November 26, 2016

Internet Service at a Spaceship Near You (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
When Virgin Galactic’s tourist-astronauts fly from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico, they’ll surely want to tweet a selfie from space. Wait – there is internet in space, right?

The U.S. government provides internet access on the International Space Station – at speeds worse than old dial-up connections on Earth, according to one astronaut. But Santa Fe startup Solstar Space Co. sees a future for commercial providers linking people and machines in space and on the ground, eventually at high speed.

Solstar Space is testing technology to provide in-flight Wi-Fi to future passengers aboard Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX flights to space, says CEO M. Brian Barnett, as well to future, privately run space stations. The company is in the R&D stage, and so is much of its target market. (11/25)

SpaceX Investor Joins Trump Defense Transition Team (Source: Space News)
A principal in a venture capital fund whose investments include SpaceX has joined President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team for the Department of Defense. The office of President-elect Trump announced Nov. 23 that it was adding Trae Stephens to the existing transition team for the Defense Department. He joins an original group of nine people assigned to the “landing team” covering the Pentagon on Nov. 23, with a tenth person added Nov. 21.

Stephens is a principal at Founders Fund, a San Francisco-based venture capital fund co-founded in 2005 by billionaire investor Peter Thiel and several others. Thiel supported Trump’s campaign, giving a speech backing him at the Republican National Convention in July, and was named Nov. 11 to the executive committee overseeing Trump’s transition. (11/25)

Destination Moon? Belgium Joins the Space Race (Source: Reuters)
Belgian comic-strip hero Tintin helped popularize the 1950s Space Race with his iconic cartoon rocket; seven decades on from the boy reporter's "Destination Moon", his country is finally getting its own version of NASA. The Interfederal Space Agency of Belgium (ISAB) will be set up next year, science minister Elke Sleurs said, arguing that it would help a local industry hang on to what is now a 5-percent share of the EU's 7 billion-euro a year space industry.

Challenges from the likes of rising powers India and China and changing rules for EU-wide tenders meant Belgium should pool resources to help its companies compete, she said: "If we just keep the status quo, we risk losing out on space contracts." (11/25)

Roscosmos: Russia Not To Blame for ExoMars Crash (Source: Sputnik)
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said Friday the European Space Agency (ESA) did not link it to the crash of the Schiaparelli Mars lander last month. "Roscosmos has fully met its commitments in the framework of the Russian-European mission ExoMars 2016," the Russian agency said in a statement. It cited ESA chief Johann-Dietrich Woerner as saying Schiaparelli’s failure was in no way a result of Russian partners' work. He said the agency expected to continue cooperating with Roscosmos. (11/25)

To Find Life on Mars, Perhaps We Should Look Here (Source Seeker)
Did NASA's now dead Spirit rover find evidence of life on Mars before it got stuck in a sand trap and confirmed lost by NASA in 2010? Possibly, say two geoscientists who have found a location on Earth shaped by microbes that closely resembles a particular area on Mars that was scrutinized by the rover in 2007.

The focus is a curious cluster of finger-like silica nodules that were imaged by Spirit near the so-called "Home Plate" area in Columbia Hills in Gusev Crater in April 2007. The rover operated in the location for over five years, studying the Martian geology and atmospheric phenomena. Spirit's sister rover, Opportunity, continues to explore the Red Planet nearly 13 years after landing.

Steve Ruff and Jack Farmer of the Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration have drawn comparisons with the Home Plate structures with formations at a Chilean hot springs called El Tatio, where microbes are known to influence the structure of silica deposits. Their findings have been published in the journal Nature Communications. (11/25)

Humanity is Cosmically Special. Here’s How We Know. (Source: Washington Post)
There was a time, back when astronomy put Earth at the center of the universe, that we thought we were special. But after Copernicus kicked Earth off its pedestal, we decided we were cosmically inconsequential, partly because the universe is vast and about the same everywhere. Astronomer Carl Sagan put it this way: “We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star.” Stephen Hawking was even blunter: “The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet.”

An objective look, however, at just two of the most dramatic discoveries of astronomy — big bang cosmology and planets around other stars (exoplanets) — suggests the opposite. We seem to be cosmically special, perhaps even unique — at least as far as we are likely to know for eons. Click here. (11/25)

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