February 12, 2016

Comments Sought on Spaceport America's Southern-Road Study (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The Bureau of Land Management Las Cruces District is seeking public comments on a study, known as an environmental assessment, that evaluates impacts to public lands in Doña Ana and Sierra counties for proposed road improvements on a southern road to Spaceport America. The EA is available at www.blm.gov/nm/lascruces for public review and comment by Feb. 25, according to a BLM news release. (2/11)

Virginia Students Cook up a Challenge for NASA Astronauts (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA's Langley Research Center will host a taste-testing panel for the 2nd annual HUNCH (High schools United with NASA to Create Hardware) Culinary Challenge on Feb. 16. This year, the New Horizons Regional Education Center in Newport News has two teams that include high school students from across the Peninsula participating in the challenge. The teams have been learning about food science and about the challenge of developing and processing tasty recipes for astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). (2/11)

Republicans Sabotage Bipartisan FAA R&D Bill (Source: SpaceRef)
Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a markup of H.R 4489, the “FAA Leadership in Groundbreaking High-Tech Research and Development Act.” Prior to the markup, a bipartisan agreement had been reached on the bill. However, the Majority dumped a number of amendments, which the Chairman supported, on the Minority the night before after close of business, that sabotaged his own bipartisan agreement.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) then requested a delay in the markup so that there would be time to restore a bipartisan consensus. The Chairman refused. Because of this, the Ranking Member and other Democratic Members chose not to participate in the Congresswoman Johnson (D-TX) made the following statement: “Mr. Chairman, I had hoped that today we could have a nice bipartisan markup. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that will be the case." (2/11)

Rising Seas Slowed by Increasing Water on Land (Source: Space Daily)
New measurements from a NASA satellite have allowed researchers to identify and quantify, for the first time, how climate-driven increases of liquid water storage on land have affected the rate of sea level rise. A new study shows that while ice sheets and glaciers continue to melt, changes in weather and climate over the past decade have caused Earth's continents to soak up and store an extra 3.2 trillion tons of water in soils, lakes and underground aquifers, temporarily slowing the rate of sea level rise by about 20 percent.

The water gains over land were spread globally, but taken together they equal the volume of Lake Huron, the world's seventh largest lake. Each year, a large amount of water evaporates from the ocean, falls over land as rain or snow, and returns to the ocean through runoff and river flows. This is known as the global hydrologic, or water, cycle.

Scientists have long known small changes in the hydrologic cycle - by persistent regional changes in soil moisture or lake levels, for instance - could change the rate of sea level rise from what we would expect based on ice sheet and glacier melt rates. However, they did not know how large the land storage effect would be because there were no instruments that could accurately measure global changes in liquid water on land. (2/12)

Photonic Technology to Revolutionize Space Telecommunications (Source: 21st Century Tech)
In 2020 if all goes according to plan NASA will introduce the first integrated-photonic modem, a device the size of a cell phone that incorporates lasers and fiber optics into integrated circuitry. The end result will be a dramatic increase in the speed of data and voice transmission. We are talking about rates 10 to 100 times faster than those found in today’s high-speed telecommunications equipment. At the same time this new modem will be a fraction of the size and require far less power than conventional technology. (2/7)

Europe Close to Giving Up on Philae (Source: ESA)
ESA is giving up on efforts to restore contact with the Philae comet lander. In a statement Friday, project officials said the chances of hearing from the lander "are unfortunately getting close to zero," and they will not transmit any more commands to Philae that were intended to establish communications.

Philae landed on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in November 2014 and transmitted for two and a half days before draining its batteries. ESA hoped that, as the landing site became better illuminated, Philae could use solar power to resume operations, but controllers heard only intermittent transmissions from the lander, most recently in July. (2/11)

Officials Fear Precedent as Egypt Wins ITU Satellite Approval Pleading ‘Force Majeure’ (Source: Space News)
A decision by regulators to extend the deadline for the launch of an Egyptian communications satellite could undermine coordination of the GEO belt, some fear. The International Telecommuncation Union agreed last week to a request by Egypt for a three-year extension to launch a communications satellite that was supposed to be in orbit by next May.

Egypt claimed "force majeure" caused by the country's political and economic problems prevented it from meeting the original ITU deadline. Egypt is in discussions with two European manufacturers on a satellite contract that could be announced this month. Some fear the ITU's decision could set a precedent for other nations and make it more difficult to coordinate potential interference issues with nearby satellites. (2/11)

India Plans Electric Propulsion Tech (Source: PTI)
India plans to develop electric propulsion technology for its satellites. The director of ISRO's Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre said Thursday the space agency is planning to develop electric thrusters that will reduce the mass of satellites, allowing them to carry more payload. Electric propulsion is increasingly used on commercial communications satellites. He added that India was also planning to perform a launch of its GSLV rocket with a domestically-developed cryogenic upper stage engine in December. (2/11)

Air Force Official Reassigned for Conflict of Interest (Source: Reuters)
The Air Force has reassigned its acquisition chief because of a previously undisclosed potential conflict of interest. Richard Lombardi, the acting principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition and logistics, voluntarily disclosed that he did not include his wife's retirement account from Northrop Grumman in his annual financial disclosure form. The Air Force replaced him with Darlene Costello, a senior official in the Defense Department's acquisition office. (2/11)

Telescope Leaders Consider Alternatives to Hawaiian Site (Source: Hawaii News Now)
Leaders of the Thirty Meter Telescope project are considering sites outside of Hawaii for the observatory. The TMT's executive director, Ed Stone, said Thursday that while he remains hopeful the observatory can be built as originally planned atop Hawaii's Mauna Kea, they will also developing a "Plan B" that involves building the telescope at another site. Hawaii's Supreme Court revoked a construction permit for TMT in December, months after protests blocked the start of construction, forcing state officials and the TMT to restart the permit process. (2/11)

University of Hawaii Reaffirms Support of TMT Project (Source: Hawaii.edu)
The University of Hawaii remains steadfast in our support for locating the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii.  The project is a tremendous scientific and economic opportunity for Hawaiʻi Island and the state. It will be a cornerstone of the next generation of astronomy in Hawaii, one of the anchors of our research and innovation enterprise. 

TMT is also providing educational, scholarship and STEM support for Hawaii Island schools and substantial resources for improved stewardship of Maunakea. UH was the original permit applicant for the project and will be deeply involved in the upcoming Land Board proceedings, as we have been throughout the process to date. (2/11)

Russia Considers Testing ICBMs Against Asteroid (Source: Tass)
Russian scientists are reportedly interested in testing ICBMs on a passing asteroid. A senior scientist with Russia's Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau said they've conceived a plan to fire upgraded ICBMs at the asteroid Apophis when it passes close to the Earth in 2036. That test, he said, would demonstrate the missiles' ability to deflect an incoming asteroid on short notice. (2/11)

Why NASA is Trying to Get You to Fantasize About Living on Mars (Source: CSM)
From last month's release of a 360-view of Mars' dunes to this weeks unveiling of 14 whimsical space tourism posters, NASA wants to get Americans as excited about the current incarnation of the space race as they were in the 1960s.

These efforts are the latest in a string of public relation campaigns NASA has launched to raise awareness of various cosmic projects and discoveries and, likely, to help NASA convince a fiscally tight Congress to grant the agency a larger budget for the new year. So far, it appears to be working. Click here. (2/11)

Massive Rogue Planet Discovered (Source: Universe Today)
A massive rogue planet has been discovered in the Beta Pictoris moving group. The planet, called PSO J318.5338-22.8603 (Sorry, I didn’t name it), is over eight times as massive as Jupiter. Because it’s one of the few directly-imaged exoplanets we know of, and is accessible for study by spectroscopy, this massive planet will be extremely important when piecing together the details of planetary formation and evolution. (2/11)

NASA May Scrap InSight Mars Lander Mission (Source: Space.com)
NASA could scrap the InSight Mars lander program after a glitch is forcing the agency to miss its planned March mission, which was scheduled for a launch window that opens only once every two years. "We are making a decision in the March time frame as to whether we will continue support to InSight for the next launch opportunity in 2018, or go some other route," said NASA CFO David Radzanowski. (2/11)

Air Force Outlines Future Space Launch Plans, Seeks 4.5% Budget Bump (Source: National Defense)
The Air Force has developed a strategy to acquire new space launch systems, including replacing a Russian-made rocket engine with one that is domestically produced. Service officials outlined their plan during a roundtable with reporters on Feb. 11 to discuss the recently released fiscal year 2017 budget request.

The proposal includes about $5.5 billion in Air Force space investment, an increase of approximately $250 million — or 4.5 percent — over the fiscal year 2016 request. The money will fully fund the evolved expandable launch vehicle program, which helps put payloads into orbit, said Winston Beauchamp, deputy under secretary of the Air Force for space. (2/11)

Future Space Tourists Visit Iceland (Source: Iceland Monitor)
A group of intrepid future space tourists waiting for their first flight out of the atmosphere on Virgin Galactic are currently on a visit to Iceland. A group of those on the waiting list for suborbital spaceflights with spaceflight company Virgin Galactic regularly meet up on holiday – and one of them is Icelander Gísla Gíslason.

“Quite a big group of us try to meet regularly in various places all over the world. There have been trips to London, the US and Africa, and now we thought it might be exciting to meet in Iceland,” says Gíslason, who is number 258 on the waiting list. (2/12)

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