SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News

Former Astronaut Bill Lenoir Reportedly Killed in Bicycle Accident

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Jim Oberg posted a message on Friends and Partners in Space reporting that former astronaut Bill Lenoir was killed in a bicycle accident yesterday. The news is also reported on collectSpace.

Lenoir flew on STS-5, the first "operational" space shuttle mission, which delivered a communications satlelite to orbit. He and crewmate Joe Allen were scheduled to make the first spacewalk from the shuttle, but mechanical problems with their spacesuits foiled that plan. Lenoir later came to NASA Headquarters and ran the shuttle program.

Kepler Team Confirms Two Saturn-sized Planets Around a Single Star

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 27-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

Using data from the Kepler spacecraft, scientists have confirmed the discovery of a multi-planet system in the constellation Lyra about 2,000 light years away, made up of at least two gas-giants similar to Saturn in size and mass. The results, which increase the mission's confirmed planet count to seven since its launch in March 2009, were announced by the Kepler team in a teleconference held today.

William Borucki, Kepler Mission Science Principal Investigator, explained that "instead of taking pictures, [Kepler] measures the brightness of stars," variations of which are used by scientists to determine characteristics such as the orbital period, mass, and size of the planets that cross or transit them. Matthew Holman, Associate Director of the Theoretical Astrophysics Division at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that using a technique called "transit timing variations" the team was able to utilize data collected over several months to study successive transits of the planets - Kepler 9B and Kepler 9C - and to analyze the gravitational interaction between them. By studying how the gravity of a planet affects the orbits of others, this technique, which Holman and a group of scientists first proposed in 2005, has now been proven to work as a tool to confirm the presence of planets.

But transit timing variation, which Borucki described as a "new, impressive," and "important" technique, does much more than just find them. Alycia Weinberger of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington explained that studying the way planets "tug at each other," which causes those transit variations, can even help teach us about how planets form and how they "migrate" into their particular configuration, a study which may provide clues as to the likelihood of low-mass, Earth-sized planets in other systems. "How a planetary system looks today has a lot to tell us about how it formed," she added.

The "super-Earth" category planet apparently orbiting the same star may have already been found in this same system, but work is ongoing to confirm this. With an orbital period of 1.6 days, this object would be the smallest planet to be observed in transit. As they keep hard at work to rule out "astrophysical false positives" regarding this third object, the team remains hopeful that this is just the beginning for a mission they expect will yield new exciting discoveries in the years to come.

One More Book for Your Summer Reading

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Editor's Note

Now that you've finished all the books on our summer reading list (smile), there is a mystery novel from a new author that you're bound to enjoy in these waning days of summer. It has nothing to do with the space program -- just a great mystery written by a guy with a knack for surprise endings. I won't say anymore.

The book is "Gray Matter" by Nick Pirog. And if you MUST have a space connection, Nick's "day job" is as a server at a fabulous restaurant (Kitchen) in Boulder that is owned by Elon Musk's brother, Kimbal, who is also the chef. That is simply coincidence, however.

The book is a real page-turner for anyone who likes mysteries. If you want a vacation from thinking about whether humanity's next step should be to the Moon, Mars or an asteroid, I highly recommend it. Available from Sidewalk Press (http://www.sidewalkpress.com/).

New DOD Report on China's Military Power Says Little New About Space

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has released its annual assessment of China's military power. The report is required by Congress. The 2010 edition, bearing a different title than its predecessors, Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China, concludes that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) sees "space as central to enabling modern informatized warfare, but PLA doctrine does not appear to contemplate space operations as an operational 'campaign' on its own; rather, space operations form an integral component of all campaigns."

While conceding that studying PLA views on strategy remains "an inexact science," the report asserts that China is "accelerating the militarization of space" by developing anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities. The report repeats earlier DOD analysis that China continues to develop the ASAT system it tested in 2007 and other types of counter-space weapons as well, including kinetic and directed-energy weapons. The 2007 test led to international condemnation because of the thousands of pieces of debris it created.

The wording on space's role in modern warfare and China's ASAT activities is almost identical to what appeared in the 2009 version of the report.

The report is far from an analysis of China's space program and goals, limiting itself to very brief discussions of selected activities. There is little new compared with last year's version; in fact, there is less discussion of the human spaceflight program, for example. In an article in this week's Space Review, Dwayne Day has an interesting take on what is omitted from the report, hypothesizing that DOD may decline to include information for fear of revealing what it knows. He also points to a side-by-side comparison of what is said about space in the 2009 and 2010 versions prepared by Sam Black of Arms Control Wonk as well as Black's analysis of the two documents.

In short, the report is disappointing for anyone wanting to learn new information about China's space program.

NRC Calls for Restoring Health of NASA's Microgravity Research Program

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

In an interim report on its Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, the National Research Council (NRC) is calling for the microgravity research program at NASA to be led by someone "of significant gravitas who is in a position of authority within the agency and has the communications skills to ensure the entire agency understands and concurs with the key objective to support and conduct high-fidelity, high-quality, high-value research."

NASA's research program for biological and physical sciences in space, usually called the microgravity program, has been buffeted for years by changes in the International Space Station (ISS) program and funding constraints associated with President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration policy. Although the ISS is not the only platform for conducting such research, as the NRC report emphasizes, the justification for building the ISS rests largely on the science that can be conducted there. President Obama's proposal to continue operating the ISS until at least 2020, rather than discontinuing U.S. participation in the facility in 2015 as envisioned under President Bush, is based in part on using the ISS as a National Laboratory for microgravity research.

The question then is what research needs to be done and how to prioritize it. Congress directed NASA to contract with the NRC to conduct the first Decadal Survey for this discipline in the FY2008 Omnibus Appropriations Act. The final report is expected in 2011, but the renewed focus on ISS research in the Obama Administration's FY2011 budget request prompted the NRC to issue this interim report to address near-term issues.

As explained in the report, dramatic funding cuts in the field led many scientists to abandon this type of research, which once had its own program office at NASA Headquarters, most recently called the Office of Biological and Physical Research. That office was abolished and today microgravity research is a component of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate's (ESMD's) Advanced Capabilities program.

The interim report identifies near-term research opportunities for the ISS. The final report will go into much more detail and define and prioritize an integrated research portfolio. The study is intended to address not only research in microgravity, but partial gravity such as on the surface of the Moon.

The NRC study committee is co-chaired by Betsy Cantwell of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Wendy Kohrt of the University of Colorado, Denver. (For more information on NRC Decadal Surveys and links to the panels associated with this one, see our NRC page on the left menu at SpacePolicyOnline.com.)

Exoplanet News Expected Thursday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

NASA will hold a media teleconference on Thursday, August 26, 2010, to reveal new findings from the Kepler space observatory. Using Kepler data, scientists have discovered an "intriguing planetary system" according to the announcement. The teleconference is at 1:00 pm EDT. Audio of the teleconference will be streamed at http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio.

Moon Still Has Surprises

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

New results from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show that the Moon still harbors scientific surprises. At a press conference yesterday, scientists revealed that the Moon has been shrinking, though "not by much" according to an account in the New York Times. The shrinking is the result of cooling of the Moon and the LRO data suggest that some cooling has occurred relatively recently in geological terms -- between a hundred million and a billion years ago.

Courtney Stadd Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy Charges

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

Courtney Stadd, a well known member of the space policy community who was Chief of Staff to NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and later returned briefly to work with Mike Griffin when he became Administrator pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on Wednesday. Stadd is charged with conspiring with former NASA deputy chief engineer Liam Sarsfield to steer a $600,000 NASA contract to Mississippi State University (MSU), which then hired his consulting company to perform some of the work according to the Associated Press (AP), which also states that "Stadd was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to probation for a different case for steering a $10 million contract to MSU." Sarsfield pleaded guilty to one count in November, according to the AP.

Sen. Bill Nelson Introducing Commercial Space Legislation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is introducing legislation "aimed at boosting the commercial rocket industry and attracting thousands of jobs to Florida's Space Coast" according to a press release from the Senator's office.

The text of his "Commercial Space Jobs and Investment Act" is provided in the press release. It would give tax breaks to commercial space entrepreneurs and "create up to five regional business enterprise zones around the country as magnets for commercial space ventures...."

Space Station Spacewalk Succcessful

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Aug-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Yesterday's spacewalk was successful and the replacement pump is now in place. Astronauts Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson spent 7 hours and 20 minutes on this spacewalk, added to their two previous expeditions of 7 hours 26 minutes last Wednesday (August 11), and 8 hours 3 minutes the previous Saturday (August 7). Their efforts were needed after a coolant pump failed on July 31.

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