November 24, 2016

SpaceX Plans Five-Year Lease of Port Canaveral Complex (Source: Florida Today)
Port Canaveral has reached a tentative five-year lease agreement with SpaceX, which will operate a rocket refurbishing facility there. As part of the deal, SpaceX will continue to work out of a 53,360-square-foot building at the port that formerly was used by SpaceHab. SpaceX currently is using that facility under terms of a month-to-month temporary use permit. It also plans to build a 44,000-square-foot hangar building on the 4-acre site.

“With SpaceX’s recent progress in recovering first-stage Falcon 9 boosters, we’re looking to expand our facilities on the Space Coast to support rocket refurbishment," SpaceX Communications Director John Taylor said in a statement. "We appreciate the port's partnership in our recovery efforts to date, and continue to discuss further opportunities at Port Canaveral.” (11/23)

We Really Need to Figure Out How to Stop a Killer Asteroid (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Imagine if scientists found out that a massive asteroid was on a collision course with Earth and would strike somewhere near Los Angeles in 2020. What could humanity do? Not much. At least, that was the result of a day-long tabletop exercise coordinated by NASA and FEMA late last month. In their hypothetical scenario, the space agency concluded that the 330-foot space rock was approaching too quickly to mount a deflection mission.

The team from FEMA was left to figure out how to evacuate millions of people from Southern California. This was a purely fictional exercise. NASA has discovered some 17,000 potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, but none of them is projected to come close to Earth in the next hundred years. No human that we know of has been killed by a meteorite or the effects of an impact, and the likelihood that this could happen to any of us is very, very slim. The chance of an impact big enough to destroy our planet is even smaller.

Remember that Earth has suffered only one mass extinction-inducing impact that we know of in its 4.6 billion-year history, and even that asteroid didn't end life entirely. Our planet is pretty resilient. Still, plenty of researchers don't want to simply wait around and see what happens. This week, more than 100 planetary scientists, physicists and engineers published an open letter in support of a joint European Space Agency and NASA mission to survey a near-Earth asteroid and attempt to deflect it. (11/19)

NASA Didn't Find Life on Mars—But It Did Find Something Very Cool (Source: Gizmodo)
If we ever get proof of past life on Mars, it’ll come in the form of biosignatures, fingerprints that could only have been left by living organisms. We’re a long way from finding that smoking gun evidence, but an analysis of silica minerals discovered by NASA’s Spirit rover pushes us one step closer. Because of their similarity to silica deposits shaped by microbial life on Earth, these intriguing Martian minerals are now being called a “potential biosignature.”

To be clear, this does not mean NASA has discovered life on Mars. It means that we might have found evidence of past life—which is still pretty damn cool. NASA is drawing a connection between opaline silica deposits found near a feature in Gusev crater, and opaline silica at a geyser field located high in the Andes mountains of northern Chile. A rubbery-looking substance forming bumpy nodules that lack crystal structure, opaline silica was first discovered on Mars by the Spirit rover in 2007. It’s taken to be evidence of past hydrothermal or volcanic activity. (11/23)

A Computer Glitch Caused the Schiaparelli Lander to Crash on Mars (Source: Inverse)
The European Space Agency finally seems to have pinpointed why its Schiaparelli lander experienced a fatal crash landing on the surface of Mars on October 19. As previously suspected by some experts, a computer glitch seems to have caused a navigation error that caused Schiaparelli to prematurely shut off its thrusters and activate on-ground systems.

In short, a sensor failure led Schiaparelli to believe it was closer to the ground than it really was. The parachute was ejected and braking thrusters turned off while the spacecraft was still over two miles in altitude during descent. Schiaparelli thought it was already on land. (11/23)

Rocket Lab Test Flights Delayed in New Zealand (Source: Gisborne Herald)
Test flights from Rocket Lab’s Mahia launch site will now take place early next year. Rocket Lab originally scheduled road closures for test launches between November 17 and December 24. The company is now planning to conduct the first test flight early next year. A Rocket Lab official says the team had worked tirelessly this year, and with the holidays fast approaching they felt it best to allow everyone a decent break. (11/23)

Report Finds Commercial Spaceports Confused About Insurance Requirements (Source: Space News)
A new report recommends that the FAA do more to assist commercial spaceports in determining their insurance requirements, but stops short of calling for regulatory changes regarding coverage for facilities not owned by the federal government. The report, prepared by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, said that operators of launch sites licensed by the FAA are often puzzled about whether and how their facilities are covered by insurance in the event of an accident. (11/23)

Astronomer Explains Recent Flashes in Southwest Florida Sky (Source: CBS News)
A streak of light that crossed the sky in southwest Florida on Monday night was likely a bolide, an official at the Everglades Astronomical Society confirmed. A bolide refers a special type of fireball emitted by a large meteor or asteroid as it explodes in the atmosphere, often with visible fragmentation, according to the American Meteor Society. (11/23)

FAMU Lands $5M Lockheed Martin Contract (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
Florida A&M Univerisity won a $5 million contract for its students and faculty to work on space projects with Lockheed Martin starting in January. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor building the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The new partnership could help improve diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Working with FAMU —a historically-black school — will give more diverse students internships and career opportunities at Lockheed Martin, according to school spokeswoman Kanya Stewart. "The benefits to the university and Lockheed Martin are enormous as this will help in creating the workforce necessary for the mission to Mars and beyond," said Okenwa Okoli, a FAMU engineering professor. The school's engineering department will be most involved with the project. (11/23)

Russia Starts Developing National Space Threat Warning System (Source: Tass)
Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos and the Russian Academy of Sciences have started drafting the concept of a future national structure expected to issue warnings of potentially dangerous space objects. "Roscosmos and the RAS will join forces in creating an effective system to keep track of asteroids and space debris. A very productive dialog is underway with the colleagues. In cooperation with the Academy we are to settle a number of organizational and technical matters," Roscosmos said. (11/23)

Hubble Rounds Up the First Worlds We’ll Check for Alien Life (Source: New Scientist)
The search for alien life is taking a shortcut. The Hubble Space Telescope is set to spend hundreds of hours over the next year running reconnaissance on a shortlist of worlds to identify those we should scour for life first. This latest effort aims to take advantage of Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. Set to launch in 2018, JWST will have unprecedented power to detect the atmospheres of faraway planets for biosignature gases that would suggest they host living, breathing organisms. (11/23)

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