April 9, 2015

FSDC Urges Stepped-Up Action in Tallahassee (Source: FSDC)
The Florida Space Development Council has urged elected officials to provide more support to the space industry during the ongoing Florida Legislative Session. FSDC President Gabriel Rothblatt asked Senate and House leaders to take steps to diversify the state's involvement in space research and technology development; continue financing programs for space industry growth; fund conversion of the Shuttle Landing Facility for new programs; establish a high school space education academy; and fund a demonstration program for space tourism and point-to-point spaceflight.

The five issues were prioritized by FSDC's membership through an online survey. They were conveyed in letters to the Senate President, House Speaker, and appropriation subcommittee chairs. The letters are posted here. (4/8)

A New View of the Moon's Formation (Source: U. of Maryland)
Within the first 150 million years after our solar system formed, a giant body roughly the size of Mars (called "Theia") struck and merged with Earth, blasting a huge cloud of rock and debris into space. This cloud would eventually coalesce and form the moon.

For almost 30 years, planetary scientists have been quite happy with this explanation--with one major exception. Although this scenario makes sense when you look at the size of the moon and the physics of its orbit around Earth, things start to break down a little when you compare their isotopic compositions--the geological equivalent of a DNA "fingerprint." Specifically, Earth and the moon are too much alike.

Now, a team of scientists has generated a new isotopic fingerprint of the moon that could provide the missing piece of the puzzle. By zeroing in on an isotope of Tungsten present in both the moon and Earth, the team is the first to reconcile the accepted model of the moon's formation with the unexpectedly similar isotopic fingerprints of both bodies. The results suggest that the impact of Theia into early Earth was so violent, the resulting debris cloud mixed thoroughly before settling down and forming the moon. (4/8)

Plants Use Sixth Sense for Growth Aboard the Space Station (Source: Space Daily)
Although it is arguable as to whether plants have all five human senses - sight, scent, hearing, taste and touch - they do have a unique sense of gravity, which is being tested in space. Researchers with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will conduct a second run of the Plant Gravity Sensing study after new supplies are delivered by the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The research team seeks to determine how plants sense their growth direction without gravity. The study results may have implications for higher crop yield in farming and for cultivating plants for long-duration space missions.

The investigation examines the cellular process of formation in thale cress, or Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant related to cabbage. The genetic makeup of thale cress is simple and well-understood by the plant biology community. This knowledge allows scientists to easily recognize changes that occur as a result of microgravity adaptation. (4/9)

Canada Gives Satellite Imagery to Ukraine (Source: Ottawa Citizen)
Canada is providing Ukraine with Radarsat-2 imagery even as its own military says it has restricted its use of the spacecraft. Canadian government officials said earlier this year they agreed to a request from Ukraine for radar images from the spacecraft, but declined to discuss the cost of those images or how long they will be offered. The Canadian military, meanwhile, says it's facing a "critical shortage" of funds to cover Radarsat-2 imagery for its own needs because of budget cuts. (4/8)

Seasonal, Year-Long Cycles Seen on the Sun (Source: NASA)
Our sun is constantly changing. It goes through cycles of activity – swinging between times of relative calm and times when frequent explosions on its surface can fling light, particles and energy out into space. This activity cycle peaks approximately every 11 years. New research shows evidence of a shorter time cycle as well, with activity waxing and waning over the course of about 330 days. (4/8)

NASA Defends 2022 Mars Orbiter Plans Amid Questions from Oversight Panel (Source: Space News)
NASA is defending plans to send a telecommunications orbiter to the Red Planet in 2022 amid questions from the NASA Advisory Council's planetary science subcommittee. "There's a lot of baby steps, if you will, toward the capabilities that we want in the science program as well as what the [human exploration] guys are looking at ... that could be accomplished in an orbiter," said NASA Mars czar Jim Watzin. (4/7)

What It Would Be Like to Live On a Comet (Source: Space.com)
Photographs from comet missions have revealed that comet nuclei are quite small, ranging from less than a mile to tens of miles across. Some of them also have irregular shapes, sometimes resembling the end of a dumbbell. "The reason they are so irregular is because their gravity is so low," said Althea Moorhead.

On Earth and other spherical bodies, gravity is directed straight down. But if you were on a dumbbell-shaped comet, gravity might pull you down and to the side, depending on where you were standing, Moorhead said. However, that gravitational tug wouldn't be overwhelmingly strong. The gravity of Halley's Comet, for example, is about equal to the gravity of Mount Everest if you were to remove the mountain from Earth and deposit it in space — if you were to drop an object from chest level, it would take about two minutes to hit the ground. (4/7)

Staying Healthy on the Red Planet (Source: Slate)
When we think of astronauts, most of us imagine perfect physical specimens—they should be brilliant, yes, but they should also be stoutly built models of health. But some new discoveries suggest that even the best of us may be ill-suited for the environments we’ll explore in the future. To the contrary, making ourselves at home on other worlds may mean learning to live with states of impairment.

Consider the case of Mars, a planet that has long been upheld as an optimal candidate for colonization. The website of Mars One—the widely criticized “not-for-profit foundation that will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars”—lists six reasons why the red planet is ideal. Among other things, the site notes that it has a limited atmosphere, its days are similar to ours in length, and it is relatively temperate.

Mars appeals to our terrestrial narcissism: We want to go there because it’s a little like what we have here, such that we could call it home without having to change quite so much about it. Mars also appeals because of the evidence of water we’ve found there, especially in the soil. The trouble is that water isn’t the only substance we’ve discovered in the dirt of Mars. In 2009, scientists responsible for the Phoenix lander reported that they had discovered a statistically significant sample of perchlorate within the soil. Click here. (4/8)

ULA Working to Reduce Five Launch Pads to Two (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
At the Cape, there is Complex 41 used by the Atlas 5 and Complex 37 that is used to launch the Delta 4 rocket. At Vandenberg, there is Launch Complexes 2-West, 3-East and 6, homes to the Delta 2, Atlas 5 and Delta 4, respectively. Ongoing analysis will determine which site is best to keep open on each coast and which ones will be eliminated.

“Have we decided exactly which pads? No, not yet,” Tory Bruno, the United Launch Alliance president and CEO, said in an interview this week. “We are going to do a separate announcement for that in a couple of months when we’ve finished up our trades. We are getting pretty close, we think we know, we have a pretty good idea which they’ll be. But these things are never done till they are done.” (4/9)

NASA's Chief Scientist: 'We'll Find Alien Life by 2025.' Here's How (Source: Vox)
"I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years," NASA's chief scientist, Ellen Stofan, said as part of a panel on Tuesday. "We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology."

Stofan isn't alone. Scientists studying other worlds, both in our solar system and orbiting distant stars, have also predicted that we're likely to find out a lot about the existence of extraterrestrial life in the coming decades. "With new telescopes coming online within the next five or 10 years, we'll really have a chance to figure out whether we're alone in the universe," Lisa Kaltenegger of Cornell University's search for distant habitable planets. Click here. (4/8)

Organic Molecules Found Circling Nearby Star (Source: Science)
Astronomers have detected chemical precursors of building blocks of life in the large disk of dust and gas whirling around a young nearby star. These complex organic molecules, two forms of cyanide and one chemically related compound, likely formed after the protoplanetary disk collapsed, the researchers say. The same chemicals are found in roughly similar proportions in comets circling our sun, which may have brought them to Earth billions of years ago. (4/8)

NASA Glenn's New Deputy Director Sees Strong Future for Center (Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Janet Kavandi has replaced Glenn's Gregory Robinson, now deputy associate administrator for programs for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. She will help Glenn Director James Free oversee about 1,570 staffers and 1,660 contracted workers at Glenn's main campus in Brook Park and at its Plum Brook satellite in Perkins Township, near Sandusky.

Kavandi said early this month that she was too new to Glenn to be sure of her duties here yet. She expected special responsibility for research, including several aspects of the Orion mission to Mars, and some responsibility for most everything else, including $255 million's worth of renovations through 2022 in Brook Park. (4/8)

Now Made in Brooklyn: Space Suits and Spinoff Fashions (Source: New York)
At Final Frontier Design, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev make space suits. An FFD space suit costs $65,000, and, as you’d expect for anything so expensive, it’s really sleek. It's lighter and easier to function in than the one most astronauts use now — the FFD design features an easier-to-use helmet, lighter fabrics, knees and elbows that allow for more flexibility, and 3-D-printed buckles with rounded corners.

“It used to cost thousands of dollars to fit a machine to cut these buckles,” said Southern. “Now we can 3-D print one for $30.” Southern, an artist and designer who began his career working on technical costumes for movies and theater, and Moiseev, who spent 20 years working for the Russian space-suit company Zvezda, got their start after winning a NASA challenge to design an astronaut glove — their model outperformed NASA’s technology. Now they describe their company as “a private design firm crafting aerospace safety garments for the future of space travel.”

Brooklyn might seem strange place to be making space suits. But FFD is working at the intersection of technology and fashion and has needs that can't be fulfilled in an aerospace hub like Texas or Florida. “All the space companies are in the countryside. I have been there, and there are just no towns, nothing,” says Moiseev. “We need to be able to hire professionals from all different trades, and everyone is in New York." (4/8)

Draper Lab's Wearable Device for Astronauts Will Help NASA Build a Better Space Shuttle (Source: Boston Business Journal)
By the early 2030s, if predictions hold, NASA will be sending humans to Mars. And Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research organization based in Cambridge, will play an integral part in making sure the spacecraft that sends the crew to the Red Planet is built properly. As part of a deal with NASA, Draper will develop wearable devices that can be used to monitor astronauts' location and orientation as they move around the International Space Station.

NASA will collect the data and develop three-dimensional models of the crew's use of the interior of the spacecraft, which will affect how NASA builds future shuttles — specifically on longer-duration missions such as the one to Mars. All of this data will be used to build a better spacecraft. (4/7)

NewSat in Credit Bind after Coface Rebuffs Waiver Request (Source: Space News)
Struggling startup satellite fleet operator NewSat of Australia on April 8 said negotiations with its lenders were at a standstill because one of them — the French export-credit agency, Coface — refused to approve loan waivers that would permit funding to resume. The company said Coface’s decision has had a domino effect on the company’s other creditors, notably Coface’s U.S. counterpart, the Export-Import Bank. As a result, some $222 million in loans and loan guarantees have been frozen. (4/8)

Full Industry Control of Ariane 6 Non-Negotiable (Source: Space News)
The head of France’s aerospace industries association said Europe’s rocket industry will resist investing in a next-generation Ariane 6 rocket if European governments do not give industry control of the rocket’s entire product life cycle, including design, production, commercialization and operations. Marwan Lahoud said that when Airbus and Safran announced the creation of their Airbus Safran Launchers joint venture in June 2014 to lead Ariane 6 development, they stated the conditions under which the industrial consolidation would occur. (4/9)

Companies Offer Larger Satellite System For ISS Deployment (Source: Space News)
Seeking to expand the satellite-launching capabilities of the International Space Station beyond cubesats, three companies announced plans April 8 to offer a much larger spacecraft for deployment from the station. The FeatherCraft spacecraft, developed by Surrey Satellite Technology U.S. (SST-US) can weigh up to 100 kilograms and is designed to launch from a new deployer to be installed on the station later this year. (4/8)

Northrop Creates Separate Space, Airborne ISR Divisions (Source: Space News)
Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems announced it is splitting its space and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) business into two separate divisions, one focused on space ISR and the other on airborne ISR and targeting. Joseph J. Ensor will serve as vice president and general manager of the newly created Space ISR Systems division, overseeing operations in Maryland, California and Colorado. (4/8)

Hawaii Governor Calls ‘Timeout’ on Mauna Kea Telescope Construction (Source: Civil Beat)
Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea is on hold for at least a week as protests over the $1.4 billion project continue to mount. Hawaii Gov. David Ige told reporters there will be a “timeout” to facilitate a dialogue. “It’s a significant project and this will give us some time to engage in further conversations with the various stakeholders that have an interest in Mauna Kea and its sacredness and its importance in scientific research and discovery going forward,” he said. (4/7)

To Boldly Go Where No Body Has Gone Before (Source: Slate)
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace,” he begins. “These brave men know there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.” So goes the Nixon speech drafted in case of the deaths of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin following the first moon landing.

While we probably won’t see boots on Mars for at least another 15-20 years, those concerned with planning the early missions are already beginning to consider the host of unique methodological and ethical questions that such a journey will surely entail. How should crew members deal with a colleague’s death on long duration missions? At what point do mission prerogatives outweigh considerations of an individual astronaut’s safety? Click here. (4/7)

No comments: