CSExtra – Wednesday, January 2, 2013
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Wednesday’s CSExtra offers the latest reporting and commentary on space related activities, including highlights from the Christmas/ New Year’s holiday. In Washington, lawmakers confronted the Fiscal Cliff on New Year’s Day by delaying abrupt budget cuts, also known as the sequester, for two months. NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has a mountain to approach in 2013. Russia outlines a $70 billion strategy to sustain its leadership position in space. China’s Beidou satellite navigation system begins regional operations. Essayists examine the challenges facing the U. S. civil space community in 2013 and the role those activities play in protecting U. S. national security. NASA’s shuttle program aims for a March shutdown. A new comet offers the prospect of a bright display as it nears the sun in late 2013. New analysis suggests a large asteroid on course to pass close to the Earth in 2040 will miss at a safe distance. The New Year may hold the first confident identification of an alien Earth, astronomers predict. Scientists offer a new tool for monitoring storm development over the Earth’s open waters. Landsat 5′s productive Earth observing career draws to a close. The Grasshopper, a SpaceX test craft and part of the company’s plans to develop a reusable rocket, rises to new heights. Planetary Resources moves into the ground floor of asteroid mining. In Washington, the House approves a measure to rename NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center for Neil Armstrong.
1. From Spacepolicyonline.com, Jan. 1: Late Tuesday, the House passes a Senate bill dealing with the Fiscal Cliff, a combination of expiring federal tax cuts and the budget deficit, by suspending action for two months on abrupt budget cuts, also known as the sequester. NASA and NOAA were among the defense and non defense agencies facing steep reductions, effective Wednesday, if rare New Year’s Eve legislative action was not taken.
A. From Spacepolitics.com, Dec. 28: A look at the options available to space exploration enthusiasts who would like to see federal spending on exploration increase despite a constrained budget. The challenge will be finding an effective means of delivering the message.
B. From Florida Today, Dec. 23: Columnist John Kelly outlines the challenges facing NASA as the agency matches unclear goals, with capabilities in development and budgets that are uncertain. The National Research Council is starting another look at NASA’s human space flight goals.
C. Space.com, Jan. 1: U.S. private space travel is poised for progress in 2013. Their focus is on orbital and suborbital space passenger travel.
2. From The Associated Press via USA Today, Dec. 29: NASA’s Curiosity Rover, a 2012 sensation as the mobile robotic geologist landed on Mars in August, will spend much of 2013 approaching Mt. Sharpe, which juts from the Gale Crater landing site. The layered rise likely holds clues to the planet’s environmental past.
3. From Ria Novosti, of Russia, Dec. 27: Russia will invest $70 billion, or 2.1 trillion rubles, on space development through 2020, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announces. The funding level is intended to maintain Russia’s competitive position in space development, while supporting defense and boosting economic and social development. Programs of interest include the Glonass global satellite navigational system, the International Space Station and studies of the moon, Mars and other celestial bodies.
A. From Parabolic Arc, as translated from Izvestia, Dec. 30: Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos, clarifies the status and alternatives to a Soyuz tourist mission by British entertainer Sarah Brightman. Bottom line: no contract has been signed and there are professional astronauts from Europe who could take the empty Soyuz seat if she doesn’t fly.
B. From Ria Novosti, of Russia, Dec. 26: A top official with RSC Energia points to 2017 as the start up for tests of a new Russian human spacecraft that could take human explorers to the moon. The International Space Station is an early destination of the new spacecraft, according to Energia President Vitaly Lopota and others.
C. From Xinhuanet, of China., Dec. 26: Russia will work to upgrade the RD-180, a venerable rocket engine exported to the west, for human spaceflight. The U. S. has used the engine since the late 1990s.
4. From Xinhuanet, of China, Dec. 27: China’s Beidou satellite navigation network begins regional operations, with a positioning accuracy of 10 meters. No word on expanded offerings.
5. Two essays from The Space Review, Dec. 31, examine the challenges facing the U. S. space community in the coming months as well as the often overlooked value of NASA to the nation’s security:
A. In “Key Space Issues for 2013,” TSR editor Jeff Foust predicts the U. S. Fiscal Cliff and further deliberations on the federal budget will have the greatest impact on future U. S. space policy. The triumphs of 2012 included the Curiosity landing on Mars and the first U. S. commercial delivery of cargo to the International Space Station. The New Year should see more progress on the commercial front, notes Foust.
B. In “NASA is essential for national security,’ essayists Gary Oleson, Bob Silsby, and Darin Skelly note the key roles the agency plays in fostering international cooperation, investing in technical innovation and nurturing the commercial space industry — each an essential part of preserving the peace outside the military sphere. However, the current economic uncertainty poses a new challenge in a risk adverse culture. The authors come from TASC, Inc.
6. From Florida Today, Dec. 29: NASA’s shuttle program dispersed its fleet of retired shuttle orbiters in 2012, perhaps the most visible part of the 30-year human spaceflight program. Now down to the small stuff, shuttle program managers aim for a March end to the disposal and reassignment of the remaining shuttle holdings.
A. From Spaceflightnow.com, Dec. 27: The Kennedy Visitor Center Complex is undergoing an upgrade. The improvements are preparing the tourist and education complex for public display of the retired shuttle orbiter Atlantis in July.
7. From New Scientist, Dec. 24: Discovered in September, the comet C/2012 S1 (ISON), may outshine the moon when it approaches the sun in November 2013. Scientists are starting to make predictions. First spotted in September, ISON is rushing towards the sun from the outer solar system. Its closest approach to the sun will be in November, when the Minor Planet Center at Harvard University expects it to put on as good a show as Hale-Bopp did in 1997.
A. From Space.com, Dec. 29: The night skies will be filled with wonder in 2013. A look by Space.com at the star gazing that awaits in the New Year.
8. From Space.com, Dec. 26: The large asteroid, 2011 AG5, 460 feet wide, will likely miss the Earth as it passes close in 2040, according to a new study based on observations with the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii. The findings confirm those of a June analysis undertaken by NASA. A year ago, experts suggested there was a 1 in 500 chance of impact.
9. From Space.com, Dec. 27: The first true alien Earth, a match for size, composition and host star, may be coming in 2013, according to one expert. The first Earth twin may be lurking in the discoveries made by NASA’s Kepler space telescope mission or one of the other global efforts under way to chart alien planets, according to several veterans in the field.
10. From Discovery.com, Dec. 27: Airline pilots and passengers have a new tool for monitoring storms over the Earth’s open oceans. Developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a technique combining satellite weather data and computer modeling can fill in the gaps created by an absence of Doppler radar over the Earth’s open waters.
11. From Wired.com, Dec. 22: Landsat 5, a hearty U. S. Earth observing spacecraft, is ending its mission after nearly 29 years in orbit and 2.5 million images. The initial mission was 3 years.
12. From The Los Angeles Times, Dec. 24: SpaceX’s Grasshopper, a prototype for a reusable first stage rocket, reaches an altitude of 131 feet before settling to the ground for a soft landing at a Central Texas test site. The Dec. 17 test flight took the Grasshopper to its highest altitude yet.
13. From The New York Times, Dec. 24: Planetary Resources, based in suburban Seattle, Wash., corners the ground floor in the asteroid mining business. Investors see a future in the platinum based metals and other resources found on the space rocks.
A. From Florida Today, Dec. 22: In California, The B612 Foundation begins a private search for asteroids that may pose an impact hazard to the Earth. The nonprofit is soliciting funds for Sentinel, an infrared telescope, that could be launched in 2018 to identify and chart the motion of potential impactors.
14. From Spacepolitics.com, Jan. 1: The U. S. House passes a measure to re-name NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center for Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 commander and civilian test pilot. Armstrong, the first explorer to walk on the moon, died in 2012.
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