December 21, 2014

NORAD Tracks Santa (Source: Florida Today)
It's the time of year when space-based military assets on the lookout for national security threats engage in a happier form of surveillance: tracking Santa. Continuing a tradition that dates to 1955, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, promises to alert families around the globe to the whereabouts of Santa and his reindeer, now with the aid of radars, satellites and fighter jets.

Visit to follow the countdown to the journey's Dec. 24 start. How does NORAD track Santa? One method utilizes infrared sensors housed on satellites more than 22,000 miles up, whose primary mission is to provide warnings of missile launches. In a strange mingling of defense technology and innocent holiday merriment, NORAD says those sensors are ideal for spotting Rudolph's glowing nose.

"Rudolph's nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch," the tracking Web site explains. "The satellites detect Rudolph's bright red nose with no problem." (12/20)

Asteroid Mission Update (Source: Florida Today)
NASA officials met last week to review two options for how to robotically retrieve an asteroid that astronauts could visit by the mid-2020s, but couldn't settle on one as planned. Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot deferred a decision on whether to try to capture a small, free-floating asteroid or to pry a boulder from a larger asteroid.

"It was a lot to digest," Lightfoot told reporters about the meeting. "I need to get some more clarification on some areas." Lightfoot now expects to choose the preferred option for the Asteroid Redirect Mission early next year, in advance of a more comprehensive review planned in late February that will officially commit to a mission strategy and cost.

The goal for any robotic mission is to steer an asteroid to an orbit near the moon where astronauts could reach it an Orion spacecraft launched from KSC by the agency's Space Launch System rocket. Crews could perform that mission in a few weeks, but would need four years to visit an asteroid in its "native" orbit. (12/20)

The New Space Rescue Mission: Saving NASA (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The legendary Christopher Columbus Kraft, who lived up to his namesake by leading NASA to the moon, has grown old. Severe lines crease his face, and Kraft’s fingers have gnarled. Earlier this year, just before his 90th birthday, sciatica forced him to adopt a cane and, more gallingly, to give up golf. Still, he can accept what time has done to him. It’s harder to make peace with what’s become of NASA.

In the 1960s, President Kennedy gave Kraft, the agency’s first flight director, and NASA’s other leaders a blank check and told them to boldly go. They did. The Apollo guys chomped cigars and called the shots. Those in charge today no longer sit behind flight control consoles, conquering space. They’re at desks in Washington, D.C., politicians and bureaucrats who micromanage the agency’s budget and repeatedly move the goalposts. Click here. (12/21)

Can NASA's Orion Program Reinvigorate Human Spaceflight? (Source: CS Monitor)
NASA's human spaceflight program has been struggling with the same problem since the Apollo program: It doesn't have enough money to do the really exciting stuff. Orion's mission to Mars is NASA's latest attempt to address the issue, but the numbers still might not add up. Click here. (12/20)

NASA Releases Video of Orion Reentry (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Upon completing its two-orbit voyage into space, NASA’s new crew-rated spacecraft, Orion, returned home at speeds reaching some 20,000 miles (32,187 kilometers) an hour. What would an astronaut see from his or her position seated within the capsule-shaped spacecraft? NASA placed a camera inside the Orion that carried out the Dec. 5 Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) mission – and the footage it provided – helped answer that very question. Click here. (12/20)

'Broomfield Scale' Confronts Cosmic Threats (Source: Daily Camera)
It is at the Secure World Foundation where work is progressing toward creating a cooperative, coordinated global response to the potential of a "near-Earth object," such as an asteroid, imperiling this planet's future. At a two-day workshop in September hosted there at the request of the International Asteroid Warning Network — and with little outward fanfare — a new tool was developed that could be a key component in planetary preparations for facing the unthinkable.

They've dubbed it the Broomfield Hazard Scale. "The argument was that we've named all our (hazard) scales after places, and this conference was in Broomfield, the Secure World Foundation is here, Colorado is a major space state ... and that it had a kind of neutral quality to it. It was not the Washington scale, or the Houston scale — it was a scale that represented not only a place, but something the place had facilitated."

The proposed Broomfield Scale is a six-step qualitative hazard scale, in tabular form, based on a near-Earth object's size and potential kinetic energy in tons of TNT equivalency, pairing that with the potential range of destruction that might ensue. The range depicted extends from the "visible fireball" that would be evident from a "Class-1" object less than 10 meters in diameter with a kinetic energy of less than 50 kilotons, to a "Class 6" intruder more than 600 meters in size, which would threaten "global destruction." (12/19)

Felicia Chou of Taiwan Made PR Contact at NASA (Source: Want China Times)
The new face at NASA's public relations department comes from Taiwan. Felicia Chou is now a media contact at NASA and is in charge of astronomy-related affairs, according to the NASA website. Chou began working as a public affairs officer at NASA's headquarters in Washington August. (12/21)

Third MUOS Satellite Gets Jan. 20 Launch Date at Florida Spaceport (Source: Defense News)
The third mobile user objective system (MUOS) satellite is scheduled to launch Jan. 20, contractor Lockheed Martin announced on Friday. The satellite will be launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. (12/19)

Mars Tech: From Ion Thrusters to Laser Communications (Source: CS Monitor)
Rockets leaving launchpads are the most visible signs that a deep-space human exploration program is under way. But those missions are the result of behind-the-scenes engineering that provides new technologies. To get humans to Mars, NASA is going to have to develop a variety of new technologies. But these technologies can also be used for other purposes, such as robotic science missions or more-advanced commercial satellites. Click here. (12/20)

Venus Express Ends Eight Year Mission (Source: SEN)
ESA’s Venus Express has finally ended its eight-year mission. The spacecraft exhausted its fuel during a series of thruster burns earlier this year and will now naturally sink deeper into the atmosphere over the coming weeks. Since arriving at Venus in 2006, Venus Express has conducted a detailed study of the planet and its atmosphere.

With propellant for its propulsion system running low, the spacecraft was tasked in mid-2014 with a daring aerobraking campaign, during which it dipped progressively lower into the atmosphere on its closest approaches to the planet, allowing an exploration of previously uncharted regions of the atmosphere. (12/20)

Indian Hitchhikers Lost, Seek a Legal Guide to the Galaxy (Source: Times of India)
Several startups coming up in the Indian space sector are feeling hampered by the lack of a legal and regulatory framework that can help support and encourage new ventures. These companies, both early stage ventures and some established private companies that develop a range of solutions from frugally built spacecraft to custom-made solutions are looking for support that can help spur innovation and publicprivate partnerships, which can help reduce imports and support growing startup activity in the sector. Click here. (12/16)

Working Toward a Warp Drive: In an Omaha Garage Lab (Source:
You might call David Pares a dreamer, though what he’s doing goes far beyond the realm of online chatter. Some guys spend their spare time restoring automobiles, devoting garage space to motionless Corvettes and Camaros. Pares is making his own warp drive. To hear him and his small team of supporters tell it, something weird is happening out here in the garage. “The compression of the fabric of space,” Pares says matter-of-factly.

On average, Pares spends a couple of hours a day here almost every day of the week. To bend the fabric of space, he sits in front of a tray of instruments, twisting knobs and glancing every now and then into a Faraday cage, where a 3.5-pound weight hangs inside an electrically isolated case. Outside the case hangs a strange instrument made up of V-shape panels with fractal arrays on the surfaces. The instrument is the latest version of what Pares believes is the world’s first low-power warp drive motor.

He turns around and points to the back of his garage door, where a red laser — beamed at the weight and reflected back against the door to demonstrate the movement happening in the case — drifts from its original spot. Slowly, in incremental amounts, the weight is drawn toward the V-shape motor. "You’re not supposed to be able to do this,” Pares says. At just 100 watts of power, he claims an electrical field created by his arrays is ever so slightly condensing space in front of the motor, the way you’d squeeze coils on a Slinky. Click here. (12/21)

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