January 9, 2015

Space: What To Watch For In 2015 (Source: Aviation Week)
After a year of highs and lows in space that featured Philae’s landing on a speeding comet and back-to-back failures of commercial spacecraft, 2015 is also packed with developments in crew vehicles, satellite launches and scientific advancement. Mark the calendar with a list of some of the space news events for the new year. Click here. (1/7)

"Curiosity" Gets New Scientist (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced there would be a changing of the guard in its Mars exploration department. Everyone’s favorite Martian explorer, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity Rover, now has a new project scientist — Ashwin Vasavada. Vasavada succeeds John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), who recently became chair of Caltech’s Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences and will remain a member of Curiosity’s science team. (1/8)

Opportunity Tops Martian Mountain (Source: America Space)
Almost exactly 3900 Sols into her planned 3 month mission, NASA’s world renowned Opportunity rover climbed proudly atop the tallest Martian mountain she will ever ascend, achieving a “milestone that can’t be underestimated,” said Prof. Steve Squyres, the rover's Science Principal Investigator. “The symbolic value of reaching a major summit on Mars eleven years into a 90-day mission can’t be underestimated,” noted Squyres. And it’s especially gratifying because the rover has suffered some significant problems recently with the flash memory and been somewhat “crippled”. (1/8)

Mercury May Be Sole Survivor of Planetary Pile-Up (Source: New Scientist)
The inner solar system may once have been a crowded and violent place – and Mercury its lone survivor. A new model suggests that most young planetary systems start with several close-in, rocky planets, which later destroy each other in a cascade of collisions.

As astronomers discover more and more planets orbiting other stars, our solar system looks increasingly unusual. While we have four inner rocky planets and four outer gas giants, many other systems have "hot Jupiters" very close to their star. What's more, observations by NASA's Kepler space telescope suggest that between 5 and 10 per cent of planetary systems cram several planets closer to their host star than Mercury is to the sun. (1/8)

Telescope Captures Stunning Images of Alien Planets and Young Star (Source: Space.com)
The world's most sensitive exoplanet imager has returned some amazing photos, as well as surprising results, just a year after opening its eyes. The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), which is installed on the Gemini South telescope in Chile, first started observing the heavens in November 2013 and didn't begin full science operations until this past November.

But the instrument has already detected unexpected differences between two sister exoplanets and helped characterize the ring of dust and rocky bodies surrounding a young star. Astronomers trained GPI on HR 8799, a star found about 130 light-years from Earth that's known to host four planets. One stunning GPI image captured three of those planets, as well as the star, in the same frame. Click here. (1/8)

Record-Breaking Outburst From Milky Way's Black Hole (Source: SEN)
A team of scientists have observed and recorded the largest-ever X-ray flare from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The astronomical event detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory on 14 September, 2013 was 400 times brighter than the usual X-ray output from the black hole, known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*). A little more than a year later, in October 2014, astronomers saw another flare from Sgr A* that was 200 times brighter than its normal state. (1/8)

NASA Seeks Astronomy Mission Concepts For 2020 Report (Source: Space News)
While the final report is still more than five years away, NASA has effectively kicked off the next astrophysics decadal survey by asking the scientific community to evaluate ideas for the next large mission that the report may recommend NASA pursue in the 2020s. Click here. (1/8)

Navy Satellite Being Readied for Jan. 20 Launch at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
The payload will be mounted aboard the 200th Atlas-Centaur rocket Thursday, completing assembly of the most-powerful version of the vehicle available in the modern era. Liftoff of the MUOS 3 satellite is scheduled for Jan. 20 during an evening window of 7:42 to 8:26 p.m. EST (0042-0126 GMT) from Complex 41. (1/7)

New Airbus-Safran Venture Eyes Full Control of Arianespace (Source: Space News)
Airbus Defence and Space on Jan. 8 said its new joint venture with Safran, Airbus Safran Launchers, would purchase the French government’s shares in the Arianespace launch service provider “in the coming weeks” and by the end of the year would assume total control of the design and future production, operation and commercial sales of the next-generation Ariane 6 launcher.

Just five weeks after European governments agreed to spend more than 8 billion euros ($10 billion) on Ariane 6 and the maintenance of the current Ariane 5 vehicle and other rocket-related investments, Airbus appeared to be pressuring the French government to sell its 34 percent Arianespace stake sooner rather than later. The government’s ownership is held through the French space agency, CNES.

“Our joint venture by itself has the majority of Arianespace’s capital. We are in the process of acquiring CNES’s shares, which should be completed in the coming weeks.” Airbus Safran Launchers now controls 41 percent of Arianespace’s equity. CNES’s 34 percent stake gives it blocking-minority power. (1/8)

Government Again Asks Judge To Dismiss SpaceX Lawsuit (Source: Space News)
For the third time in nine months, the U.S. Justice Department is asking a federal judge to dismiss a SpaceX lawsuit challenging the Air Force’s $11 billion bulk purchase of rockets from United Launch Alliance. In April, SpaceX asked the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to void a large portion of the sole-source deal, which was signed in 2013 and includes 36 rocket cores from ULA. (1/8)

Seoul, Washington Hold First Space Policy Talks (Source: Korea Herald)
South Korea and the United States have held their first talks to discuss the issue of growing space debris and ways to beef up cooperation, Seoul’s foreign ministry said. At the so-called space policy dialogue held in Washington Thursday, officials from Seoul and Washington exchanged views on how to cooperate with each other on the peaceful use of outer space, it said. (1/9)

Japanese Administration Approves New Space Policy (Source: Japan Times)
The Abe administration approved a new space development policy Friday that focuses less on science and more on security and how to make piles of cash. Under the 10-year Basic Plan on Space Policy, the administration said it will improve cooperation with the United States in the area of security while aiming to boost the value of Japan’s space industry to ¥5 trillion over the next decade. (1/9)

Elon Musk Won’t Send You Into Orbit Looking Frumpy (Source: Bloomberg)
SpaceX has grand ambitions of commercial missions to the moon and to Mars. In the process, the company wants its future travelers’ spacesuits to be not just safe, but also snappy. “We are putting a lot of effort into design aesthetics, not just utility,” SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said of the suit on Jan. 5 in a Reddit “ask me anything” session. “It needs to both look like a 21st century spacesuit and work well. Really difficult to achieve both.” (1/8)

‘Space Tech Can Play Important Role in Raising Farm Productivity’ (Source: The Hindu)
The eminent space scientist and former Chairman of ISRO UR Rao has highlighted the role of space technology in improving agriculture productivity in the country. In an interaction with students of various schools from Dakshina Kannada district at The Yenepoya School in Mangaluru on Thursday, he said that the country needed an ‘evergreen revolution.’ Space technology can play a major role in it, he said. (1/8)

Nissan and NASA Partner on Autonomous Drive Vehicles (Source: SpaceRef)
Nissan Motor Co., through its North American-based organization, and NASA today announced the formation of a five-year research and development partnership to advance autonomous vehicle systems and prepare for commercial application of the technology.

Researchers from Nissan's U.S. Silicon Valley Research Center and NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., will focus on autonomous drive systems, human-machine interface solutions, network-enabled applications, and software analysis and verification, all involving sophisticated hardware and software used in road and space applications.

Researchers from the two organizations will test a fleet of zero-emission autonomous vehicles at Ames to demonstrate proof-of-concept remote operation of autonomous vehicles for the transport of materials, goods, payloads and people. For NASA, these tests parallel the way it operates planetary rovers from a mission control center. (1/8)

Climate Denier Ted Cruz Is Poised to Lead Senate on Science (Source: New Republic)
The GOP's Senate takeover means the chamber's leadership positions will be filled with Republicans next year. That's bad news for the environment: The Senate’s worst climate change denier, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, will likely chair the Environment and Public Works Committee.

But it's also bad news for science: Texas Senator Ted Cruz, another climate denier, may be next-in-line to become chair of the Subcommittee on Science and Space, which oversees agencies like the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. (1/8)

Senate Commerce Names Subcommittee Chairs: Ted Cruz for NASA, Marco Rubio for NOAA (Source: Space Policy Online)
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today announced who will chair its subcommittees in the 114th Congress. Ted Cruz (R-TX) will chair the subcommittee that oversees NASA, while Marco Rubio (R-FL) will chair the one with jurisdiction over NOAA. The full Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is chaired by Sen. John Thune (R-SD).

The Senate is now in Republican hands, so all committee and subcommittee chairs are Republican and ranking members are Democrats (though there are two Independents, who usually vote with Democrats, who might also hold committee leadership positions). (1/8)

The Debate About The Future Of Human Spaceflight – 30 Years On (Source: Aviation Week)
Exactly 30 years ago, the Reagan White House was in the midst of choosing the members of a National Commission on Space (NCOS) to satisfy Title II of the FY1985 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 98-361). A year earlier, President Reagan had announced in his State of the Union address that NASA would build a space station and invite other countries to join.

Congress agreed, authorizing the program in the FY1985 Act, but it also wanted to know where the space shuttle and this new space station were taking the United States. NASA sold the space station as “the next logical step” in human spaceflight.  Congress wanted to know “the next logical step to where?” Click here. (1/8)

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