18Apr2013
USA

A regular update on the most important news stories in astronomy and space from the best United States and North American news sources. Breaking news, latest discoveries plus the weird and wonderful. Updated regularly


NASA Prepares for Aug. 21 Total Solar Eclipse

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/thumbnails/image/augustsolareclipse.jpg

For the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will occur across the entire continental United States, and NASA is preparing to share this experience of a lifetime on Aug. 21.

Viewers around the world will be provided a wealth of images captured before, during, and after the eclipse by 11 spacecraft, at least three NASA aircraft, more than 50 high-altitude balloons, and the astronauts aboard the International Space Station – each offering a unique vantage point for the celestial event.

NASA Television will air a multi-hour show, Eclipse Across America: Through the Eyes of NASA, with unprecedented live video of the celestial event, along with coverage of activities in parks, libraries, stadiums, festivals and museums across the nation, and on social media.

Coast to coast, from Oregon to South Carolina, 14 states will – over a span of almost two hours – experience more than two minutes of darkness in the middle of the day. When the moon completely blocks the sun, day will turn into night and make visible the otherwise hidden solar corona, the sun’s atmosphere. Bright stars and planets also will become visible. Using specialized solar viewing glasses or other equipment, all of North America will be able to view at least a partial eclipse lasting two to four hours.

“Never before will a celestial event be viewed by so many and explored from so many vantage points – from space, from the air, and from the ground,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “With our fellow agencies and a host of scientific organizations, NASA will continue to amplify one key message: Take time to experience the Aug. 21 eclipse, but experience it safely.”

NASA Debuts Automated System to Streamline Technology Patent Licensing

June 21, 2017 – NASA has developed a new system to streamline the way the agency licenses its technology patents, making the transfer of NASA-patented innovations to industry easier than ever before.

NASA Awards Joint Operations, Integrated Systems Technology Contracts

June 20, 2017 – NASA has awarded contracts to five companies for development, sustainment, and maintenance of information technology software, systems and support for the Flight Operations Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Media Invited to Learn about NASA’s Project to Streamline Air Travel

June 20, 2017 – Media are invited to watch a virtual presentation and briefing on NASA’s Airspace Technology Demonstration 2 (ATD-2) Integrated Arrival / Departure / Surface Metroplex Traffic Management System at 11:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday, June 22.

NASA Releases Kepler Survey Catalog, Hundreds of New Planet Candidates

June 20, 2017 – NASA’s Kepler space telescope team has released a mission catalog of planet candidates that introduces 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star’s habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.

Georgia Students to Speak with NASA Astronaut on the Space Station

June 16, 2017 – Students at the Fayette County Public Library in Fayetteville, Georgia, will speak with a NASA astronaut living and working aboard the International Space Station at 11:45 a.m. EDT on Monday, June 19. The 20-minute, Earth-to-space call will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

NASA Awards Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory Operations Contract

June 15, 2017 – NASA’s has awarded a contract to Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Service of Houston for support of flight crew training and development activities at the Sonny Carter Training Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Heading

House Panel Takes First Step Toward Military “Space Corps” (Source: Space News)
Lawmakers on Tuesday took the first step towards establishing a ‘Space Corps’ within the Air Force — similar to the way the Marine Corps functions in the Navy — by drafting legislation that would require the new organization to be set up by January 1, 2019.

As the House Armed Services Committee prepares to vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the strategic forces subcommittee — which oversees military space matters — released its proposed additions to the bill. The subcommittee has scheduled a formal legislative mark-up session for Thursday. (6/20)

B612 Studying Smallsat Missions to Search for Near Earth Objects (Source: Space News)
The B612 Foundation, which once sought to privately develop a large space observatory to search for potentially hazardous near Earth objects (NEOs), is now studying an alternative approach that uses much smaller spacecraft.

The organization unveiled plans in 2012 for Sentinel, a spacecraft that would go into a Venus-like orbit around the sun, looking back towards Earth orbit to detect NEOs that could post a collision risk to the Earth. The foundation said at the time that it believed Sentinel was the best way to achieve a congressionally-mandated goal of detecting at least 90 percent of potentially hazardous objects at least 140 meters in diameter. (6/20)

Europe Selects Grand Gravity Mission (Source: BBC)
It is set to be one of the major science projects of the 2030s.
The European Space Agency has just given the green light to the LISA mission to detect gravitational waves. This will see lasers bounced between three identical satellites separated by 2.5 million km.  By looking for tiny perturbations in these light beams, the trio hope to catch the warping of space-time that is generated by cataclysmic events such as the merger of gargantuan black holes. (6/20)

Hawking Urges Moon Landing to ‘Elevate Humanity’ (Source: BBC)
Prof Stephen Hawking has called for leading nations to send astronauts to the Moon by 2020. They should also aim to build a lunar base in 30 years’ time and send people to Mars by 2025. Prof Hawking said that the goal would re-ignite the space program, forge new alliances and give humanity a sense of purpose. “Spreading out into space will completely change the future of humanity,” he said. (6/20)

KFC Chicken Sandwich’s Balloon Flight to Near-Space Is Delayed (Source: Space.com)
The launch of a stratospheric balloon carrying a fast-food chicken sandwich to the edge of space has been delayed until June 22. The sandwich’s four-day flight is a promotional stunt for Kentucky Fried Chicken, but it will serve as a valuable test for World View Enterprises, the company developing high-altitude balloons for applications ranging from weather monitoring to tourism. This is the first long-duration flight of the company’s Stratollite balloon vehicle. (6/20)

These Scientists Want To Build a Better Astronaut (Source: NBC)
Life on the International Space Station has proven that long-term existence in low gravity wears on the body: muscles and bones weaken. Vision gets fuzzy. Even genes seem to change, with some turning on or off in unusual patterns. And only some genes return to normal when the astronaut comes home. In addition, the cosmic radiation that bombards spaceships and the unprotected surfaces of other planets has caused dementia and other issues in mice and rats.

Scientist Ting Wu, who directs Harvard Medical School’s Consortium for Space Genetics, sees genetics as a solution to these problems. But first, scientists must learn to manipulate genes to fix themselves.

Unless we resolve the genetic damage caused by space travel, missions will be limited to areas within close proximity of Earth, says Wu, whose own research suggests it may some day be possible to turn on a repair mechanism hidden deep within our genes. They are now considering how to find — or build — an astronaut that’s genetically equipped to withstand the damages caused by low gravity and space radiation. (6/20)

Waiting for Liftoff at Spaceport America (Source: Santa Fe New Mexican)
The concept of space tourism was all the rage when Spaceport America was pitched to New Mexico taxpayers a decade ago as a gateway for rich adventurers willing to pay $250,000 for a ride to the heavens. But as the state has waited year after year for the first of what were supposed to be regular flights into space from the nearly $220 million facility, people behind the program are reimagining it more as a hub for the commercial spaceflight industry rather than space tourism.

That change in approach could require pouring millions more in public money into a place that plenty of critics have called one of state government’s biggest boondoggles. Dan Hicks, new executive director of the spaceport, says the spaceport must construct additional facilities and offer more services to draw more business.

The sting of the spaceport’s dawdling start is especially strong in this struggling community. Sierra County, which includes Truth or Consequences, approved a special tax to 10 years ago to help pay for the spaceport in the so-far unfulfilled hopes of reaping the benefits of expanded tourism from the rich and famous. (6/17)

Magnetic Space Tug Could Target Dead Satellites (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Derelict satellites could in future be grappled and removed from key orbits around Earth with a space tug using magnetic forces. This same magnetic attraction or repulsion is also being considered as a safe method for multiple satellites to maintain close formations in space.

Such satellite swarms are being considered for future astronomy or Earth-observing missions – if their relative positions can stay stable they could act as a single giant telescope. To combat space debris, interest is growing in plucking entire satellites from space. The biggest challenge is to grapple and secure such uncontrolled, rapidly tumbling objects, typically of several tonnes.

Multiple techniques are being investigated, including robotic arms, nets and harpoons. Now researcher Emilien Fabacher of the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace, part of the University of Toulouse in France, has added another method to the list: magnetic grappling. (6/20)

Alba Orbital Wins ESA Contract to Build Space Unicorn (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Alba Orbital, the world leaders in PocketQube technology, today announced their second major contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop and build the Unicorn-2 satellite platform for turnkey In-Orbit demonstration and In-Orbit verification.

“This is Alba Orbital’s second contract with the European Space Agency and is great news for Alba Orbital and the Scottish space industry.” said Andrew Paliwoda, Business Development Manager, Alba Orbital “It clearly demonstrates the success of Alba Orbital as a startup and our expertise within research, Alba Orbital are going from strength to strength and are ready to offer innovative space solutions to the industry”. (6/20)

Government Space Spending Dips to $62.2 Billion (Source: Parabolic Arc)
According to Euroconsult’s newly released research report, Government Space Programs: Benchmarks, Profiles & Forecasts to 2026, global space budgets totaled $62.2 billion in 2016, down 2% from the previous year. Governments launched 75 satellites, less than the historical peak of 2015 but in line with the last five year average.

“The good news is that 2017 should mark a turning point with budgets recovering growth after five years of erosion,” said Steve Bochinger, COO at Euroconsult and editor of the report. “The last few years were marked by opposing trends between countries boosting their spending and those forced to apply cost-cutting measures. Most countries, especially the leading ones, should converge into a new investment cycle that should drive up investments in space programs globally for the coming years.” (6/20)

Milky Way’s Loner Status Upheld (Source: Science News)
If the Milky Way exists in the biggest cosmic void ever observed, that could solve a puzzling mismatch between ways to measure how fast the universe is expanding. Observations of 120,000 galaxies bolstering the Milky Way’s loner status were presented by Benjamin Hoscheit June 7. Building on earlier work by his adviser, University of Wisconsin‒Madison astronomer Amy Barger, Hoscheit and Barger measured how the density of galaxies changed with distance from the Milky Way.

In agreement with the earlier study, the pair found that the Milky Way has far fewer neighbors than it should. There was a rise in density about 1 billion light-years out, suggesting the Milky Way resides in an abyss about 2 billion light-years wide. Simulations of how cosmic structures form suggest that most galaxies clump along dense filaments of dark matter, which are separated by vast cosmic voids.

If the Milky Way lives in such a void, it could help explain why the universe seems to be expanding at different rates depending on how it’s measured. Measurements based on the cosmic microwave background, the earliest light in the universe, suggest one rate of expansion, while measurements of nearby supernovas suggest a faster one. (6/7)

Russia Expects Cooperation with NASA, ESA on Cislunar Gateway (Source: Tass)
The head of the Roscosmos said he expects Russia to cooperate with NASA and ESA on development of a cislunar “gateway” station. Igor Komarov, speaking at the Paris Air Show Monday, said he expected Roscosmos to participate in the Deep Space Gateway, NASA’s concept for a crew-tended facility to would operate in lunar orbit or elsewhere in cislunar space to serve as a testbed for later missions to Mars. Komarov said specific roles for Roscosmos and other agencies in the project have yet to be determined. (6/20)

UK Company Gets $1.4M for Satellite Component Business (Source: Space Applications Catapult)
A British developer of deployable space structures has raised more than $1 million in an oversubscribed funding round. Oxford Space Systems raised $1.4 million in the round from existing investors and Space Angels. The company is developing technologies for deployable antennas, boom and panels for small satellites, and recently successfully tested its AstroTube boom technology in space. (6/20)

Brexit Uncertainty Worries UK Space Start-Ups (Source: Space News)
The United Kingdom’s space start-up sector is blossoming. The U.K. government has committed to capturing 10 percent of the global space market by 2030 and is pouring support into emerging enterprises including spaceports, small satellite makers and application developers. However, the continuing uncertainty around Brexit concerns companies.

At the U.K. Space Conference in Manchester, several companies announced bold new plans for constellations of small satellites, as well as successes with innovative satellite platforms. At that time, the U.K. was bracing for a June 8 election that was meant to strengthen the position of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May as she pushes for the so-called hard Brexit. Earlier surveys suggested that hard Brexit is something most technology companies, those in space included, would prefer to avoid. (6/20)

Mastracchio Joins Orbital ATK (Source: Orbital ATK)
Orbital ATK has hired a NASA astronaut to work on its commercial cargo program. Rick Mastracchio has joined the company as senior director of operations for its Commercial Resupply Services program of delivering cargo to the ISS. Mastracchio flew on three shuttle missions and one ISS expedition. (6/20)

Neutron Star Instrument Finds Home on ISS (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
An instrument to study neutron stars is now installed on the ISS. The Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer, or NICER, flew to the station on a Dragon cargo mission earlier this month, and the station’s robotic arm installed the instrument on the station’s truss last week. NICER consists of an array of X-ray mirrors to collect and measure the energy of arriving X-ray photons emitted by neutron stars. (6/20)

Arianespace Orderbook Stretches Into the 50s (Source: Flight Global)
Vega has flown nine perfect missions since its maiden outing in 2012. Its tenth flight – carrying two EO satellites to different orbits – is scheduled for this summer. And, with another two flights to geostationary orbit booked for its Ariane 5 heavy lifter, the Arianespace orderbook now stands at €4.8 billion ($5.3 billion), with 53 launches for 28 customers: 18 using Ariane 5, 25 for the mid-weight Soyuz and 10 for Vega/Vega C. (6/20)

The Journey to Mars Seems to be Pretty Much Dead (Source: Ars Technica)
The exploration of most of the Solar System enjoys widespread support from Congress, and evidently the Trump administration as well. NASA’s “mid-year report” video celebrates the announcement of the Lucy and Psyche missions to asteroids, Cassini’s exploits at the Saturn system, Juno’s scientific discoveries at Jupiter, and the Hubble Space Telescope’s apparent confirmation of plumes on the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

However, the video makes no mention of Mars at all, the planet where NASA has by far the most assets of any world other than Earth—several rovers and orbiters studying the Red Planet’s surface and atmosphere for clues of its past habitability for life. NASA has made a number of significant discoveries about Mars this year, such as confirming the absence of carbonate in rocks there. But none merit mention in the promotional video. (6/20)

 

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