September 25, 2014

Mars: China's Next Goal? (Source: Xinhua)
Mars receives two visitors from the Earth this week. NASA's new spacecraft MAVEN entered the orbit around Mars on Sept. 21 to hunt for the planet's lost water. And India's first Mars probe has reached Mars on Sept. 24, said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, adding that India is the first country to have reached the Red Planet on its first attempt.

After China's successful soft landing on the moon late last year, will Mars be its next goal? No official plan has been published yet, but some experts have disclosed the country's interest. Ouyang Ziyuan, a leading scientist in China's moon program, told the International Planetarium Society conference in Beijing in June that China plans to send a Mars rover around 2020, collect samples and bring them back to Earth around 2030. Russia launched a rocket carrying a China-made probe to Mars in 2011, but the mission failed because of an accident in the orbital transfer. (9/25)

Google Science Fair Champs Win Chance at Spaceflight Training (Source: Inhabitat)
Irish teenagers Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow, all 16, have won the Google Science Fair 2014. Their project, Combating the Global Food Crisis, aims to provide a solution to low crop yields by pairing a nitrogen-fixing bacteria that naturally occurs in the soil with cereal crops it does not normally associate with, such as barley and oats. Among their prizes is "the chance to participate in astronaut training at the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in the Mojave desert." (9/25)

Sierra Nevada Plans Continued Dream Chaser Effort (Source: Space News)
In the months leading up to the CCtCap announcement, SNC executives said they were exploring alternative uses of Dream Chaser in addition to, or in place of, ISS crew transportation. The company announced a number of partnerships with other space agencies and organizations, and will continue those efforts. “We are aggressively pursuing commercial and international paths for our program,” Scordo said. “SNC has made the decision to continue the development of the Dream Chaser to flight.”

SNC will continue to work with NASA on the company’s remaining milestones for its existing Commercial Crew Integrated Capability award it received from the agency in August 2012. The company is working on the final two milestones in that agreement, including a glide flight of a Dream Chaser test vehicle.

Scordo said SNC plans to pursue additional NASA business with Dream Chaser, such as a recompete of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts for ISS cargo transportation. According to NASA procurement documents, the request for proposals for the second CRS contract is scheduled for release at the end of September, with proposals due in mid-November. (9/25)

Managing Orbital Debris and Space Traffic (Source: Space Daily)
Those familiar with air traffic management architectures understand the constraints of aircraft flying in the atmosphere, vehicle dynamics and command and control techniques. Unfortunately, compared to air traffic, space traffic has many more degrees of freedom and much less control capability. Add to this the completely uncontrolled nature of space debris and the reality that most debris objects cannot be tracked and motion cannot be accurately measured or simulated.

Just as weather affects our daily lives, so does Earth's orbiting junkyard. The detrimental effects of space junk grow worse each year, putting our daily lives and national infrastructures increasingly at risk as our communications, science and security networks rely ever more heavily on the interconnected system of satellites orbiting the skies.

One area of current interest to the regulatory community is space traffic management. This is a topic of particular concern for several agencies including NASA, ESA, DOD and FAA. Within the U.S., NASA is responsible for human space flight and scientific exploration. FAA is responsible for commercial space traffic. DOD is responsible for military and intelligence space traffic. Unfortunately, "space" is not like "airspace." Click here. (9/25)

KSC Countdown Clock's Days Are Numbered (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
The Countdown Clock located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is one of the more iconic structures located at the center. The Countdown Clock has been at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site since the Apollo era. With space flight now entering a new age, NASA is looking to replace the iconic clock with something more modern – and much more versatile.

Members of the NASA Social held for the Sept. 21 launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket with its payload of a Dragon spacecraft and its 5,100 lbs of cargo were told about the plans for the Clock and tweeted that it would be replaced by December 2014. While this is what the space agency hopes to do – firm plans are not currently in place in terms of when the Clock will be retired – or where it will be going. (9/25)

Student Aims to be the ‘Female, Mexican Carl Sagan’ (Source: New America Media)
When Ana Aceves was 12 years old, she sat on her parents’ front porch in the Central Valley city of Merced, California, looked up into the night sky and had an “out of body experience.” She saw herself on her porch, then her city, and state, planet, and finally the stars.

It was then the energetic 23-year-old UC Berkeley senior says she knew exactly what she wanted to do. “I ran into the house and told my mom I wanted to be an astrologer,” she explained with a loud chuckle. “I think you mean an astronomer,” her mother corrected. Today Aceves, the child of Mexican immigrants and the first in her family to attend college, is double majoring in Astrophysics and Media Studies. (9/25)

Amid Funding Suspicions, Putin Creates Commission on Vostochny Construction (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a resolution to create a commission for the construction of Vostochny Cosmodrome. Russian Vice-Premier Dmitry Rogozin is appointed as chairman of the commission. Putin instructed the commission to coordinate actions between bodies of state power at different levels and organizations, to establish control over efficiency of budget expenditure and to keep to schedule for putting into operation key facilities of the Vostochny Space Launch Center.

In early September Putin visited the Vostochny Cosmodrome construction site and said that “all the deadlines must be met and any delay or disruption in funding must be avoided”. He also warned that “there must be no unjustified increases” in expenditures. “The implementation of this project should confirm the high scientific and technological status of Russia,” he said. (9/25)

‘First Pakistani in Space' Congratulates India on Mars Mission (Source: Deccan Chronicle)
A Pakistani explorer expected to become her country's first person in space congratulated India on Thursday on reaching Mars on its maiden attempt. India won the Asian space race to the Red Planet on Wednesday when its unmanned Mangalyaan successfully entered the Red Planet's orbit after a 10-month journey on a budget of just $74 million.

Despite having a space agency since 1961 Pakistan has not yet launched a satellite into orbit. But Namira Salim, the first Pakistani explorer to reach both poles said India's achievement had made the region proud. "The success of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), Mangalyaan, is a giant leap for South Asia," said Salim, who has booked a ticket on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space project planned for 2015. (9/25)

Sanford Joins Commercial Spaceflight Federation (Source: Space News)
Tommy Sanford, a government affairs associate in the Space Foundation’s Washington office, will become director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation effective Oct. 1. Sanford will take the lead on government affairs for the federation under Eric Stallmer, who replaced former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria as president this month, according to a Sept. 25 press release from the federation.

Sanford is the third and final piece in a Commercial Spaceflight Federation leadership transition that began during the summer when Lopez-Alegria and Sanford’s predecessor, former Capitol Hill staffer Alex Saltman, said they would leave the federation. (9/25)

Branson: Virgin Spaceflight By Christmas (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Sir Richard Branson hopes Virgin Galactic will make it into space by the end of 2014, though he says the first few flights will not be for paying customers. He plans to be aboard the first commercial flight with his son sometime next year. Click here. (9/25)

Incentives Land Aerospace Expansion on Space Coast (Source: Florida Today)
The incentives involved in persuading a company such as Embraer or Northrop Grumman to expand in Brevard County can be high. But the payoffs can be immense, economic development experts say. Three expansion projects involving Embraer and two involving Northrop Grumman since 2008 are expected to lead to 3,800 jobs at the two companies with a total annual payroll of $312 million, as well as a $656.45 million capital investment.

"We have wound up with some very big wins," said Greg Weiner, senior director of business development for the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast. The companies generally don't get the tax breaks or other incentives unless they meet or exceed the jobs and capital investment promised. In the site-selection game, Weiner said, economic incentives are a strategy that states, counties and cities must embrace if they want to be competitive.

"These are very significant projects," Weiner said, adding that the company would consider it "non-responsive" for a community to not offer incentives. When an Embraer or a Northrop Grumman decides to expand in Melbourne, it also means spinoff jobs for the community, at businesses of all kinds, ranging from construction companies and parts suppliers to restaurants and sign-makers. (9/25)

The Uncertain Future of Space Exploration (Source: The State Press)
This marks a radical change in how we will soon view space, should this trend continue. The senses of discovery and wonder that drive investment into space will soon be replaced by the drive for profit. Opening space to the marketplace will transform the final frontier into a cutthroat rat race, where CEOs are more important than astronauts.

There is a reason that highways, education and the military are government-run: As markets, they don’t work. We don’t live in a country where we have to pay a toll on every road we drive or individually hire a mercenary group to protect our borders and neighborhoods, because establishing a market in these areas is complete nonsense. Public goods are paid for by and benefit the public as a whole, and space needs to remain one of these esteemed public spheres.

If we want to cheapen the experience of space travel, then establishing a private monopoly is the way to go. If the goal is to make space travel inexpensive, however, then the only answer is larger investment into our national space program. (9/24)

Elon Musk: Immigrant (Source: Brownsville Herald)
The Rio Grande Valley is still buzzing with excitement after Monday’s groundbreaking for the SpaceX rocket launch facility at Boca Chica Beach. It reflects an investment by entrepreneur Elon Musk that eventually should reach billions of dollars. Musk, a South African native, is just the latest of thousands of immigrants who have improved our economy, and our lives.

He joins other foreign-born business leaders who range from the Singapore conglomerate that runs Keppel AmFELS, to Argentine native Alberto Kreimerman, CEO of Hermes Music, to the many Asian shop owners in our downtown areas, in creating wealth and jobs here. Immigrants’ contributions don’t end there. Educators of all nationalities teach our children in our schools and universities, and many of us entrust our health needs to medical professionals from South America, the Caribbean and even India. (9/25)

Japanese Company Plans Space Elevator by 2050 (Source: C/Net)
Researchers heading into space in the not-too-distant future could be travelling by elevator rather than rocket if Japanese construction giant Obayashi Corporation has its way. The company announced two years ago that it has the capacity to build a space elevator -- and have it up and running by the year 2050.

The company said that the elevator would reach 96,000km (59,652 miles) into space (for reference, space lies beyond the Kármán Line, at an altitude of 100km, the International Space Station is 330km, and the moon is 384,400km from Earth), and use robotic cars powered by magnetic linear motors (maglev, as seen in high-speed rail lines around Asia and Europe) to ferry cargo and humans to a new space station.

Teams around Japan are working on logistics problems associated with the elevator. A team at Kanagawa University, for example, is working on the problems associated with the robotic cars: how to ascend at varying altitudes and how to brake. If the project is successful, it could massively cut the cost and danger associated with space trips: cargo usually costs around $22,000 per kilogram via shuttle; using Obayashi's space elevator, the cost would be closer to $200, the company said. (9/24)

Russia to Allocate $8.2 Billion for ISS Development up to 2025 (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russia plans to allocate 321 billion rubles ($8.2 billion) for developing the International Space Station (ISS) up to 2025, Russian Deputy Prime Minister  Dmitry Rogozin said. “The 2016-2025 draft of the target federal program provides for allocating 321 billion rubles for the ISS development and operation, including the creation of new modules for unmanned spacecraft,” Rogozin said. (9/24)

Four Large Fireballs Reported Across United States (Source: KFOR)
The American Meteor Society is reporting that four large fireballs were spotted across the United States on Sept. 23. The first fireball was reported in Florida and Georgia. Organizers say over 77 witnesses from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York and Kentucky reported a second fireball later in the day. The third fireball was seen by 29 witnesses in Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Kentucky.

The final fireball was reported by 42 people in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland. Researchers with the American Meteor Society say three of the fireballs occurred within an hour and a half of each other. (9/24)

Hadfield Uses China Trip to Promote Space Cooperation (Source: Guardian)
China’s space programme is “open for business”, the astronaut Chris Hadfield has said while calling for more international cooperation during a visit to Beijing to meet his Chinese counterparts. “The US and China need symbolic ways to cooperate beyond panda bears and this is a really good way to do it,” he told the Guardian.

Astronauts from another nation training with China, or Chinese astronauts training at facilities such as NASA’s at Houston, would be a positive and symbolic first step towards working together on a more lasting basis, Hadfield said. Hadfield, who speaks fluent Russian, said it was important to ensure the next space station was an international effort. He cited the success of the ISS as “proof that enmity and suspicion could be overcome”. (9/24)

Ariane 6 Cost Estimate Rises with Addition of New Launch Pad (Source: Space News)
ESA presented to seven of their governments an updated plan for developing the next-generation Ariane 6, with lower estimated recurring production costs but a higher overall development cost owing to the need for a new, Ariane 6-launch pad. Ministers from seven ESA member states — France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland — asked the 20-nation ESA and industry to continue to refine Ariane 6 cost estimates. They agreed to meet Nov. 13 in Germany to review progress. (9/24)

Russian Astronomers Spot Second Planet in Alpha Centauri System (Source: Itar-Tass)
St. Petersburg astronomers have spotted one more planet circling a star in the Alpha Centauri system just 4.36 light-years away from the Solar System. The new plant cannot be seen even though a telescope - astronomers calculated its approximate location by mathematical methods. It is located outside the so-called habitable zone. As of now, astronomers have discovered 1,791 exoplanets in 110 planetary systems outside our Solar System. (9/24)

When Astronauts Finally Reach Mars, Will They be Able to Land? (Source: Air & Space)
I am often asked why landing on Mars is so much harder than landing on the moon or on Earth. To land on the moon, the astronauts entered lunar orbit and fired retro-rockets aimed more or less opposite to their direction of travel. As their spacecraft slowed, it descended toward the surface. The landing isn’t trivial, but it’s reasonably straightforward.

To bring a lander back to Earth, retro-rockets aren’t needed, because Earth has an atmosphere. Most Earth landers can eliminate more than 99 percent of the speed of orbit simply by slowing down with a heat shield. For the last one percent, we can use parachutes (as did Soyuz) or wings (as did the space shuttle). Mars is like neither the moon nor Earth, but is annoyingly in between. It has too much atmosphere to land as we do on the moon and not enough to land as we do on Earth. Click here. (9/24)

Curiosity Finds a Weird 'Ball' on Mars (Source: Discovery)
If there’s one thing to be said for Curiosity’s mission on Mars so far, it certainly hasn’t been boring. Although the six-wheeled rover has taken thousands of photographs of Martian rocks, the rich diversity of Mars’ landscape has provided many beautiful examples of planetary geology and some geology that is downright weird.

Take this recent photographic example from the Mars Science Laboratory’s Mastcam camera that was uploaded to the mission’s photo archive on sol 746 (Sept. 11). While compiling a mosaic of images of the surrounding landscape, Curiosity captured a rather un-Mars-like shape atop a rocky outcrop. There’s a perfect-looking sphere sitting proudly on a flat rock surface. It’s dusty, but under that dust it appears a little darker than the surrounding rock. Click here. (9/24)

SNC's Dream Chaser Employees Laid Off (Source: Denver Post)
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems division on Wednesday laid off about 90 employees from its Dream Chaser program. Space Systems recently lost out on a NASA contract for the Dream Chaser, which would have shuttled astronauts to the International Space Station. Space Systems chief Mark Sirangelo said many of those let go had been hired in anticipation of the NASA contract.

"We did do a workforce reduction, but it was a relatively minor one compared to what it might have been," he said. The layoffs represent a 9.4 percent reduction in Space Systems' Colorado workforce, he said. Space Systems announced in January a November 2016 launch date for its first Dream Chaser orbital mission, as well as an expansion along Florida's space coast, sharing NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center with Jefferson County-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Sirangelo said he could not comment on how this layoffs would affect the launch plans. He did say the Dream Chaser program will continue, and Space Systems intends to bid on upcoming NASA contracts. (9/24)

India's MOM to Spawn a Generation of Smart Satellites (Source: Times of India)
Here is a happy secret: India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was a success much before the spacecraft entered the red planet's orbit on Wednesday morning. And we are not talking about the nerve-wracking 24-minute Mars Orbital Insertion. Nor the studies which MOM's payloads are to take up during its elliptical journey around Mars. The biggest achievement of the 300-day odyssey is India's demonstration of mastery over making the spacecraft 'think and act' on its own.

It is with this electronic brain that MOM journeyed on for more than 680 million km, correcting altitude and positioning its antenna constantly toward earth for communication and its solar panels toward the sun to generate power. It is this brain that stored commands from Isro in Bangalore 10 days in advance and carried them out to fire its engine to enter Martian orbit. Scientists call it autonomy. (9/24)

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