October 23, 2016

Uranus May Have Two Undiscovered Moons (Source: NASA JPL)
NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Uranus 30 years ago, but researchers are still making discoveries from the data it gathered then. A new study led by University of Idaho researchers suggests there could be two tiny, previously undiscovered moonlets orbiting near two of the planet's rings. (10/23)

Study Suggests Investment in Swedish Spaceport (Source: SSC)
On Oct. 17 the results of a Swedish Governmental Offices analysis regarding development of the potential capacity at Esrange towards launching of small satellites was briefed to the Space Minister of Sweden. Mr Jan Nygren, who is responsible for the analysis, recommended the Government to further work on realization of the opportunities. He commented the report by saying that Esrange current capability provide good basic prerequisites that could be further developed in a cost effective way to establish a facitlity for launching small satellites. (10/18)

Why Iran and NASA Will Not Be Cooperating Anytime Soon (Source: SpaceWatch)
Recent press reports quote the head of the Iranian Space Agency, Mohsen Bahrami, as saying that he would like to see Iran cooperate with the American space agency, NASA. Occasionally, the media can take a well-meaning phrase or quote from a mid-level official and blow it all out of proportion and context. Before too long, the uttered words have gone viral and what started as an innocuous remark somehow morphs into an official position or even policy in the eyes of the public.

Such was the case when Mohsen Bahrami said “Many in the world look at NASA’s programs…we are interested in having cooperation, naturally. When you are in orbit, there is no country and race.” And with these words the global press went into a frenzy, with one newspaper, the Mexico Star, running the following breathless headline: “Iran and the US: New partners in space.” No rhetorical question mark; no sense of doubt or skepticism…it’s a done deal, apparently.

The reality of space cooperation between countries like the United States and the Soviet Union, or in this case the U.S. and Iran, is that diplomatic dialogue and resolution of key differences creates the positive conditions for space cooperation. For many space cooperation advocates this reality is counterintuitive because their narrative is that it is space cooperation that creates the conditions for the diplomatic dialogue that can resolve underlying political differences between countries. Click here. (10/22)

Canada Plans New Health Technology in Space (Source: CSA)
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is awarding a new contract to Carré Technologies of Montreal to continue advancing technology on Astroskin, an innovative bio-monitoring system for use aboard the International Space Station. Consisting of a "smart shirt" and related software, Astroskin will collect valuable scientific data on astronauts' vital signs, sleep quality and activity levels during their missions. Canadian Space Agency Astronaut David Saint-Jacques will test Astroskin during his six-month mission aboard the ISS in 2018-19. (10/21)

Tardigrades Can Survive Almost Anything, And Now We Know How (Source: Second Nexus)
Tardigrades, or water bears, are tough little creatures. They’re only half a millimeter long fully-grown, but they can live through almost anything: temperatures as low as -458 degrees Fahrenheit or as high as 300 degrees, pressures six times greater than those in the deepest ocean trenches, extraordinary amounts of radiation, even the vacuum of space. Last month, researchers in Japan published an analysis of the entire genome of one of the most resilient tardigrade species.

In the course of their research, geneticist Takekazu Kunieda and his colleagues from the University of Tokyo found some of the lucky genetic tricks that tardigrades have evolved to keep them safe in extreme environments. Because it is easier to study the processes happening in tardigrade cells when the genes are housed within mammalian cells, the researchers cultured human cells to produce bits of the tardigrade genome. Then, they could manipulate the cells to figure out which genes give the tiny animals their impressive resistance.

In living creatures, dehydration can wreak havoc among cells, even ripping apart DNA. Tardigrades, though, have a protein called Dsup which holds the DNA together under the stress of drying out. When Kunieda and his team discovered this protein in the tardigrade genome, they also found that it protects the DNA from radiation, particularly X-rays. “Tolerance against X-ray is thought to be a side-product of [the] animal’s adaption to severe dehydration,” said Kunieda. (10/17)

Trump Cancels KSC Tour (Source: Florida Today)
Donald Trump's campaign has scrubbed plans to tour Kennedy Space Center and talk about the space program in Brevard County next week. Instead of coming to the Space Coast on Tuesday, the Republican presidential nominee will host a rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport. The switch was made because there is no indoor venue near KSC suitable for a rally that would draw thousands of supporters, and outdoor venues present security concerns. (10/22)

High-Speed Space Rocks Found to Impact the Moon More Often Than Expected (Source: Space Answers)
Meteoroids are striking the Moon much more often than expected, says a team of Arizona State University planetary scientists. But no need to worry – at least until people go back there to explore. The Moon’s surface is being “gardened” – churned by small impacts – more than 100 times faster than scientists previously thought. It also means that any structures placed on the Moon as part of human expeditions will need better protection. (10/17)

Iridium's Stalled Attempt to Blanket the World with Internet Connectivity (Source: Fortune)
Iridium was gearing up to launch the first of a new generation of satellites when the news came in from Cape Canaveral. A rocket—the very same type expected to carry Iridium’s new satellites into orbit—had exploded, mere months before Iridium’s own launch was scheduled. An investigation into the mishap would set back future launches indefinitely. The roll-out of Iridium’s new $5 billion satellite constellation, the backbone of its entire business model, was off to an inauspicious start.

All of this happened in 1997, when Iridium first set out to blanket the globe with satellite-based connectivity. (The rocket, a Lockheed Martin Delta II carrying an Air Force GPS satellite, exploded shortly after liftoff in January of that year.) Almost two decades later, it’s not unreasonable for Iridium CEO Matt Desch to feel déja vu. His company was preparing to launch a new, much-improved constellation of communications satellites—that is, until the explosion of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the launchpad last month put those plans on hold.

The company’s new constellation—dubbed Iridium Next—will beam data to and from any point on the planet. It will also pack technology capable of tracking every commercial airliner on the planet in real time, including over the oceans. Iridium’s new constellation could change the art of the possible for global satellite communications, Desch says. But once again, the company’s satellites are stuck on the ground. (10/22)

The Next President Will Take Power with Significant Space Decisions Looming (Source: Ars Technica)
At the upper edge of the atmosphere, where the sky kisses outer space, a few molecules of nitrogen and oxygen bounce around. If we consider the presidential election as playing out at the surface of the Earth, amid a thick atmosphere of invective and accusation, it is not a stretch to say the relative importance of space policy lies somewhere near the edge of space, bouncing around inconsequentially, like these stray molecules.

Even so, the next president of the United States will have the ability, if not the desire, to shape the future of America’s civil space programs—especially with major decision points on the horizon, including the privatization of spaceflight and the details of where humans should go beyond low-Earth orbit. For this reason, we’re going to look at what changes a new president might make and what attitudes each candidate has had toward space. Click here. (10/22)

Russia’s space Program is Great at Launching Rockets, But Not Much Else (Source: Quartz)
This week the ExoMars team placed a satellite in orbit around the red planet but failed to land the accompanying spacecraft. Scientifically the mission was largely a success: the satellite will soon start sniffing the Martian atmosphere for signs of present or past life. But the lander’s failure is symbolic of the fortunes of Russia’s Roscosmos, which is an equal partner with the European Space Agency (ESA) on ExoMars.

Russia is one of two nations (the other is China) currently capable of putting humans into space, and at that job it’s been spectacularly reliable. Without Russia’s Soyuz rockets, there would be no US astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). But on other fronts the once mighty Russian (previously Soviet) space program has floundered. Its last successful interplanetary mission was to Venus in 1984. With Mars, it’s had a string of almost unmitigated failures since its first attempted flyby in 1960. (10/22)

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