August 9, 2016

Astronomers’ Latest Analysis Turns ‘Alien Megastructure’ Star Into a Triple Mystery (Source: GeekWire)
It’s been almost a year since astronomers first speculated that a strangely dimming star called KIC 8462852 might harbor an alien megastructure, and newly reported observations are making the case even stranger. Yale astronomer Tabetha Boyajian first brought the case to light, based on observations that were collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and analyzed by the Planet Hunters project. The somewhat sunlike star lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

Kepler’s data revealed an erratic pattern in the intensity of KIC 8462852’s starlight, including periods when the light dimmed as much as 20 percent. Penn State astronomer Jason Wright noted that the dimming could theoretically be caused by shifts in an alien megastructure surrounding the star – something like a giant energy-generating Dyson sphere. Thus was an Internet phenomenon born.

At first, astronomers said it was more likely that a swarm of comets was passing in front of the star, partially blocking its light. But then Louisiana State University’s Bradley Schaefer looked back at historical records and claimed that the star had apparently faced by about 20 percent between the 1890s and the 1980s. Schaefer’s claim has been contested, but now yet another research team is reporting that the star’s light faded by about 0.34 percent per year during the first 1,000 days’ worth of Kepler observations, then dipped by more than 2 percent over the course of the 200 days that followed. (8/9)

14 Inducted Into Florida Space Worker Hall of Fame (Source: NSCFL)
14 names were added to the National Space Club Florida Committee roll of Space Worker Hall of Fame inductees. They were introduced to a full-house crowd at the Club's monthly luncheon on Tuesday. Meet them here, presented by the category for which their contributions were recognized. (8/9)

Bacteria Could Aid Search for Creatures On Other Planets (Source:
Could there be a way to find bacterial structures on another planet? And if so, how important might these bacteria be in making a planet life-friendly? These are some of the questions that could be answered through studies on stromatolites, which are mounds of calcium-carbonate rock that are built up through lime-secreting cyanobacteria (bacteria that use photosynthesis for energy).

The research into the life-giving potential of these "living fossils" is based on small microbes in Australia, but the results could help us identify fossil evidence of life on other planets, in particular Mars. "If stromatolites have definitive bio-signatures — such as self organized morphologies that are indicative of life processes — then it may be possible to look for that 'signature' in rocks on the surface of other planets and significantly reduce the size of that haystack." (8/9)

Meet Some of Canada's Keenest Astronaut Candidates (Source: CBC)
Canadians have a shot at being hired as an astronaut for the first time since 2009. The Canadian Space Agency is accepting applications for two astronaut positions until Aug. 15. The recruitment campaign was announced on June 17. As of July 19, 3,372 Canadians had applied. Click here. (8/9)

SpaceX Has Shipped its Mars Engine to Texas for Tests (Source: Ars Technica)
SpaceX appears to have taken a significant step forward with the development of a key component of its Mars mission architecture. According to multiple reports, paceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company has shipped a Raptor engine to its test site in MacGregor, Texas. The Raptor is SpaceX's next generation of rocket engine. It may be as much as three times more powerful than the Merlin engines that power its Falcon 9 rocket and will also be used in the Falcon Heavy rocket that may fly in late 2016 or early 2017.

The Raptor will power SpaceX's next generation of rocket after the Falcon Heavy, the so-called Mars Colonial Transporter. Although official details regarding the Raptor engine remain scarce, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has suggested the engine will have a thrust of about 500,000 pounds, roughly the same power as a space shuttle's main engines. Whereas the shuttle was powered by three main engines and two booster rockets, however, it is believed the large rocket SpaceX uses to colonize Mars would likely be powered by a cluster of nine Raptor engines. (8/9)

SpaceX Offers Large Rockets for Small Satellites (Source: Space News)
SpaceX, which retired its Falcon 1 small launch vehicle several years ago, believes it can more effectively serve the growing small satellite market through rideshare accommodations on its larger vehicles, the company’s president said. Gwynne Shotwell said the company was working with companies that aggregate secondary payloads, such as Seattle-based Spaceflight, to fly on the Falcon 9 and future Falcon Heavy launch vehicles.

“We really love and appreciate working with aggregators of small satellite missions,” she said. “We’ve got a brand-new agreement with Spaceflight for four additional flights over the next four or five years.” Spaceflight announced in September 2015 that it had purchased a Falcon 9 launch for what it called a “dedicated rideshare” mission planned for the second half of 2017. That mission will carry more than 20 spacecraft, including a lunar lander developed by SpaceIL, an Israeli team competing in the Google Lunar X Prize. (8/9)

California Aerospace Company Building Electric Plane for NASA (Source: San Luis Obispo Tribune)
A Pismo Beach aerospace company, Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero), is playing the key operational role in building an innovative electric-powered plane that its developers say could usher in a new era of quieter, more efficient and environmentally friendly aircraft. NASA has contracted with ESAero to build the prototype plane, called X-57, and design it to take off faster and use fewer motors compared with fuel-powered aircrafts, without producing carbon emissions. (8/4)

Putin Plots a New Fleet of Spies in Space (Source: Daily Beast)
The Russian military is apparently getting ready to launch a new generation of high-tech spy satellites.
It could help Moscow begin to match the as-yet-unrivaled resolution of America’s own eyes in orbit. But the U.S. space force isn’t standing still. While Russia races to catch up to the United States in one particular aspect of orbital reconnaissance—that is, imagery detail—the United States is plotting a sort of technological sidestep that could actually extend its lead over its rivals in space-based espionage.

Moscow reportedly plans to launch three of the new Hrazdan satellites—one each in 2019, 2022, and 2024. Essentially orbital telescopes that point down toward Earth, the Hrazdans will replace Russia’s two existing Persona spy satellites. Moscow has come to rely heavily on its military spacecraft to support long-distance deployments. Spy satellites, including the Personas, have played a central role in the Russian intervention in Syria, helping to spot targets for Russian bombers and cruise missiles.

The Hrazdans are built around huge, finely-crafted lenses. Where the Personas feature 1.5-meter-diameter lenses, the Hrazdans boast lenses with a diameter greater than two meters. The Personas maintain circular orbits around Earth at an altitude of 700 kilometers. At that altitude, the older sats’ lenses afford them a 31-centimeter resolution. At the same altitude, the Hrazdans would significantly improve on the Personas. Their resolution could go as high as 24 centimeters. (8/8)

SpaceX Prepares for Two Upcoming Florida Launches (Source: Space News)
SpaceX is gearing up for two commercial satellite launches in the next month. A Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch the JCSAT-16 communications satellite for Sky Perfect JSAT on Aug. 14 from Cape Canaveral. That will be followed in late August or early September by a Falcon 9 launch of Amos-6 for Spacecom, also from the Cape. (8/5)

NASA Extends Ground Systems Support Contract at Kennedy Space Center (Source: SpaceRef)
NASA has exercised the second option to extend to Sept. 30, 2018, the period of performance of its Test and Operations Support Contract (TOSC) with Jacobs Technology Inc. Jacobs will provide continued overall management and implementation of ground systems capabilities, flight hardware processing and launch operations in support of the International Space Station, Ground Systems Development and Operations, Space Launch System and Orion Programs, as well as select support services for the Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The cost-plus-award-fee option was exercised at a value of $232.3 million for the baseline work with a performance period of two years. The contract’s indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity ordering provision, valued up to $500 million for the life of the contract, also was extended for a concurrent two-year period. Jacobs will provide ground processing for launch vehicles, spacecraft and payloads in support of emerging programs, commercial entities and other government agencies designated by NASA. (8/8)

Space Foundation Announces Inductees to Colorado Space Heroes Hall of Fame (Source: Colorado Space News)
The Space Foundation announced the first honorees to be inducted into the Colorado Space Heroes Hall of Fame. Those to be honored for their contributions to the development and success of Colorado’s space economy, are General James V. Hartinger, USAF (Ret.); Ronald M. Sega, Ph.D.; Alan Stern, Ph.D.; and Peter B. Teets. Click here. (8/8)

Astronomers Catalogs Most Likely 'Second-Earth' Candidates (Source: Space Daily)
Looking for another Earth? An international team of researchers has pinpointed which of the more than 4,000 exoplanets discovered by NASA's Kepler mission are most likely to be similar to our rocky home. The research outlines 216 Kepler planets located within the "habitable zone" - the area around a star in which a planet's surface could hold liquid water. Of those, they list 20 that are the best candidates to be habitable rocky planets like Earth.

The research also confirms that the distribution of Kepler planets within the habitable zone is the same as the distribution of those outside of it - additional evidence that the universe is teeming with planets and moons where life could potentially exist. The boundaries of the habitable zone are critical. If a planet is too close to its star, it will experience a runaway greenhouse gas effect, like Venus. But if it's too far, any water will freeze, as is seen on Mars. (8/8)

Lockheed Martin and NASA Finalize Deal for Tiny Moon Satellite (Source: Ars Technica)
The maiden launch of NASA's Space Launch System, likely in late 2018 or early 2019, will primarily serve to demonstrate that the massive rocket is capable of delivering a sizable payload—the Orion spacecraft—into a lunar orbit. However, amid the launch fireworks and shakedown mission for the uncrewed Orion spacecraft, NASA will also manage to do a little science.

The adapter ring that connects Orion to the rocket will include 13 bays for CubeSats, shoe-box sized payloads that until now haven't been delivered in significant numbers into deep space. Each of those payload operators is working to finalize contracts with NASA for the ride into space, and on Monday, Lockheed Martin announced a few details of its 6U CubeSat, called SkyFire. Lockheed's payload will capture high-quality images of the Moon. And in exchange for the ride into deep space, NASA will receive data from the mission.

Lockheed Martin said it is developing a lighter, simpler infrared camera to fit within the CubeSat payload. Such technology, with lower-cost and lighter scientific instruments, might eventually be employed on future NASA missions sent much deeper into the solar system. For example, as part of an orbiter mission to Europa in the 2020s, NASA is contemplating including some CubeSats that could be deployed to fly near the surface of the Jovian moon to collect more information about the nature of its icy, mysterious surface. (8/8)

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