December 7, 2014

New Horizons Awakens for Pluto Encounter (Source: Sky & Telescope)
"Hello? New Horizons? C'mon, sleepy-head . . . it's time to get ready for your big date with Pluto!" OK, today's actual wake-up sequence for NASA's Pluto-bound spacecraft was a little more involved than this, actually a set of commands already stored on-board in computer memory. But the result was the same.

Circuitry aboard New Horizons surged to life as the spacecraft emerged from electronic hibernation. The craft's transmitter dispatched a status report, but it didn't reach Earth for 4 hours 26 minutes (the one-way light time across a void of 4.8 billion km). (12/6)

Ariane Launches Two Communications Satellites (Source: Space Today)
After two days of weather-related delays, an Ariane 5 successfully launched two communications satellites on Saturday. The Ariane 5 ECA lifted off Saturday from Kourou, French Guiana, and placed the DIRECTV-14 and GSAT-16 satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbits. The launch was the sixth Ariane 5 mission of 2014. (12/7)

NMSU Loses Long-Term NASA Balloon Contract (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
New Mexico State University lost its biggest technical contract and one of its most long-standing when NASA awarded management of its Scientific Balloon Program to Orbital Sciences Corp. The contract was valued at an estimated $20 million to $30 million a year over five years, which provided operation and maintenance of scientific balloon facilities and engineering support for the program, which conducts high-altitude scientific balloon research and scientific work.

NMSU submitted a proposal to rebid for the contract in March. The contract includes operating the permanent balloon staging facility at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas. Orbital will also take over research at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and Wallops Flight Facility, at Wallops Island, Virginia. (12/7)

Czechs Ignoring Space (Source: Prague Post)
The Czech membership contribution to the European Space Agency (ESA) fell by as much as 50 percent over the past two years, which may threaten the future of space research in the country, said Jan Kolar, director of the Czech Space Office. In 2012, the Czech Republic pledged to provide €20 million, but now it is only giving half of the sum, Kolar said.

As Czech space research is mainly financed from ESA programs, this will largely affect the future of the scientific field, he added. The Czechs' chances to take part in the programs of the biggest European research organization will diminish, Kolar said. He said there was no concept of Czech space research and Czech experts had to be gaining money in their own right, he added. (12/5)

China Launches CBERS-4 on 200th Long March Mission (Source: Xinhua)
China launched the CBERS-4 satellite, jointly developed with Brazil, on Sunday from the Taiyuan base by Long March-4B rocket, the 200th launch of Long March rocket family. The rocket blasted off at 11:26 a.m., lifting the earth resource satellite into its planned orbit, according to the Taiyuan satellite launch center in north China's Shanxi Province.

CBERS-4 is the fifth satellite in the Chinese-Brazilian Earth Resource Satellite (CBERS) program which began in 1988. They are used in planning and land management, forestry, water conservation, environmental protection and agriculture. (12/7)

Astronauts Lift Our Spirits. But Can We Afford to Send Humans Into Space? (Source: Guardian)
In many laboratories and research centers, the delight for Orion was shared by scientists. A return to sending men and women to other parts of the solar system – years after the US scrapped its last manned space vehicle, the shuttle – cannot come soon enough for them.

But for others, the test flight was viewed as a distinctly unhappy event. Putting humans into space is futile, expensive and ultimately harmful to real science, argue researchers who believe that robot craft represent the future of space exploration and are dismayed by the US’s commitment to return to expensive manned missions. The existence of these two camps – manned versus unmanned – reveal a deep division in attitude to space exploration. Click here. (12/6)

‘Life on Earth is in Peril. We Have No Future if We Don’t Go Into Space’ (Source: Guardian)
Hawking: Robotic missions are much cheaper and may provide more scientific information, but they don’t catch the public imagination in the same way, and they don’t spread the human race into space, which I’m arguing should be our long-term strategy. If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers ... I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space. Click here. (12/6)

PocketQube Satellites Show Promise (Source: Guardian)
The capabilities of the smartphone-sized structure are, according to Walkinshaw, “limited only by the imagination” – even in its tiniest form it can house the components that align, propel and power the satellite, and the slightly larger 5x5x10cm version can include additions such as star-tracking technology or cameras. Walkinshaw imagines hundreds of PocketQubes linking together in space and gathering a breadth of real-time data which bulky traditional satellites could never provide. The only real obstacle to this dream is getting them there in the first place. Click here. (12/6)

USS Anchorage Completes NASA Orion Mission (Source: DVIDS)
San Antonio class amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD 23) successfully completed recovery operations of the NASA Orion crew module Dec. 5. Anchorage is a unique platform that has a combination of capabilities that are suited to assist NASA with the Orion recovery.

LPD-class ships have well-decks, advanced medical facilities, embarked helicopters, three dimensional air-search radar and small boats that can all be leveraged during recovery operations. Sailors rehearsed for the recovery during the URT when a mock-up of the Orion module was deployed from the ship's well deck and recovered by Navy divers and small boats. (12/6)

Climate Change Threatens Vital NASA Launch Pads (Source: CBS)
NASA is dealing with a long-range problem at the Kennedy Space Center. After Friday's successful test of the Orion spacecraft, the space agency could face challenges to future space launches. Orion's next flight in a couple of years will begin just north of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Since 2003, nearly 100 feet of beach next to the launch pads have been lost.

"That big concrete block used to actually be sitting on top of the sand," said Nancy Bray, director of operations at the Kennedy Space Center. "That's how much erosion we've had over the years." As Bray pointed out, the edge of the beach now is only about 200 yards from the launch pad. The erosion problem became clear two years ago, when Hurricane Sandy's waves washed all the way over an abandoned railroad track.

"When the dunes were taken out during Hurricane Sandy, (the beach) moved back about 20 yards," said University of Florida geologist Peter Adams. Adams and John Jaeger have spent the last five years studying the beach. "There's been a change in the way the waves actually come into the shoreline, and that's a function of climate change," Jaeger said. "The waves have gotten bigger, and the angle they come in from has changed. (12/6)

Why the Orion Space Launch Bodes Well For Lockheed Martin & Others (Source: The Street)
Hundreds of companies are hoping to profit after the successful test flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft in Florida. But for firms that make Orion's larger components and systems, the spacecraft's orbital journey means these companies will continue to be fueled by NASA's funding tap.

NASA plans on spending about $1 billion per year further developing the Orion space capsule and another $7 billion on the Space Launch System (SLS), as the space agency aims to eventually deliver manned missions to Mars. There will be more than enough money to spread around to the large aerospace and defense contractors working on the project, as well as the 500 small businesses affiliated with the project.

The number of Orion missions have not been set, but a series of test flights are scheduled. The next text flight is expected to take place in 2018, with the first orbital manned mission slated for sometime in 2020. (12/6)

When Women Excel at Rocket Science (Source: The Hindu)
Women can’t be left out when the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launches yet another dream: sending astronauts into space. In fact, women scientists and engineers have played a key role in designing the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III that will lift off from Sriharikota in a few days, carrying a crew capsule without astronauts. (12/7)

Commercial Weather Hopefuls Preach Cooperation, Gird for Competition (Source: Space News)
In a Dec. 2 webinar, aspiring private weather satellite operators who want to sell data to NOAA pitched their services as a supplement, not a competitor, to the government-operated satellites that contribute most of the space-based data used in U.S. weather forecasting. Top executives with GeoOptics and PlanetIQ — companies that have lobbied Congress to grease the skids for selling commercial weather satellite data to NOAA — spoke during the webcast.

Currently, NOAA does not buy commercial weather satellite data. The agency relies, as it has for decades, on government-operated polar-orbiting and geostationary weather satellite systems — respectively known as the Joint Polar Satellite System and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series — to make the vast majority of the space-based weather measurements needed by the National Weather Service.

Although neither PlanetIQ nor GeoOptics has designs on replacing NOAA’s biggest satellites, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars each, both companies plan to compete head-on with government-operated weather satellites called Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC), which use a technique called GPS radio occultation to gather temperature, humidity and pressure data by observing the distortion of GPS signals as they pass through Earth’s atmosphere. (12/5)

Comet Dust Found in Antarctica (Source: Science)
Researchers have discovered comet dust preserved in the ice and snow of Antarctica, the first time such particles have been found on Earth’s surface. The discovery unlocks a promising new source of this material. The oldest astronomical particles available for study, comet dust can offer clues about how our solar system formed.

“It’s very exciting for those of us who study these kinds of extraterrestrial materials, because it opens up a whole new way to get access to them,” says Larry Nittler, a planetary scientist in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., who was not involved with the research. “They’ve found a new source for something that’s very interesting and very rare.”

Until recently, the only way scientists could collect “chondritic porous interplanetary dust particles,” or comet dust, without going to space has been by flying research planes high in the stratosphere. It’s painstaking work: Several hours of flying time typically yield one particle of dust. Working with such small samples significantly limits the kinds of tests and analysis scientists can perform on the material. (12/5)

Canadian Crowdfunding Project Aims to Build Mini Mars Rover (Source:
A Canadian company wants to land a couple of robots on Mars in late 2018, but to do so, it might need your help. For the mission, called Northern Light, Thoth Technology plans to deliver a lander and a mini rover called "Beaver" to the Red Planet in the next four years, and the company is asking space fans to help crowdfund the huge undertaking.

The Northern Light mission will look for biomarker gases (those that could indicate biological sources) like methane, and will have the capability to grind into rocks, to find out the environment in which they were formed. No landing site has been selected yet, but it will likely be close to the equator for maximum sunshine.

A key challenge, however, will be obtaining sufficient funding. The full cost of the mission has not been disclosed publicly, but development costs are expected to add up to $980,000, Roberts said. An Indiegogo campaign has raised roughly C$6,000 ($5,320) of that, and will close Jan. 3. (12/5)

India Has Its Own 'Orion': Unmanned Spacecraft Prepared for Launch (Source: AstroWatch)
As NASA prepares for the test launch of its Orion spacecraft, India awaits the first ever flight of its indigenous space capsule. Just like Orion, it will be launched in December, but the exact date has not been decided yet. The mission is a stepping stone to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) ultimately sending astronauts into space in the module.

The 3.65-tonne module will get de-mated from the topmost cryogenic stage at an altitude of 125 km and return to the earth. At an altitude of 15 km, there will be an “aerial ballet,” featuring three huge parachutes which will open up one after the other to slow down the module’s descent. The module is expected to splash down in the sea near the Andaman archipelago and will be recovered by the Indian Coast Guard and ISRO personnel. The entire flight from the lift-off to the splash-down will last about 20 minutes. (12/5)

A Lunar NASCAR Race? Companies Compete to Make Big Bucks on the Moon (Source: Al Jazeera)
Moon Express and Astrobotic are competitors in a very small emerging market: commercializing the moon. It’s a market that doesn’t even know it needs the moon yet. “We see the moon as the eight continent of the world,” says John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic. “We want to open that up.

Bob Richards, CEO of Moon Express, says. “We believe that a hunk of the moon that you can hold in your hand could be worth a billion dollars.” Both companies are building unmanned craft to take cargo to the moon, like a freight service. Astrobotic’s lander can carry 600 pounds of cargo to the moon. “Once we land on the moon, we become a solar power station,” says Thornton. “We have solar panels, so we’re like the local utility for payloads that come with us. Click here. (12/5)

NASA's Mars Capsule Will Never Land on Mars (Source: Bloomberg)
The Orion space capsule has been under development by NASA since the mid-2000s. But, watching it splash down in the Pacific ocean four hours later, you'd be forgiven for thinking of the 1970s. The capsule, which by some reliable estimates cost over $10 billion, didn’t accomplish anything that wasn’t somewhat routine for NASA in the era of the Apollo moon landings.

NASA, however, is encouraging a very different view.  Rather than admit Orion's many shortcomings, it has boldly  promoted the mission as the first step in America’s journey to Mars. It's laudable, of course, that a perpetually under-funded government agency -- one that hasn’t sent a crewed mission beyond low-Earth orbit in forty-two years -- is able to muster this sort of long-term optimism.

But optimism alone won’t send a jumbo-sized space capsule to Mars. You need money, and lots of it: a recent National Research Council study looked at several mission pathways to Mars, including Orion, and saw no possibility that any mission could be accomplished for less than hundreds of billions of dollars. In contrast, the NASA expects to spend $22 billion on Orion and the Space Launch System rocket by 2021. (12/5)

Sea-Level Rise Threatens Florida Spaceport (Source: Brisbane Times)
Rising seas and pounding waves driven by climate change are chipping away at the coast near Kennedy Space Center, threatening launch pads and future operations, scientists said. "There's reason to be nervous now because the problem is so obvious," said Peter Adams, a geology professor at the University of Florida. Nancy Bray, director of KKSC operations, said, "We do consider sea level rise and climate change to be urgent."

Bray added that NASA's plans for dealing with climate change included a "managed retreat" in which it will move infrastructure, potentially including launch pads, as needed. Florida coastal communities could experience about a 2-foot (60-cm) rise in sea level by 2060, the US Geological Survey has previously said. The two main causes are the volume of water added to oceans from glacial melt and the expansion of that water from rising sea temperatures. (12/6)

Venus Express Anomaly (Source: ESA)
On 28 November 2014, the flight control team at ESOC reported loss of contact with Venus Express. It is possible that the remaining fuel on board VEX was exhausted during the recent periapsis-raising maneuvers and that the spacecraft is no longer in a stable attitude (the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna must be kept pointed toward Earth to ensure reliable radio contact).

Repeated attempts to re-establish contact using ESA and NASA deep-space tracking stations have been made since then, and there has been some limited success in the period since 3 December. Although a stable telemetry link is not available, some telemetry packets were successfully downlinked. These confirm that the spacecraft is oriented with its solar arrays pointing toward the Sun, and is rotating slowly. (12/5)

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