March 3, 2015

Buzz Aldrin's 1966 Space Selfie Sells for $9,200 (Source: C/Net)
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin is still the king of all selfies. He took a self-portrait during the Gemini 12 mission in 1966 with the blue curve of the Earth behind him. A vintage print of that extravehicular space selfie sold for around $9,200 at an auction conducted by auction house Dreweatts & Bloomsbury in London.

Aldrin's photo predates the current selfie craze by decades. He hasn't been shy about staking his claim to selfie history. In a Twitter post sharing the photo in July 2014, he referred to the image as the "best selfie ever." The auction photo is an 8x10 chromogenic print on fiber-based Kodak paper. (3/3)

China's Moon Rover Yutu Functioning but Stationary (Source: Xinhua)
China's first lunar rover Yutu (the Jade Rabbit) is still working but cannot move, a scientist with the lunar probe mission told Xinhua. The rover, named after the pet of a Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, was launched in late 2013, but its control mechanism failed on its second lunar day before becoming dormant in January 2014. (3/3)

SpaceX's Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (Source: Maritime Professional)
The deck barge Marmac 300 (CG No. 1063184) was built in 1998 by Gulf Coast Fabrication in Pearlington, Mississippi for McDonough Marine Service, a tug and barge company based in Metairie, Louisiana. As built, it was 288 feet in length, with a 100 foot beam and a depth of almost 20 feet. In 2014, it was chartered by SpaceX for use as a landing pad for returning first-stage rockets after launching objects into orbit.

The upper deck of the Marmac 300 was extended to a length of 300 feet and the width was extended to 170 feet. Azimuthing thrusters with modular diesel-hydraulic-drive power units and a modular controller manufactured by Thrustmaster were installed, with one thruster on each corner of the barge. The thrusters may be operated autonomously or by remote control from a nearby service vessel. With an onboard electronic navigation system, the barge is capable of precision positioning in either the autonomous or remote control mode. The barge is currently based in Jacksonville. (3/3)

Flight (With UNF Experiment) Brings Balloon-Powered Space Tourism Closer (Source: WIRED)
Late last week, a company came one step closer to sending tourists to the edge of space using ginormous balloons, breaking a record for the world’s highest parafoil flight. Arizona-based World View carried the parafoil—a large, wing-like parachute—to the edge of space using its ballon, and had it fly back to the ground. It also carried experiments designed by students from Montana State University and the University of North Florida. Click here. (3/3)

ULA Ready to Compete Against SpaceX (Source: Washington Post)
Faced with mounting pressure from SpaceX, ULA’s new chief executive said he has been re-configuring the company in order to compete, slashing the cost of national security launches and developing a new launch system. Tory Bruno said that since he was named CEO of ULA last summer his job has been “to literally transform the company,” and he took a jab at his upstart competitor, saying it was risky to rely on SpaceX for national security launches.

Bruno said that since ULA's inception, the company "has cut the price of launch in half, and I'm going to cut it in half again." While he declined to provide specific numbers, he vowed to "be competitive with SpaceX's prices." In addition to the new engine, Bruno said ULA is working on an entirely new launch system that would ultimately replace its Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. He declined to discuss details, saying they would be unveiled in April. Click here. (3/3)

Military Bases Ruled Out as Potential Sites for First UK Spaceport (Source: STV)
Three Scottish military bases have been ruled out as potential sites for the UK's first spaceport. However, three Scottish airports have taken a step closer after a consultation by the UK Government. Westminster revealed eight possible locations in July last year for the planned state-of-the-art facility. Six of the eight locations were in Scotland and now the options have been narrowed down to five. Click here. (3/3)

Industry Backs UK Government’s Spaceport Plans (Source: Gov.UK)
A spaceport consultation outcome has been published, paving the way to make UK commercial spaceflight operations a reality. Publishing the outcome of a 3 month consultation with a range of interested parties, the government confirmed widespread support for its plans. This paves the way towards making commercial spaceflight operations in the UK a reality. Click here. (3/3)

20-year-old Military Weather Satellite Wasn’t First of its Kind To Explode (Source: Space News)
The 20-year-old military weather satellite that apparently exploded Feb. 3 was not the first satellite in its production run to break apart after a long, otherwise successful run. In April 2004, a 13-year-old Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) spacecraft dubbed DMSP-F11 experienced a similarly catastrophic breakup that produced 56 pieces of cataloged space debris.

In contrast to DMSP-F13 — the 20-year-old, semi-retired satellite that Air Force Space Command told SpaceNews last week apparently exploded after its power subsystem experienced a sudden temperature spike — DMSP-F11 was no longer operational when it exploded. (3/3)

How Would The World Change If We Found Extraterrestrial Life (Source: Space Daily)
In 1938, Orson Welles narrated a radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" as a series of simulated radio bulletins of what was happening in real time as Martians arrived on our home planet. The broadcast is widely remembered for creating public panic, although to what extent is hotly debated today.

Still, the incident serves as an illustration of what could happen when the first life beyond Earth is discovered. While scientists might be excited by the prospect, introducing the public, politicians and interest groups to the idea could take some time. Click here. (3/3)

What Harris-Exelis Merger Tells Us About the U.S. Defense Sector (Source: Aviation Week)
Mergers and acquisitions have an interesting side effect: They often bring to the surface things that otherwise would remain hidden or unnoticed. The recently announced merger of Harris Corp. and Exelis is a case in point. Beyond the usual M&A lingo (“transformational,” etc.), this transaction brings back to light some fundamental truths about the U.S. defense sector that otherwise tend to be forgotten.

The first truth is that it has become increasingly hard to sort out what—in this type of transactions—is financial engineering versus industrial engineering. That is not to say this is the case for the Harris-Exelis transaction, but the business story does not look as compelling as the financial one. The reality is that Harris and Exelis have experienced declining revenues for several years, and merging them can be seen as an artificial way to boost their bottom lines.

Harris’s revenues will soar to $8 billion from $5 billion today. However, a back-of-the-envelope analysis shows that the aggregate revenues for these companies have been declining slowly but surely for the last five years. Another truth is that, sometimes, when companies struggle to revive their top-line growth in a tough market environment, the only way forward is to reshuffle the cards and perform a “strategic reframing.” This is the most positive spin we can put on it. But we might worry that it is another example of a nicely packaged, financially engineered zero-sum deal. (2/27)

The Curious Adventures of an Astronomer-Turned-Crowdfunder (Source: MIT Tech Review)
If you want to name a star or buy a crater on the moon or own an acre on Mars, there are numerous websites that can help. The legal status of such “ownership” is far from clear but the services certainly allow for a little extraterrestrial fun. There is one nonprofit organization, however, that uses this kind of crowdsourcing to raise funds for astronomical research.

And instead of selling stars or craters that it does not own, the White Dwarf Research Corporation allows anyone to adopt a star on the clear understanding that they do not own it. This is rather like the adopt-a-highway schemes run in many countries to help fund the cleanup of roads.

Today, Travis Metcalfe, an astronomer at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, tells of the many adventures he has had in setting up and running the White Dwarf Research Corporation. His story is an entertaining read. Click here. (3/3)

Russian Spacecraft Lifts ISS Orbit by 750 Meters (Source: Itar-Tass)
Russian resupply spacecraft Progress M-26M has lifted the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) by 750 meters in order to create optimal conditions for docking of the Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft, Moscow-based Mission Control Center (MCC) told TASS on Tuesday. (3/3)

NACA Turns 100 (Source: Motherboard)
Today marks the centennial of the founding of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that would eventually evolve into NASA. Its establishment represents the United States government’s first serious efforts to explore the skies and space, forming the bedrock of the thriving contemporary American space community. (3/3)

US, China Space Rivalry Grows as Race for Orbital Commerce Takes Off (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)
Mobile phone communication. Point-of-sale transactions. Just-in-time supply chains and the GPS screen in your car. Consider for a moment how much satellite-dependent technology has become embedded in our lives. Much of a modern economy, in fact, relies on the peaceful, almost routine nature of the business of satellite launches and communication, while science has come to expect open international collaboration.

That's why the space community held its breath last year when amid tensions over Ukraine, Russia dangled the idea of cutting US astronauts off from flights to the International Space Station, a service Moscow has provided since the Space Shuttle program was scrapped in 2011. It appeared for a moment that the single outpost of humanity in low earth orbit could be in jeopardy and with it much research and international goodwill. Click here. (3/2)

Air Force Considers Extending OSP-3 Launch Contracting Vehicle (Source: Space News)
The Air Force is planning to modify its current contracting vehicle for launching its mostly experimental small- and medium-class payloads due to a hiatus in activity that is expected to last for at least a third consecutive year. In 2012, the Air Force awarded Orbital ATK, SpaceX, and Lockheed Martin indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts that created a stable of vehicles qualified to launch the small and medium-sized satellites.

Actual launch missions under the Orbital-Suborbital Program (OSP)-3 contract are awarded on a case-by-case basis. The program is intended to enhance launch vehicle competition and to give the government flexibility in choosing rockets for specific missions based on cost and risk. But since the initial two such awards in 2012 — both to SpaceX — the Air Force has not used the contracting vehicle. Further, the Air Force does not anticipate awarding any task orders this year.

In light of that, the service said it is considering extending the OSP-3 performance period from 2017 to 2019. The Air Force also is considering adding as many as two more providers to the pool of qualified providers in 2016, the posting said. The OSP-3 contract vehicle has a $900 million ordering ceiling. (3/2)

Laporte Named President of Canadian Space Agency (Source: Space News)
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Feb. 27 the selection of Sylvain Laporte as the next president of the Canadian Space Agency, effective March 9. Laporte had served as the commissioner of patents and registrar of trade-marks for Industry Canada since 2011, and previously held several positions within Industry Canada, Canada Post Corp. and the Royal Canadian Air Force. (3/2)

Fierce ‘Superflares’ from the Sun Zapped an Infant Earth (Source: Astrobiology)
Our young sun may have routinely blasted Earth with gobs of energy more powerful than any similar bombardments recorded in human history. Huge bursts of these particle and radiation “showers” ignited by these so-called “superflares” could have penetrated Earth’s protective magnetic fields and bathed our planet’s atmosphere, a new study has shown. Superflares, therefore, likely had profound impacts on the development of life on our planet. (3/2)

NASA Probe to Land on Ceres to Check Out Mysterious Bright Spots (Source: Sputnik)
The Agency’s Dawn spacecraft, which snapped photos of mysterious bright lights on the dwarf planet Ceres last week, will be landing on the planet Friday to determine what those intriguing flashes are all about. Recent images of Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, show two small points of light NASA scientists have dubbed “bright spots.”

They believe these spots could be clues as to how Ceres formed and whether the planet’s surface is changing. "Dawn is about to make history," said Robert Mase, project manager for the Dawn mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "Our team is ready and eager to find out what Ceres has in store for us." (3/2)

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