January 17, 2016

There Is No planet B: We’re Not Colonizing the Milky Way Any Time Soon (Source: Salon)
The idea that humans will eventually travel to and inhabit other parts of our galaxy was well expressed by the early Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who wrote, “Earth is humanity’s cradle, but you’re not meant to stay in your cradle forever.” Since then the idea has been a staple of science fiction, and thus become part of a consensus image of humanity’s future.

Going to the stars is often regarded as humanity’s destiny, even a measure of its success as a species. But in the century since this vision was proposed, things we have learned about the universe and ourselves combine to suggest that moving out into the galaxy may not be humanity’s destiny after all.

The problem that tends to underlie all the other problems with the idea is the sheer size of the universe, which was not known when people first imagined we would go to the stars. Tau Ceti, one of the closest stars to us at around 12 light-years away, is 100 billion times farther from Earth than our moon. Click here. (1/17)

Falcon 9 Launches Jason-3 Satellite, Landing Attempt Fails (Source: Space News)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched an ocean science satellite Jan. 17, although an attempt to land the rocket’s first stage on a ship failed. The Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The vehicle’s upper stage placed the Jason-3 spacecraft into a parking orbit nine minutes after launch, with spacecraft separation scheduled after a brief second burn of the upper stage 55 minutes after liftoff.

The landing failed apparently because one of the booster's four landing legs failed to latch, causing it to tip over upon touchdown, according to a tweet from Elon Musk. The high-tech drone barge was located nearly 300 kilometers downrange from the launch site. (1/17)

String Theory Might Merge With the Other Theory of Everything (Source: WIRED)
Eight decades have passed since physicists realized that the theories of quantum mechanics and gravity don’t fit together, and the puzzle of how to combine the two remains unsolved. In the last few decades, researchers have pursued the problem in two separate programs—string theory and loop quantum gravity—that are widely considered incompatible by their practitioners. But now some scientists argue that joining forces is the way forward. Click here. (1/16)

XCOR Refrains From Disclosing Date for Lynx Flight Test (Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram)
Conspicuously placed in a hangar along Interstate 20, XCOR Aerospace continues to build its presence in Midland. Although it’s moved the goal posts on the launch date for the Lynx test flights — from first quarter of 2016 to a tentative and undisclosed date — the company is steadily boosting forward. And soon enough, it’ll be boosting upward.

Timing, however, is still up in the air. XCOR CEO Jay Gibson is cautious about disclosing the schedule, fearing that any such deadline would be a distraction for the company. “Nobody’s done this before, so there’s an element here where we’re building the protocol as we go,” he said. “We’re very excited about how close we are, but we’re very cautious. We don’t want to get distracted by saying we missed the date.” (1/17)

The Ultra-Violent Origins of Gold (Source: Guardian)
It seems supernovas aren’t enough. Nature has an even more extreme way of making heavy elements: neutron star collisions. There’s a problem with making heavy elements in stars. Stars shine because fusing light elements together releases energy. But this only works as far as nickel and iron, with 56 or so protons and neutrons. To get heavier elements than those – such as gold, for example, with nearly 200 protons and neutrons – energy has to be put in.

This is understood in terms of the balance of the forces which hold nuclei together, and it is the reason that nuclear power stations can release energy by breaking up heavy elements – fission – while stars (and terrestrial fusion reactors, if we ever work out how to build them) release energy by fusing them together. Both are moving along the energy curve toward iron and nickel. If you want to do anything to change iron or nickel – fission or fusion – you have to put energy in.

In ‘normal operation’, stars won’t make anything heavier than iron. Heavy elements can, however, be made in the maelstrom of a supernova, when a star finally explodes and there is so much energy around that zooming up the nuclear energy curve is no problem. But it turns out there’s another way, which is probably more important. In the process of neutron star collisions, heavy elements were being made. In fact, if the estimates of the masses involved and the rate of these events are right, they are the main source of heavy elements. Including gold, platinum and uranium. (1/16)

Anderson: Spaceport America Moving Full Speed Ahead (Source: Santa Fe New Mexican)
Spaceport America is a long-term investment. It is already paying off in terms of jobs and educational opportunities for our students. We have come a long way from that first turn of the shovel in June 2009.

We are optimistic about the commercial space industry and our role in it — just look at what incredible feats have taken place in the last several months. First, Blue Origin and then SpaceX successfully achieved a fully reusable vertical landing — the holy grail of vertical launch. Many have attempted this for years, but only now are we seeing its achievement — and the best is yet to come.

The spaceport has already generated more than 2,000 jobs, currently employs a staff of 50 between Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic and has 28 New Mexico support contractors. We have attracted more than 6,000 guests to our visitor center since June and have conducted real-time virtual education classes with over 1,000 sixth-graders from Sierra and Doña Ana counties since September. The first major motion picture was filmed at Spaceport America in September, and we conducted our 24th launch in November. (1/16)

Don't Relinquish All Space Exploration to Private Firms (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
NASA’s recent discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars has rekindled a vital debate: What is the proper role of NASA in an era when private companies are actively competing to open more access to space? Now companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are building their own rockets, launching satellites and ferrying supplies to the International Space Station.

Some have suggested that we outsource to these companies even bolder space exploration. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has already boasted plans for a new rocket that could send citizen colonists to Mars years ahead of NASA’s schedule and for only $500,000 a ticket. That’s dirt cheap. But businesses are slaves to short-term balance sheets, and private space-industry investors and shareholders are notoriously risk-averse.
Even wealthy entrepreneurs won’t throw their money away. They’ll back straightforward missions — like delivering cargo to the space station 250 miles above the Earth using mature and well-tested technologies — if they can turn a profit within a reasonable time with acceptable risk. But true exploration is, by its nature, risky. Only a nation can marshal the long-term funding and pioneering vision needed to “boldly go where no one has gone before.” (1/16)

Florida and New Mexico Offered Millions to Attract WorldView to Their Spaceports (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
Huckelberry said competitors in Florida and New Mexico, where there are existing spaceports, offered better deals than Pima County did — $15 million to $20 million better. But we offered enough to win the nod from the locals at World View and keep them home.

Did we really have competition from other states? Over and over again across the country, companies have played alleged competitors against each other when the company already had its mind made up. It’s a dangerous game. However, in this case, we know there are underused spaceports around the country, including in Florida and New Mexico, where the state government paid about $219 million for a barely used spaceport where rocket-powered vehicles could take off. Click here. (1/16)

Arizona County Plans Big Investment in Space Travel (Source: KVOA)
World View Enterprises is taking a giant leap towards making space tourism a reality. The Tucson-based company is developing high-altitude balloons that can take special space capsules with passengers to the edge of space and back.

“As part of their manufacturing, administrative and engineering facility, we will build adjacent to them Arizona’s first space port,” said Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. The Pima County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve incentives that will keep the headquarters in Pima County.

“In this case, taxpayers are not at risk,” said Huckelberry. “They are going to recover their entire investment through rental payments paid by World View for the facility.” World View was created by the developers of another Tucson company, Paragon Space Development Corporation. (1/15)

Mojave Air and Spaceport CEO Retires (Source: Kern Golden Empire)
Friday was Stuart Witt's last day at work as chief executive officer of Mojave Air and Spaceport. His office is cleaned out.Boxes of aviation memorabilia are now stored in his Inyokern hangar, his exit plan executed with precision.

In his 14 years as GM and CEO of Mojave A.S.P. Witt has presided over a remarkable period of advancement in aerospace, ushering in the advent of a commercial spaceflight industry, right in our own back yard, where aviation feats have grabbed the nation's attention and made Mojave the talk of the world. (1/15)

Dream Chaser Cargo Ship Can Fly to the ISS and Back In Hours (Source: Motherboard)
Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft offers some unique advantages over its competitors. For starters, its winged design allows for a gentle runway landing, just like the space shuttle, providing a smoother re-entry than the capsule designs of Dragon and Cygnus, which is designed to burn up in the atmosphere.

Dream Chaser is also capable of returning to Earth within a few hours, a feature Julie Robinson, ISS chief scientist, said is important for certain kinds of biological and physical science experiments.

“Upcoming missions will feature live animal studies and plant studies that must be returned to Earth within a few hours as living organisms and even tissue samples and viruses adapt quickly to gravity,” Robinson explained. “Having the capability of returning the samples to the researchers within three to six hours is crucial to the data.” (1/15)

Jason-3 Satellite to Track Rising Sea Levels, Global Weather (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
After several delays throughout 2015, the Jason-3 satellite is now ready to take its place as the latest instrument deployed to track the changing surface height of Earth’s oceans. A joint effort between NASA, NOAA, Europe's EUMETSAT and France's CNES, Jason-3 will use the high-precision Poseidon-3B radar altimeter to observe the topography and the height of our planet’s ice-free oceans over time.

The topography of the ocean surface — that is, its own hills and valleys — affects the way the waters transfer heat around the planet. According to Dr. Joshua Willis, project scientist for Jason-3, the seas capture more than 90 percent of the heat that gets trapped by greenhouse gases. By monitoring ocean topography, scientists can gain necessary information about circulation patterns in the ocean and their effect on global climate.

Sea surface height is also an important data point in the study of global climate change. Since missions of this type began with Topex/Poseidon-Jason in 1992, the global sea level has risen about 3 millimeters per year, for a total of 70 millimeters (2.8 inches) over 23 years, according to a news release posted on the NOAA website. (1/16)

China to Debut New Rockets (Source: Xinhua)
China will send two new models of carrier rocket in the Long March series on their maiden space trips in 2016, the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASC) said on Saturday.

The country's strongest carrier rocket, Long March-5 has a payload capacity of 25 tonnes to low Earth orbit, or 14 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit. It is scheduled to carry the Chang'e-5 lunar probe around 2017 to finish the last chapter in China's three-step (orbiting, landing and return) moon exploration program.

Long March-5 is currently being tested at a launch site in south China's Hainan Province. A medium-sized rocket using liquid propellants, Long March-7 will carry up to 13.5 tonnes to low Earth orbit or 5.5 tonnes to sun-synchronous orbit at a height of 700 km. It will carry cargo craft for the planned space station. (1/16)

Europeans Ask Russia to Develop Nuclear Weapon Against Asteroids (Source: Tass)
The international scientific community has asked Russian scientists to develop an asteroid deflection system on the basis of nuclear explosions in space. "Under the EU seventh framework program on development of scientific research and technologies between 2012 and 2015, was carried out the NEOShield project on research of all means to influence hazardous objects," the institute's press service said.

"The work was distributed among different participants from various countries, and the task on deflecting hazardous space objects by nuclear explosions was placed with Russia, represented by the Central Machine Building Research Institute." Russian scientists say a nuclear explosion near a hazardous asteroid is a most effective way to prevent its collision with the Earth, though presently nuclear explosions in space are banned. (1/16)

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