October 7, 2016

Planet in Star System Nearest our Sun 'May Have Oceans' (Source: Phys.org)
A rocky planet discovered in the "habitable" zone of the star nearest our Sun may be covered with oceans, researchers at France's CNRS research institute said. A team including CNRS astrophysicists have calculated the size and surface properties of the planet dubbed Proxima b, and concluded it may be an "ocean planet" similar to Earth.

It is estimated to have a mass about 1.3 times that of Earth, and orbits about 7.5 million kilometers from its star—about a tenth the distance of innermost planet Mercury from the Sun. "Contrary to what one might expect, such proximity does not necessarily mean that Proxima b's surface is too hot" for water to exist in liquid form, said a CNRS statement. Proxima Centauri is smaller and 1,000 times weaker than our Sun, which means Proxima b is at exactly the right distance for conditions to be potentially habitable. (10/6)

Vandenberg AFB Remains Tight-Lipped About Fire Damage, But Seeks Help With Repairs (Source: NoozHawk)
Nearly three weeks after the Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base delayed the Atlas V rocket launch, a new departure date is still a mystery and the military remains mum about damage, yet will bring in additional crews to complete repairs.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and its WorldView-4 satellite still sit at Space Launch Complex-3 awaiting the announcement of a new departure date while the military stays silent about likely damage to support equipment. The fire burned more than 12,000 acres on South Base, starting Sept. 17. It was the largest of at least five Vandenberg fires within a week, some of which were blamed on downed power lines. (10/5)

Tito Sued for Age, Gender, Race Discrimination and Harassment (Source: Courthouse News Service)
Dennis Tito, the first millionaire to buy his way into Earth orbit as a tourist, faces a discrimination lawsuit from the only woman or minority to be an officer or board member of his high-tech finance firm, Wilshire Associates. Cynthia Loo claims the company fired her as president of Wilshire Associates' analytics division on Sep. 16 because Tito had decided she was too old. She is older than 55, according to her Oct. 4 lawsuit against Tito and his company, in Superior Court.
Defendants and each of them discriminated against plaintiff based on her protected age," it says. "In fact, Wilshire's managing agent, Tito, stated as much, saying that plaintiff was too old, that he was going to replace her and wanted her to retire from Wilshire." Loo also accuses them of harassing her and discriminating against her based on her gender and race. (10/6)

New Aerospace Fellowship for Women Aims to Address the Field’s Gender Inequality (Source: Quartz)
Lori Garver remembers that when she was deputy administrator at NASA in 2013, senior leadership meetings were held at a table with 25 seats, only seven of which were filled by women. Such disparity isn’t unusual in the aerospace world. The latest figures from the National Science Foundation show that in 2013, women accounted for just 15% of working engineers, despite gender parity among college-educated workers as a whole.

Garver and a group of space industry veterans have founded a fellowship in memory of Brooke Owens, a pilot and space policy expert who died this year of cancer at the age of 36. The fellowship will provide undergraduate women interested in aerospace with substantive summer jobs and professional mentors who can help guide their careers. Applications are being accepted until Dec. 5. (10/6)

How We Can Build Another Earth (Source: CNN)
We will first look for water vapor in the planet's atmosphere -- suggestive of liquid water oceans. We will be ecstatic to find oxygen, a tell-tale sign of life, and something we humans need to breathe to survive. Finding ozone, a byproduct of oxygen, would be a relief as ozone creates a high atmospheric layer that protects the planet surface from harmful high-energy radiation emitted by the star. We will aim to make an inventory of other gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, to help us understand the greenhouse power of the atmosphere.

I am fully confident we will be able to identify the basic information about a distant world. But, the planets are so far away and so small and faint that we will not have all the information our descendants will need to know if humans can survive or thrive on the distant world. Are there fatally poisonous gases that elude remote sensing detection? Can the soil chemistry support the crops we want to grow? If there is oxygen, is it the right amount, or too much so as to be harmful? (10/7)

Japan Reschedules Space Station Cargo Launch (Source: JAXA)
Japan has rescheduled the launch of a space station cargo spacecraft to early December. The Japanese space agency JAXA said Friday the launch of the HTV-6 spacecraft is now scheduled for Dec. 9. The spacecraft was to launch in early October, but was postponed to correct a leak in the spacecraft. (10/7)

India Plans Crew Capsule Abort Test (Source: The Hindu)
India's space agency is preparing for a pad abort test of a crew capsule. In the test, planned in the next two months, a capsule would be launched from a pad at ISRO's spaceport to test its ability to escape a launch vehicle in an emergency. ISRO is testing various elements of a crewed spacecraft, although the Indian government has yet to formally endorse and fund development of such a spacecraft. (10/6)

Stratolaunch Becomes Air-Launch Platform for Orbital ATK's Pegasus (Source: Orbital ATK)
Orbital ATK and Stratolaunch Systems announced a multi-year production-based partnership that will offer significant cost advantages to air-launch customers. Under this partnership, Orbital ATK will initially provide multiple Pegasus XL air-launch vehicles for use with the Stratolaunch aircraft to provide customers with unparalleled flexibility to launch small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds into low Earth orbit.

Editor's Note: This accompanying graphic shows the Stratolaunch carrier aircraft in flight with three Pegasus rockets attached. So rather than launching a single Delta-2 class payload, the system would launch multiple microsatellite payloads aboard separate launch vehicles. This seems overly complex and inefficient. (10/6)

Ariane 5 Launches Commercial Satellites (Source: Space News)
An Ariane 5 successfully launched two communications satellites Wednesday evening. The rocket lifted off from Kourou, French Guiana, at 4:30 p.m. Eastern and placed into geostationary transfer orbits the Sky Muster 2 and GSAT-18 satellites. Sky Muster 2 will be used by Australia's NBN Co. to provide broadband access, and GSAT-18 will be used by India's space agency ISRO for various communications services. The launch was the 74th consecutive successful mission for the Ariane 5, matching the streak set by the Ariane 4. (10/6)

SpaceX Hopes to Resume Launches Before Year's End (Source: Space News)
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says she still believes the company can resume Falcon 9 launches this year. Shotwell said it's "not impossible" to resume launches this year as the investigation into the Sep. 1 pad explosion continues. She said the accident is "more focused on the operations" of the vehicle rather than a design flaw with the rocket itself, a reason why she believes launches can resume in the near future. (10/6)

SpaceX Offers Shallower Discount for Reused Rockets (Source: Space News)
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says she expects to offer companies only a 10 percent discount on launch prices for using reused Falcon 9 first stages, less than a 30 percent figure previously quoted. (10/6)

NASA Employee Gets Five Year Prison Stay for Steering Contracts to Friend (Source: WBFF)
A former NASA employee is facing up to five years in prison after pleading guilty Wednesday to making false statements in a contracting investigation. Nathaniel Wright was involved in the management of three contracts at the Goddard Space Flight Center with a value of $2.5 billion from 2009 through 2012, while also working for a time as a contract employee for a friend's business that worked for several agencies.

Wright, in a plea agreement, acknowledged he made false statements to NASA Office of Inspector General agents in 2012 when they asked him about efforts to direct work to his friend's business. Sentencing is planned for January. (10/6)

Hawaii-Based Solar Telescope Approvals Upheld by Courts (Source: Honolulu Star Adviser)
Two opinions handed down by the Hawaii Supreme Court today uphold government approvals for a new solar telescope atop Haleakala. The court ruled that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources followed proper procedure in granting the University of Hawaii a permit to construct an Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, now known as the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, on Maui.

The court also ruled that the management plan UH submitted to the BLNR with its permit application didn’t need an environmental impact statement. The group Kilakila O Haleakala had challenged BLNR’s approval of the management plan and permit. University President David Lassner said he’s pleased with the rulings. (10/6)

Shooting for Space, to Make Life Better on Earth (Source: The Atlantic)
Working here at NASA is a lot of my identity, but it doesn't define me as a whole person. It helps me achieve some personal objectives that I have, such as encouraging STEM. When I was growing up, I did not have a lot of role models to tell me that I should go into that area because I liked technical things. The programs that we have here support my identity and the things that I'm passionate about. It has always been about outreach, and NASA supports me doing that.

My goal is uplifting someone else—these are the things that will sustain the human race. Space exploration provides us with the technology to help us do things: to get us out of ignorance, out of poverty, to get capital going to make sure we're all still have life. (10/6)

Rocket Sabotage Notion 'Pretty Much a Joke,' Says ULA Worker (Source: Business Insider)
"SpaceX has a fault analysis tree, and [sabotage] is a branch of it that needs tying up," the worker clarified, further noting that, based on his impression: "I don't see them or anyone here giving it any credence."

That's the word on the street at the ULA office, according to our source, and ULA itself mostly confirmed his take, in broad strokes. When provided with some of these unattributed comments, a ULA representative told Business Insider in an email that the company "cooperated with the Air Force's 45th Space Wing [of the USAF], and nothing associated with the SpaceX accident was found." (10/5)

David Webb: In Memoriam (Source: Space Policy Online)
David Webb, who was instrumental in the formation of International Space University and of the Space Studies Program at the University of North Dakota (UND), passed away on October 1 at the age of 87. Webb also was a member of the 1985-1986 U.S. National Commission on Space (NCOS). Webb was a mentor to many in the space policy community, including the Aerospace Corporation's Senior Policy Analyst Jim Vedda and Naval War College National Security Affairs Professor Joan Johnson-Freese. (10/5)

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