November 23, 2014

Crew Blasts Off for International Space Station (Source: ABC News)
A Russian capsule carrying three astronauts from Russia, the U.S. and Italy has blasted off for the International Space Station at just after 3 a.m. Monday (2100 GMT Sunday) from Kazakhstan. Aboard the capsule are Russian Anton Shkaplerov, NASA's Terry Virts and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy. The craft will dock with the space station about six hours after launch, where they will join three others already aboard. (11/23)

SpaceX Unveils Landing Barge, Rocket Steering Fins (Source: Gizmodo)
SpaceX unveiled its "X-wing config" fins for the Falcon 9 rocket. The grid fins are the small waffle-shaped paddles that can be used to control the vehicle during its reentry into the atmosphere, steer it into the right position to relight its main engine, and land on target. They're also retractable, so don't add significant drag to the rocket while it's serving its primary function of getting stuff into space.

Also unveiled was a "drone ship" landing barge. The 300ft by 100ft vessel has a deck that can be expanded to a width of 170ft. Combined with technology to keep the platform stable, that should provide a good landing platform for the rockets, whilst also being a long, long way away from other people in case things don't go quite to plan. Click here. (11/22)

Navy Ready to Support EFT-1 Orion’s Splashdown (Source:
While public attention is focused on the upcoming launch of the Exploration Flight Test -1 (EFT-1) Orion, the US Navy is preparing for the spacecraft’s splashdown at the conclusion of the test mission. The USS Anchorage and the USNS Salvor will be involved in the first of the three contracted Orion returns that will be spread over the next 10 years. (11/21)

Boeing Chief Engineer: SpaceX ‘Drives Us To Be Better’ (Source: Geekwire)
Boeing doesn’t mind its competition — in fact, the company welcomes it. That was the message from Ted Goetz, a chief engineer with Boeing’s Commercial Crew who spoke today at Spacefest, a three-day event organized by the Museum of Flight in Seattle. After describing the development of Boeing’s CST-100, Goetz was asked about SpaceX, the Elon Musk-led company that is sharing a $7 billion NASA contract with Boeing to help send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

“With SpaceX in the picture, it’s actually pretty cool,” Goetz said. “They drive us to be better. It helps us sharpen our skills, and re-examine some of the things with how we’re doing business. It’s made a difference, for sure.” (11/21)

The Art and Politics of an Icy Water World (Source: Slate)
Europa is 3120 km (1930 miles) in diameter, a hair smaller than our own Moon. Unlike our Moon, which is rock through and through, Europa has a rocky core covered with water. And by water, I mean liquid water, an undersurface ocean covered with a kilometers-thick shell of ice. The water may be in a layer 100 km thick, and salty, making it a true ocean. In fact, it may have more liquid water than Earth does! Click here. (11/21)

‘Invest Into Space, not war’ – Russian Cosmonaut Urges Russia-US Cooperation (Source: Russia Today)
Fruitful cooperation between the Russian and US crews at the International Space Station should become a template for relations between Moscow and Washington, cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev told RT as a new mission prepares to head to the ISS on Sunday. Artemyev believes that lack of consent between politicians is what prevents humanity from moving forward and starting deep space exploration. (11/22)

European Space Plane Set for February Launch (Source: Phys Org)
Europe's first-ever "space plane" will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace said Friday after a three-month delay to fine-tune the mission flight plan. The unmanned, car-sized vessel will be sent into low orbit by Europe's Vega light rocket, on a 100-minute fact-finding flight to inform plans to build a shuttle-like, reusable space vehicle.

Dubbed IXV, for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, the plane will be boosted from Europe's space pad in Kourou, French Guiana, and separate from its launcher at an altitude of 320 kilometers (200 miles). "It will attain an altitude of around 450 km, allowing it to reach a speed of 7.5 km/s (4.7 miles/s) when reentering the atmosphere at an altitude of 120 km—fully representative of any return mission from low orbit." (11/21)

JPL Employees with Dual Citizenship Questioned on Loyalty (Source: Pasadena Weekly)
Over the past eight months, Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Cate Heneghan said she has been dealing with what she considers to be an abuse of authority by NASA, which has been trying to force her to sign what amounts to a loyalty oath — asking intrusive questions about her allegiance to the U.S. Heneghan, who was born and raised in Maryland and has dual citizenship with Ireland, argues that the questions do not conform to NASA guidelines.

HSPD-12, or Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, was issued by President Bush in 2004 and implemented a common identification standard for federal employees and contractors. When it was implemented at JPL and applied to all employees, including contractors and those working on non-classified projects, a number of scientists and engineers objected to the invasive background checks required under the directive and filed a federal lawsuit.

The suit, brought by longtime JPL scientist Robert Nelson, was ultimately decided in NASA’s favor by the US Supreme Court in 2012. Heneghan says that other federal employees who are also dual citizens, including those working for NASA, are not subject to the same questions. Heneghan said NASA guidelines indicate the questions are only required for classified work. Officials threatened noncompliance, revocation of access to JPL and “unfavorable determination” if Heneghan did not answer the questions within a week. (11/20)

Space Tourism: Onslaught of Visitors Expected for Launch of Hayabusa 2 Probe (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
Accommodations, transportation and other tourism-related services have rapidly sold out in and around Tanegashima island ahead of the Nov. 30 launch of the Hayabusa 2 asteroid probe there. The Tanegashima Tourism Association said it expects a record-tying 4,000 people to visit the island in Kagoshima Prefecture when the JAXA launches the probe aboard the H-2A Launch Vehicle No. 26 from the Tanegashima spaceport. (11/23)

Spaceport America Sets Sights on New Customers (Source: ABC)
There is a renewed focus is on drawing more tenants to the nearly quarter-billion-dollar spaceport and maintaining support among state lawmakers. Christine Anderson, the authority's executive director, learned this week she might have to do that one legislator at a time. Anderson was called out by Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, for handing members of an interim legislative finance committee a presentation filled mostly with photographs.

Lundstrom and other lawmakers wanted hard numbers and more details about what plan the authority has to get past the Virgin Galactic mishap and get the taxpayer-financed spaceport off the ground. "It just made all of us look like idiots, like we don't do our homework," Anderson said. "That's not the case whatsoever."

Anderson pointed to a meeting just a month earlier with the same committee in which she testified for six hours about what the spaceport authority has done, how much money it has spent and on what projects, how much revenue it's likely to bring and what needs to be done going forward. The testimony covered everything from the salaries and benefits of spaceport employees to how much is spent to keep the lights on at the futuristic building in southern New Mexico. (11/23)

Private CubeSat Start-Ups Join the Space Race (Source: Saturday Paper)
Space start-ups around the world are harnessing an unabashed Silicon Valley mentality. They pride themselves on small staff cohorts, cheap technology and quick deployment, factors that would traditionally make NASA gag at the mere mention. But for now, start-ups are leaving human space travel to the multibillionaires. Instead, they hope to solve smaller, more immediate problems faced by those on earth. Click here. (11/22)

Inside Russia's Sacred Baikonur Cosmodrome (Source: Popular Mechanics)
I knew I could only be in Kazakhstan when I saw the priests. Two of them—half-bears, half-men—walked up to the Soyuz on its pad at the fabled Baikonur Cosmodrome, their robes blowing in the desert wind. Then they sang at the rocket and bowed at the rocket and finally threw holy water at the rocket, and then they came over to us, the assembled reporters, and they threw holy water at us, too, because we probably looked like we could use it.

I'm not a religious man, but I accepted my soaking under a boundless blue sky and thought what I suspect most of the people on the pad were thinking: Can't hurt. The entire Russian space program seems built on the guiding principle of can't hurt. Click here. (11/23)

Beijing Edges Ahead in the Space Race (Source: DW)
As united as Asian countries may be in their attempts to keep pace with the West, they are worlds apart when it comes to catching up with its space exploration program. So far, it was clear who was winning the space race –with the US running out of steam, only Russia was left. But it is rapidly losing its advantage as its Asian neighbors are busy looking to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Beijing is especially close on Moscow's heels. Other than the Americans and the Russians, the Chinese are the only ones to have made it to the moon as yet. Click here. (11/22)

Burt Rutan Has High Hopes for Space Travel (Source: The Tribune)
Burt Rutan — a Cal Poly grad and renowned aerospace pioneer who has long championed space tourism — said he hopes the tragic crash of a Virgin Galactic test flight last month won’t slow down progress on such endeavors. Now retired and living in Idaho, where he’s building a seaplane called the Skigull that rises from the water on skis, Rutan retains a keen interest in the progress of commercial space travel — and flight innovation in general. Click here. (11/21)

Asteroid Mining: Not as Crazy as it Sounds (Source: Geology for Investors)
At first glance it sounds ridiculous. Why would anyone consider mining in space when even the largest Earth-based mining operations seem to have trouble managing costs? After all, mid-grade and marginal deposits seem to have trouble finding any money and the process of moving a project from prospect to mine can take decades and cost hundreds of million of dollars.

I’ll be the first to admit that the whole idea of asteroid mining was initially right up there with Star Trek-style transporters and desktop cold fusion, but a few recent events have piqued my curiosity on the subject. Allow me to elaborate.

First, one of the many items that was lost back in October, 2014 when the Antares rocket was destroyed was the Arkyd 3 satellite. Arkyd 3 is a testing platform designed by Planetary Resources, otherwise known as “the asteroid mining company”. Apparently these guys aren’t just doing interviews: There is actual work going on here. A re-built Arkyd 3 is scheduled for launch in about 9 months. Click here. (11/21)

Norway to Grow Food Crops in Space (Source: The Local)
A new EU-funded research project is set to 'take-off' researching how food plants grow in space and how the horticulture could supply space travellers with oxygen and food. The 10-year project called TIME SCALE will be led by Ann-Iren Kittang Jost, research chief at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.

The research team has not yet decided what plants they will try and grow, but are looking at tomatoes, lettuce and soybeans. The Trondheim research unit has been trying to grow plants in space since 2006. Under the Norwegian research team's guidance, plant growing experiments were carried out at the International Space Station (ISS). The research focused on the flowering weed, Arabidopsis thaliana. (11/21)

Hawaii Observatories to Study an Exotic Object (Source: U. of Hawaii)
An international team of researchers analyzing decades of observations from many facilities, including the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea and the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on Haleakala, as well as NASA’s Swift satellite, has discovered an unusual source of light in a galaxy some 90 million light-years away. The team was led by Michael Koss, who was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Astronomy (IfA) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa during most of the time the study was ongoing.

The object's curious properties make it a good match for a supermassive black hole ejected from its home galaxy after merging with another giant black hole. But astronomers can't yet rule out an alternative possibility. The source, called SDSS1133, may be the remnant of a massive star that underwent a record period of eruptions before destroying itself in a supernova explosion. (11/22)

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