February 6, 2016

Pictures: Red Huber's NASA and Nature (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Orlando Sentinel photographer Red Huber found the convergence of the natural world and NASA’s space shuttles many times during the 30-year span of the program. Click here. (2/5)

Congress Wants Detailed Plan for Mars (Source: Space News)
With a presidential transition looming, Congress wants NASA to better explain its plans for sending humans to Mars. At a House space subcommittee hearing earlier this week, members said NASA needed to provide more details in order to give the plan a better chance of surviving into the next administration. That was echoed by a panel of witnesses, which did not include NASA officials. Members also used the hearing to criticize NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission plans, while defending continued work on the SLS and Orion programs. (2/4)

AIA Supports Palazzo for Aerospace Caucus (Source: Sun Herald)
AIA has come out in support of the appointment of Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-MS, as the co-chairman of the House Aerospace Caucus. "Aerospace Industries Association is delighted that Congressman Steven Palazzo has agreed to serve as one of the House Aerospace Caucus co-chairs," said AIA President and CEO David Melcher.

"He is an enthusiastic supporter of the aerospace and defense industry, and his service in the House on the Appropriations Committee and as part of the Majority Whip Team will be key to addressing the difficult issues facing our nation and our industry." (2/4)

NASA Weighing Dual launches of Europa Orbiter and Lander (Source: Space News)
Faced with a congressional mandate to add a lander to a planned mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, NASA is considering launching the lander separately from the main mission. Agency officials said they are considering how to add a lander to a mission under development to make multiple flybys of Europa, even though the lander will weigh significantly more than the main “clipper” spacecraft. (2/5)

GAO Slams Air Force's Upgrade Of $285M Contract Bid (Source: Law360)
The U.S. Air Force had “no reasonable basis” to re-evaluate a $285 million bid proposal, originally deemed unacceptable, as adequate and in fact the best value for operations, support and maintenance work the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, the GAO said in a decision published Wednesday. The GAO sided with ASRC's bid protest in finding that awardee Aleut O&M Services only adequately addressed one out of four fatal failings identified in its initial proposal. (2/4)

NASA Team Demonstrates Loading of Swedish 'Green' Propellant (Source: Space Daily)
A NASA team has successfully demonstrated the handling and loading of a new-fangled, Swedish-developed "green propellant" that smells like glass cleaner, looks like chardonnay, but has proven powerful enough to propel a satellite. As part of an international agreement with the Swedish National Space Board (SNSB), the team simulated a flight-vehicle loading operation with LMP-103S Green Propellant at Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. (2/5)

Rosetta's Comet Is Fluffy Dust to the Core (Source: Space.com)
Gravity measurements taken by the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft show the body of comet 67 P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is about 75 percent dust and 25 percent ice all the way through, research published Wednesday shows. The European spacecraft put itself into orbit around 67P on Aug. 6, 2014, and three months later dispatched a lander, Philae, to the surface of the comet.

By measuring slight shifts in radio waves transmitted to and from Rosetta, scientists were able to determine how the comet's gravity affected the spacecraft. They found that 67P is a highly porous body with about four times more dust than ice by mass, and twice as much dust as ice by volume. The density is consistent throughout the nucleus, without large voids. The discovery supports previous findings by two other Rosetta science teams. (2/5)

ULA, Air Force Launch Final GPS 2F Satellite (Source: Space News)
The U.S. Air Force kicked off a two-launch, six-day stretch by lifting the last in the 2F series of GPS satellites Feb. 5 into geosynchronous orbit from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The satellite launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. ULA officials said the launch included a new suite of avionics, flight software and ground systems as part of long-standing company initiative to reduce cost and improve reliability. (2/5)

With its Mirror Complete, Giant Space Telescope On Track for 2018 Launch (Source: Ars Technica)
After years of delays and cost overruns, the James Webb Space Telescope is finally coming together. This week the 18th and final primary mirror segment of the telescope was installed onto the support structure at Goddard Space Flight Center. From here, additional optics must be installed, and the telescope requires testing to ensure it can withstand the forces of a rocket launch anticipated in late 2018.

Each of the hexagon-shaped mirrors weighs 40 kg and spans 1.3 meters. After launch, the telescope will be flown to the second Lagrange point of the Earth-Sun system, about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. From there, it will begin observations. When deployed in space, the telescope will have a 6.5-meter diameter. (2/5)

Advanced Space Propulsion Startup Shuts Down (Source: Space News)
A Colorado company that said last year it had achieved a technological breakthrough in space transportation has decided to shut down, citing the high costs and risks associated with further development. Escape Dynamics of Broomfield, Colorado, announced on its website recently that it decided to wind down its operations because its “external propulsion” technology was not attractive enough to potential investors to fund its continued development.

“While microwave propulsion is feasible and is capable of efficiency and performance surpassing chemical rockets, the cost of completing the R&D all the way through operations makes the concept economically unattractive for our team at this time,” the company stated in a brief note posted on its website. (2/5)

India to Have Its Own GPS System Soon (Source: The Hindu)
The country will soon have its own Global Positioning System (GPS), albeit on a lower geographical scale, within the next few months once the last two remaining Cartosat satellites of the seven satellite constellation are put into the orbit by March end, said Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar on Wednesday. (2/4)

Which Would Kill You Faster: Living on Mars or Living on Venus? (Source: Popular Mechanics)
We all think of Mars as the next step in crewed space exploration and the first step in extraterrestrial colonization. But should we? Maybe there'sa better option a little closer by. PBS's terrific series Space Time has tackled the subject of how we might go about colonizing Venus, but this new video puts it head-to-head with Mars on the "how quickly and how painfully will it kill you" scale.

Both will kill you to death at the drop of a hat, but despite the fact that Venus is hellishly hot and rains sulfuric acid, it's got advantages over Big Red in more ways than one. While venturing outside on either planet will cause you to pass out almost immediately and then die shortly thereafter, Venus's high points include an atmosphere that can better protect you from radiation and a gravity that's almost identical to Earth's.

And it's closer too. I'm not quite sure I'd rather live on a cloud city where it rains acid over the long-time sci-fi future of colonizing the fourth rock from the sun, but I will say it sounds better than I expected. (2/4)

Rubio Says China is 'Practicing How to Blow Up Our Satellites' (Source: Politifact)
The 2016 presidential campaign has inspired discussion of plenty of scary foreign-policy scenarios, from ISIS attacks to cyber warfare. But at a Feb. 3 town hall in Manchester, N.H., Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio offered one we hadn’t heard much about – the possibility that China could blow an American satellite out of the sky.

China, Rubio said, is "practicing how to blow up our satellites." Experts told PolitiFact that Rubio is basically right. "Regrettably true," Michael Krepon, a space-policy expert and co-founder of the Stimson Center, said of the claim. (2/4)

NASA Offers More Details on Cargo Contract Decision (Source: Space News)
NASA documents about the selection of commercial cargo contracts announced in January show that SpaceX had the highest technical ratings of the three winning companies, but also, by one metric, the highest price. The agency awarded contracts to Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station.

NASA evaluated the CRS-2 proposals on three major factors: price, past performance and “mission suitability,” which examines the bidder’s technical and management approach as well as use of small businesses. NASA weighted price approximately the same as the combination of mission suitability and past performance, with mission suitability alone more important than past performance. Click here. (2/5)

Team France Prepares Satellite and Launch Export Battles for 2016 (Source: Space News)
The French space agency concluded its annual internal seminar on international outreach, a meeting that is as much an order of battle on behalf of France’s space industry as a review of future bilateral space-research partnerships.

The U.S. dollar’s current strength against the euro and the temporary sidelining of the U.S. Export-Import Bank are likely to facilitate Team France’s efforts to win government Earth observation satellites and government or private-sector telecommunications satellite contracts.

CNES on the civil side and the French Defense Ministry – led by an unusually active Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian – on the military side constitute the sharp end of the French space-diplomacy spear. French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls have been more than willing to provide the diplomatic polish. (2/5)

Congress Seeks More Details on NASA’s Mars Plans as Presidential Transition Looms (Source: Space News)
With a change in administrations less than a year away, members of Congress called on NASA to refine its human exploration plans in order to better survive the transition, while also defending two key elements of those plans.

At a Feb. 3 hearing of the House Science space subcommittee, members and witnesses argued that NASA needs to provide more details about its long-term goal of sending humans to Mars to keep that program on track when the next president takes office. Click here. (2/4)

Pentagon Disputes ULA Claim on Why it Didn’t Bid for GPS 3 Launch (2/4)
When United Launch Alliance announced Nov. 16 it would not bid on the U.S. Air Force’s first competitive launch contract in a decade, the company said it did not have the right accounting system to assemble a “compliant proposal.” But a Pentagon agency had approved ULA’s accounting system 10 days earlier, according to U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work.

ULA cited several reasons for not bidding, including concerns about its future rights to  Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines for national security launches and an inability to certify that funds from other government programs would not contribute to the launch of the Air Force’s second GPS 3 satellite. Editor's Note: I had speculated earlier that ULA did not bid on this contract because it was very improbable that SpaceX wouldn't win it. (2/4)

Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, 85, Dies in West Palm Beach (Source: Palm Beach Post)
Astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, who was part of the Apollo 14 space crew that flew to the moon in 1971, died late Thursday in West Palm Beach, according to his family. Mitchell, 85, lived in suburban Lake Worth and died at a local hospice at about 10 p.m. Thursday, his daughter, former West Palm Beach City Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell told The Palm Beach Post. (2/5)

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