September 3, 2015

URS, Yang Accused of Bilking NASA on Tire Costs at KSC (Source: Reuters)
Two NASA contractors are accused of defrauding the agency — over tires. A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses URS Federal Services Inc. and subcontactor Yang Enterprises of filing more than 1,000 "undocumented and unreasonable" claims to replace tires on vehicles the companies had a contract to maintain at the Kennedy Space Center. One vehicle had its tires replaced six times in 27 months. The government is seeking treble damages on the claims, valued at $387,000.

Editor's Note: This isn't the first time Yang has been accused of wrongdoing. The 8A company -- a Small Business Subcontractor of the Year at KSC, and winner of a Small  Business Excellence Award at Marshall -- was accused in 2004 by one of their NASA contract workers of manipulating computer voting machines to support Republican candidates including George Bush and Florida politician Tom Feeney, a former Congressman representing the Space Coast. (9/3)

Alien Oceans' Glint Could Reveal Habitable Water Worlds (Source:
The bright glint of alien oceans may be visible from afar, allowing astronomers to flag potentially habitable exoplanets. As Earth travels around the sun, it moves through phases much like the moon when seen from afar. The planet's oceans reflect a great deal of light, especially during the crescent phase. The same principle should apply to exoplanets, researchers say. (9/2)

AMS Experiment Hardware Failures Increase Risk of Shortened Mission (Source: Nature)
A glitch with a high-profile science experiment on the ISS has raised questions about its longevity. One of four cooling pumps on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) failed last year, and a second is showing signs of problems. AMS can operate on a single pump, but the problems raise questions about whether the $2 billion experiment to study cosmic rays can last through 2024, the station's current planned lifetime. (9/2)

NASA Gives Up on Broken SMAP Radar (Source: Space News)
A NASA satellite launched in January to measure global soil-moisture levels will have to continue its mission without its primary radar, which failed in July and cannot be salvaged, the agency acknowledged in a Sept. 2 statement. The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite’s L-band radar, one of two instruments aboard the $915 million mission, “can no longer return data,” NASA wrote in a press release. (9/3)

First Falcon Heavy Launch Scheduled for Spring (Source: Space News)
The long-delayed first flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch vehicle is now scheduled for April or May of 2016, a company official said. Lee Rosen, vice president of mission and launch operations for SpaceX, said the company was also wrapping up work on the renovated launch pad that rocket will use. “It’s going to be a great day when we launch [Falcon Heavy], some time in the late April-early May timeframe,” he said.

That first launch will be a demonstration mission without a paying customer. That launch will be followed in September by the Space Test Program 2 mission for the Air Force, carrying 37 satellites. Rosen said the company was also planning Falcon Heavy launches of satellites for Inmarsat and ViaSat before the end of 2016, but did not give estimated dates for those missions.

Prior to the June 28 failure of a Falcon 9 carrying a Dragon cargo spacecraft, SpaceX has planned to carry out the inaugural Falcon Heavy launch by the end of this year. At a July 20 press conference, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said work on the Falcon Heavy would be “deprioritized” while the company devotes resources to return-to-flight activities, delaying the first flight into 2016. (9/2)

NASA Works on "Hitchhiker" Probe Concept (Source: Mashable)
NASA is creating a tether system that will enable unmanned spacecraft to latch onto comets or asteroids, hitching a ride before moving on to attach to other objects. "Hitchhiking a celestial body is not as simple as sticking out your thumb, because it flies at an astronomical speed and it won't stop to pick you up. Instead of a thumb, our idea is to use a harpoon and a tether," said NASA's Masahiro Ono. (9/2)

Senators Seek Review of NASA Commercial Cargo Program (Source: USA Today)
Two senators are asking the Government Accountability Office to review NASA's commercial cargo program. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and David Vitter (R-LA) sent a letter this week to the GAO asking for the review, seeking estimates of costs associated with recent cargo mission failures and itemized lists of cargo lost on those missions. A GAO spokesman said they are reviewing the request, a process that typically takes a few weeks. (9/2)

Raytheon Plans to Hire 700 Workers in Colorado to Support Air Force (Source: Denver Business Journal)
Raytheon will hire 700 new employees in Colorado to help fulfill its $700 million contract with the Defense Department to monitor air and space threats. "We are focused on expanding our support to the Air Force in Colorado Springs, investing in our employees and enhancing the local community," said Raytheon's Todd Probert. (9/2)

Thales Alenia Starting Work on Radar Imaging Satellites for Italy (Source: Space News)
Thales Alenia Space has signed a contract to start work on a next-generation radar satellite. The company said Wednesday it has a $200 million contract with the Italian Space Agency to build one satellite for launch in 2018 and procure parts for another. The satellites would replace the current Cosmo-SkyMed satellites, which provide radar imagery for military and civil users. (9/2)

Virginia Spaceport Repairs on Schedule (Source: DelMarVaNow)
Repairs to the Virginia launch site damaged in last year's Antares failure are on schedule and budget. Work on Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island is nearing completion, and spaceport officials said it will be ready to support a hot fire test of the re-engined Antares vehicle in January. That rocket is scheduled to be ready for launch in March, but may be delayed due to schedules of other missions to the space station. (9/3)

Boeing Readying CST-100 Facility at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Boeing)
Boeing will formally open its commercial crew and cargo processing facility in Florida on Friday. The facility, a converted shuttle processing hangar at the Kennedy Space Center, will be used to prepare CST-100 crew vehicles for missions to the space station. Boeing is also expected to use the Friday event to announce the new name of the CST-100. (9/2)

NASA Will Use Hoverboard Tech to Grab Small Satellites (Source: Popular Mechanics)
Arx Pax is moving ​beyond hoverboards to take its magnetic technology off the Earth entirely. The company on Tuesday announced a partnership deal to bring its magnetic field manipulation technology to NASA, with two specific purposes in mind (and many more to come): first, to retrieve small satellites, and second, to create microgravity environments here on Earth.

"What we're providing NASA is another tool in their arsenal of accomplishing what they want to accomplish," Greg Henderson​, CEO and co-founder of Arx Pax, said in an interview with Popular Mechanics. That tool is the hover engine, which creates a strong magnetic field. That magnetic field then interacts with a conductive surface of aluminum or copper to create a secondary magnetic field, which can then be manipulated to attract or repel the engine. (9/2)

NASA's New Horizons Mission Provides New Horizons for Women in Science (Source: US News)
Certainly the stars of New Horizons were the incredibly stunning images that were beamed back to Earth in a matter of hours, but those images represent only a tiny fraction of a mission that took a cast of thousands, some serious monetary investment, and a little luck that it would pay off.

As a woman in science, I found it particularly gratifying to see how many female researchers have contributed to this project through their dedication of the pursuit and application of knowledge. A recent report developed by Mendeley, a global research collaboration platform, about the New Horizons mission noted that of the top 10 research contributors, four are women: Dr. Leslie Young of the Southwest Research Institute, Dr. Yanping Guo of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and Dr. Fran Bagenal and Dr. Cathy Olkin of the University of Colorado. (9/2)

Is the Universe Infinite or Just Very Big? (Source: New Scientist)
We've known the size of Earth since the time of the ancient Greeks. The sun, solar system and Milky Way? No problem. But when it comes to the size of the universe, we haven’t got a clue. "It’s weird: the size of the observable universe is one of the more precisely known quantities in astronomy, but the size of the whole universe is one of the least well-known,” says Scott Dodelson.

One way to think about the size of the observable universe is to consider how far light emitted at the big bang could have travelled by now. According to our best cosmological models, that distance is about 46 billion light-years. (9/2)

Winking Exoplanets Could Reveal Interplanetary Comet Strikes (Source: New Scientist)
A wink’s as good as a nod to an astronomer. Seeing an exoplanet suddenly get brighter might hint that something has crashed into it. Information from that event could then tell us a lot about that planet and its neighbours.

Existing telescopes are not sensitive enough to pick up light from an exoplanet the size of Jupiter, but the next generation might be. To figure out how to spot a comet collision, Laura Flagg of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff looked to comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which slammed into Jupiter in 1994. “I always imagine it as a splash,” she says. “The comet broke up into much smaller pieces, and the particles settled in the stratosphere.” (9/2)

Why Does Space Have Three Dimensions? (Source: New Scientist)
Ah, but does it? For anyone versed in modern theoretical physics, that’s not such a silly question. “I don’t know any mathematical reason why three-dimensional space is more consistent than any other number,” says Leonard Susskind, one of the founders of string theory. One of string theory’s peculiar features is that when applied to fewer than nine spatial dimensions, the mathematics goes wild, predicting violent fluctuations that rip apart the very fabric of the universe. (9/2)

What Came Before the Big Bang? (Source: New Scientist)
Pause. Rewind. Suddenly the outward rush of 200 billion galaxies slips into reverse. Instead of expanding at pace, the universe is now imploding like a deflating balloon: faster and faster, smaller and smaller, everything hurtling together until the entire cosmos is squeezed into an inconceivably hot, dense pinprick. Then pshhht! The screen goes dead.

According to the big bang theory – our best explanation for why space is expanding – everything exploded from nothing about 13.8 billion years ago. Cosmologists have been able to wind things back to within a tiny fraction of a second of this moment. But now they’re stuck. (9/2)

FAA Next-Gen Technology Unreliable on East Coast During Military Exercises (Source: AIN)
ADS-B surveillance and some TCAS operations in the airspace over Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida might become unreliable as of September 2 at 1 a.m. EDT, according to a Notam the FAA issued on September 1. The outages are due to events the agency labeled as “late notice from the Department of Defense of military exercises.”

The outages are scheduled to last until midnight October 1. In addition to the areas of concern noted in domestic airspace, the FAA said the outages might well extend up to 200-nm offshore. Editor's Note: ADS-B has been considered a potential solution for spaceflight tracking and situational awareness, possibly as part of a technology suite that could augment or replace the Air Force's current Eastern Range system. (9/2)

Meet the Hollywood Prop Designer Making NASA's Spacesuits (Source: Vice)
Chris Gilman made a name for himself as a Hollywood prop designer, specializing in space-related movie props and effects for films like Deep Impact, Star Trek, and Armageddon. His company, Global Effects Inc, became notorious in the industry for their unparalleled ability to manufacture hyperrealistic space suits—the kind that mirrored actual spacegear so well that it gained the attention of actual aerospace companies. Click here. (9/2)

Curiosity Finds a 'Floating Spoon' on Mars (Source: Discovery)
We’ve seen “rats,” “yetis,” “faces,” even “elephants” on Mars, but this new image captured by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is one of the most fascinating views of a rock formation on the Martian surface yet. Sure, like these other examples I’ve included in “quotes,” this “spoon” is yet another wonderful example of Mars pareidolia, but with a twist. Click here. (9/2)

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