March 2, 2017

NASA Considers Magnetic Shield to Help Mars Grow Its Atmosphere (Source: Popular Mechanics)
An enticing idea came from Jim Green, NASA's Planetary Science Division Director. In a talk titled, "A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration," Green discussed launching a "magnetic shield" to a stable orbit between Mars and the sun, called Mars L1, to shield the planet from high-energy solar particles. The shield structure would consist of a large dipole, or a pair of equal and oppositely charged magnets to generate an artificial magnetic field.

Such a shield could leave Mars in the relatively protected magnetotail of the magnetic field created by the object, allowing the Red Planet to slowly restore its atmosphere. About 90 percent of Mars's atmosphere was stripped away by solar particles in the lifetime of the planet, which was likely temperate and had surface water about 3.5 billion years ago.

According to simulation models, such a shield could help Mars achieve half the atmospheric pressure of Earth in a matter of years. With protection from solar winds, frozen CO2 at Mars's polar ice caps would start to sublimate, or turn directly into gas from a solid. The greenhouse effect would start to fill Mars's thin atmosphere and heat the planet, mainly at the equator, at which point the vast stores of ice under the poles would melt and flood the world with liquid water. (3/1)

State Takes Another Step Toward Dismantling Enterprise Florida (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
A Florida House budget panel voted to kill Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency, as well as other economic development programs. The panel also voted to reduce state funding for Visit Florida to $25 million, and increase oversight of the agency. HB 7005, which is vehemently opposed by Gov. Rick Scott as well as Enterprise Florida CEO Chris Hart, next will be heard on the House floor. There is no Senate companion bill. Enterprise Florida and Visit Orlando have the support of Senate leaders. (2/23)

Military Rethinking How to Wage Space Wars (Source: National Defense)
How to defend satellites in space has moved up the list of top issues in U.S. war planning. Many approaches have been tried and debated, but officials continue to wrestle with the central problem: Threats to U.S. space assets are growing both in volume and sophistication, and the Pentagon may not be able to keep up.

As the military — and the U.S. economy at large — have become hugely dependent on satellites for essential activities — the nation’s space agencies have come under pressure to defend that critical infrastructure. The broad consensus is that rushing to protect every system is unaffordable and a fool’s errand. The thinking now taking hold is that fighting off space threats requires a nimble approach to predicting and responding to attacks, one that would dissuade and discourage enemies from attempting them in the first place.

Utmost on the minds of U.S. space operators are China and Russia. China will “challenge the United States in space,” said Hyten. It already tested a low Earth orbit weapon in 2007. “And they continue to test that capability today and they continue to test it at multiple orbital regimes,” he said. “In the not too distant future they’ll be able to use that capability to threaten every spacecraft that we have in space.” Systems deployed by China, further, “have the potential to create vast amounts of debris,” Hyten said. “That’s just a horrible thing.” (2/27)

Vandenberg Atlas-V Lofts NRO-79 Ocean Surveillance Satellites (Source: America Space)
United Launch Alliance kicked off a busy month of flights with the apparent successful launch from Vandenberg AFB of the National Reconnaissance Office NRO 79 mission with two top secret Intruder ocean surveillance satellites on board an Atlas-V 401 rocket. (3/1)

Aerojet Rocketdyne Reports Profit (Source: AP)
Aerojet Rocketdyne reported profit of $18.1 million in its fourth quarter. The aerospace and defense company posted revenue of $532.2 million in the period. For the year, the company reported net income of $18 millio, swinging to a profit in the period. Revenue was reported as $1.76 billion. (3/1)

'Habitable' Exoplanets Might Not Be Very Earth-Like After All (Source: Seeker)
One of the most exciting moments in exoplanet science came in late February, when NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope announced the discovery of seven rocky planets orbiting in or near the habitable zone of their parent star, TRAPPIST-1, which lies 40 light years away from Earth. Comparing the habitability of our own planet to the conditions on newly-discovered exoplanets, however, could be misleading.

Scientists  argue that even though scientists have found hundreds of Earth-sized planets, there is no available technology to show us if their surfaces are remotely Earth-like. The oversimplification of comparing exoplanets to our own planet arises from something called the Earth similarity index. The index uses four parameters: the radius of the planet, the radius of Earth, the stellar flux (or radiation) of the exoplanet's star, and the solar flux of our own sun. This metric is used to rank planets on a habitability index.

It is difficult for people to stop comparing planets to one another, but she did advocate for — at the least — a better description of what constitutes a habitable zone. She said that the media should specify that the zone is where liquid water could exist on a rocky planet orbiting the star. She also suggested that if possible, reports specify that the habitable zone is dependent on many factors, such as whether the star has variable radiation, the tilt of the planet's axis, and the planet's atmosphere. (3/1)

One Step Closer to Jupiter, NASA's Europa Mission Enters Design Phase (Source:
A NASA mission that will send a probe to Jupiter's icy moon Europa recently passed a critical stage on its long journey to the Jovian system. Europa is one of a handful of locations in the solar system that scientists think could host an environment fit for life. Beneath an ice layer about 10 to 15 miles thick, the moon is thought to harbor a liquid water ocean, possibly warmed by geologic processes originating in the planet's core.

With heat, water and nutrients, subsurface Europa could resemble the deep-sea ocean vents on Earth that support vast ecosystems. The $2 billion Europa mission will orbit Jupiter's icy moon, using its instruments to observe the surface up close and probe for information about the subsurface environment. Its primary objective is to determine if Europa hosts an environment that can support life. (3/1)

Money Won't Save SpaceX's Moon Tourists If Something Goes Wrong (Source: Gizmodo)
On Monday, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced that for the first time in history, it will be sending two private citizens on a trip around the Moon, in a Dragon 2 spacecraft. Because sending untrained civilians into space apparently isn’t enough of a gamble, Musk added that this mission would be taking place in Q4 of 2018. As an added reminder for emphasis, that’s next year. Another reminder: SpaceX has yet to send any humans into space, period.

While the prospect of space tourism is certainly exciting, a few salient questions remain. For one thing, who are these mysterious moneybags with (probably) hundreds of millions of dollars to blow on a week-long space sojourn? All we know about them is that, according to Musk, they’ve already given SpaceX a “significant deposit.” But more importantly, how the hell will this pair prepare for a mission that would take professional astronauts years of training?

It is wildly unlikely that SpaceX’s wealthy space enthusiasts meet most of NASA’s astronaut requirements, never mind all of them. And Mark Shelhamer is pretty unconvinced they can be caught up to speed by late next year. “I applaud Musk’s efforts and his enthusiasm and what he’s accomplished,” Shelhamer told Gizmodo. “But sending two amateurs to the moon in a new spacecraft on a new rocket, in less than two years? It won’t happen.” (3/1)

U.S. Must Speed Satellite Acquisition and Launch, Top Intelligence Nominee Says (Source: Space News)
The U.S. cannot fall behind other nations in satellite innovation, President Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. intelligence community said. “We cannot afford to be behind the curve in terms of development of both the offensive and defensive capacities that we put up into space,” said former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Coats is Trump’s nominee to be the director of national intelligence, the point person in charge of overseeing the nation’s various intelligence-gathering agencies. At his confirmation hearing, Coats lauded “the geospatial mastery demonstrated by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency” and “the acquisition proficiency of our satellite specialists at the National Reconnaissance Office.” But he expressed concern that the process for acquiring and launching space capabilities is currently too slow. (3/1)

Craig Technologies Wins Subcontract for NASA JSC Work (Source: Florida Today)
Craig Technologies of Cape Canaveral was awarded a subcontract to support American Systems Corp. on the NASA Specialized Engineering Aeronautics and Manufacturing (SEAM) Prime Contract. Craig will provide aerospace avionics engineering, electrical system design and development, and software engineering support.

This includes engineering services and solutions to design, develop, test, and evaluate new hardware, address system and component obsolescence and support the sustainment, alteration, and improvement of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, Mission Control Center (MCC), Space Station Training Facility, aircraft, aircraft programs, projects, activities, and other NASA and JSC projects. (3/2)

New Virgin Orbit Formed To Lead SmallSat Launch Vehicle (Source: Aviation Week)
Small satellites are fast becoming big business, and to bolster its growing investment in the burgeoning sector Virgin is forming a dedicated new company, Virgin Orbit, to spearhead the development, testing and operation of its LauncherOne low-cost smallsat launch vehicle. The unit is led by newly appointed Dan Hart, the former vice president of Boeing’s Government Satellite Systems unit. (3/2)

MIT Event Focuses on Emerging Space Economy (Source: MIT)
The space race is on – but it's a different kind of race today. Private companies continue to create and expand a new commercial market, advertising future habitats on Mars and trips into space. The space industry is reaching new heights as China and India engage in a new space race and SpaceX plans for moon tourism flights. As this industry's growth continues its upward trend, the MIT Sloan School of Management will host its 2nd annual New Space Age Conference organized by the MIT Sloan Astropreneurship and Space Industry Club (ASIC). It will be held on March 11, 2017. Click here. (3/2)

With Tax Incentive Approved, Dynetics Plans Aeronautic Test Facility Near Decatur (Source: Decatur Daily)
A Huntsville-based defense and aeronautics contractor could build a $14.2 million aerospace testing facility on United Launch Alliance property near Decatur with construction starting as early as August. The project, proposed by Dynetics Inc., drew questions from two city councilmen Wednesday regarding the abatement of education taxes. The proposed 100-foot-tall building is designed to test launch vehicles and large aerospace structures.

It would be the first of multiple buildings in a planned aerospace complex at the site. News of the proposal broke Wednesday, when the Decatur Industrial Development Board approved tax abatements in a bid to lure the investment. With a rare dissenting vote, the board decided 4-1 to abate $195,341 in state and county property taxes over a 10-year period and an estimated $261,000 in state and city sales taxes during the construction period.

Dynetics’ abatement request estimated the project would initially bring 10 jobs with an average annual salary of $80,000. The property is in the city’s police jurisdiction, where the City Council implemented a sales and use tax last year. Board member Jason Putman cast the lone dissenting vote, saying the company was unlikely to scrap the plan even if it didn’t get the incentive. “I don’t think there’s another ULA plant that Dynetics is going to build a location next to,” he said. (3/2)

A New Fossil Could Push Back the Start of Life on Earth (Source: Economist)
Scientists have a pretty good idea of how the Earth formed: it condensed, around 4.6 billion years ago, from the same cloud of dust and interstellar gas that gave birth to the sun and the rest of the solar system. They are less sure how and when life got going. Last year a group of researchers found evidence for stromatolites—small, layered mounds produced by photosynthesising bacteria—in rocks from Greenland that are 3.7 billion years old.

Now, though, the date of life’s debut may be pushed back even further. A group of researchers led by Dominic Papineau from University College London have found what they think is the signature of living organisms in rocks from Quebec that date back to between 3.8 and 4.3 billion years ago. Intriguingly, the sort of life that Dr Papineau and his colleagues think they have found is very different from the sort that built the stromatolites. This suggests that even very early in its existence, Earth was hosting several different kinds of living organism. (3/3)

Could Alien Life Be Hidden All Around Us? (Source: Air & Space)
Harvard physicist and cosmologist Lisa Randall speculates about what she calls “dark matter life.” Since dark matter is thought to constitute 85 percent of the mass in the universe, is it reasonable to imagine some kind of life based on this mysterious substance? Dark matter does not seem to interact with the stuff we are made of, but it might interact with itself, or at least some fraction of it might. If it does, what kinds of structures could it build? Could any of those structures constitute “life?”

Unfortunately, if dark matter life does exist, Randall says it would be incredibly difficult to detect. It would interact only very weakly with familiar matter, most likely by gravitational force, which is the weakest of all nature’s forces. In principle, it could exist right under our noses here on Earth, and we wouldn’t see it. Or do other types of life exist on our planet that we just haven’t found yet? If such a shadow biosphere does exist, maybe it’s in obscure ecological niches, like deep in the crustal rocks or at ocean floor vents.  If so, that would explain why we haven’t detected it. (2/28)

Federal Workers Increasingly Nervous About Trump's Proposed Cuts (Sources: Washington Post, NASA Watch)
To the president and his supporters who see a bloated bureaucracy with lots of duplication and rules that choke jobs, the budget cuts are a necessary first step to make government run more efficiently. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said this week that non-military spending will take the "largest-proposed reduction since the early years of the Reagan administration."

To prepare for that possibility, agencies are preparing to shave 10 percent off their budgets, on average. And words like buyouts, furloughs and RIFs (or reduction in force) - government-speak for layoffs - are now being tossed around at the water cooler as civil servants face the possibility of massive downsizing. ...If NASA is faced with making substantial cuts in its expenses then you can be assured that contractor personnel will bear a large part of the pain. Contractor employees have far fewer protections than civil servants.

Also, in the past when budgets have gotten tight NASA has delayed solicitations, delayed and decreased the number of awards, and the cut the value of awards. With huge cuts in its budget looming on the horizon, you can expect that NASA procurement practices will respond to these cuts with surprising speed. (3/2)

Aireon Takes Full Control of First ADS-B Hosted-Payload (Source: SpaceRef)
Aireon announced today that they have formally received control from Iridium Communications Inc. of the first Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) payload hosted on an Iridium NEXT satellite. This is a major milestone on the path towards 100 percent global air traffic surveillance. Aireon now begins a rigorous, in-depth testing and validation process, verifying the capability of the Harris Corp.-developed ADS-B payloads. (3/2)

Space an Economic Engine for Florida (Source: Tallahassee Democrat)
Recovering from the downturn following the retirement of the Space Shuttle program six years ago, Florida continues to successfully expand the business of space. Building upon our heritage, the space industry and Florida are evolving to meet new competitive challenges, including resuming manned flights in the near future. These initiatives include establishing commercial operations in suborbital and low-Earth orbits, as well as developing national deep space human exploration capabilities involving Orion and NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).

Growth in the space business arena impacts all of Florida, not just the Space Coast. Today more than 150,000 Floridians are employed by more than 19,000 aerospace companies generating in excess of $20 billion in annual sales and revenues. The aerospace product and parts manufacturing sector is the largest manufacturing segment in Florida, with an average wage of $77,343. (2/28)

Two Races to the Moon are Hotting Up (Source: The Economist)
$30m Google Lunar XPRIZE has had a slow time of it. Set up in 2007, it originally required competitors to land robots on the Moon by 2012. But the interest in returning to the Moon that the prize sought to catalyse did not quickly materialise; faced with a dearth of likely winners, the XPRIZE Foundation was forced to push back its deadline again and again. Now, though, five competing teams have launch contracts to get their little marvels to the Moon by the end of this year. And as those robotic explorers head into the final straight, a new contest is opening up.

On February 27th Elon Musk said that SpaceX, his aerospace company, had agreed to send two paying customers around the Moon some time in 2018, using a new (and as yet untried) version of its Falcon rocket, the Falcon Heavy. They would be the first people to travel beyond low-Earth orbit since 1972. Two weeks before Mr Musk’s announcement, NASA said it was considering using the first flight of its new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS; also untested), to do something similar, though with astronauts, not paying tourists. The race, it seems, is on. (3/2)

On Space Exploration, Trump Should Match Empty Words with Action (Source: Daily Texan)
In a speech riddled with confused rhetoric, where leering ethno-nationalism and the flaccid specter of traditional American exceptionalism seemed to wrestle for control of the podium, President Donald Trump — addressing a joint session of Congress on Tuesday — managed to deliver at least one lucid line. It came toward the end, when he declared: “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.”

The president has long touted a renewed focus on space exploration as one avenue in which he hopes to “make America great again.” At a rally in August, Trump compared the American space program to a “third-world nation.” At a rally in Florida last October, he promised to refocus NASA’s mission on space exploration. And in his inaugural address, Trump declared that America stands “at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space.” (3/1)

Astro Digital Raises Funds to Develop its Earth Imaging Satellite System (Source: Space News)
Astro Digital, a remote sensing company developing both its own satellite constellation and an analytics platform for that imagery, said March 2 it has raised $16.65 million to accelerate the company’s plans. The company, based at the NASA Ames Research Park at Moffett Field, California, said it raised the Series A funding round from a group of family funds. It plans on using the funds to build out its initial constellation of small satellites that will provide medium-resolution imagery.

“With the round, we really get to daily imaging of the globe with our moderate-resolution sensor,” said Bronwyn Agrios, co-founder and head of product at Astro Digital, in an interview. The company is finishing integration of the first two satellites of its Landmapper system, Agrios said, with a launch planned in late April or early May. “A big part of what we’re doing with this money is deploying the capital towards launches,” she said. “We’ll have 80 percent of the first constellation launched this year, which gets us to almost daily imaging.”

That initial set of 10 cubesat-class satellites will be followed by 20 larger satellites capable of providing higher resolution imagery. “We’re finalizing the engineering now and we’ll have the first one launched in the fourth quarter of this year,” Agrios said of the follow-on system. (3/2)

Trump's Call for Human Space Exploration is Hugely Wasteful and Pointless (Source: LA Times)
Space exploration aficionados experienced the thrill of anticipation in the hours before President Trump’s speech Tuesday night, with advance word that he was going to call for a return to the human exploration of space. Sure enough, in his closing words Trump declared that for a country soon to celebrate its 250th anniversary, “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.”

Trump’s brief, offhand comment had the tone of an impulsive notion that, like so many of his other policy pronouncements, won’t get any follow-through. Let’s hope so, because the idea of sending humans to explore distant worlds is loopy, incredibly wasteful, and likely to cripple American science rather than inspire it. And that’s assuming that Trump’s notion doesn’t have the ulterior motivation of diverting American scientists from their Job One, which is to fight climate change right here at home. (3/2)

In the Search for Life on Mars, are Robots Nearing Their Limits? (Source: CSM)
Is there – or was there ever – life on Mars? NASA has spent decades investigating the question with orbiters and rovers, including its upcoming Mars 2020 rover, but at least one scientist suspects he already knows the answer. According to Gibert Levin, NASA probably detected microbial life on Mars in 1976. Dr. Levin was one of the scientists involved with the Viking lander, whose biological experiments gave conflicting results when samples tested positive for metabolism but negative for organic molecules.

Scientists at the time agreed that what looked like biological signs must have resulted instead from natural processes, but after decades of follow-up research recreating the Martian experiments in hostile landscapes such as Antarctica and the Atacama Desert, combined with a better understanding of Mars as well as the durability of life on Earth, Levin has a different hypothesis: The unreliable organic molecule experiment was the one that failed, and the metabolism detection succeeded.

"We're not looking for skeletons. We're looking for fossil microbes — if [Mars] life did indeed go extinct," said Ellen Stofan, then NASA’s chief scientist, at a conference last year. "And those are going to be hard to find." Dr. Stofan suggested conclusive proof may have to wait until someone can get actual humans, with their superior programming and higher bandwidth, out to investigate in person. (3/1)

10 Companies That Will Change Space Travel in 2017 & 2018 (Source: GeekTime)
This is a non-exhaustive list of 10 companies mirroring, challenging, or augmenting the work SpaceX is doing by following through on the next steps to getting humanity into space on a more regular basis. Click here. (3/1)

World View Enterprises: Era Of Stratospheric Exploitation Underway (Source: Aviation Week)
By early 2018, stratospheric balloon and flight-exploration specialist World View aims to fly its Explorer test vehicle for the first time as part of demonstrations meant to pave the way for human-rated, edge-of-space passenger flights later in the decade. But for the company, which opened its new 142,000-ft.2 facility at Spaceport Tucson in Arizona on Feb. 23, passenger flights are just part of a promising untapped market in the upper reaches of the atmosphere that it plans to exploit. (3/2)

India Should Collaborate with Other Countries for Human Spaceflight (Source: Mumbai Mirror)
Veteran space scientist K Kasturirangan has favoured India to pursue a collaborative model in its proposed human spaceflight venture to undertake the mission early in a cost-effective manner by leveraging proven capabilities in the field internationally. The former chairman of Indian Space Research Organization noted that there is a programme to look at what's the model that would be applicable at this phase of the program, both globally and nationally in the case of human spaceflight. (3/2)

UK Space Agency Announces New Chief Executive (Source: Gov.UK)
Graham has been Chief Executive of the Better Regulation Executive, a unit within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, since 2011. He has a BA and a PhD in Particle Physics from Cambridge University for theoretical work on collision experiments at CERN. He also holds a diploma in public administration from the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA). (3/1)

NASA Moves to Extend Russian Space Contracts (Source: Wall Street Journal)
NASA’s first big decision under President Donald Trump entails paying up to $373 million so Russia can continue flying U.S. astronauts into orbit potentially through 2019. The move reflects growing concerns that Boeing Co. and entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX won’t be ready to take over the task using U.S.-built rockets and capsules as quickly as they have predicted. (3/1)

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