March 29, 2015

Inmarsat Woos Facebook (Source: Sunday Times)
A British satellite company is in talks with technology giants Facebook and Google about collaborating on their plans to extend internet access. Inmarsat could see its technology used in plans to use drones and satellites to provide high-speed internet access to developing nations as an alternative to fixed telecoms networks.

Social network company Facebook plans to use high-altitude, solar-powered unmanned aircraft to beam the internet to billions of people. Last week the company said it completed its first test flight above Britain. The drones will fly at altitudes of 60,000 ft to 90,000 ft and remain airborne for months.

Google is planning to send a series of small satellites into space, at lower altitudes than traditional satellites, and also has a venture to deploy high-altitude balloons to provide a broadband service to remote regions. Google recently pumped funds into SpaceX, founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk. (3/28)

India Launches Fourth Navigation Satellite (Source: The Hindu)
It was a perfect evening for another successful 'text book' launch of a satellite by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). As the Sun was going down, ISRO's reliable power horse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C27 carrying navigation satellite IRNSS-1D roared into the clear blue sky from the second launch pad at Sriharikota.

There were two firsts in the launch. It was the first launch for the new ISRO Chairman AS Kiran Kumar who took charge on January 1 and first launch for ISRO this year. The launch of IRNSS-1D was originally scheduled for launch on March 9 but was deferred after an anomaly was found in one of the telemetry transmitters, which was rectified. The satellite is the fourth in the series of seven navigation satellites that the space agency is planning to launch to put in place the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). (3/28)

UT Space Institute Programs Launch Student Careers (Source: WBIR)
The University of Tennessee can boast two alumni who made headlines for spending time in space this year. American astronaut Scott Kelly blasted off Friday on a mission to spend an entire year in space. Along with Kelly, Middle Tennessee native Barry "Butch" Wilmore, is also a UT grad. He commanded the International Space Station for six months and returned to earth earlier this month.

Both are among eight astronauts who have completed the Flight Test Engineering Program at the University of Tennessee's Space Institute. It's 180 miles away from UT's flagship campus in Knoxville, but the school in Tullahoma has helped launch many students into careers in aviation and beyond. Peter Soleis first came to UTSI as a student himself, now it's turned into a teaching career. (3/28)

Lunar Research Workshop Planned in Cocoa Beach on Apr. 14-17 (Source: LSA5)
The 5th International Workshop on Lunar Surface Applications (LSA 5) is right around the corner. This event will be held April 14th to 17th, 2015, at the Courtyard Marriott in Cocoa Beach, Florida. LSA 5 is the premier Lunar Lander event for 2015 as representatives from Moon Express, Astrobotic, Part -Time Scientists, Masten, and Interorbital will be presenting. In addition to Lunar Landers, other workshop topics include Lunar Surface Science, In Situ Resource Utilization, and Entrepreneurship for New Space. Click here. (3/28)

43rd Space Congress Planned in Cocoa Beach on Apr. 28-30 (Source: CCTS)
The 43rd Space Congress will be held in Cape Canaveral on April 28-30. The event will celebrate our area's space history while highlighting current space accomplishments and future direction. The multi-day schedule of events features panel discussions with local, state and federal leaders, technical paper sessions, and exhibits. Click here for information and registration. (3/28)

In Praise of NASA’s Ambitious Asteroid Grab (Source: Discover)
If you pay attention to news about space exploration, you may have seen some skeptical stories about NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission. (And even if you don’t follow such things, you might well have been dismayed by headlines announcing a “less ambitious asteroid mission” that is “unlikely to get funded.”) This is not another one of them.

I think the asteroid mission is a cool idea, and an important one. I think it will advance the cause of space exploration in several meaningful ways. And it is exactly the kind of medium-scale, focused mission that could revitalize the whole idea of sending humans on grand adventures beyond Earth orbit–if only it can make its way past the naysayers, political opponents, and misguided scientific skeptics who threaten to derail it before it even gets started.

The Obama administration suggested a human voyage to an asteroid as an intermediate step, but even that would be an expensive, multi-month voyage–one that is, again, notably lacking any financial support. Where, then, to go? The Asteroid Redirect Mission answers that question in a novel way. Instead of taking humans to an asteroid, it would do most of the work robotically (and at much lower cost) by bringing the asteroid most of the way to us. Click here. (3/27)

Caltech Space Challenge Yields Ideas About the Future of Space Exploration (Source: Pasadena Star-News)
Five days of collaboration, late-night brain somersaults and strategy clashes culminated Friday in two Caltech presentations that demystified how a potential asteroid-landing mission is a steppingstone toward getting astronauts on Mars.

The 2015 Caltech Space Challenge selected 32 international students, divided them into two teams and asked them to design a mission where astronauts would land on an asteroid both to mine for resources and to demonstrate how the raw materials could be used. Click here. (3/27)

Station After ISS, Work on Joint Mars Project (Source: Sputnik)
In a landmark decision, Russian space agency Roscosmos and its US counterpart NASA have agreed to build a new space station after the current International Space Station (ISS) expires. The operation of the ISS was prolonged until 2024. “We have agreed that Roscosmos and NASA will be working together on the program of a future space station," Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov said during a news conference.

The two agencies will be unifying their standards and systems of manned space programs, according to Komarov. “This is very important to future missions and stations.” The ISS life cycle was to expire in 2020. “Under the ISS program the door will be open to other participants,” Komarov told reporters. The next goal for the two agencies is a joint mission to Mars, NASA chief Charles Bolden told journalists. (3/28)

NASA Says No Plans for ISS Replacement with Russia (Source: Space News)
NASA said it welcomed a Russian commitment to continue operations of the ISS beyond 2020, but indicated there were no firm plans to work together on a successor space station. The agency responded to comments made by the head of Roscosmos, Igor Komarov, earlier in the day that suggested the two space agencies had not only agreed to extend operations of the ISS to 2024, but also to replace the ISS with a new station of some kind after 2024. (3/28)

Dark Matter is Apparently ‘Darker’ Than We Thought (Source: Washington Post)
A new study suggests that dark matter might be able to zip through the universe without slowing or dragging because particles of it don't even interact with each other. Based on what we can observe about the universe, galaxies should be tearing themselves apart. That's where so-called dark matter comes in: It's a term for the as-of-yet unobserved matter that must be bulking up cosmos, giving galaxies the gravity they need to spin at the rates they do without falling to pieces.

But even though we haven't caught dark matter (so named because it doesn't interact with light the way normal matter does -- not absorbing or reflecting it -- though it does bend light with a weird lensing effect) in a straightforward observation, scientists can learn about it based on the effects it has on more typical, observable forms of matter.

In this study, researchers looked at galaxy clusters (big groupings of galaxies that stick together) to study how dark matter might behave when galaxies collide with each other. In watching 72 galactic showdowns, Harvey and his colleagues found that dark matter didn't slow down when clusters collided. That was unexpected. Dark matter (whatever it is) had to be hitting other dark matter en route, but these unseen particles weren't showing any evidence of dragging against each other. (3/27)

Delta 4 Rocket Evolving to Upgraded Main Engine (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
When the next Delta 4 rocket flies in July, as well as all future ones to come, the enhanced RS-68A main engine will power the boosters off the launch pad. This week’s successful Delta 4 launch that put a new GPS satellite into orbit marked the final launch of the original RS-68 model engine. (3/27)

Mars Rover Landing Zone Scars Have Curiously Darkened (Source: Discovery)
When NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity touched down inside Gale Crater in August 2012, it did so in dramatic fashion. In the final stages of its daring descent, the rover’s rocket-powered landing platform — known as a sky crane — lit up and blasted the dusty surface, carving out darkened divots before separating from the rover and flying out of harms way.

Over the months and years after landing, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been keeping track of changes around Curiosity’s landing zone (named “Bradbury Landing”), the crash site of the sky crane and the parachute-endowed back-shell that slowed the rover’s entry into the Martian atmosphere.

After disturbing the ruddy regolith on the Martian surface, usually, over time, the darkened area is expected to fade, slowly returning to its natural state. But recent HiRISE imagery of four components of Curiosity’s landing have faded inconsistently, potentially revealing a previously unknown Mars surface dynamic. (3/28)

Scuttling Satellites to Save Space (Source: ESA)
It takes a lot of ingenuity – not to mention a massive quantity of sheer force – to get satellites into orbit. Now space engineers are applying comparable ingenuity to the challenge of getting their missions out of there, too. ESA, working closely with Europe’s satellite builders, will ask industry for new designs to help remove satellites from orbit at the end of their working lives, as well as ‘passivating’ them – making them safer for neighboring missions.

The selected concepts will be evaluated in ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility at the Agency’s ESTEC technical center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. This interlinked multimedia facility allows a large number of different specialists to work on the same software models at once. (3/26)

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