April 3, 2015

New NASA App Allows Public to Explore Vesta (Source: Spaceflight Insider)
On Tuesday, March 31, NASA announced the release of Vesta Trek, a free web-based application that provides detailed visualizations of Vesta, on of the largest asteroids in our solar system. The application uses data acquired by NASA's Dawn spacecraft during its exploration of Vesta from July 2011 to September 2012. Vesta Trek provides a number of user-friendly tools that citizen scientists and students can use to study the asteroid's features. (4/3)

Six Men Charged in Kickback Scheme Involving Boeing Satellites (Source: LA Times)
A Boeing employee and five others have been charged in an elaborate kickback scheme that involved illegally securing satellite-related contracts in exchange for cash, the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said Thursday. The scheme centered on contracts with El Segundo-based Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, a division within Boeing that supplies satellites and satellite parts to government entities, including NASA.

Court documents allege that the kickback scheme ran from 2005 to 2012 and began when Mark Allen, 60, a Boeing procurement officer, agreed to funnel purchase orders to subcontractors represented by Raymond Joseph, 66, an independent sales rep, according to the U.S. attorney's office. (4/3)

Protesters Arrested Blocking Road to Hawaiian Giant Telescope Site (Source: AP)
Scientists hoping to see 13 billion light years away, giving them a look into the early years of the universe, are facing opposition from Native Hawaiian groups who say the construction site of a new telescope is on sacred land. Police arrested 12 protesters Thursday when they tried to block the road leading to the summit of Mauana Kea on Hawaii's Big Island. Officers with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources arrested 11 protesters at the construction site on the summit. (4/3)

SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Get More Time to Finish Flight Tests (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
NASA has extended development agreements with SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp. past a March 31 deadline, giving the companies more time to complete delayed tests on commercial spacecraft intended to one day ferry astronauts into space. The extensions do not come with any extra funding from the space agency, which pays out money to the contractors as they complete predetermined milestones. (4/3)

Anderton Joins Spaceport America as Marketing Director (Source: Spaceport America)
Spaceport America CEO Christine Anderson announced today that Tammara Anderton will become the spaceport’s first Director of Marketing. Anderton brings over 25 years of experience in international brand strategy and marketing communication. Anderton has extensive multi-stakeholder engagement experience spanning the biotechnology, energy, healthcare, mobile and wireless, environmental, financial services, and non-profit sectors. (4/1)

Neal Joins McBee to Expand Aerospace Practice (Source: McBee)
McBee Strategic Consulting (MSC), LLC, a leading government relations and strategic communications firm, today announced that aerospace and security policy veteran Erin Neal will join as an Executive Vice President in its advocacy unit later this month. Neal spent twelve years in the aerospace industry prior to joining McBee, most recently as a director of government relations for Orbital ATK in support of the company’s commercial, military, intelligence, and civil space programs.

She also served as ATK Aerospace Systems’ lead lobbyist. While at ATK, Erin led a successful effort on behalf of the entire U.S. satellite industry to reduce barriers to free trade, by modernizing antiquated export control regulations that had stymied this sector since the late 1990s. She came to ATK from Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., where she was a manager for government relations, serving as a business development liaison to NASA and NOAA headquarters, and a lobbyist to the hill for Ball’s civilian and commercial programs. (4/2)

How a Zero Gravity Cocktail Glass Could Be Space Hospitality's Future (Source: Space.com)
While so many space companies are focused on building rockets and spacecraft, could there room for a little style in orbit? This is where Samuel Coniglio said he hopes to fill the gap. The long-time space tourism advocate has created a "zero-gravity" cocktail glass designed to use grooves to keep the liquid in. This would avoid the perennial problem of fluids floating away in orbit, which force astronauts to use straws.

Coniglio's group, called Cosmic Lifestyle Corp., launched a Kickstarter campaign to get funds and publicity for their idea. While fundraising has been slow — a little more than $3,400 raised of the $30,000 needed, with about a day to go — Coniglio said the publicity alone has been a huge success for the project. And if the funding does not go forward, they have alternate plans to raise revenue. (4/2)

Meet Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Propulsion Team (Source: Virgin Galactic)
Here is an introduction to our Spaceship Propulsion Team, narrated by Propulsion Program Manager, Jarret Morton, including behind the scenes shots of our manufacturing facilities. Click here. (3/31)

Russia Considers Student Labor to Finish Vostochny Spaceport (Source: Moscow Times)
Instead of taking their exams this summer, university students in Russia's Far East could be put to work by the state to finish construction of the delay-hit Vostochny cosmodrome there, the Interfax news agency reported Wednesday.

"We suggested both to universities specializing in construction and the Education Ministry that they consider moving the dates of summer finals to the spring. That way students would be able to participate in the creation of this unique project, gain practical professional experience and, of course, earn some money," Construction Ministry deputy head Leonid Stavitsky was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Construction of the spaceport in the Amur region is at least 60 days behind schedule due to a lack of construction workers and insufficient funding, the head of the Federal Space Agency Igor Komarov has said. It was earlier reported that only 3,300 builders were currently working on Vostochny's construction, while at least 12,000 are needed to finish the project, Interfax reported. (4/1)

Russia to Launch Nine Rockets Into Space in April-June (Source: Sputnik)
Seven of the launches will take place from the Baikonur space launch facility in Kazakhstan with various payloads and the remaining two, which are for Russian military purposes, will be launched from the Plesetsk facility in northwestern Russia. On May 15, Russia will launch a Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket for the Russian military and a Soyuz-2.1b with space equipment for Russia’s military will be launched on June 5. (4/2)

Yuri's Night Events Grow (Source: Yuri's Night)
Yuri's Night is just around the corner, and we are happy to now have events registered around the world in South Korea, Iran, Germany, the USA (major ones in Colorado & California), Canada, and more! If you're planning to host an event, make sure you register it at the Yuri's Night website as soon as possible so that we can track all of the events worldwide. Six Florida-based events are on the schedule. Click here. (4/3)

Construction Commences on NASA Asteroid Sampler (Source: Reuters)
Design and development are over, and construction has begun on NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft. Its mission, starting with a September 2016 launch, will be retrieval of pieces of a near-Earth asteroid. Lockheed Martin said that subsystems such as power, scientific instruments, and avionics and telecommunications systems will be installed during the next six months. (4/1)

Dark Energy Could Signal Collapse of the Universe (Source: New Scientist)
In 1998, astronomers discovered that the universe has been ballooning at ever-faster rates for the past few billion years. They dubbed the mysterious entity responsible "dark energy" and have been striving to identify it ever since. The simplest explanation is that particles briefly bubbling into and out of existence imbue every cupful of space with the energy needed to accelerate the universe's growth. But this quantum stew, known as vacuum energy, is no panacea.

Energy, like matter, causes space to curve, according to Einstein's general theory of relativity. Calculations suggest that this vacuum energy is so strong that it would make the universe curve in on itself until it spans less than the distance from Earth to the moon – and clearly it's bigger. Scientists have now attempted to cancel out the curvature caused by the quantum instabilities by modifying the equations of general relativity on the largest scale possible: the whole of space-time.

Last year, they found a way to do this that cancels out nearly all of the vacuum energy, leaving just enough to explain the acceleration we observe. But their method requires space-time to be finite, which implies that cosmic expansion must eventually stop and reverse, causing time to end when the universe collapses. "The universe returns back to where it banged from," says Kaloper. (4/2)

GLXP Director: Soft Landing on Moon an Extraordinary Challenge (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
On Dec. 14, 2013 China's Chang’e 3 spacecraft became the first probe to soft land on the Moon since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 accomplished this feat in 1976. Other missions could soon follow these robotic footsteps soon as the commercial teams participating in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, prepare to journey the Moon. However, a lunar soft-landing is a challenging accomplishment. To date, only achieved by three nations so far. (4/2)

Warm or Cold? Mars' History Takes a Watery New Twist (Source: Space Daily)
A new, six-year analysis of water on Mars suggests that the Red Planet has lost the equivalent of an ocean's worth of water over the past four billion years. However, the question of whether Mars was ever warm enough to have hosted such an ocean has sparked debate.

The research, conducted using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, and supported by the WM Keck Observatory and NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, both in Hawaii, has revealed how much water has escaped from Mars' atmosphere throughout its history. The results suggest that the lost water could have once filled an ocean in Mars' northern lowlands to a depth of up to 1. 6 kilometers (one mile), covering 19 percent of the Red Planet's surface.

Mars still has water of course, locked up in its polar caps and underground. If you could take all the water that exists today on Mars, and put it on the surface in liquid form, it would form an ocean 21 meters deep (69 feet). However, Mars has lost so much water - more than all the water in Earth's Arctic Ocean - that in the past it could potentially have created an ocean 137 meters (449 feet) deep. Click here. (4/2)

Investors Bullish On Pending LEO Economy (Source: Aviation Week)
Long-held hopes for a new economic sector in low Earth orbit (LEO) are beginning to bear fruit, well before the first paying space tourists get a glimpse of the black sky above the atmosphere. New technologies and applications are attracting serious private investment into the spacecraft and launch-services sectors, driving what is beginning to look like a sea change in the way space is exploited.

George Whitesides, former NASA chief of staff who helped formulate the Obama administration’s expanded push for new commercial applications in orbit and later moved into the field himself as CEO of Virgin Galactic, sees a happy marriage between Silicon Valley’s cell phone industry and the small but useful spacecraft emerging from engineering schools. The offspring could be “the basis for a new layer of information infrastructure that goes far beyond what we have today,” he believes.

“There are several key trends converging now on the small-space sector, and they have the potential to reshape our industry,” he said during the Satellite 2015 conference in Washington. “First [is] the insatiable demand for data communications and real-time information about our planet. Second [is] the prospect for bringing mass-production techniques and commodity electronics to space assets. And third, [there are] new funding sources, some with vast balance sheets, particularly from the information industry.” (4/1)

Manned Mars Mission Plan: Astronauts Could Orbit by 2033, Land by 2039 (Source: Space.com)
NASA could get astronauts to Mars orbit by 2033 and onto the Red Planet's surface by 2039, a new report the Planetary Society suggests. Representatives of The Planetary Society presented the results of a workshop organized to discuss the feasibility and cost of a crewed mission to orbit the Martian moon Phobos in 2033, leading up to a crewed landing on the Red Planet in 2039.

They concluded that such a plan could indeed fit within NASA's human space exploration budget. "We believe we now have an example of a long-term, cost-constrained, executable humans-to-Mars program," said Scott Hubbard. The Society said the attendees of the workshop "reached a consensus" on a series of key points, including that an orbital mission would be required prior to a crewed mission to the surface of Mars, and an independent cost estimate showed that the program would fit into the NASA budget, assuming the agency "ends its lead role in the International Space Station." (4/2)

Curiosity Has Hit a Martian Mineral Jackpot (Source: Discovery)
As far as rocks on any planet go, this formation looks fascinating. But it’s even more fascinating to know that this particular rocky outcrop was photographed on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover and it holds further clues to the red planet’s wet past and, potentially, Mars’ habitable potential.

Currently studying the “Pahrump Hills” region at the base of Mount Sharp in the center of Gale Crater, this new view snapped by Curiosity on March 18 shows a work site Curiosity’s mission scientists call “Garden City.” This area is interesting as it shows two-tone mineral veins protruding from the surrounding rock.

The tough mineral veins were formed in Mars’ ancient wet past and they are sticking out of the rock up to 6 centimeters (2.5 inches) high. This means that the veins formed within the rock and the softer surrounding bedrock has since eroded away. (4/2)

Space Station Orbit Raised by 700 Meters (Source: Itar Tass)
The orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) has been elevated by 700 meters to facilitate docking with a Progress-M27M cargo spaceship, said a spokesman for the mission control center. "Adjustment of the orbit was executed in a routine regime," the spokesman said. A Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket with the Progress-M27M cargo ship will be launched from the Baikonur spaceport on the morning on April 28. (4/2)

Bill Nye the Science Guy and Friends Back Mars Orbital Trip in 2033 (Source: NBC)
A group of 70 space experts, including Bill Nye the Science Guy, has laid out the key points in a scenario that would send astronauts on a trip to orbit Mars in 2033. That mission could blaze a trail for eventual landings on the Red Planet, according to the Planetary Society, which organized this week's "Humans Orbiting Mars" workshop in Washington.

"We believe we now have an example of a long-term, cost-constrained, executable humans to Mars program," workshop chair Scott Hubbard, a former Mars program executive at NASA who is now a professor at Stanford University, said in a news release. The "orbit-first" scenario is consistent with NASA's long-term plan, which calls for crewed missions to Mars and its moons starting in the 2030s. (4/2)

Why Astronauts Get Slapped in the Face with a Cross Before Going to Space (Source: The Verge)
Astronauts leave nothing to chance, and alongside the checks and double-checks carried out before a rocket launches, there's a clutch of rituals that have taken root in the world of space travel. Perhaps the oddest of these (at least visually) is the official blessing dished out by a priest from the Russian Orthodox Church.

American astronauts, Russian cosmonauts, and even rockets all go through this, with photos from NASA's official photographer showing that the same bearded and gowned official has been carrying out the ritual with gusto for a few years now. Click here. (4/2)

NASA’s Dark Materials (Source: The Economist)
Solar power is used extensively by satellites and space probes. But there are places where the sun’s rays do not penetrate or are merely a distant twinkle. For those a different power source is required. One of the favorites used in space missions is a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). RTGs were developed by America in the 1950s and work by converting heat produced by the decay of a radioactive material into electricity directly.

This is not the same as nuclear fission, a more complex process used in power plants to split radioactive material and release a much larger amount of energy. The former Soviet Union also used RTGs to run hundreds of lighthouses and navigation beacons in remote areas. Many of these have since been abandoned and some have been dismantled by scrap-metal dealers. While the isotopes used are not much use in bombs, they can still make people ill, even when partially depleted. Editor's Note: Maybe with the new Iranian nuclear deal, that nation's stockpile of plutonium can be transferred to NASA's use. Click here. (4/2)

Costs Soar on NASA Communications Upgrade Program (Source: Space News)
A much-needed ground segment modernization for NASA’s space communications network is up to two years behind schedule and could exceed its budget by more than 30 percent, well above the 15 percent trigger for congressional notification, a new government report said.

In its latest assessment of NASA’s biggest programs, the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified the Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SGSS) as one of three — not counting the notoriously overbudget James Webb Space Telescope — that account for most of the projected cumulative cost growth this year. (4/2)

China’s Mars Exploration Program Facing Delays (Source: Space News)
As China presses ahead with a series of robotic lunar missions, its plans to begin a Mars exploration program could be delayed, a leading Chinese space scientist said March 31.

In a presentation at the National Research Council’s Space Science Week meeting here, Wu Ji, director general of the National Space Science Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that the Chinese government had yet to formally approve a proposal for a robotic Mars mission tentatively scheduled for 2020. (4/2)

Pentagon Says It Will Not Rely on Russian or Chinese Weather Satellites (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Defense Department and NOAA are still developing a plan to obtain weather satellite coverage of the Middle East and Afghanistan but will not rely on Chinese or Russian satellites, a Pentagon official said. U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for that broad region, has been relying on Europe’s geostationary-orbiting Meteosat-7 satellite for constant weather coverage.

But in 2014, Europe’s civilian meteorological satellite organization, known as Eumetsat, said it would not replace Meteosat-7, which launched in 2006 and is expected to reach its end of life in 2017. Meteosat-7 provides cloud characterization, used in flying operations, and weather imagery. Both are among the most pressing data requirements identified in a recent Air Force weather study. (4/2)

Satellite-Based Aircraft Tracking Joins C-band Fight on WRC-15 Agenda (Source: Space News)
International radio-frequency regulators on April 2 agreed to address satellite-based global commercial aircraft tracking when they meet in November to allocate spectrum at a conference that will also decide whether frequencies currently reserved for satellite services will be opened to terrestrial broadband wireless networks. (4/2)

Air Force Envisions Sharing Space Surveillance Data with Scientists (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force is open to the idea of sharing data from its Space Surveillance Network with scientists interested in using that data to search for asteroids or other research, a service official said. Maj. Gen. Martin Whelan, director of space operations for the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, said data that the military doesn’t need for its space situational awareness mission could be made available to astronomers. (4/2)

Life Needs An Atmosphere, But How Much Is Too Much? (Source: Astrobiology)
How much atmosphere is too much for life? As scientists discover more super-Earths and mini-Neptunes, the question becomes more relevant. Often, the rocky cores of these planets are believed to be about the same size, while the distinguishing difference is the size of the atmosphere. Mini-Neptunes look more like gas giants, with a thicker atmosphere that would create too much pressure at the surface, and super-Earths have a much thinner layer.

A recent research study considered what would happen if a mini-Neptune migrated close to a dwarf star. M-class stars, as this type are known, have a volatile first billion years. The energy production from the stars can range drastically, with x-rays and extreme ultraviolet rays hitting planets with as much as 100 to 10,000 times more radiation than what the Earth experiences today. Click here. (4/2)

Google Takes Control of Moffett Field, Ushering in New Era of Tech (Source: KPIX)
Google officially took over the Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View on Wednesday from NASA so the tech giant can use the site’s three air hangars to develop its robots, drones and other new technologies. Google is leasing the 1,000 acre site from the federal government in a $1.16 billion, 60-year lease deal singed with NASA.

“We’re very excited things are going to get started on the 1,000 acres,” said Deborah Feng, spokeswoman for NASA’s nearby Ames Research Center. Google submitted plans stating the company “is committed to re-siding and rehabilitating Hangar One within two years of receipt of permits, and rehabilitating Hangars Two and Three,” along with the airfield and an old military golf course.

Google headquarters is just three miles away from the airfield and Hangar Two is already being used to test Google’s high-altitude Internet balloons. The huge hangars, which represent a different era in aviation and considered to be historically significant, are in serious disrepair, according to Feng. The site, which has been been run by the federal government for 84 years, will be managed by Google’s subsidiary Planet Ventures. Google has also promised to build a new museum and educational center. (4/1)

Ground Collision—Potential Versus Reality (Source: Aviation Week)
In the wake of the deliberate crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 on March 24 into mountainous terrain in France, NASA acknowledges that an Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) developed initially for military use could be adapted to commercial aircraft, but cautions that such a transition remains some way off.

The Auto-GCAS system was developed over a period of more than 25 years by NASA, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, and Lockheed Martin. It entered service last year with the Air Force’s F-16 fleet. The system—which has already been officially credited with saving two aircraft from ground collisions—briefly takes over control of the aircraft until the danger has passed before handing control back to the pilot. (4/1)

NASA Seeks to Spark More Interest From Women, Minorities (Source: Runway Girl Network)
When NASA Administrator Charles Bolden speaks about the aerospace industry, he can’t disguise his excitement. Bolden had an enthralled, captive audience at last week’s Aero Club luncheon in Washington DC, where he listed some of the space agency’s recent achievements. But he also highlighted NASA’s interest in improving the hiring and retaining of more women and minorities.

“We are not as successful at getting women and minorities into the workforce. And it’s not intentional,” says Bolden. The agency has difficulty keeping the women it does hire and is trying to understand how to change that. “We don’t do a good job of retaining them. That is the biggest challenge to us.” Amy Laboda, one of the founding board members (emeritus) of Women in Aviation recently echoed a similar sentiment about the challenges women face in pursuing careers in aviation. (4/1)

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