January 25, 2016

The Unfortunate Provincialism of the Space Resources Act (Source: Space Review)
The commercial space bill enacted late last year provides rights for US companies to resources extracted form asteroids or other celestial bodies. Thomas Simmons discusses how the bill is a missed opportunity, though, since it doesn’t address resource rights internationally. Click here. (1/25)

Elon Musk and the SpaceX Odyssey (Source: Space Review)
Elon Musk has long made clear his long-term ambitions to establish a human presence on Mars, but that effort faces both opposition and competition. Tim Reyes argues that SpaceX needs to accelerate its efforts to make a reusable launch vehicle to maintain momentum for sending humans to Mars. Click here. (1/25)

Future Telescopes Versus Telescopes’ Futures (Source: Space Review)
At a recent astronomy conference, much of the discussion was about future space telescopes planned for launch over the next two decades. However, Jeff Foust reports there was also talk about existing and planned telescopes in space and on the ground that, in some cases, face uncertain futures. Click here. (1/25)

(Star) Trekking the Through the Land of Enchantment: the New Mexico Space Trail (Source: Space Review)
New Mexico isn’t always considered a space state, but it has a diverse heritage in spaceflight and astronomy. Joseph Page describes an effort to tie that history together through the New Mexico Space Trail. Click here. (1/25)

The Devil’s Planet (Source: Space Review)
Last week, astronomers announced evidence for the existence of a planet in the far outer solar system. Dwayne Day notes that the search for “Planet X” has inspired many works of fiction, including a Japanese manga from the 1980s. Click here. (1/25)

OHA Urges State to Charge Observatories Higher Rent (Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald)
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is requesting the state to charge “sufficient” rent to observatories on Mauna Kea. Bills introduced on behalf of OHA in the state House and Senate would require University of Hawaii, which holds a master lease for the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, to account for environmental damage, impact to Native Hawaiians and administration of its management plan, among other factors, when assessing lease payments.

The bills, SB 2127 and HB 1658, say UH has “failed to charge sufficient sublease rent consistent with the cultural, environmental, and economic value” of the lands. Currently, observatories on the mountain pay a nominal $1 a year, though non-monetary contributions, such as observing time for UH, are part of the deal.

The exception is the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope, which is paying $300,000 a year for its sublease. That amount will increase incrementally to $1.08 million within the next decade, assuming the large telescope, which has faced opposition from Native Hawaiians who consider the mountain sacred, is built. (1/23)

TMT Official: Fate of Project Rests with State (Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald)
The executive director of the embattled Thirty Meter Telescope wants to move forward with the project but is waiting to hear from state agencies about how to proceed after the Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated a key construction permit. The $1.4 billion project has been in limbo since April, when throngs of protesters opposed to building the telescope atop Mauna Kea— held sacred by many Native Hawaiians — blocked construction crews.

Protesters showed up in force again in June during an attempt to resume construction. Last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources should not have issued the permit before a hearings officer reviewed a petition by a group challenging the project’s approval. The court sent the matter back for a new contested case hearing. (1/23)

Massive Space Telescope Is Finally Coming Together (Source: NPR)
This week, NASA is set to reach a milestone on one of its most ambitious projects. If all goes to plan, workers will finish assembling the huge mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope — an $8 billion successor to the famous Hubble telescope.

"So far, everything — knock on wood — is going quite well," says Bill Ochs, the telescope's project manager at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The massive mirror is being built [by Northrop Grumman] in a facility that's essentially a giant, ultra-clean gymnasium.

Everything has to be by the book. The Webb telescope will be one of the most expensive things NASA has ever built. Its segmented mirror is so big that, once it's in space, it will have to unfold like an elaborate piece of origami. And to make observations, it will need to be a million miles from Earth, so far that no astronauts could fix it if it breaks. (1/25)

Richard, We Have a Problem (Source: Sunday Times)
An Irish businessman and Virgin Galactic are waging a star war battle for supremacy in space. On October 16, 2015, PJ King was walking to his car. It was another perfect California day with the temperature a pleasant 23C, but King was about to reach boiling point.

At 5.30pm he left the offices of his rocket company, Firefly Space Systems, housed in a nondescript industrial building in Hawthorne, Los Angeles, between railway tracks and a high-end car tuning garage. As he walked towards his Mercedes C300, King was intercepted by Jason Luther, from First Legal Investigations, who served him with a subpoena from Virgin Galactic.

Virgin wanted access to Firefly’s computers, phones and all communications about the founding, funding and operation of the fledgling rocket business. An outraged King, originally from Salthill in Galway, gestured towards the legal server which Luther caught on camera. In court documents, Virgin Galactic claimed that King made an obscene gesture which "vividly illustrates the contempt" King and his colleagues at Firefly feel toward Virgin Galactic. (1/25)

Mars May Be Too Cold For Life (Source: Discovery)
Microbes appear to be dormant in permafrost in a region of Antarctica, which could deal a blow for the search for life in similar regions on Mars. A group of researchers found negative tests for microbial activity at temperatures below freezing in a region called University Valley, in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys. However, in spots just a little above freezing (5 Celsius, or 41 Fahrenheit), the same team found five bacteria and one yeast.

“Our results also indicate that University Valley permafrost soils will be excellent analogues to develop and test life/biosignature detection instruments to be sent if future missions to Mars as well as Europa and Enceladus because of the extremely low biomass present,” she added, referring to icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn (respectively). (1/25)

First Flight For Australian Subscale Reusable Launch Demonstrator (Source: Aviation Week)
While other high-profile reusable space launch vehicle projects are focused on development of vertically landed first stages or the recovery of main engines, a team in Australia is beginning to flight test a different approach to cutting launch costs. Theirs is a wing-borne, fly-back booster and a reusable, scramjet-powered second stage. Click here for information. (1/25)

Indian Satellite Tracking Station in Vietnam to Offer Eye on China (Source: Reuters)
India will set up a satellite tracking and imaging centre in southern Vietnam that will give Hanoi access to pictures from Indian earth observation satellites that cover the region, including China and the South China Sea, Indian officials said. The move, which could irritate Beijing, deepens ties between India and Vietnam, who both have long-running territorial disputes with China.

While billed as a civilian facility - earth observation satellites have agricultural, scientific and environmental applications - security experts said improved imaging technology meant the pictures could also be used for military purposes. Hanoi especially has been looking for advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies as tensions rise with China over the disputed South China Sea, they said. (1/25)

Editorial: Space Development Program a Blackhole for Japan's Public Funds (Source: Japan Times)
Although these developments led many to dream of a bright future for Japan’s space program, an insider in the governing Liberal Democratic Party is more cautious. He says Japan’s space development is in fact a “public works project disguised as science and technology,” and that the future of Japanese-made rockets is by no means bright.

Indeed, Mitsubishi’s space business has been chronically in the red, and due to fierce pricing competition worldwide the November launch may well become the first and last launch of a commercial satellite for Mitsubishi. There is even apprehension that the ISS project, which is jointly sponsored by the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan under the leadership of NASA, may collapse

Japan is blindly following the U.S. in this field, in stark contrast with the posture of ISAS to pursue independent development. Simultaneously with the establishment of NASDA came the Diet resolution that limited Japan’s space development program solely to peaceful purposes. This forced NASDA to totally commit itself to research and development, thus excluding pursuit of practicability. (1/25)

No comments: