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 TV to Air Preview Briefing, Three U.S. Spacewalks

Expedition 50 astronaut Shane Kimbrough of NASA is seen during a spacewalk aboard the International Space Station.

March 18, 2017 – Expedition 50 astronauts will conduct three spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS) in late March and early April to prepare for the future arrival of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft and upgrade station hardware.

Expedition 50 astronauts will conduct three spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS) in late March and early April to prepare for the future arrival of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft and upgrade station hardware.

NASA Television will air a briefing to preview the spacewalks, or extravehicular activities (EVAs), at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, March 22, from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The briefing participants are:

  • Kenneth Todd, ISS Operations Integration Manager
  • Emily Nelson, NASA Flight Director
  • Sarah Korona, U.S. EVA # 40 Spacewalk Officer
  • John Mularski, U.S. EVA # 41 Spacewalk Officer
  • Alex Kanelakos, U.S. EVA # 42 Spacewalk Officer

U.S. reporters who plan to attend the briefing at Johnson must arrange for credentials via the Johnson newsroom by 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 21. Reporters planning to ask questions by phone must call the newsroom at 281-483-5111 no later than 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, March 22.

The spacewalks currently are scheduled for March 24, April 2 and April 7. NASA TV will provide complete coverage beginning each day at 6:30 a.m., with the six-and-a-half hour spacewalks scheduled to begin about 7 a.m.

The first spacewalk will prepare the Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3) for installation of the second International Docking Adapter, which will accommodate commercial crew vehicle dockings. The PMA-3 provides the pressurized interface between the station modules and the docking adapter. Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) will disconnect cables and electrical connections on PMA-3 to prepare for its robotic move Thursday, March 30. PMA-3 will be moved from the port side of the Tranquility module to the space-facing side of the Harmony module, where it will become home for the docking adapter, which will be delivered on a future flight of a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship. The spacewalkers also will install on the starboard zero truss a new computer relay box equipped with advanced software for the adapter.

The two spacewalkers will lubricate the latching end effector on the Canadarm2 robotic arm, inspect a radiator valve suspected of a small ammonia leak and replace cameras on the Japanese segment of the outpost. Radiators are used to shed excess heat that builds up through normal space station operation.

The second spacewalk will feature Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA reconnecting cables and electrical connections on PMA-3 at its new home on top Harmony. They also will install the second of the two upgraded computer relay boxes on the station’s truss and install shields and covers on PMA-3 and the now-vacant common berthing mechanism port on Tranquility.

The final spacewalk will feature Whitson and Pesquet replacing an avionics box on the starboard truss called an ExPRESS Logistics Carrier, a storage platform. The box houses electrical and command and data routing equipment for the science experiments and replacement hardware stored outside of the station. The new avionics box is scheduled to launch aboard Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo craft this month.

This will be the 198th, 199th and 200th spacewalks in support of space station assembly and maintenance. Kimbrough’s two spacewalks will be the fifth and sixth of his career. Whitson will be making the eighth and ninth spacewalks of her career – more than any other female astronaut. Pesquet will undertake the second and third spacewalks in his career.

You Can Drive Like An Astronaut In John Glenn’s Cadillac

Space tourism looks poised to develop into a bigger and bigger industry in the coming years, but for now, most of us are grounded to Planet Earth. That doesn’t mean you can’t drive its surface with a touch of astronautical inspiration, though. What we have here is a 2000 Cadillac DeVille – one of more than 100,000 that GM sold that year. But this one just happened to have been owned by one John Glenn.

John who, you ask? John Glenn! You’ve never heard of John Glenn?! He was the first American to orbit the Earth and one of the country’s first astronauts, for crying out loud! He was also a highly decorated Marine Corps pilot, and went on to serve as a United States Senator for a quarter-century, representing his home state of Ohio.

When he wasn’t riding some rocket ship to the stars, Glenn liked driving Cadillacs, and bought this one at the turn of the millennium – shortly after he retired from Congress, and two years after his last trip to space aboard the shuttle Discovery at the age of 77.

The DeVille would later be rebranded as (and replaced by) the DTS, which remained in production until 2011 (when it was effectively replaced by the XTS). It was one of the last models to use Cadillac’s Northstar engine – in this case a 4.6-liter V8 that produced all of 275 horsepower. These days Cadillac gets nearly that much power (albeit much less torque) out of the 2.0-liter turbo four that’s the base engine in the XTS.

Glenn ordered his in DHS trim and painted in a shade called Bronzemist, with nearly $7,500 in options, including an infrared night-vision system that clearly spoke to his aviation roots. He kept the car until 2006, when he sold it to its current owner, who pledged to take care of it as long as Glenn was alive.

Sadly the astronaut-turned-statesman died this past December at the ripe old age of 95, so the Caddy’s now going up for grabs. Auctions America value the car between $50,000 and 75,000, and has it consigned for the upcoming sale in Fort Lauderdale in a couple of weeks from now. So if you want to drive around like an American hero, here’s your chance.

NASA Administrator Statement on Year 2018 Budget Proposal

NASA – Born in Sputnik's Wake

NASA – Born in Sputnik’s Wake

The following is a statement from NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot on the Fiscal Year 2018 agency budget proposal:

“The President mentioned in his speech to both houses of Congress that, ‘American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.’ NASA is already working toward that goal, and we look forward to exciting achievements that this budget will help us reach.

“NASA teams continue to do amazing work to develop and launch our missions and increase this nation’s technical capabilities across the board. America needs NASA more than ever, and the agency’s work every single day is vitally important.

“While more detailed budget information will be released in May, we have received a top line budget number for the agency as part of an overall government budget rollout of more than $19 billion. This is in line with our funding in recent years, and will enable us to effectively execute our core mission for the nation, even during these times of fiscal constraint.

“While the budget and appropriation process still has a long way to go, this budget enables us to continue our work with industry to enhance government capabilities, send humans deeper into space, continue our innovative aeronautics efforts and explore our universe.

“The budget supports our continued leadership in commercial space, which has demonstrated success through multiple cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, and is on target to begin launches of astronauts from U.S. soil in the near future.

“The budget also bolsters our ongoing work to send humans deeper into space and the technologies that will require.

“As discussions about this budget proposal begin with Congress, we continue to operate under the funding provided by a Continuing Resolution that runs through April 28.

“Overall science funding is stable, although some missions in development will not go forward and others will see increases. We remain committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us – a budget not far from where we have been in recent years, and which enables our wide ranging science work on many fronts.

“This budget also keeps aeronautics on stable footing allowing us to continue our forward movement in many areas, including the New Aviation Horizons initiative.

“While this budget no longer funds a formal Office of Education, NASA will continue to inspire the next generation through our missions and channel education efforts in a more focused way through the robust portfolio of our Science Mission Directorate. We will also continue to use every opportunity to support the next generation through engagement in our missions and the many ways that our work encourages the public to discover more.

“We remain committed to the next human missions to deep space, but we will not pursue the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) with this budget. This doesn’t mean, however, that the hard work of the teams already working on ARM will be lost. We will continue the solar electric propulsion efforts benefitting from those developments for future in space transportation initiatives. I have had personal involvement with this team and their progress for the past few years, and am I extremely proud of their efforts to advance this mission.

“This is a positive budget overall for NASA. I want to reiterate that we are committed to NASA’s core mission of exploration – in all the ways we carry that out.

“As with any budget, we have greater aspirations than we have means, but this blueprint provides us with considerable resources to carry out our mission, and I know we will make this nation proud.”

NASA TV to Air U.S. Cargo Ship Departure from Space Station

March 16, 2017 – After delivering about 5,500 pounds of cargo, the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft is set to leave the International Space Station on Sunday, March 19. Live coverage of Dragon’s departure will begin at 4:45 a.m. EDT on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

NASA Study Confirms Biofuels Reduce Jet Engine Pollution

March 16, 2017 – Using biofuels to help power jet engines reduces particle emissions in their exhaust by as much as 50 to 70 percent, in a new study conclusion that bodes well for airline economics and Earth’s environment.

West Virginia Students to Speak to NASA Astronauts on Space Station

March 16, 2017 – Students in West Virginia will speak with NASA astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station at 10:25 a.m. EDT Friday, March 17.

NASA Contracts for Armstrong Center Logistics Services

March 14, 2017 – NASA has selected Kay and Associates, Inc., in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, to provide center logistics services and aerospace ground equipment support services (CLS & AGESS) for the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

NASA Awards Contract for SOFIA Science, Mission Operations Support

March 11, 2017 – NASA has selected Universities Space Research Association of Columbia, Maryland, to provide the agency with science and mission operations support for its Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program.

Heading

Integrated Space Plan Shows the Paths Forward (Source: ISA)
Integrated Space Analytics is expanding the venerable Integrated Space Plan (ISP), a detailed roadmap/forecast showing the technology and programmatic prerequisites for various space exploration scenarios. The group is sponsoring a new kickstarter initiative to allow you to back the project’s 100 year forecast update. Click here. (3/19)

Japan Launches Radar Remote Sensing Satellite (Source: Kyodo)
Japan launched a radar imaging satellite Thursday night. The H-2A rocket lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center at 9:20 p.m. Eastern and placed the Information Gathering Satellite Radar 5 into orbit. The radar imaging satellite is intended to replace a similar satellite that is reaching the end of its life, although the Japanese government has plans to increase the constellation’s number of radar and optical reconnaissance satellites. The launch was scheduled for earlier in the week but postponed by poor weather. (3/18)

Racing Commentators Call A $424 Million Military Satellite Launch And It’s Incredible (Source: Jalopnik)
Florida’s big endurance races are known for plenty of fireworks on and off-track, but they’re usually not from military satellites. Today, the United Launch Alliance is sending the $424 million Delta IV WGS-9 satellite into orbit from nearby Cape Canaveral, Florida, visible from the classic endurance race.

Fortunately, the launch happened while the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship’s 12 Hours of Sebring was under its fifth full-course yellow flag of the day from the No. 27 Dream Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 stopping on course. The television crews had ample time to cut away from the recovery effort and the cars circulating on track to feature the solid rocket boosters falling off above. Click here. (3/19)

Bill Would Have Cloaked Spaceport in Secrecy (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
The failing spaceport got a local state senator to introduce Senate Bill 429, the Spaceport Confidential Records Act, which would cloak Spaceport America in secrecy, supposedly to attract customers. New Mexico law already protects companies’ trade secrets. This bill would protect the spaceport’s own “secrets” from its owners — you and me. The second excuse for it is to protect “cyberinfrastructure information” from potential terrorists.

(Would some terrorist bomb the spaceport just to kill a few rabbits?) If this bill has any legitimate objective, it’s unfortunate that someone drafted it using a meat-cleaver, rather than exercising actual thought. Knowing how essential governmental transparency is to our democracy, I worry about bills like this; and knowing that many citizens feel the spaceport is an irredeemable failure, I wonder about management’s motives. (3/18)

No Suspects Yet in Roscosmos top Manager’s Death in Jail Cell (Source: Tass)
Law enforcement agencies have not yet named any possible suspects in the death of Vladimir Yevdokimov, a senior official in charge of quality and reliability control of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, in a cell of a Moscow pre-trial center, a source with law enforcement agencies told TASS. “No suspects have been named as of yet. His cellmates and officials of the detention facility are being questioned. Personal cases of the people who shared the cell with Yevdokimov are being studied as well,” he said.

The main line of inquiry into Yevdokimov’s suspicious death is a murder, but a suicide cannot be ruled out either, he said. Yevdokimov’s body with three knife wounds – two in the heart and one in the neck – was found in his jail cell. Yevdokimov was arrested last December on charges of embezzlement of 200 million rubles (approximately $3.495 mln) from the MIG Russian Aircraft Corporation. Later, Moscow’s Basmanny Court extended the arrest of Yevdokimov and his alleged accomplice until April 30. The officials denied any wrongdoing. (3/19)

Russian Aerospace Forces to Launch Over 20 Spacecraft Into Space (Source: Space Daily)
Russia’s Aerospace Forces in 2017 are planning to launch 15 carrier rockets into space, during which over 20 spacecraft will be placed into orbit,” the forces’ commander, Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, said. Additionally, three radar stations of missile warning system will start operating, he added. “In order to increase the orbital grouping of spacecraft, 15 space launches of carrier rockets have been planned in order to place more than 20 spacecraft into orbit,” Col. Gen. Bondarev said. (3/17)

Dragon Capsule Departs ISS to Return Cargo/Experiments to Earth (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
NASA and SpaceX have released Dragon from the ISS with more than 5,400 pounds of cargo for the return trip to Earth. The items include euthanized mice specimens, stem cell samples, and three disused experiment packages tagged for disposal inside the spacecraft’s trunk, which will burn up on re-entry. More than 5,400 pounds of cargo, vehicle hardware and experiment samples are packed inside the Dragon capsule’s pressurized cabin and the ship’s disposable trunk. (3/19)

Trump’s Biggest Budget Cuts to NASA: Ranked (Source: The Verge)
Packed within NASA’s small budget decrease are some pretty sizable cuts. A few major upcoming missions are canceled, and NASA’s entire education program, which is responsible for outreach and grants, is eliminated. The budget request also proposes wasting technologies already in space.

Some of these cuts could have a positive impact on NASA, while others could deprive students and the science community of the space agency’s expertise. Here are the biggest cuts to NASA ranked from “This is good actually” to “What the hell are you doing?” Click here. (3/17)

China Studying Reusable Rockets Similar to SpaceX (Source: Space News)
China is studying recovering the first stage of future rockets. A concept being developed would use parachutes to slow down first stages after separation, then deploy an airbag to cushion the stage’s landing on dry land. Chinese researchers said they looked into making a powered landing of the first stage, as SpaceX does with the Falcon 9, but concluded it was “extremely difficult” and inefficient. A final decision on whether to incorporate reusability in future rockets is expected by 2020. (3/17)

ULA Launches WGS Military Satellite at Cape Canaveral Spaceport (Source: Space News)
United Launch Alliance on Saturday successfully launched a Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) 9 satellite. The Delta-4 launch had been delayed from earlier in the month because of a booster problem. WGS-9 was funded by five international partners, who gain access to the overall WGS constellation. (3/19)

Students Set Record at Spaceport America with Amateur Rocket Launch (Source: USC)
A student group set a new rocketry record earlier this month. A rocket built by the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico March 4, reaching a peak altitude of 43.9 kilometers. The Fathom 2 rocket is believed to set the record for the highest altitude achieved by a rocket designed and manufactured entirely by students. The group’s ultimate goal is to launch a rocket past the Karman Line of 100 kilometers, the widely-observed boundary of space. (3/18)

“Islands” on Titan Explained (Source: Space.com)
So-called “magic islands” seen on Titan maybe be nitrogen bubbles. Radar images of the surface of Titan taken by the Cassini spacecraft have detected features that look like islands in its hydrocarbon seas. Those islands appear to change shape over time. Lab experiments suggest that the islands could be giant nitrogen bubbles created as methane-rich and ethane-rich liquids mix. (3/18)

Indian Beer on the Moon? (Source: Quartz)
India’s parliament discussed a heady question this week: is the country planning to brew beer on the moon? Sisir Adhikari, a member of the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, asked the question of the Department of Space, also seeking details of the research plan if such brewing plans were in development. Jitendra Singh, the minister of state in the prime minister’s office, responded Wednesday that India’s space agency has no such plans, although Team Indus, the Indian venture planning a private lunar lander mission, was considering flying such an experiment from a student group. (3/18)

Commercial Remote Sensing Companies Seek Streamlined Regulations (Source: Space News)
A regulatory system crafted a quarter-century ago is failing to keep up with an evolving commercial remote sensing industry, which companies say is slowing down their efforts to develop new satellite systems and capabilities. At a remote sensing policy event organized by the Satellite Industry Association, panelists argued for changes regarding what is regulated and how to better handle an increasing number of companies proposing novel satellite systems and large constellations of spacecraft.

Regulations for the industry, enabled by a 1992 law, have not kept pace with recent changes in the industry that focus less on resolution improvements and more on increasing the frequency of imagery and other data collected by such spacecraft.

“What that has transitioned this industry into is a digital information services industry,” he said, “something that is essentially an entirely different industry that is regulated now as compared to the industry that was created by the framework for regulating this industry back in the 1990s.” (3/17)

Turkey’s Parliament Deliberates on Space Agency Law (Source: Space News)
The Turkish parliament is deliberating on a draft bill to create a space agency  to boost the country’s space industry and facilitate Ankara’s expansion within the global space industry. The draft was recently debated by the parliament’s Committee on Industry, Trade, Energy, Natural Resources, Information and Technology. (3/17)

Extinction or Survival: The Ethics of Colonizing Other Planets (Source: The Conversation)
The notion of a mass exodus and transplanting a planet is, on the surface, an attractive concept. But we rarely, if ever, critically ask why we ought to do such a thing in the first place. Have we truly earned the right to colonise other planets, especially after the way we’ve behaved on this one? Many films and books have turned their attention to these ethical questions. Click here. (3/13)

Apollo Astronaut’s US Flag Secretly Carried on the Moon Heads to Auction (Source: CollectSpace)
When Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott became the seventh person to walk on the moon in 1971, he wore a spacesuit adorned with American flags on both his left shoulder and atop his life support backpack. But as an upcoming auction has now surprisingly revealed, those were not the only two U.S. flags he had on him. Unbeknownst to even Scott until after he returned to Earth, hidden behind the stars and stripes decorating his Portable Life Support System’s Oxygen Purge System (OPS) was a pouch holding smaller U.S. flags in a secret stash. (3/17)

ULA Layoffs Could Impact Decatur (Source: Decatur Daily)
Planned layoffs for United Launch Alliance could affect the company’s Decatur plant, an official said this week. “As with last year’s reduction, they are across the company,” spokeswoman Jessica Rye said in a statement. “We are not specifically addressing the number of employees to protect competitively sensitive information.” Last year, ULA laid off about 55 workers in Decatur as the company looked to lower launch costs by cutting about 10 percent of its workforce nationally. (3/17)

Arizona’s World View Tourism Flight Plans Fluid (Source: Sonora News)
By late 2018 Tucson-based World View Enterprises plans to fulfill the dreams of many by sending people into space.
World View Enterprises, a private company, is the only near-space exploration company in Arizona. For $75,000 customers will be taken to an altitude of roughly 100,000 feet, and stay up there for hours before gently coming back down.

Andrew Antonio, director of marketing and communications for World View Enterprises, made it clear that the timeline to get people into space is fluid. “It’s hard to commit to a specific date for obvious reasons – safety is our No. 1 priority and we’re doing something that’s never been done before, which requires a lot of great research and development and learning along the way,” Antonio said. Initial plans from World View had the company sending customers up by 2017. “We won’t rush the necessary process just to hit a specific date,” Antonio said. (3/17)

Aliens May Be Using Giant Radio Beams To Travel The Cosmos (Source: Huffington Post)
Two Harvard University scientists are suggesting that mysterious fast radio bursts, detected in faraway galaxies, may be evidence of aliens traveling through the cosmos. FRBs are extremely bright flashes of radio waves that last for only a thousandth of a second and are detected by earthbound telescopes. Since the first one was observed 10 years ago, 17 have actually been reported, although scientists think there are thousands of them a day.

At first, Abraham “Avi” Loeb said, he took a conservative approach to explaining them. “It looked like the simplest explanation would be flares from stars in the Milky Way galaxy,” said Loeb, a theoretical astrophysicist and chair of Harvard’s astronomy department. But then “one of the FRBs was localized to reside in a small galaxy at a distance of about a billion light-years away,” Loeb told The Huffington Post. (One light-year is about 6 trillion miles.) (3/17)

Legislators Ask for Spaceport Study (Source: Golden Isles News)
Four state representatives have filed a resolution asking for a careful study to the determine the impacts of a proposed spaceport in Camden County. State Rep. Jason Spencer, sponsor of a bill to protect the space industry from lawsuits by injured employees, said the resolution, if passed, will send “conflicting messages” to the space industry. The resolution calls for careful study and consideration a commercial spaceport in Camden County would have on Georgia ports, commercial fishing and shrimping, tourism and recreation and property rights. (3/18)

Trump Low-Orbit Space Budget Clips High Expectations (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
When President Trump unveiled the outline of his first federal budget proposal this past week, many analysts described it as a mixed bag for America’s space program. We’d call it a missed opportunity. There’s bad news and good news for space. While Trump proposed cutting $200 million, or about 1 percent, from NASA’s $19.3 billion budget this year, the space agency would fare much better than other non-defense agencies; the EPA, for example, is the target of a proposed 31 percent cut.

The president called for canceling NASA’s mission to send astronauts to an asteroid, but preserving funding to develop the agency’s next rocket and crew vehicle. He advocated a deep cut in NASA’s Earth science programs, but maintained support for a robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. However, the president’s plan falls short of revitalizing and redirecting the manned space program after years of sluggishness and drift under President Obama. It fails to meet the high expectations Trump created last month in his first speech to Congress, when he declared, “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.” (3/16)

Working for Arianespace in Kourou: The Perfect Job? (Source: DW)
Life is very relaxed here. For people who like to be outside, people who like the sun, the rain, and the beach, it is very peaceful. The rhythm of life is quite slow, so we’re not as stressed as you’d be in Paris or in Toulouse, where I went to study. So it’s quite nice. But work is completely different. Because I work in customer support, I am on call. I have to work Monday to Saturday, and I can be called in at 8pm … so that’s very different. But fortunately we have this [indicates the sunny environment]. Otherwise it would be very difficult if both professional and private life were stressful. Click here. (3/17)

Scheduling, Costs Still a Challenge for Japan’s H-IIA Rockets (Source: Nikkei)
Japan successfully fired the H-IIA rocket for the 27th consecutive time from the Tanegashima Space Center on Friday, but a long wait time between launches and high costs still stand in the way of full-fledged commercialization. “Short intervals between launches help build confidence,” said Naoki Okumura, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. The last H-IIA launch was on Jan. 24.

The agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries cut the interval by a day from their past record to just 52 days by using a small crane for the previously manual cleanup process, as well as other operational changes. Mitsubishi Heavy and JAXA were committed to slashing the gap this time around. After 27 consecutive successes, H-IIA’s success rate has now reached about 97%.

At the current pace of just four launches a year, most H-IIAs end up being used by public Japanese institutions. The rocket fired on Friday, like others, was loaded with a government satellite. Only four so far have served foreign private-sector clients, the first of which carried a Canadian satellite two years ago. France-based Arianespace, on the other hand, can put 10 or more satellites into orbit each year. (3/17)

 

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