October 25, 2015

GAO Rejects Protests to $236M NASA Contract to Jacobs for Ames Support (Source: Law360)
The U.S. Government Accountability Office supports NASA's decision to grant a $235.6 million maintenance support contract, finding that while flawed in some respects, the award showed no sign of prejudice against two protesters. NASA was reasonable in awarding Jacobs Technology the hybrid contract for maintenance support services at Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, the GAO said, rejecting protests from IAP World Services and Jones Lang LaSalle Americas. (10/22)

Space Archaeologists Search for Dead Alien Civilizations (Source: National Geographic)
For years, SETI researchers have argued that we can narrow our search for alien intelligence by looking for telltale signs of large, sophisticated structures built by advanced civilizations. They call this “cosmic archaeology.” Yet, even if we were to find such artifacts, there’s no guarantee that the civilizations that created them are still around.

Floating in space, abandoned for millennia, these objects could be the interstellar equivalent of the statues at Easter Island or the Egyptian Pyramids. In fact, we might confront the morbid scenario that intelligent life periodically emerges on other worlds, but has an unfortunate tendency to self-destruct. Click here. (10/20)

Researchers Catch Comet Lovejoy Ggiving Away Alcohol (Source: Science Daily)
Comet Lovejoy lived up to its name by releasing large amounts of alcohol as well as a type of sugar into space, according to new observations by an international team. The discovery marks the first time ethyl alcohol, the same type in alcoholic beverages, has been observed in a comet. The finding adds to the evidence that comets could have been a source of the complex organic molecules necessary for the emergence of life. (10/24)

Scientists Find Link Between Comet and Asteroid Showers & Mass Extinctions (Source: RAS)
Mass extinctions occurring over the past 260 million years were likely caused by comet and asteroid showers, scientists conclude in a new study. For more than 30 years, scientists have argued about a controversial hypothesis relating to periodic mass extinctions and impact craters - caused by comet and asteroid showers - on Earth.

Scientists now offer new support linking the age of craters with recurring mass extinctions of life, including the demise of the dinosaurs. Specifically, they show a cyclical pattern over the studied period, with both impacts and extinction events taking place every 26 million years. This cycle has been linked to periodic motion of the Sun and planets through the dense mid-plane of our galaxy.

Scientists have theorized that gravitational perturbations of the distant Oort comet cloud that surrounds the Sun lead to periodic comet showers in the inner solar system, where some comets strike the Earth. "The correlation between the formation of these impacts and extinction events over the past 260 million years is striking and suggests a cause-and-effect relationship," says Michael Rampino. (10/20)

Destroyed Star Rains onto Black Hole, Winds Blow it Back (Source: NASA)
New details about what happens when a black hole tears apart a star have been gathered by a trio of orbiting X-ray telescopes, giving scientists an extraordinary opportunity to understand the extreme environment around a black hole. Click here. (10/21)

NASA’s K2 Finds Dead Star Vaporizing a Mini “Planet” (Source: NASA)
Scientists using NASA’s repurposed Kepler space telescope, known as the K2 mission, have uncovered strong evidence of a tiny, rocky object being torn apart as it spirals around a white dwarf star. This discovery validates a long-held theory that white dwarfs are capable of cannibalizing possible remnant planets that have survived within its solar system. (10/21)

Revamp of KSC Visitor Complex Begins (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
In preparation for construction of a new, high-tech “Heroes and Legends” Next Generation attraction, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will close for approximately a year on November 2. Using digital technology and special effects, including holograms, the new Heroes and Legends will enable visitors to vicariously experience early space missions and virtually interact with almost 100 astronauts who have been inducted into the center’s U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. (10/24)

Huge Decision Looms on Antares, Wallops' Future (Source: DelMarVa Now)
The Eastern Shore of Virginia's place in NASA's spotlight over the last few years is now up for grabs. NASA officials are set to decide Nov. 5 whether to renew their contract with a commercial aerospace company to continue flying space station resupply missions from Wallops Flight Facility or choose a new vendor. NASA officials on the ground at Wallops can do little more than watch and wait, but they're crossing their fingers that Orbital wins.

“If the news comes out and it’s favorable, there would no doubt be a celebration on the Eastern Shore," said Bill Wrobel, director of the facility for NASA. What if Oribital — and by extension, Wallops — loses? “I probably haven’t given it any thought. I’m going to remain hopeful on this one," Wrobel said. Orbital officials didn't respond to requests for comment. (10/23)

Welsh Craftsmanship And Space Travel Collide In This Artisanal Space Suit (Source: Fast Company)
When artist and designer Hefin Jones decided to embark on a project about space exploration, he started out by looking close to home. A native of Wales, Jones was curious about how traditional Welsh craftsmanship and the working class skills he grew up admiring could be put to use in other parts of the galaxy. Click here. (10/24)

What We’ll Eat, Drink and Breathe on Mars (Source: Wall Street Journal)
First, consider food. For the first few decades, most of it will be ferried from Earth, freeze-dried. But we won’t be without fresh vegetables. Although experiments on Earth show that Martian-like soil is a good medium for plants, settlers will likely opt for more controllable methods like hydroponics or airponics—growing plants in the water or air. Mars-grown produce would be mostly for a psychological boost. People like the crunch of fresh veggies.

As for water, if all of it on Mars melted or came to the surface, it would cover the planet 1,000 feet deep. It is underground in reservoirs, frozen in the soil, in glaciers under a layer of dust, as ice at the poles, and even—occasionally—flowing from what may be springs. Nonetheless, it isn’t easy to get at or melt. So early settlers are likely to use something like a WAVAR (Water Vapor Adsorption Reactor), a dehumidifier developed for NASA to extract water from the humid atmosphere of Mars. Click here. (10/24)

Getting to Mars ‘Without Killing Each Other’ (Source: The Star)
As a child, Martha Lenio spent summer nights on the dock of her family’s Muskoka cottage, gazing at the stars. She nicknamed herself Mars at the age of 6, and her quest for the Red Planet began. Three decades later, researchers for NASA chose Lenio to command a crew of would-be Mars explorers. They were isolated for eight months in a dome on the side of a Hawaiian volcano, an experiment to study the psychological pressures of a long voyage in space. Click here. (10/25)

UK Progresses Toward Spaceport Selection (Source: Daily Mail)
The building of the UK's first spaceport moved one step closer after the government invited potential candidates to submit proposals. The Department of Transport (DoT) is currently working on the specification of what it wants a spaceport to be, with the aim to launch tourists into space by 2018.

Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Campbeltown Airport, Glasgow Prestwick, all in Scotland, and Newquay and RAF Llanbedr in Wales are the main contenders on the shortlist - while RAF Leuchars in Fife could become a temporary home for the spaceport. (10/25)

Japan Focuses on Electric Thruster Technology as Satellite Market Heats Up (Source: Japan Times)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is studying the feasibility of using electric propulsion in artificial satellites beginning in fiscal 2021 to save fuel and improve performance. Electric thrusters are weaker than chemical-based engines but boast higher efficiency and consume only about one-fifth of the fuel. The Hayabusa spacecraft, which harvested particles from asteroid Itokawa and brought them back to Earth in June 2010, used an ion engine to complete the seven-year voyage. (10/25)

These NASA Patents Are So Crazy They Just Might Work (For Startups) (Source: Forbes)
When NASA put out the word this month that it was offering more than 1,200 of its patented technologies to startups for no money down, the spotlight naturally fell on the farthest-out ideas – for example, a collapsible airplane suitable for sending to Mars , or solar sails for interplanetary flights.

But the real point of the exercise is to make it easier to convert NASA’s out-of-this-world ideas into profitable innovations on Earth. NASA is willing to waive the patent licensing fees for the first three years of commercialization, but will take a standard net royalty fee once businesses start selling commercial products. Click here. (10/25)

Cygnus Loaded with Nearly 4 Tons of Supplies for Florida Launch to ISS (Source: America Space)
Orbital ATK’s first unmanned Cygnus cargo ship since the loss of the ORB-3 mission last year is nearly ready for an early December delivery of over 7,700 pounds of supplies, equipment, and experiments to the ISS. The OA-4 mission is scheduled to launch Dec. 3 on a ULA Atlas-V 401 rocket. Engineers at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport finished packing the pressurized portion of the spacecraft for the mission. (10/25)

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