August 19, 2014

China's First Private Rocket Firm Aims for Market (Source: Space Daily)
Hu Zhenyu, 21, founder of Link Space, China's first private rocket firm, does not want people to call him a "rocket scientist" but a rocket entrepreneur. Rocket launches have traditionally been been a state monopoly in China, but the young graduate from South China University of Technology plans bust the oligopoly with his first commercial launch in 2017.

The space industry is capital-intensive, so Hu is offering 16 percent of the company for 16 million yuan ($2.6 million) to venture capitalists, valuing the enterprise at a highly speculative 100 million yuan. Hu claims he has already been offered 6.7 million yuan from several investors. The focus of Link Space is a rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during sub-orbital flight. The rocket will carry instruments to an altitude of up to 200 kilometers. It is very different from the kind of launch vehicle that carries heavy satellites into space.

The average price for launching such a commercial rocket is about 3 million yuan but Link Space intends to cut that price by a third. "China has no private space testing ground, so launch trials will be problematic," he added. Hu's team experiments in the Tsinghua University lab where Yan Chengyi works or the courtyard in Gaoyou City. A 2011 white paper on China's space industry encouraged scientific and academic institutions as well as social groups to actively participate in the industry. (8/19)

New Satellite Data Will Help Farmers Facing Drought (Source: Space Daily)
For several months, California has been in a state of "exceptional drought." The state's usually verdant Central Valley produces one-sixth of the U.S.'s crops. About 60 percent of California is experiencing "exceptional drought," the U.S. Drought Monitor's most dire classification. The agency issued the same warning to Texas and the southeastern United States in 2012. California's last two winters have been among the driest since records began in 1879. Without enough water in the soil, seeds can't sprout roots, leaves can't perform photosynthesis, and agriculture can't be sustained.

The European Space Agency's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity mission measures soil moisture at a resolution of 31 miles (50 kilometers), but because soil moisture can vary on a much smaller scale, its data are most useful in broad forecasts. Enter NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite. The mission, scheduled to launch this winter, will collect the kind of local data agricultural and water managers worldwide need.

SMAP uses two microwave instruments to monitor the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of soil on Earth's surface. Together, the instruments create soil moisture estimates with a resolution of about 6 miles (9 kilometers), mapping the entire globe every two or three days. (8/19)

SpaceX Is Raising Money At A Valuation Approaching $10B (Source: Tech Crunch)
SpaceX is raising investment that values the company somewhere south of $10 billion, TechCrunch has learned. These new details are emerging while SpaceX continues to make advances with its own spacecraft and rack up more agreements for future commercial and government launches. The company also potentially faces stiffer competition from other commercial firms that are looking to compete more aggressively in the new space race.

The latest capital infusion includes a large secondary investment, which appears to be somewhere in the region of $200 million. This confirms some of the details published in April this year by Quartz, which cited a source reporting that the company might be raising between $50 million and $200 million. TechCrunch understands that among those investing in SpaceX are international financiers making secondary investments, but also investment firms in the U.S. such as Draper Fisher Jurvetson. (8/19)

China Launches Earth Observation Satellite (Source: Space Today)
A Long March rocket placed an Earth observation satellite into orbit for China on Tuesday. The Long March 4B rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center carrying the Gaofen-2 satellite, an Earth observation satellite capable of taking images with a resolution of one meter. The spacecraft will be used for civil applications, according to official accounts. The rocket included as a secondary payload the BRITE-PL-2, a Polish astronomy nanosatellite. The launch is the second by China in less than two weeks, after a hiatus of more than four months. (8/19)

Class Still Counts on Zero-Gravity Flights (Source: The Telegraph)
Space, they say, is the final frontier. But it seems no matter how high you soar there will always be someone looking down on you. Registration has opened for a deluxe brand of "Zero-G" travel and the flights are being sold in standard, premium or deluxe price ranges. The flights are being run by Swiss Space Systems (S3) and the first aircraft is expected to take off from Japan early next year.

During the trips in specially modified Airbus jets pilots will induce weightlessness through a series of mid-air plunges, removing gravity's pull for periods of up to 25 seconds at a time. The planes will be divided into three sections - a "party zone" containing up to 40 people, a "premium" section for 28 people, and a VIP area, reserved for only a few passengers. Those in the premium and VIP areas will receive a special edition Breitling watch, which will double as their boarding card. (8/19)

Galileo Program Set for Full Operational Capability (Source: America Space)
Less than three years since it became the first non-Russian organization to deliver a Soyuz booster into orbit from a location outside the borders of Russia or the former Soviet Union, Arianespace-—the Paris, France-headquartered provider of commercial launch services from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana-—is set to deliver the first pair of Galileo Full Operational Capability (FOC-1) satellites on Thursday, 21 August.

Operating from a “medium” Earth orbit, with a mean altitude of 14,600 miles (23,520 km), they will form part of an eventual 30-satellite global navigational constellation, developed under contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) and conducted under the auspices of the European Commission. Liftoff of the three-stage Soyuz vehicle is targeted to occur from the Kourou spaceport and the two satellites should be delivered precisely into orbit a little under three hours and 48 minutes after launch. (8/19)

Scientists Find Traces of Sea Plankton on ISS Surface (Source: Itar-Tass)
An experiment of taking samples from illuminators and the ISS surface has brought unique results, as scientists had found traces of sea plankton there, the chief of an orbital mission on Russia’s ISS segment says. Results of the scope of scientific experiments which had been conducted for a quite long time were summed up in the previous year, confirming that some organisms can live on the surface of the International Space Station (ISS) for years

Several surveys proved that these organisms can even develop. Microorganisms could be found on the ISS surface thanks to high-precision equipment. “Results of the experiment are absolutely unique. We have found traces of sea plankton and microscopic particles on the illuminator surface. This should be studied further,” chief of the Russian ISS orbital mission Vladimir Solovyev said. (8/19)

Reisman Encouraged by Science Programming in Hollywood (Source: Hollywood Reporter)
Former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman said, while speaking with The Hollywood Reporter at the HollyShorts Film Festival on Monday, he is encouraged to see space and science generating attention in Hollywood. Reisman was on hand for a screening of Three Nights, Three Days: Endeavour's Journey Through Los Angeles.

“It's great that this is happening — [Three Nights, Three Days] Cosmos [which won four Creative Arts Emmys last weekend] and even The Big Bang Theory [which won one Creative Arts Emmy],” Reisman said of science-themed programming. “I hope science is becoming hip and cool. The best thing we can do is reach out to young women.” (8/18)

This is What Your Home on Mars Could Look Like (Source: c/net)
Humans living on Mars is a fascinating concept. We already have Mars One looking to establish a Mars colony, and NASA planning manned missions to the Red Planet, with one objective being to assess the feasibility of living there; whether Mars has the resources necessary for human survival, and whether we have the technology to create what we need. While, however, it's still a distant dream, that hasn't stopped people from thinking about how we might live if we get there.

Recently, NASA and Makerbot held the Mars Base challenge: to design human habitation, using materials either found on Mars or brought from Earth, that could be 3D printed. With 228 submissions on Thingiverse, the competition was fierce -- but the three top designs are in, with the first place winner receiving a MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D printer and spools of MakerBot PLA filament going to second and third. Click here. (8/19)

NASA Closes On Commercial Crew Selection (Source: Aviation Week)
Almost five years after beginning its search for a U.S.-developed spacecraft to carry humans into orbit, NASA is poised to award at least one contract to its industry partners in the Commercial Crew Program. The three contenders—Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada—could hear as soon as the end of August which of their proposed vehicles has been selected for a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract to fly to the International Space Station.

With NASA widely expected to support multiple solutions, the biggest question is how the awards might be spread over differing vehicle concepts, launch vehicles or both. Assuming two contracts are awarded, NASA must decide whether to support the two capsule designs on offer from Boeing and SpaceX or one of them in combination with the lifting-body concept proposed by Sierra Nevada.

Another factor that may influence the decision is Boeing’s and Sierra Nevada’s selection of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V as primary launch vehicle. Although both assert that their designs are “launch-vehicle-agnostic,” concern over the guaranteed supply of the Atlas V’s Russian-made RD-180 main engines could prove a factor. (8/18)

NASA Grant Supports New Mexico Space Research (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
NASA has awarded a $500,000 grant to the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium to help students design and launch experiments into space from Spaceport America. U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, D-NM, announced the award Monday. It goes to support the Community College Technical Schools Student Launch Program. The senators requested the funding in April with an eye on helping “attract and retain students to jobs in high-tech sectors,” according to a statement.

Spaceport America, home to aspiring commercial space line Virgin Galactic, has also hosted launches of student and commercial experiments into space. New Mexico State University sponsors the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, but students from several schools in the state participate in the Student Launch Program. (8/19)

Origami 'Space Flowers' to Beam Energy to Earth (Source: Daily Mail)
Getting large equipment into space is no easy feat. At nearly £14,000 ($23,400) to send a kilogram into orbit, it's expensive, and room is always limited. To deal with the problem, NASA has turned to the ancient art of origami, in the hopes of getting larger solar panels into space. These solar panels could someday be used in the form of an orbiting power plant that harvests energy from the sun and beams it back down to Earth. Click here. (8/19)

Can You ID This City from Space? If So, NASA Needs Your Help (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Since 2003, astronauts aboard the International Space Station have captured more than 1.3 million photos of Earth. They’re beautiful, and many of them are the highest-resolution nighttime photos ever taken from orbit, but there’s one problem: What the photographs show, exactly, is unclear. Which is why NASA hopes you can provide the answers.

With a project called Cities at Night, a group of scientists from Spain are turning to crowdsourcing, asking anyone interested to plot these images on a map. There are three parts to the project. First, Dark Skies ISS, which asks people to sort the images by content such cities, stars, and other objects. Second is Night Skies ISS, for plotting the points of light in images on a map. Third is Lost at Night, which asks users to plot locations within the images on a map. Click here. (8/18)

Aldrin 'Lands' on Mars in Hilarious Jockey Ad (Source:
Famed Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin may have walked on the moon, but the folks behind Jockey underwear think they could have helped him conquer the galaxy. A new ad, unveiled on Twitter and YouTube by no less than Aldrin himself, shows what might have happened if the moonwalker took Jockey to the moon. Click here. (8/18)

Aldrin Endorses Alaska GOP Senate Candidate (Source: The Hill)
Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin has given a last-minute endorsement to Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R), hoping to launch his campaign ahead of Tuesday's primary. Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, is hoping he can help Treadwell avoid second place in the race.

"I have known and worked with Mead for close to thirty years, dating back to his first time advising NASA, on improving our nation’s space program. Mead is a champion of science, technology and exploration. He will continue to push for Arctic exploration that could produce more energy and jobs for America," Aldrin said in a statement. (8/18)

The Intelligent-Life Lottery (Source: New York Times)
Almost 20 years ago, in the pages of an obscure publication called Bioastronomy News, two giants in the world of science argued over whether SETI — the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — had a chance of succeeding. Carl Sagan, as eloquent as ever, gave his standard answer. With billions of stars in our galaxy, there must be other civilizations capable of transmitting electromagnetic waves. By scouring the sky with radio telescopes, we just might intercept a signal.

But Sagan’s opponent, Ernst Mayr, thought the chances were close to zero. Against Sagan’s stellar billions, he posed his own astronomical numbers: Of the billions of species that have lived and died since life began, only one — Homo sapiens — had developed a science, a technology, and the curiosity to explore the stars. And that took about 3.5 billion years of evolution. High intelligence, Mayr concluded, must be extremely rare, here or anywhere. Earth’s most abundant life form is unicellular slime.

Since the debate with Sagan, more than 1,700 planets have been discovered beyond the solar system — 700 just this year. Astronomers recently estimated that one of every five sunlike stars in the Milky Way might be orbited by a world capable of supporting some kind of life. That is about 40 billion potential habitats. But Mayr, who died in 2005 at the age of 100, probably wouldn’t have been impressed. (8/18)

SETI Searchers Kepler Candidates for Life Signs (Source: Astrobiology)
A recent search by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) studied 86 candidates in the Kepler space observatory’s field for radio signals that could potentially indicate the presence of an intelligent civilization. Of course, no radio signals were found, but the search did identify the most promising Kepler objects for wide-band observations using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. Click here. (8/18)

In Space, Astronauts’ Immune Systems Get Totally Confused (Source: Washington Post)
Can an astronaut survive a long-term spaceflight? With NASA looking ahead to missions on Mars and beyond, it's an important question - and one we haven't even come close to answering through practice. The longest space flight ever only lasted 437.7 days, and most astronauts have spent less than a year at the space station during their longest stretches.

But a NASA study has taken a small step for man's journey to distant planets. NASA scientists analyzed blood samples taken before, during, and after missions to the International Space Station, looking for indications of how astronauts' immune systems handle the unusual environment. The results indicate that things get a little bit wonky.

Some immune cells are heightened by the process of space travel, the researchers found, but others get depressed. That's why astronauts can experience the effects of a weakened immune system (like the asymptomatic viral seen in some, where a dormant virus starts producing new cells but not new symptoms) along with the effects of a heightened one (like increased allergies and persistent rashes). (8/18)

What You Need to Know About Commercial Spaceflight (Source: Engadget)
Before President Ronald Reagan signed the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, companies could only rely on NASA to send payloads (like satellites) to space. This federal law enabled entities to pay private operators to ferry cargo outside the planet through one-time-use or expendable launch systems. The Launch Services Purchase Act of 1990 opened up even more opportunities for private space firms: It straight up ordered NASA to buy launch services from commercial companies. Click here. (8/18)

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