any galaxy we observe is the product of its dark matter, the gas and dust inside it, the age and types of its stars, and the history of any smaller galaxies that merged to create it. Click here.(7/27)

Massive Impacts Show Asteroid has Deep Crust (Source: Ars Technica)
A new study shows that the asteroid 4 Vesta may have a different internal structure than previously thought. Vesta, the second largest body in the asteroid belt after the dwarf planet Ceres, is notable for two gigantic craters, so big that they partly overlap despite being on opposite poles of the asteroid. The first, chronologically speaking, is called Venenia (Named for a priestess of the goddess Vesta in Roman mythology), the result of an impact some 2 billion years ago.

The crater is 395 kilometers in diameter, but only penetrated about 25 kilometers deep into the surface of Vesta. And then there’s Rheasilvia. Also named for a priestess of Vesta, Rheasilvia is a whopping 505 km in diameter (Vesta is only 525km in diameter), and the rim of the crater is also one of the tallest mountains in the solar system. Rheasilvia was probably created about one billion years ago, and it obliterated part of Venenia where the two overlap. (7/27)

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