October 23, 2015

Hints of Life on What Was Thought to Be Desolate Early Earth (Source: ABC)
Scientists have found fossil-like hints that some kind of life existed on Earth 4.1 billion years ago — when the planet was a mere volcanic toddler. That's 300 million years earlier for life to pop up than previously thought. Not only does that change the way scientists thought Earth was like soon after it formed 4.5 billion years ago, but gives them reason to theorize that life itself is more plentiful throughout the universe because it seemed to start up so quickly.

Researchers examined tiny grains of the mineral zircon from western Australia's Jack Hills and chemically dated them to when Earth was barely 400 million years old. Inside one of the 160 some grains they found what they call a "chemo-fossil" or a certain mix of carbon isotope. Think of it as "the gooey remains of biotic life or anything more complicated," said study co-author Mark Harrison, a UCLA geochemistry professor. (10/19)

Commercial Crew Project Pushes Boeing Revenues Up (Source: Boeing)
NASA's commercial crew program is helping the bottom line of Boeing's space division. The company reported Wednesday a 5 percent increase in revenues for its Network and Space Systems division in the fiscal third quarter, to $2.1 billion. Boeing said higher volume on its commercial crew contract to NASA was responsible for the increase. The company also reported a 30 percent increase in earnings for the division, which the company said was caused by a "favorable program mix." (10/22)

Planetary Resources Raised $12 Milion (Source: GeekWire)
Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources has raised $12 million. The company reported the fundraising, part of a planned round of $20 million, in a filing Wednesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company did not disclose its plans for the additional funding. Planetary Resources, based near Seattle, is working on spacecraft designs to study and, eventually, extract resources from asteroids. (10/22)

UAE Joins Big League Space Explorers (Source: The National)
The United Arab Emirates' space agency has joined an international space exploration group. The UAE is the first nation from the Middle East to join the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, a loose coalition of 14 agencies that studies plans for human exploration of the solar system. The UAE announced plans earlier this year to build a Mars orbiter mission scheduled for launch in 2020. (10/22)

NASA Wants Studies On Asteroid-Capturing 'Spacecraft Bus' (Source: Law 360)
NASA is seeking design studies for a “spacecraft bus” that would help the space agency divert a 20-ton chunk of an asteroid into the moon’s orbit, according to a solicitation published this week by the agency. The solicitation, published on Monday by the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, requests information from American companies interested in carrying out conceptual studies for the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission Spacecraft. (10/21)

Milky Way Photo With 46 Billion Pixels (Source: Space Daily)
Astronomers at the Ruhr-Universitat Bochum have compiled the largest astronomical image to date. The picture of the Milky Way contains 46 billion pixels. In order to view it, researchers headed by Prof Dr Rolf Chini from the Chair of Astrophysics have provided an online tool. The image contains data gathered in astronomical observations over a period of five years. Click here. (10/22)

Our Favorite Hypothetical Alien Megastructures (Source: Motherboard)
Since the Kepler space observatory launched in 2009 in search of Earth-like objects, numerous candidates have been found—each raising the tantalising possibility that they might be out there. But for the majority of Kepler’s mission thus far, the most alien hunters could hope for has been the occasional star flickering in a way suggestive of the presence of far-flung, unknown worlds. Click here. (10/21)

Induced Torpor/Hibernation Approach Could Put 100 on Mars in One Flight (Source: SEI)
SpaceWorks Enterprises has released its findings evaluating the potential of its torpor-technology to enable sending an unprecedented number of passengers on a mission to Mars. The objective of this work was to develop an engineering design for a 100-crew settlement-class in-space habitat that leverages our human stasis/torpor approach.

 The reduced metabolic rates that are achieved through torpor relax the mission requirements on consumable food and water, and positively impact the design of the habitat environmental control and life support systems. The torpor approach also helps to address a number of the medical challenges associated with deep space flight including bone demineralization, muscle atrophy, increased intracranial pressure, radiation exposure, and psycho-social problems.

The application of long-duration torpor for humans to space exploration missions appears to be both medically and technically feasible, showing great promise as a means to enable settlement of the solar system. Click here for the presentation. (10/22)

NASA to Use Earth-Observing Satellites to Track 2015 El Niño from Space (Source: Tech Times)
El Niño is a natural phenomenon that happens when tepid waters form in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The pool of abnormally warm water is approximately two to three degrees Celsius warmer than average. It happens every two to seven years and leads to a temporary climate change episode.

With today's space technology, scientists are better equipped in analyzing El Niño than in all previous years combined. NASA Earth-observing satellites will be used along with modeling system supercomputers. The American space agency will release scientific updates and images of El Niño movements throughout this winter. (10/21)

SpaceX Sued Over Unpaid Wages (Source: Sky News)
An employee of SpaceX is suing the company for $5m (£3.2m) claiming he and other employees were denied overtime pay, refused lunch breaks, and forced to shave time off their timesheets. Under California law, employees must be given 30-minute meal breaks if they work more than five hours, and a second if they work more than 10 hours. They must also receive 10-minute rest breaks for every four hours worked.

Technician Stan Saporito was employed by Elon Musk's company from 2013 through to February this year, and claims staff were pushed to "work off the clock". His lawyer Nicholas De Blouw pointed out that the case could take years to resolve, adding that labour law violations were used by companies to "shave labour costs". SpaceX said it denies the claims and will refute them in court. Click here. (10/22)

Lockheed Martin Lands Missile Defense Radar Contract (Source: Space News)
Lockheed Martin has won a $784 million contract to build a long-range discrimination radar (LRDR) that would identify incoming missile threats from the Pacific region, primarily North Korea, the Pentagon announced Oct. 21. Though intended primarily for missile defense, the LRDR also could contribute to the Air Force’s space situational awareness mission, defense and industry officials have said. (10/22)

NASA’s Space Launch System is a ‘GO’ (Source: NASA)
NASA’s Space Launch System program has completed its Critical Design Review, and major subsystems such as Orion’s launch abort system and the SLS RS-25 engines have recently completed successful testing. These accomplishments bring America one step closer to deep space – preserving the nation’s leadership in human space exploration.

This is the first time since the 1970s that NASA has completed CDR on a major new launch vehicle. Experts from NASA and industry validated that the SLS, as designed, meets all system requirements and is within cost and schedule constraints. It’s a ‘go’ for production, assembly, integration and testing of the vehicle as a whole.

This review is the last of four reviews that examine concepts and designs. The next step for the program is design certification, which will take place in 2017 after manufacturing, integration and testing is complete. The design certification will compare the actual final product to the rocket’s design. The final review, the flight readiness review, will take place just prior to the 2018 flight readiness date. (10/22)

Commercial Crew and Cargo Efforts Face Changing Landscape (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Programs have both made steady progress toward handling the responsibility of sending astronauts and supplies to-and-from the sole destination in low-Earth orbit (LEO) – the International Space Station. The road to orbit has not been a completely smooth one, however.

Perhaps the most obvious challenge that these companies are facing is accomplishing something that has been the sole purview of NASA for more than five decades. At First, SpaceX and Orbital ATK met with success after success. However, space flight in its present state – one using rockets to send payloads to orbit – is never “routine”. A fact that was driven home between Oct. 2014 and June of this year. Click here. (10/22)

The Plan for the Mexican Space Agency (Source: Alejandro Chavarri)
The Mexican Space Agency has let time go by and Mexicans are anxious to see it shine and to allow us to dream. The institution for space activities has started its functioning and consolidated itself. The moment for it to sail with audacity and determination shall not wait.

I consider myself a Mexican, proud of its nation and of its achievements to date; but I am not satisfied, as many others are not where we are regarding technological innovation. This is why I have decided to come out of my shelter and raise my voice in favor of innovating to guide the road towards transformation onto a Mexico that has a positive impact in the world in a different manner in the Aerospace and Defense sector. Today we have the historical opportunity to make things differently, to leave behind what hasn’t worked and reinforce what has; but with a new focus.

It fills me with energy and enthusiasm to present myself as a contender to occupy the Director General’s Office of the Mexican Space Agency (AEM), with the idea of presenting a proposal that opens the debate during the process to designate the Director General of the AEM. In this debate we should highlight the route for the next 50 years. (10/22)

Marshall Space Flight Center Center Director Announces Retirement (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
On Monday, Oct. 19, Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) Director, Patrick Scheuermann, in an email to MSFC employees, announced his retirement – effective Nov. 13. A replacement has yet to be named. Scheuermann has served as MSFC director since Sept. 2012, when he took over from Robert Lightfoot. (10/21)

KSC Decides Against Additional Launch Pads For Now (Source: NASA)
After thorough consideration of the proposals received to develop additional commercial vertical launch capabilities at Kennedy Space Center, NASA has decided not to select a partner at this time. As part of KSC's 20-year master plan, the center released an Announcement for Proposals (AFP) June 2 to alert the public to a potential opportunity to develop commercial vertical launch capabilities at two launch sites.

A review of the AFP proposals and the current commercial market demand indicated the market wasn’t sufficiently mature to make the commitment NASA sought when it issued the announcement. The two sites mentioned in the AFP are the only locations in the center’s master plan suitable for vertical launch capabilities. As a result, KSC will keep them for this purpose and will look to make the sites available for commercial partnerships in the future. (10/22)

First Hawaiian Launch Looms (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
A Super Strypi launch vehicle will deliver the HiakaSat spacecraft and multiple CubeSat payloads into orbit after a planned October 29 launch from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. The Super Strypi is a rocket developed by Sandia National Laboratories with assistance from the University of Hawaii, Aerojet and the U.S. Defense Department. Delayed from October 2013, April and October 2014. The launch was originally planned for January 2015. (10/22)

Orbiter, Lander And Phobos In NASA’s Mars Plans (Source: Aviation Week)
Engineers and scientists in NASA’s three spaceflight mission directorates are collaborating on concepts for landing a technology testbed on Mars as early as 2026, and on sending a Mars orbiter to check out Phobos before landing humans on the larger Martian moon to prepare for the final push to the planet’s surface. The work, disclosed at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) here, adds some detail to the “Journey to Mars” report NASA released Oct. 8. (10/22)

Obama Vetoes $612 Billion Defense Bill in Rebuke to GOP (Source: ABC)
President Obama vetoed a sweeping $612 billion defense bill in a rebuke to congressional Republicans, and insisted they send him a better version that doesn't tie his hands on some of his top priorities. Obama praised the bill for making improvements on armed forces retirement and cybersecurity. Yet he pointedly accused Republicans of resorting to "gimmicks" and prohibiting other changes needed to address modern security threats.

"Unfortunately, it falls woefully short," Obama said. "I'm going to be sending it back to Congress, and my message to them is very simple: Let's do this right." In no mood to negotiate, Republicans vowed to muster the votes to override him. The rare presidential veto marked the latest wrinkle in the ongoing fight between Obama and Republicans who control Congress over whether to increase federal spending — and how.

To sidestep sequestration budget caps, lawmakers added $38.3 billion to a separate account for wartime operations that is immune to the spending limits. The White House dismissed that approach, arguing it fails to deal with the broader problem or provide long-term budget certainty for the Pentagon. Obama also rejects the bill as written due to provisions making it harder for him to transfer suspected terror detainees out of the military prison in Guantanamo Bay. (10/22)

One Year Later, Cause of Wallops Blast Still Unclear (Source: DelMarVa Now)
One year after an unmanned commercial rocket and its payload exploded at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility with a force equivalent to 200 tons of TNT, much has changed. Workers completed $15 million in repairs to the launchpad by the end of September, meeting a self-imposed deadline that sets the stage for flights to resume in late spring or early summer of 2016.

NASA has retained its contract with the same private aerospace company to deliver thousands of pounds of supplies to astronauts on the International Space Station. But that company, Orbital Sciences Corp., has changed, merging in February with competitor Alliant Techsystems to become Orbital ATK.

And the engines set to carry Orbital's rockets heavenward are new, a sharp contrast with the 1960s-era, Soviet-made motors they are replacing. Change is inevitable, especially in the futuristic world of space travel. For example, Orbital was already planning to find an alternative engine system before the explosion. (10/23)

Famous Astronomer Accused Of Sexual Harassment at Previous Job, Too (Source: BuzzFeed)
Last week, astronomer Geoff Marcy was pressured into resigning from the University of California at Berkeley because of a record of sexual harassment. Now three women from his prior posting at San Francisco State University say he sexually harassed students there as well.

Three women have told BuzzFeed News that Geoff Marcy repeatedly engaged in unwanted behavior — including touching, massaging, and making lewd comments — with students when he was an astronomy professor at San Francisco State University, the job he held for 15 years before going to Berkeley in 1999. (10/23)

Florida Man Buys Astronaut's Watch Worn on the Moon for Record $1.6 Million (Source: CollectSpace)
The only privately-owned watch to be worn on the surface of the moon was auctioned for more than $1 million on Oct. 22, setting what is believed to be a record for the most-ever paid for a piece of astronaut memorabilia.

The Bulova timepiece, which Apollo 15 commander David Scott wore during NASA's fourth successful lunar landing mission in 1971, was sold by RR Auction of Boston for an astronomical $1.625 million to a Florida businessman who wished to remain anonymous. The sale, which opened at $50,000 online on Oct. 15, ended Thursday evening during a live auction where the winner and his competing bidders participated by phone. (10/23)

Lockheed Says 3rd Quarter Space Revenue Dip is Misleading (Source: Space News)
Lockheed Martin said the drop in revenue at its Space Systems division for the three months ending Sept. 30 compared with a year ago distorts the division’s better-than-expected performance in 2015, especially in military satellite programs.

Lockheed also said it is still assessing the threat to the Atlas 5 rocket posed by a U.S. law enacted late last year that bars the use of Russian-made engines for military launches. The Atlas 5, which is powered by the Russian-built RD-180 main engine, was designed by Lockheed Martin but is built and operated by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture. (10/23)

House Schedules Vote To Override Defense Bill Veto (Source: Space News)
As expected, President Barack Obama vetoed on Oct. 22 the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, a move that puts several national security space-related measures in limbo.

The White House objected to the bill primarily because Congress is using the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, accounts to skirt spending caps imposed by the 2010 Budget Control Act for the Defense Department while keeping them in place for domestic programs. (10/23)

U.S. Considers Making it Easier To Launch from India (Source: Space News)
The office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is starting a review of a decade-old policy that discourages the use of Indian launch vehicles by American companies. Samuel duPont, a director in the USTR’s international trade and development office, said demand by American companies for commercial launch services had led the office to start a review a policy that has been in place since 2005.

That policy, implemented through export control licensing, “discourages U.S. commercial satellite operators from purchasing launch services from Indian launch companies,” duPont said at a meeting of COMSTAC’s International Space Policy Working Group here Oct. 20. That policy specifically affects the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), India’s space agency, which builds and operates launch vehicles. (10/23)

Ingredients for Life Were Always Present on Earth, Comet Suggests (Source: Space.com)
The basic building blocks of life may have been present on Earth from the very beginning. Astronomers detected 21 different complex organic molecules streaming from Comet Lovejoy during its highly anticipated close approach to the sun this past January. Many of these same carbon-containing compounds have also been spotted around newly forming sunlike stars, researchers said. (10/23)

Scaled Composites Presidents Moves to Northrop Grumman Job (Source: Flight Global)
Northrop Grumman has appointed Scaled Composites president Kevin Mickey as vice-president of advanced design within its advanced research, technology and design group while Scaled has a new president and chief technology officer.

Long-time Scaled vice-president of engineering, Ben Diachun, has been named to fill the vacancy of president. Mickey has been with Scaled since 2005 and before that worked at Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works. He has been president of Scaled since 2013, and has supported several key projects including SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo, Proteus and Firebird during his time with the company. (10/23)

U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Closing for Relocation to KSC (Source: Florida Today)
For 25 years, a six-mile stretch of causeway has separated the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame from Kennedy Space Center’s public displays of the rockets and spacecraft flown by NASA’s astronaut heroes. That gap begins to close in a week with the closure of the Hall of Fame’s mainland location in South Titusville, the start of its move east across the Indian River Lagoon to a new exhibit at the KSC Visitor Complex’s main campus on Merritt Island. (10/23)

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