January 8, 2017

Star Hurtling Toward Our Solar System Could Knock Millions of Asteroids Toward Earth (Source Business Insider)
Researchers have known for a while that a star called Gliese 710 is headed straight for our solar system, but they've now worked out precisely when it should arrive. The star is currently hurtling through space at about 32,000 mph, and is around 64 lightyears away. (One lightyear is around 5,878,000,000,000 miles.)

Gliese 710 is about half the size of our sun, and it is set to reach Earth in 1.35 million years. And when it arrives, the star could end up a mere 77 light-days away from Earth — one light-day being the equivalent of how far light travels in one day, which is about 26 billion kilometers, the researchers worked out. As far as we know, Gliese 710 isn't set to collide directly with Earth, but it wil be passing through the Oort Cloud, a shell of trillions of icy objects at the furthest reaches of our solar system. (1/8)

Committing to Commercial Space Launch (Source: Niskanen Center)
With the dawn of a new year, SpaceX is resolving to restart its commercial space launches. After a pause of four months to investigate the explosion of one of its rockets, the commercial launch company announced plans to resume launches on January 8. Last September’s accident sparked concerns about the safety of using commercial launch companies. With a new administration coming into office this month, and its signaled interest in space policy, it is important to highlight how essential a robust commercial space launch industry is to American interests.

The explosion of a SpaceX rocket in September led to questions from lawmakers and a NASA advisory group about the safety of using the company to launch national security satellites or astronauts. While SpaceX has said it has identified the cause of the explosion, and has worked to fix it, concerns about how to balance innovation and reliability remain. These concerns are important, given what could be at stake. Click here. (1/6)

NASA Science Chief Seeks to Allay Concerns About Transition (Source: Space News)
The head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, seeking to assure astronomers concerned about the next administration, said that the transition process has gone as he expected. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said at a NASA town hall meeting Jan. 5 during the 229th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society here that he has had good interactions with the “landing team” assigned to the agency by the transition team of President-elect Donald Trump. “The meetings have been very thoughtful,” he said. “I think that, at this stage of the process, it’s working the way it should.” (1/7)

High-Risk Satellite Conjunction Passes Without Incident (Source: SpaceFlight 101)
The Joint Space Operations Center issued a notification that the close approach of two non-maneuverable satellites did not result in a collision: “The close approach predicted at 21:53:00 UTC on 7 Jan 2017 has passed without incident. The JSpOC has confirmed that both satellites are being tracked as single objects, indicating that no collision has occurred.” (1/7)

Is NASA Paving the Way for Asteroid Mining? (Source: The Atlantic)
Earlier this week, NASA chose to fund an eponymous robotic mission to Psyche, scheduled to launch in 2023. The mission marks the first time spacecraft will visit a metallic asteroid, an extremely rare object in the solar system. Similar NASA missions have only visited rocky and icy worlds, like planets and other asteroids, like Vesta and Ceres. Scientists believe Psyche could have grown to be the size of Mars, but its rocky outer layers were smashed away by a series of collisions billions of years ago. What remains, a world made of metallic nickel and iron, is about the size of Massachusetts.

“By visiting Psyche, we can literally visit a planetary core the only way that humankind ever can,” Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the Psyche mission's lead investigator, told reporters Wednesday. “It’s 1,800 miles to the Earth’s core, and the deepest humans have ever managed to drill is seven-and-a-half miles.”

Psyche is the only known round metal body in the solar system. The Psyche mission, led by researchers from Arizona State University, will launch in 2023 and reach its namesake by 2030. Over 20 months, the spacecraft will collect data about Psyche's composition and topography, and, as is standard for robotic missions these days, return beautiful, GIF-able images of the asteroid. They hope Psyche will help them better understand planet formation, and learn more about Earth’s own iron core. (1/6)

SpaceX Shifts Return-To-Flight Mission (Source: SPACErePORT)
SpaceX's launch of Iridium satellites from Vandenberg AFB in California has been delayed due to anticipated bad weather. The launch was planned for Jan. 9 but has now been moved to Jan. 14. (1/8)

Responding to the Chinese Space Challenge (Source: Heritage Foundation)
As 2016 drew to a close, China published its third space white paper, sustaining the pattern of publishing one every five years.[1] This is consistent with the cycle of Five Year Plans that are central to Chinese economic and social planning efforts. China’s Space Activities in 2016 provides both an overview of China’s space achievements over the past five years and an outline of key projects and milestones for the next five years. Click here. (1/6)

Some Pulsars Lose Their Steady Beat (Source: Science News)
A pair of cosmic radio beacons known as pulsars keep switching off and on, suggesting that there might be vast numbers of undiscovered pulsars hiding in our galaxy. Pulsars are rapidly spinning neutron stars, the ultradense cores left behind after massive stars explode. Neutron stars are like lighthouses, sweeping a beam of radio waves around the sky. Astronomers see them as steady pulses of radio energy.

But at least two in the Milky Way seem to spend most of their time turned off, Victoria Kaspi, an astrophysicist at McGill University in Montreal, reported January 4 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. One, first detected at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in November 2011, only pulses about 30 percent of the time. Another, also discovered at Arecibo, laid down a steady beat just 0.8 percent of the time when observed in 2013 and 2015. Then starting in August 2015, it abruptly jumped to being on 16 percent of the time for several months. (1/6)

2017 Forecast: Air Force Faces Intense Trump Scrutiny (Source: Breaking Defense)
The Air Force got blasted from Donald Trump’s bully pulpit before the President-Elect was even inaugurated. It looks like 2017 — the youngest service’s 70th year — will be full of presidential turbulence. (1/6)

NASA Wants to Eplore a Metal Ball the Size of Massachusetts (Source: New York Times)
NASA will be heading to a metal world. The space agency announced that a spacecraft named Psyche would visit an asteroid named Psyche, one of two new missions it will be launching into the solar system in the 2020s. Click here. (1/6)

Medical Experts Urge Long View Of Extended Space Missions (Source: Aviation Week)
Medical experts assembled by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are urging NASA to dig deeper into possible connections between the health and performance risks faced by humans assigned to long missions to deep space. (1/6)

China to Set Up Gravitational Wave Telescopes in Tibet (Source: Xinhua)
China is working to set up the world's highest altitude gravitational wave telescopes in Tibet Autonomous Region to detect the faintest echoes resonating from the universe, which may reveal more about the Big Bang.

Construction has started for the first telescope, code-named Ngari No.1, 30 km south of Shiquanhe Town in Ngari Prefecture, said Yao Yongqiang, chief researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The telescope, located 5,250 meters above sea level, will detect and gather precise data on primordial gravitational waves in the Northern Hemisphere. It is expected to be operational by 2021. (1/7)

UAE Space Agency Partners with 8 Major Universities (Source: GDN)
The UAE Space Agency has signed MoUs with eight prominent UAE universities in order to support the space sector through collaboration in space science, education, research, technology and applications.

These include the University of Sharjah, Zayed University, American University of Sharjah, Khalifa University, American University of Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates University, New York University Abu Dhabi, and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. The MoUs provide a formal framework for engagement between the Agency and individual academic institutions.

As per the new agreements, the Space Agency and its new partner institutions will develop and activate space research centres and innovative space education programs. The institutions will work with the Space Agency to jointly identify suitable research and education projects of mutual interest. Finally, the MoUs also cover collaboration in regards to the implementation of directives or initiatives emanating from the UAE’s National Space Policy. (1/6)

‘Spaceport America’: 0 for 2016 (Source: KRWG)
If New Mexico’s spaceport offers “the world an invitation to space,” no one’s RSVPing. In 2016, the facility launched … nothing. No satellites placed in orbit. No tourists sent on one-of-a-kind journeys. Heck, even UP Aerospace wasn’t able to launch a single sounding rocket last year.

But rest assured, taxpayers, economic-development “visionaries” are doubling down. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that construction “could start late spring or early summer of 2017” on a 24-mile route from the “Upham Exit of Interstate 25 north to Spaceport America.”

Instead of “investing” more in the spaceport, elected officials should be looking to unload the white elephant. While a new version of the bill hasn’t been drafted yet, let’s hope that legislation akin to 2015’s SB 267 reappears. Sponsored by Senator George Munoz (D-Gallup), the bill would have required the development of “a marketing plan that will advertise and promote the sale of Spaceport America to potential national and international buyers.” (1/6)

Point/Counterpoint: Is Space Travel Worth It? (Source: Paste)
Launching a man to the moon is among the greatest achievements in U.S. history; yet, was it worthwhile? Is the technological innovation worth the expense? Can the economic benefits outweigh the amount of pollution produced by rockets? And aren’t there bigger problems to solve than figuring out of one of Jupiter’s moons has ice? Here we examine whether or not space travel is “worth it.” Click here. (1/6)

NASA Wallops Island Preps for Winter Storm (Source: WMDT)
NASA Wallops Island says they've started preparing for Saturday's winter storm. A spokesperson says they've moved government owned vehicles into designated parking spots, in order to help keep the parking lots cleared in order to remove snow. The actual snow clearing will happen on Sunday, January 8th. The facility will close at 6 a.m. on January 7th, as non-essential personal will not be allowed access to the facility. (1/6)

'Hidden Figures' Puts NASA's Unsung Heroes Front and Center (Source: Mashable)
Behind every John Glenn or Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin there are tens or even hundreds of people working behind the scenes to keep them alive and healthy in space. That’s NASA’s true nature — a nexus of unseen teamwork and ingenuity that allows the exploration of new frontiers. And there is perhaps no better representation of that paradigm than the story told in the new movie Hidden Figures, released Friday. (1/6)

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