June 11, 2015

First US Deep Space Weather Satellite Reaches Final Orbit (Source: Space Daily)
More than 100 days after it launched, NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite has reached its orbit position about one million miles from Earth. Once final instrument checks are completed, DSCOVR, which will provide improved measurements of solar wind conditions to enhance NOAA's ability to warn of potentially harmful solar activity, will be the nation's first operational space weather satellite in deep space.

Its orbit between Earth and the sun is at a location called the Lagrange point 1, or L1, which gives DSCOVR a unique vantage point to see the Earth and sun. DSCOVR will eventually replace NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) research satellite as America's primary warning system for solar magnetic storms headed towards Earth. (6/11)

NASA Halts Exelis Work on Weather Satellite Instrument (Source: Space News)
NASA ordered Exelis on Monday to stop work on a climate instrument intended for the JPSS-2 weather satellite. “The stop work order was issued because the project is experiencing technical and cost concerns that require review in order to determine how best to address those concerns and move forward," a NASA spokesman said yesterday. (6/11)

Mikulski to the Rescue in Senate Development of NASA Budget? (Source: Space News)
The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up a bill today that trims more than $200 million from NASA's 2016 budget request. An appropriations subcommittee marked up the Commerce, Justice, and Science spending bill Wednesday, giving NASA $18.3 billion, less than the requested $18.529 billion.

Commercial crew funding is cut by nearly $350 million, and space technology by $125 million, while SLS would get an additional $544 million. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement late Wednesday that he was "deeply disappointed" in the commercial crew cut, which jeopardizes plans to have vehicles ready by 2017.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the ranking member of the full committee, plans to introduce an amendment today to add $500 million to NASA, including $300 million for commercial crew. Editor's Note: This will be among Sen. Mikulski's last opportunities to fix NASA's budget, as she has decided not to seek re-election in 2016. (6/11)

ISS Astronauts Return to Earth (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Three International Space Station (ISS ) crew members have returned to Earth after more than six months performing scientific research and working to demonstrate new technologies in low Earth orbit (LEO). According to NASA their landing went, “by the book.” With Expedition 43′s mission now complete, the station is being prepared for new flights of the Soyuz, Progress, and Dragon spacecraft to the orbiting laboratory.

The Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft that carried Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts (NASA) and flight engineers Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA ) and Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos) undocked from the space station at 6:20 a.m. EDT on Thursday, June 11, and landed in Kazakhstan at approximately 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m. Kazakh time). The lead up to today’s landing was fairly routine. (6/11)

Unraveling the Enigma of Saturn’s Huge, Ghostly Halo (Source: WIRED)
Rings around planets are supposed to stay close to home, as any Astro 101 textbook will tell you. Once they venture too far afield from their gravitational overlord, conventional astronomical wisdom dictates that they will collapse and form new satellites.

“That does a really good job of explaining rings—except for this one,” says astrophysicist Douglas Hamilton. Hamilton and colleagues are investigating Saturn’s biggest, strangest, most recently-discovered ring. The so-called Phoebe ring is not only bigger than the researchers thought, it appears to be made of unusually fine particles—particles that continually collide with Saturn’s moon Iapetus as it circles the planet, turning the moon’s leading face black. Click here. (6/10)

Astrobotic Signs Mexican Space Agency for Trip to the Moon (Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Astrobotic, a lunar logistics company, has signed up as a payload customer the first of what it hopes will be many future international space agency clients. After several months of negotiation, the Mexican Space Agency signed a deal to have Astrobotic take an undetermined payload to the moon, said Astrobotic CEO John Thornton.

“They want to be the first Latin American country to land on the moon and operate a payload,” Mr. Thornton said. “And with us they can do it for a fraction of the cost” compared to trying to do it alone. Signing Mexico up as a customer also moves Astrobotic one step closer to having enough paying customers to win it the now-8-year-old Google Lunar XPrize it has been pursuing since it was created. (6/10)

ULA Appeals $3.25 Billion Property Value Assessment in California (Source: Santa Maria Sun)
A company responsible for launching rockets from Vandenberg Air Force Base is appealing what it’s calling a series of property tax assessments issued by the county. United Launch Alliance is disputing a $30 million tax bill stemming from a series of escape assessments—when the assessor discovers properties that weren’t previously assessed—ranging from 2007 to 2014 that value the company’s properties at more than $3.25 billion, according to Keith Taylor, the chief deputy assessor for Santa Barbara County.

“We discovered the properties through a business property audit for ULA from 2008,” Taylor said. Taylor couldn’t give specific information on what types of property were discovered, citing confidentiality that relates to possible trade secrets. ULA currently occupies three launch sites at Vandenberg, which are the properties that were assessed, Taylor said.

He added that there’s usually a four-year statute of limitations on escaped assessments that can be extended to eight years depending on circumstances. ULA’s opinion of its property value varies drastically from the county’s. According to appeals documents, ULA said its property is only worth around $619 million. Taylor said that the company’s accusing the county of duplicating past assessments, which is why ULA’s appealing the new tax bill. (6/10)

Northrop Grumman to Hire at Least 100 on Space Coast (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
Aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman is on the hunt for new employees now that the first phase of its $500 million expansion in Melbourne is complete. The company has at least 100 open positions posted on its career website for the Melbourne location. Many of those positions include high-wage jobs such as engineers, technicians and managers. The groundbreaking for the next phase of the project — 500,000 square feet of space that would add 1,500 employees by 2019 — has yet to be determined. (6/3)

Buzz Aldrin: Why the U.S. Should Partner with China in Space (Source: TIME)
Let me add my voice of support for the U.S. to initiate dialogue with China on the country’s inclusion in the International Space Station program. Doing so, however, requires not only White House leadership, but also bi-partisan support in Congress to roll back public law that bans NASA from engaging in bilateral agreements and coordination with China.

It’s all about “inclination.” In this case, I’m not just talking about the inclined orbit of an object circling Earth, but also a will to lean forward and encourage collaboration in space. Working with China—as we’ve learned with other space powers—presents scientific gains and boosts safety factors for all those engaged in human spaceflight. But there is much more. All 21st century spacefaring nations need to take stepping stones that lead to humanity’s bold leap to the Red Planet.

Let’s put the symbolism aside for a minute regarding Chinese onboard the 15 nation-supported International Space Station. China can, as other nations have already, reap rewards by using the ISS. America would be taking the high road, not just offering cooperation but also assistance in making Earth orbit a busy place for commerce, transforming the Moon into a multi-nation beehive of activity, and tapping the global wherewithal and talent to venture outward to Mars. (6/11)

Robotic Tunneler May Explore Icy Moons (Source: Astrobiology)
A robotic “cryobot,” designed to tunnel down through thick ice caps and penetrate subterranean seas, is undergoing tests on the Matanuska glacier in Alaska. It paves the way towards one day exploring the underground oceans of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, or other icy moons of the Outer Solar System. NASA’s budget for the 2016 fiscal year includes about $30 million for further development of the Europa Clipper concept, a mission to Europa that will seek possible signs of the icy moon’s habitability. (6/11)

Our Exploration of the Solar System is Just Getting Started (Source: New Scientist)
NASA's budget is rebounding, and Europa, at least, is firmly back on the agenda. Hopes aren't pinned solely on NASA. The growing flotilla includes probes from Europe, Japan, China and India. They're not all flagships, but "faster, better, cheaper" is not a bad approach, given our new-found appreciation of the solar system's richness.

The Grand Tour may be nearly over, but many more voyages of discovery are just beginning – and these will be by true explorers, not just whistle-stop tourists. We've already sent robotic laboratories roving across Mars, plunging to fiery doom in Jupiter's murky atmosphere and bouncing off an asteroid. Their successors will be even more audacious: some will bring bits of space back to us.

When we first started flinging robotic emissaries into the void, we had no real idea what we would find out there. Now we have – and that is even more exciting. (6/11)

Mystery on Mercury: Strange Pattern of Huge Cliffs Defy Explanation (Source: Space.com)
A baffling new mystery has turned up on Mercury — a pattern of giant cliffs and ridges on the planet's surface that defies any explanation that scientists have currently been able to offer. Mercury is the solar system's smallest and innermost world. It was an enigmatic planet for years. Until NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft became the first probe to orbit Mercury, the only other visits it received were the flybys made by NASA's Mariner 10 probe four decades ago.

Images that MESSENGER collected during its more than four years in orbit revealed a vast array of large fault scarps, or cliffs, on Mercury. These scarps resemble giant stair steps in the landscape — the largest are more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) long and more than 1.8 miles (3 km) high. The most widely accepted model of the origin of these faults and scarps is that they are essentially wrinkles that formed on Mercury's surface as the planet's heart cooled over time, leading Mercury to shrink in size.

If this planetwide array of fault scarps formed as Mercury shrank in size, these features should be uniformly scattered over the planet's surface. However, scientists now find there is a bewildering pattern to these fault scarps. Unexpectedly, they discovered many scarps are concentrated in two wide bands that run north to south and are located on almost opposite sides of the planet from each other. (6/10)

French Divestment Will Put Arianespace in Airbus Safran’s Hands (Source: Space News)
The French government on June 10 confirmed that the Arianespace launch-service consortium ultimately would be controlled by Airbus Safran Launchers following the sale of the French government’s share in Arianespace. The French ministers for research, defense and industry -- the first two having direct control of the French space agency, CNES -- said negotiations on the conditions of the equity transfer “will continue on this basis [that Airbus Safran Launches will end up with the shares] while respecting the usual procedures.” (6/10)

Porn Site is Crowdfunding $3.4M to Explore the Final Frontier (Source: Venture Beat)
PornHub has launched an Indiegogo campaign to make a sex tape on the final frontier: space. The campaign, titled Sexploration, aims to raise $3.4 million to make a porno in space featuring Eva Lovia and Johnny Sins as astronauts. Those who donate to the campaign will be entitled to a range of prizes, all of which have space-inspired names.

PornHub says the money will go towards funding shuttle seating for the crews and performers, as well as space-appropriate video equipment. The company will front the costs for all other aspects of the film, like actors, promotion, and pre/post production. The campaign will go on for another 30 days, and if the project gets funded PornHub expects to launch its team into space in 2016. (6/10)

Latest Close-Up of Ceres' Bright Spots (Source: SEN)
New images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft show the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres in sharper detail than ever before, yet certain features continue to puzzle scientists. Some of the first images, taken during Dawn's second mapping orbit at an altitude of 4,400 km (2,700 miles), are of the mysterious bright spots that lie in a crater about 90 km (55 miles) across. Scientists are still unsure about the nature of the cluster of spots which appear to be of various sizes. Click here. (6/10)

UK Spaceport Decision Sparks Rethink Call (Source: Forres Gazette)
Following a report for the UK Government which ruled the village out of a shortlist for the project, the proposal was back on the agenda at a recent meeting of the council’s Economic Development Planning and Infrastructure (EDPI) committee. Councillors agreed to support the efforts of the Moray Economic Partnership (MEP) to persuade the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to reconsider. (6/10)

Why Europe’s Space Rationale is Autonomy, Not Leadership (Source: Space News)
More often than not the outside observer may find that the European space program is a difficult to grasp if not entirely mystifying object. To be fair, it is no wonder if people have had a hard time making sense of something that can be portrayed as being both singular and plural.

The mixture of national, intergovernmental and community-based entities and processes that makes Europe a unique case in the international space landscape is prone to misunderstanding. My argument, though, is that confusion has come mainly to the tendency to make overly quick and simplistic assumptions about the reasons, goals and values that are behind Europe’s 50-year-old, successful effort to benefit from the free access to and use of space resources. (6/10)

Palm Bay Students' HUNCH Could Lead to Space (Source: Florida Today)
From the International Space Station's windowed Cupola, views of Earth spinning 250 miles below can be mesmerizing, causing astronauts to lose track of time. A mobile app envisioned by students at Palm Bay Magnet High School might some day send those astronauts a gentle reminder about their next task, or deliver messages from a crewmate across the outpost.

The concept for the app the students named KooPalla — a play on Cupola — emerged from a school partnership with NASA that is the first of its kind in Florida. Palm Bay Magnet High last year joined HUNCH — High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware — a 12-year-old program that has involved more than 70 schools in 18 states and Canada. (6/10)

Work-Experience Schoolboy Discovers a New Planet (Source: Keele University)
A 15-yr-old schoolboy has discovered a new planet orbiting a star 1000 light years away in our galaxy. Tom Wagg was doing work-experience at Keele University when he spotted the planet by finding a tiny dip in the light of a star as a planet passed in front of it. (6/10)

Here's the Least Amount of Schooling You Need to be an Astronaut (Source: Business Insider)
It takes a huge amount of preparation and training to secure yourself a seat on a space shuttle bound for the International Space Station, but NASA's actual schooling requirements to qualify as an astronaut candidate may surprise you. If you don't have your sights set on being a commander or a pilot, all you need is a bachelor's degree in a relevant field and three years of professional experience, according to NASA. Your degree can be in anything from biology, to nursing, to math. (6/10)

Further Delays Likely in U.S. Launches to Space Station (Source: USA Today)
Come 2018, it's almost certain U.S. astronauts will still be riding Russian rockets to the International Space Station. A vote by a key Senate panel Wednesday all but killed any chance Congress will fully finance NASA's space shuttle replacement program by 2017 and end the agency's reliance on Soyuz rockets for access to the space station.

That vote by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that finances the space program approved $900 million for the shuttle replacement program, known as Commercial Crew, in fiscal 2016. That's nearly $350 million less than the $1.24 billion NASA requested to meet a launch target of late 2017. Last week, the House approved a fiscal 2016 for NASA budget that would provide $1 billion for the Commercial Crew program. (6/10)

Senate Bill Offers $18.3 Billion For NASA (Source: Space News)
A spending bill approved by a Senate appropriations subcommittee June 10 would provide $18.3 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2016, a cut of more than $200 million from both the administration’s original request and a companion House bill. The NASA funding is part of a $51.1 billion appropriations bill.

The bill’s $18.3 billion for NASA is $229 million less than the administration’s original request of $18.529 million for the agency. The CJS appropriations bill that the House passed June 3 also provided $18.529 billion for NASA, but shifted funding from some programs, including commercial crew and space technology, to the Space Launch System and planetary science. (6/10)

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