February 26, 2015

Hawaii Students Selected for Lunar Flight Experiment (Source: Hawaii 24/7)
When state legislators provided funding for the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), a Hilo-based state government aerospace agency under the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), they hoped the education arm of the entity would encourage Hawaii’s students to shoot for the moon.

Little did they expect that goal to be taken literally. But a partnership between PISCES and NASA will task students from Honolulu’s Iolani School and the Big Island’s Kealakehe High School to design and operate an experiment on the surface on the moon by the end of 2016. The experiment involves electrodynamic dust shield technology and the selected Hawaii students will be mentored by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. (2/25)

Congress Wants to Send a Person to Mars — but Doesn't Want to Pay the Bill (Source: Vox)
Congress has given NASA a mandate to put a human on Mars. It hasn't, however, given the space agency enough money to do it. Outside experts have been pointing out this absurdity for some time. On Wednesday, Congress heard it directly from NASA's Inspector General Paul Martin, the person charged with overseeing the space agency.

The problem is simple: NASA is currently developing a space capsule (called Orion) and rocket system (called SLS) that could theoretically take astronauts to Mars, as ordered by Congress. But as Martin explained in his testimony before the House, lawmakers haven't given NASA enough money to develop the technology needed to use these systems for a Mars mission. Click here. (2/25)

Vandenberg: Blasting Off Into the Future (Source: Lompoc Record)
For many Central Coast residents, Vandenberg Air Force Base is sort of a hidden gem. We know it’s there, but its presence somehow flies below most of our radars. Every so often, however, VAFB bursts back onto our radar screen, usually when a giant rocket is lifting off from the base’s launch complex. And we must admit, there are few sights more thrilling than watching one of those rocket-propelled behemoths roar into the heavens. Click here. (2/25)

Russia Plans to Put Man on Moon by 2030 (Source: Daily Mail)
Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, said it would launch the manned missions after reviving its lunar program with unmanned spacecraft. The news comes three years after a leaked document from the federal agency suggested a manned mission to the moon was in the pipeline. (2/25)

NASA Administrator Visits Peru (Source: Peru This Week)
The Administrator of NASA, Charles Bolden, will arrive in Lima on Friday to speak on the pending Solar System and Mars Exploration mission, according to the Embassy of the United States in Peru. Bolden will express his support in Peru’s development of scientific research and technological development. As well, he arrives to explain the plans of the ambitious Solar System and Mars Exploration project during a colloquium.

While visiting Peru, Bolden is scheduled to meet with various authorities from academic institutions involving science such as the National Council for Science, Technology and Innovation Research (CONCYTEC) and the National Commission for Aerospace Research and Development (CONIDA).

Last year Peru launched its first satellite “Chaski 1” and thus solidified its presence in the world as a participant in space exploration. The National University of Engineering sent the satellite into orbit with temperature reading and photograph-taking capabilities to send information back to earth. (2/25)

China Gets to Build Argentina Satellite Tracking Station for Moon Missions (Source: SCMP)
Argentina’s Congress has approved the installation of a Chinese satellite tracking station in the South American country’s Patagonia region. The measure passed in the lower house with 133 votes in favor and 107 against. Opposition lawmakers questioned the possible military use of the base and a tax exemption that will benefit the station for 50 years. (2/25)

NASA Spending Panel Chairman Keeps Focus on China (Source: Space News)
The new chairman of the House subcommittee that funds NASA served notice Feb. 25 that he shares his very vocal predecessor’s concerns about Chinese efforts to siphon sensitive technical information from the civil space agency.

Amid a back-and-forth with NASA Inspector General Paul Martin about China, restrictions on foreign visitors at NASA’s field centers and cybersecurity, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee, produced a virtual echo of the retired Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who held the gavel last year. Culberson, who in the hearing called Wolf “a hero of mine,” pledged to continue the ban on bilateral cooperation between NASA and China that Wolf tacked on to every federal spending bill passed since 2011.

“The Chinese space program is owned lock, stock and barrel by the People’s Liberation Army,” Culberson said. “It’s really important that we keep the Red Chinese out of our space program.” (2/26)

Would You Take a Balloon to the Edge of Space? (Source: CSM)
The idea of extending the tourist industry into space is not new, but it has picked up steam in the last few years. It is no longer seen as an impossibility that, someday, a human could go to space without needing a science degree or tens of millions of dollars.

There remains, however, the matter of hurtling oneself out of the stratosphere in a rocket at thousands of miles per hour, which is not for everyone. For those seeking a gentler ascent, an Arizona-based company called World View is developing an alternative form of travel, namely, lofting passengers more than 100,000 feet up in a huge balloon. Click here. (2/26)

Swiss Space Wants to Build EU60 Million Spaceport in Croatia (Source: SWI)
Swiss Space Systems, a commercial space travel and research company, known as S3, wants to build a 60 million-euro ($68 million) spaceport in Croatia to offer tourists zero-gravity flights, Danko Bosanac, head of office at S3’s Croatian unit, said.

The Payerne, Switzerland-based company is seeking investors to build the port in Udbina in southern Croatia, by 2017, Bosanac said in an interview in Zagreb on Feb. 23. It’s awaiting a license from the local authorities, he said. This would be the second such project in Europe for S3, which plans to offer zero-gravity flights from its Swiss base later this year. (2/26)

India Signs Agreement in Space Technology for Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (Source: Business Standard)
Government of India and its national space body, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) of Department of Space (DOS) has signed agreement with other developing/developed countries and their space bodies for peaceful uses of outer space including Research and Development (R&D) in space science, technology and applications.

Currently, such cooperative arrangements are in place with Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Peru, Republic of Korea, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, The Netherlands, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America and Venezuela. (2/26)

NASA Hopes to Continue Cooperation on ISS Until 2024 (Source: Sputnik)
NASA is ready to continue to cooperate with its International Space Station (ISS) partners, including Russia, for at least nine more years, the space agency has said in a statement. "The Obama administration is committed to extending operation of the International Space Station to at least 2024," NASA said in the statement, adding that it welcomes "continued cooperation" from its ISS partners in support of this extension and looks forward to working with them on the ISS "until at least 2024". (2/26)

Leaks Show South Africa Spied on Itself for Details of Joint Satellite Project (Source: Sputnik)
South Africa’s intelligence agency relied on a spy who had access to Russian military intelligence to uncover details of its own government’s involvement in a $100 million joint satellite surveillance program with Russia.

The satellite system, called Project Condor, was launched into orbit last December by the Russians and provides surveillance coverage of all of Africa. The project has been shrouded in secrecy, with Russia originally refusing to reveal who its client was. To find out more about the venture, South African intelligence turned to an agent “with direct access to the Russian government,” according to an August 2012 top-secret report, obtained by the Guardian. (2/26)

Laughing Gas and Rubber: A Recipe for Suborbital Flight? (Source: The Register)
This summer, the skies above Nevada will thunder to the sound of a mighty hybrid rocket motor, as the Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group (BURPG) sends its Starscraper vehicle past the symbolic 100km Kármán line. Having recently tin-rattled its way to a healthy $17k down at Kickstarter, BURPG is poised to hit the heavens burning rubber and laughing gas.

The group describes hybrid motors as "relatively underdeveloped" rocket tech. We spoke to BURPG's Jeremy Pedro – a sophomore engineering student – who explained the group's choice. He said: "Solid motors experience high forces and vibrations, but are fairly simple to fabricate. Liquid engines are complex and very expensive. Hybrid motors combine the two and give a best-of-both-worlds scenario. (2/26)

New SpaceX Launch Contracts Will Be First for Texas Spaceport (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Two communications satellites owned by SES are booked to fly into orbit from South Texas on a pair of Falcon 9 rockets in 2017, giving SpaceX its first two confirmed payloads assigned to launch from the new commercial spaceport, officials said Wednesday.

Industry officials familiar with the launch deal said both satellites are planned to lift off from SpaceX’s new launch site at Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, Texas. It was not clear whether another commercial SpaceX launch could occur from the Texas spaceport before the SES 14 and SES 16/GovSat missions are ready for liftoff in 2017. (2/25)

Astronomers Find Impossibly Large Black Hole (Source: ANU)
An international team of astronomers has found a huge and ancient black hole which was powering the brightest object early in the universe. The black hole’s mass is 12 billion times that of the Sun, and was at the center of a quasar that pumped out a million billion times the energy of our Sun.

“Forming such a large black hole so quickly is hard to interpret with current theories,” Fuyan Bian said. A quasar is an extremely bright cloud of material in the process of being sucked into a black hole. As the material accelerates towards the black hole it heats up, emitting an extraordinary amount of light which actually pushes away material falling behind it. (2/25)

DigitalGlobe's Satellite Pics Are So Good They're Almost Illegal (Source: NBC)
For the first time, DigitalGlobe is showing off satellite images that are so high-resolution they used to be illegal. Previously, the U.S. government banned companies from offering commercial satellite views with a pixel resolution better than 50 centimeters (20 inches). Sharper images could be sold only to the government.

Last year, the Commerce Department gave the company the go-ahead to market images with 30-centimeter (12-inch) resolution — but not until this month. Now the ban has been lifted, and on Wednesday, DigitalGlobe announced the full availability of 30-centimeter pictures. (2/25)

Air Force Secretary Casts Doubt on RD-180 Replacement Schedule (Source: Space News)
Three months after the U.S. Congress ordered the Air Force to wean itself from a Russian-built rocket engine routinely used to launch national security satellites, a top service official told lawmakers that the 2019 deadline set in the legislation is probably not feasible.

In December, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015 that contained a measure mandating that the Defense Department replace the Russian RD-180 engine with an American-made alternative by 2019. The RD-180 is the main engine on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket, one of two vehicles the company uses to launch most U.S. government satellites and virtually all national security missions.

Air Force officials have since raised doubts about the 2019 timeline. Almost immediately after the bill’s passage, Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, described the schedule as “aggressive” and “challenging.” Editor's Note: With both SpaceX and ULA developing their own engines commercially, why should taxpayers develop yet another one? What rocket would use it? (2/25)

Have Americans Given Up on Going to Space? (Source: Mashable)
It has plenty of close contenders, but I can't think of a more depressing statistic from the last week than one contained within a survey on public perceptions of space travel, conducted by Monmouth University. On the one hand, the poll was good news for space nuts: 56% of respondents think that the space program thus far has brought us "lasting benefits," and that number is pretty much the same across Democrat, Republican and Independent lines.

At least, in a time of utter political polarization, we can agree that our past escapades in space were a good thing. A very slim 51% majority want to increase NASA funding. But that drops to 42% in favor when the public were asked if they want to send astronauts to the Moon, Mars or asteroids — suggesting we're fine with sending probes, but less cool about sending people.

But here's the truly depressing statistic: Only 28% of us say we would care to go to space personally, even if the trip was entirely paid for. Some 3% said it depends, a mere 1% didn't know, leaving a full 69% who have not the slightest desire to slip the surly bonds of Earth's gravity. Apparently we'd rather not trespass on "the high untrespassed sanctity of space" or touch the face of God, thanks. (2/25)

Going to Space Doesn't Mean What It Used To (Source: SPACErePORT)
That survey that found people don't want to go to space? I can understand it. Space exploration isn't what it used to be. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was an expectation that humans would go to Mars soon, that missions to Europa were just around the corner, just like in the movies. Those dreams turned stale after decades of Space Shuttle missions turned "exploration" into astronauts circling in low Earth orbit while the media wondered what music was being played to wake them up every morning.

Today, "exploration" is being pitched to many as suborbital rides for wealthy tourists, with the potential for disaster for every mission. There's talk of returning to the moon and maybe going to Mars, but there is no consensus, no national imperative, no clear vision. I can understand why many people think human spaceflight is uninteresting, pointless, or not worth the risk. (2/25)

Ceres’ Bright Spot has a Dimmer Companion (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA's Dawn spacecraft is set to insert itself into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres on March 6, 2015. The enigmatic body has puzzled astronomers since its discovery in 1801. The probe's latest images, taken from a mere 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) from Ceres, reveal that the bright spot first detected in previous images, may not be alone. Astronomers do not yet know what these bright spots are. (2/25)

Ceres' Mystery Bright Dots May Have Volcanic Origin (Source: Discovery)
As NASA’s Dawn mission slowly spirals in on its dwarf planet target, Ceres’ alien landscape is becoming sharper by the day. And, at a distance of only 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers), the robotic spacecraft has revealed multiple bright patches on the surface, but one of the brightest spots has revealed a dimmer bright patch right next door.

“This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations.” Regions of higher than average albedo (reflectiveness) have been long known to exist on Ceres, but the low resolution of the observations have prevented planetary scientists from interpreting what they could be. But with the slow arrival of Dawn, these bright spots turn out to be discrete locations that might indicate surface ice features — possibly evidence for cryo-volcanism. (2/25)

Rocket Lab Founder Wins New Zealand Honor (Source: NZ Newswire)
Rocket Lab's Peter Beck has been named New Zealand's Innovator of the Year at a ceremony led by Deputy Prime Minister Bill English in Auckland on Wednesday night. (2/25)

There Will Be Beer On Mars (Source: Playboy)
The Mars crew hadn’t had water, power or fuel for 24 hours. Communication was down, space suits needed to be repaired and life support systems were not functioning. But the beer? The beer was just fine. Earlier this month a team of scientists and space enthusiasts locked themselves into the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), a simulated Red Planet base in Hanksville, Utah.

The base is one of four in the world run by the Mars Society, a nonprofit that wants humans to settle on Mars. Thirteen crews of volunteers will rotate through the bases from November 2014 through May 2015, helping advance the science still needed for colonization.

At the remote base in Utah, the seven surrogate astronauts were testing vital space research, such as emergency response procedures, extraplanetary terraforming and ballistic-launched aerial imaging. And, of course, how to brew beer on other planets. (2/25)

Don't Panic, But the Sun Will (Far) Outlive Earth (Source: Space.com)
In a few billion years, the sun will become a red giant so large that it will engulf our planet. But the Earth will become uninhabitable much sooner than that. After about a billion years the sun will become hot enough to boil our oceans.

The sun is currently classified as a “main sequence” star. This means that it is in the most stable part of its life, converting the hydrogen present in its core into helium. For a star the size of ours, this phase lasts a little over 8 billion years. Our solar system is just over 4.5 billion years old, so the sun is slightly more than halfway through its stable lifetime.

It is widely understood that the Earth as a planet will not survive the sun’s expansion into a full-blown red giant star. The surface of the sun will probably reach the current orbit of Mars – and, while the Earth’s orbit may also have expanded outwards slightly, it won’t be enough to save it from being dragged into the surface of the sun, whereupon our planet will rapidly disintegrate. (2/25)

Russia To Quit ISS In 2024, Take Modules to Build Space Base In LEO (Source: Aviation Week)
Moscow says it will extend participation in the International Space Station (ISS) to 2024, after which it plans to disengage three modules from the Russian segment of the orbiting outpost and use them to develop a national space station in low Earth orbit.

The plan, according to Roscosmos, is to develop a “Russian space base on the basis of separated ISS modules.” The new space station would be configured to incorporate Russia's multipurpose laboratory module, nodal module and scientific power module, leading to “a promising Russian space station that meets the challenges of providing secure access to space.” (2/25)

NASA Offers Space Tech Grants to Early Career University Faculty (Source: NASA)
NASA is seeking proposals from accredited U.S. universities on behalf of outstanding early-career faculty members who are beginning independent research careers. The grants will sponsor research in specific high-priority areas. Aligned with NASA's Space Technology Roadmaps and priorities identified by the National Research Council, the agency has identified topic areas that lend themselves to the early stage innovative approaches U.S. universities can offer for solving tough space technology challenges. (2/25)

Case of the Missing 'Failed Star' Has Scientists Stumped (Source: Space.com)
A new alien planet-hunting tool has found no trace of a brown dwarf more than 100 light-years from Earth, despite evidence that the misfit failed star is eclipsing its partner, a team of puzzled astronomers says. European Southern Observatory's (ESO) new SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research) on the Very Large Telescope didn't find a sign of a brown dwarf near the double star V471 Tauri, despite the fact that scientists were pretty sure they would find one. (2/25)

Water Pools in US Astronaut's Helmet After Spacewalk (Source: Space Daily)
An American astronaut found water pooling inside his helmet after he finished a six-plus hour spacewalk on Wednesday, raising new concerns about the safety of NASA's spacesuits. Terry Virts was not harmed during the incident, which the US space agency described as "minor" compared to the near-drowning of an Italian astronaut when a similar problem occurred in 2013. (2/25)

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