April 16, 2017

The Possibility of Silicon-Based Life Grows (Source: Space.com)
Carbon is the backbone of every known biological molecule. Life on Earth is based on carbon, likely because each carbon atom can form bonds with up to four other atoms simultaneously. This quality makes carbon well-suited to form the long chains of molecules that serve as the basis for life as we know it, such as proteins and DNA.

Still, researchers have long speculated that alien life could have a completely different chemical basis than life on Earth. For example, instead of relying on water as the solvent in which biological molecules operate, perhaps aliens might depend on ammonia or methane. And instead of relying on carbon to create the molecules of life, perhaps aliens could use silicon.

Carbon and silicon are chemically very similar in that silicon atoms can also each form bonds with up to four other atoms simultaneously. Moreover, silicon is one of the most common elements in the universe. For example, silicon makes up almost 30 percent of the mass of the Earth's crust, and is roughly 150 times more abundant than carbon in the Earth's crust. (4/15)

Russia, US Team Up on Mission to Venus (Source: Tass)
Russia and the United States will continue joint research in 2017-2018 on a mission to Venus, Lyudmila Zasova, the head of the laboratory for spectroscopy of planetary atmospheres of the Space Research Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told TASS.

"On January 31, 2017, a report on results of the joint science-definition team’s work was presented to both to the Russian Space Research Institute, Roscosmos (Russian federal space agency) and NASA and was highly estimated," Zasova said. "NASA and Roscosmos have agreed to go ahead with the work throughout 2017 and 2018."

The launch of two Venera-D modules - the orbiter and the lander - was scheduled for approximately 2026. "The timeframe could be considered realistic given the project gets financing in the foreseeable future," she added, noting that space program could cost more than $1 bln. "However, in case several space agencies team up on the project, the mission will be cheaper for each of them," the scientist said. (4/15)

NASA Must Go Where No Man Will Ever Go: Europa (Source: Forbes)
Visiting the Mission Control room of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I was shown a spot that former JPL Director Charles Elachi declared to be “The Center of the Universe.” It seemed to be a dubious assertion given the relative nature of space navigation, but that particular point in space commands a view across our solar system and beyond.

Screens display astounding images and invaluable scientific information from the myriad of spacecraft, rovers and landers connected to NASA's Deep Space Network. At my feet lay a marker inscribed, “Dare Mighty Things.” This motivational quote from Teddy Roosevelt’s is an understatement. JPL routinely achieves mighty things and it does that on a tiny budget. (4/15)

FSU's High-Performance Materials Institute to Play Major Role in Deep Space Exploration (Source: FSU)
Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Institute and the Florida A&M University–Florida State University College of Engineering are joining a major multiuniversity project funded by NASA that will focus on developing technologies crucial to human exploration in deep space. “We are really happy to participate in a project that supports NASA and its future work,” HPMI Director Richard Liang said.

Added Vice President for Research Gary K. Ostrander: “This is a wonderful opportunity for our faculty researchers and students to participate in a project that pushes the boundaries of science and will have a major impact on space travel and exploration. FSU’s High-Performance Materials Institute was designed to explore the possibilities and uses of next-generation materials, and this project will allow them to apply their expertise in an exciting way.”

The work is part of an overall initiative from NASA to create the first-ever Space Technology Research Institutes (STRI), one on biological engineering in space and one on next-generational materials. Each institute will receive $15 million over a five-year period that will be distributed among the partner universities. HPMI is a multidisciplinary research institute at Florida State University largely staffed by faculty from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. (4/13)

Monteith to Lead 45th Space Wing Another Year (Source: Florida Today)
Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith will serve a third year as commander of the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, continuing his leadership of efforts to ready the Eastern Range for an anticipated surge in launch activity in the coming years. Monteith, 58, was expected to wrap up a typical two-year command tour this summer. Instead, Gen. Jay Raymond, the head of Air Force Space Command, recently asked him to stay on for another year.

"So that we can continue pushing some of these initiatives forward that we’re working on," said Monteith. Those are initiatives aimed at streamlining operations so that the Cape Canaveral Spaceport can support at least 48 launches a year, up from roughly 30 projected this year and just 10 in 2011. (4/15)

SpaceX Prepping for Two Launches, One Landing at Florida Spaceport (Source: Florida Today)
SpaceX is now targeting no earlier than April 30 for the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport with a classified intelligence satellite. The company's first launch for the National Reconnaissance Office, named NROL-76, is scheduled to launch from pad 39A during a two-hour window that opens at 7 a.m. A first stage landing is expected at Landing Zone 1.

About two weeks later on May 15, SpaceX is scheduled to launch again from pad 39A on a commercial mission for British satellite company Inmarsat. The mission, dubbed Inmarsat-5, will take a communications satellite to a geostationary transfer orbit during a 41-minute launch window that opens at 7:20 p.m. A first stage landing will not be attempted. (4/15)

ULA Preps Atlas for Tuesday ISS Launch (Source: Florida Today)
Teams have cleared an Atlas V rocket to roll out to a pad at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport early Monday morning ahead of a launch the following day. United Launch Alliance is targeting 11:11 a.m. Tuesday for the opening of a 30-minute launch window at Launch Complex 41.

Atop the 194-foot rocket will be an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft with 7,600 pounds of supplies, cargo and science experiments destined for the International Space Station. Some experiments include a Kennedy Space Center-led effort to grow plants in space, an investigation that could improve chemotherapy drugs and new tools that could reproduce Earth-like cell cultures on the ISS. A final experiment on the behavior of fires in space will be conducted after the spacecraft departs the ISS in July and before it burns up in Earth's atmosphere. (4/15)

Why Don't They Call It the Cape Canaveral Spaceport? (Source: SPACErePORT)
When I worked for the state, I worked to put this language within Chapter 331, Part Two, Florida Statutes (331.304(1)): "The territory consisting of areas within the John F. Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station may be referred to as the “Cape Canaveral Spaceport.”

The intent was to reduce the confusion among launch and payload customers and allow a unified approach to marketing what truly is the world's most capable spaceport...rather than multiple spaceports located adjacent to one another. The Air Force and NASA sometimes use the unified moniker, as does the FAA, but it has not yet become a common-usage title.

Ultimately it would be good to see NASA and the Air Force as 'tenants' on the Cape Canaveral Spaceport, keeping their Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station designations intact, but a spaceport authority responsible for a lot of functions these federal agencies currently handle separately. (4/16)

ULA’s Bruno Insists AR1 Still In Contention For Vulcan (Source: Via Satellite)
United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno insists Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine is still in contention to serve as the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan next- generation launch vehicle, despite rumors that the company was heavily favoring Blue Origin’s BE 4 engine.

Bruno said that despite the AR1 being 18 to 24 months behind in testing compared to the BE 4, he has not made a decision. ULA has made public pronouncements that seem to favor selecting the BE 4, but Bruno insisted that this is not the case.

Aerojet Rocketdyne and Blue Origin are proposing their own different types of engine solutions for Vulcan’s first stage. Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 is a liquid oxygen/kerosene engine using an advanced oxidizer-rich staged combustion engine cycle. Blue Origin’s BE 4, which the company says is four years into development, uses liquefied natural gas (LNG) propellant with a liquid oxygen (LOx) oxidizer. (4/14)

ULA to Cut Workforce by 875 Workers (Source: Valley Morning Star)
United Launch Alliance will reduce its total workforce by 875 people before year’s end in hopes of becoming more competitive in the suddenly crowded space launch industry. “As we announced last year, ULA would have two reductions in force, one in 2016, which was completed, and one in 2017 to accomplish our business goals.

Tory Bruno as saying a first round of 375 job cuts would come mostly via voluntary layoffs. Bruno said another 400 to 500 employees would be cut by the end of 2017. That amounts to about one-quarter of the ULA workforce. ULA’s a manufacturing facility in Texas fabricates and assembles components for the Atlas V rocket, employing 164 workers as of June 2015. ULA is pinning much of its future hopes on a next-generation rocket called Vulcan. The Vulcan will cost less to build and fly than its current workhorse Atlas booster. (4/14)

The Unfinished Business Of The Space Race (Source: Bloomberg)
There are few events over the course of human history that have been as iconic as the Moon landings. What underpinned Moon landings and the resultant leap in technology thanks to the space programs in the 1960s was undoubtedly the race between the USSR and the United States to be the geopolitical top dog. But the moment the victor became evident there wasn’t any glory left for the competitor to keep playing. It all stopped as abruptly as it had started.

Decades later, we are now seeing a regeneration of interest in all things space. The romantic notion of humans as a multi planetary species is coming back into public imagination after a few decades when practicality - read satellites - overtook the love for exploration - read humans on Mars. Click here. (4/15)

Is This the Right Way to Mars? (Source: The Times)
Soviet helmets bought on eBay, homemade spacesuits – there’s a growing DIY space movement, from Elon Musk’s SpaceX to part-time professors working on their own missions to Mars. Could they really beat NASA in the race to the red planet?

Tina Sjogren remembers exactly where she was when she told her husband, Tom, that she wanted to go to Mars: the whirlpool on the patio of the Sheraton Gateway Hotel. She gazed up at the stars and said, “I want to go up there so bad!” Then Tina, one of the first women to ski to the North Pole, started crying like a child.

It was May 2006, and the Sjogrens had been invited to Los Angeles to write about the annual International Space Development Conference for ExplorersWeb, the online news site they had founded together in 2000 to cover the world of extreme adventure. The hotel was full of space celebrities, including Apollo moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. (4/15)

North Korean Show of Strength Fizzles (Source: Huffington Post)
A North Korean missile launch attempt on Sunday has resulted in failure, according to South Korea’s military. “The North attempted to launch an unidentified missile from near the Sinpo region this morning but it is suspected to have failed,” South Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. “The missile blew up almost immediately,” the U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement, adding that “the type of missile is still being assessed.”

Timed one day after the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder and the grandfather of current Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, the failed launch represents yet another act that increases tension between North Korea and the U.S. (4/15)

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