Astronomy and Space News - Astro Watch: December 2012


Monday, December 31, 2012

Wallaby and Dingo space surveys expected to find 700,000 new galaxies

Two Australian sky surveys named Wallaby and Dingo are expected to discover 700,000 galaxies over the course of the new year. A huge new radio telescope facility in Western Australia will scour vast regions of space to provide clues about galaxy evolution. The £65m Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (Askap) is located in a remote desert region of Western Australia, 196 miles from the port of Geraldton. It consists of 36 dishes, each 12 metres (39ft) wide, which work together as a single antenna. Askap will also help astronomers investigate one of the greatest mysteries of the universe: dark energy. This is the force which appears to be causing galaxies to fly apart at an accelerating rate. Although no one is sure what dark energy is, it is believed to account for 73% of the universe.

JAXA’s solar spacecraft gets Guinness World Records entry

Ikaros, a Japanese probe launched in 2010, has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the first interplanetary solar sail spacecraft. It was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Two separate cameras that were released from Ikaros to record the success of the unfurling of its solar sail were also recognized as the world's smallest satellites.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

SpaceX backers look to state for help

Texas space aficionados hope rockets will someday be launched into orbit from a beachside site near the U.S.-Mexico border, but a tight state budget and a previously frustrated attempt to land such a rocket launch site could complicate efforts. Backers of a proposal to build a launch site at Boca Chica Beach concede finding more money to lure California-based SpaceX to the state’s southernmost tip will be a challenge. An underfunded education system and health care reform are just a sample of the issues facing lawmakers in the upcoming session. With the University of Texas Board of Regents also pushing to accelerate creation of a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley, the proposed space venture will not even be the biggest local economic development cause.

Rokot Launch Set for January 15

The launch of a Rokot carrier rocket, postponed indefinitely in early December over technical issues, is scheduled for January 15, Russian Space Forces spokesman Col. Alexei Zolotukhin said on Saturday. “A state commission resolved at a session on Friday that the launch of the light-class Rokot rocket will be held on January 15,” the spokesman said. The blastoff had initially been scheduled for December 8, but was postponed to fix malfunctions in the Briz-KM booster.

Japan Launching Ambitious Asteroid-Sampling Mission in 2014

Japan's space agency is readying a new asteroid probe for launch, an ambitious mission that aims to build on the victory of the country's first round-trip asteroid mission that sent the Hayabusa spacecraft to retrieve samples of the space rock Itokowa. The new Japanese asteroid mission, called Hayabusa2, is scheduled for launch in 2014 and aimed at the asteroid 1999 JU3, a large space rock about 3,018 feet (920 meters) in length. It is due to arrive at the asteroid in mid-2018, loiter at the space rock and carry out a slew of challenging firsts before departing the scene at the end of 2019. If all goes well, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft will return to Earth with samples of asteroid 1999 JU3 at the end of 2020. The probe's name is Japanese for "Falcon2."

The Unknown Solar System

Just beyond Neptune is the Kuiper Belt, a torus of comet-like objects, which includes a few dwarf-planets like the Pluto-Charon dual-planet system. Despite being lumped together under one monicker, the Belt is composed of several different families of objects, which have quite different orbital properties. Some are locked in place by the gravity of the big planets, mostly Neptune, while others are destined to head in towards the Sun, while some show signs of being scattered into the vastness beyond. Patryk Lykawka is a one researcher who has puzzled over this dark, lonely region, and has tried to model exactly how it has become the way it is today.

UAE's first ever all-women team returns from NASA

The UAE's first ever all-female team returned after successfully completing on-site space training at Space Center Houston, organised and coordinated by Space Ed-Ventures. Space Ed-Ventures, a locally based educational platform and the region's only space exploration programme, organised an once-in-a-lifetime training session for 24 aspiring engineers, researchers and astronauts between the ages of 12 and 18. After a rigorous screening process, the all-girl cohort was selected to train at Space Center Houston. “The 24 students who have embarked on this educational trip have gone through an extensive screening process to uphold IAT's high educational standard on an international level,” said the Managing Director of the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), Dr Abdullatif Al Shamsi.

Hubble Eyes a Wanderer Dancing the Dance of Stars and Space

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope provides us this week with a spectacular image of the bright star-forming ring that surrounds the heart of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097. In this image, the larger-scale structure of the galaxy is barely visible: its comparatively dim spiral arms, which surround its heart in a loose embrace, reach out beyond the edges of this frame. This face-on galaxy, lying 45 million light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation of Fornax (The Furnace), is particularly attractive for astronomers. NGC 1097 is a Seyfert galaxy. Lurking at the very center of the galaxy, a supermassive black hole 100 million times the mass of our sun is gradually sucking in the matter around it. The area immediately around the black hole shines powerfully with radiation coming from the material falling in.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

S. Korea retrieves object seen as debris of N. Korean rocket engine

South Korea has retrieved what appears to be part of the engine from North Korea's long-range rocket launched earlier this month, a finding that could provide clues to the communist nation's rocket technologies, a military source said Friday.

Genesis II: Extraterrestrial Oceans Could Host Life

NASA's battle cry behind the small armada of orbiters, landers and rovers dispatched to Mars is "follow the water!" Where there's water, there could be life, which needs a solvent like water to assemble the complex macromolecules needed for living systems. Mars is covered with geological evidence that it was once a soggy planet. But no longer. One of the most exciting findings to date from the roving field geologist, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, was the detection of a dried up ancient stream where water once flowed billions of years ago. The irony is that if you travel a couple hundred million miles beyond Mars' orbit you cross the solar system's frost line, the boundary beyond which there is plenty of water preserved from the planets' birth.

Meteors will light up the winter sky

The annual Quadrantid meteor shower usually is one of the year’s best, and in 2013, it will once again provide a nice display. Throughout the Western Hemisphere, the shower reaches its peak before dawn January 3. Unfortunately, a waning gibbous Moon also is in the sky, and its light will obscure the dimmer streaks. The Quadrantids generate a high percentage of bright meteors, however, so it should still rank among the year’s best showers. Astronomers are predicting that the Quadrantids will peak around 8 a.m. EST January 3. That time works best for Asia, but North American meteor-watchers should also keep an eye out because predicting meteor showers remains inexact.

An Image Gallery Gift from NASA's Swift

Of the three telescopes carried by NASA's Swift satellite, only one captures cosmic light at energies similar to those seen by the human eye. Although small by the standards of ground-based observatories, Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) plays a critical role in rapidly pinpointing the locations of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the brightest explosions in the cosmos. But as the proxy to the human eye aboard Swift, the UVOT takes some amazing pictures. The Swift team is celebrating eight years of UVOT operations by collecting more than 100 of the instrument's best snapshots in a web-based photo gallery.

Air Force revises launch purchases

After years of rising costs, the U.S. Air Force will change the way it purchases space launches for the U.S. Government. A memo, made public earlier this month, from Department of Defense acquisition chief Frank Kendall, reportedly supports two approaches to purchasing space launches in an affordable way. The government will pursue a block buy of 36 cores from experienced rocket builder United Launch Alliance, and will open 14 launches to competitive bids.

Jesco von Puttkamer, member of original von Braun Apollo Project team, dies at 79

Jesco von Puttkamer, who began his NASA career in 1962, when he worked on Wernher von Braun's rocket team as an engineer at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., during the Apollo Program, has died, following a brief illness. He was 79. Von Puttkamer most recently worked in the International Space Station Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington as a technical manager. For more than a decade, he authored the ISS Daily Report, which chronicled the lives and activities of the crew members living aboard the International Space Station. He also was instrumental in advancing U.S. and Russian cooperation in human spaceflight. His personal relationships in Russia and the U.S. allowed him to bring both communities together in dialogue and activities. The space station program still is benefiting from his work.

Friday, December 28, 2012

'Brighter than a full moon': The biggest star of 2013... could be Ison - the comet of the century

At the moment it is a faint object, visible only in sophisticated telescopes as a point of light moving slowly against the background stars. It doesn't seem much – a frozen chunk of rock and ice – one of many moving in the depths of space. But this one is being tracked with eager anticipation by astronomers from around the world, and in a year everyone could know its name. Comet Ison could draw millions out into the dark to witness what could be the brightest comet seen in many generations – brighter even than the full Moon. It was found as a blur on an electronic image of the night sky taken through a telescope at the Kislovodsk Observatory in Russia as part of a project to survey the sky looking for comets and asteroids – chunks of rock and ice that litter space. Astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok were expecting to use the International Scientific Optical Network's (Ison) 40cm telescope on the night of 20 September but clouds halted their plans.

China's Beidou system starts service in Asian-Pacific

The Beidou navigation system began providing services for civilians in the Asia-Pacific region on Thursday. After going through a one-year trial operation and adding six more satellites in 2012, Beidou, in terms of performance, is "comparable" to the United States' GPS, Ran Chengqi, spokesman for the China Satellite Navigation Office, told a news conference on Thursday. Beidou, which means compass, now has a constellation of 16 navigation satellites and four experimental satellites. "Signals from Beidou can be received in countries such as Australia," Ran said. Its positioning accuracy has also improved, from 25 meters horizontally and 30 meters vertically at the beginning of the trial operation to the current 10 meters both horizontally and vertically, he said.

Ameresco's NASA Facility Project Takes Flight

Framingham-based energy services company Ameresco Inc. is helping NASA reduce its energy consumption and replace its aging infrastructure. Ameresco's latest work for NASA is taking place in Virginia, where it has just completed the first phase of a $28-million efficiency project with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility, the company and space agency announced recently.

Russia to Launch New Light Class Carrier Rocket in 2013

The first launch of a new Russian light class carrier rocket has been scheduled for the beginning of 2013, Russia’s Aerospace Defense Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Alexander Golovko said on Thursday. The Soyuz-2.1V features a powerful NK-33-1 engine and will be able to deliver a payload of up to 2.8 tons into low Earth orbit.

First 'Alien Earth' Will Be Found in 2013, Experts Say

The first truly Earth-like alien planet is likely to be spotted next year, an epic discovery that would cause humanity to reassess its place in the universe. While astronomers have found a number of exoplanets over the last few years that share one or two key traits with our own world — such as size or inferred surface temperature — they have yet to bag a bona fide "alien Earth." But that should change in 2013, scientists say. "I'm very positive that the first Earth twin will be discovered next year," said Abel Mendez, who runs the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.

Chinese scientists find evidence for speed of gravity

Chinese scientists revealed Wednesday that they have found evidence supporting the hypothesis that gravity travels at the speed of light based on data gleaned from observing Earth tides. Scientists have been trying to measure the speed of gravity for years through experiments and observations, but few have found valid methods. By conducting six observations of total and annular solar eclipses, as well as Earth tides, a team headed by Tang Keyun, a researcher with the Institute of Geology and Geophysics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), found that the Newtonian Earth tide formula includes a factor related to the propagation of gravity. "Earth tide" refers to a small change in the Earth's surface caused by the gravity of the moon and sun.

Russia Launches $70 Bln Space Program for 2013-2020

Russia will spend 2.1 trillion rubles (about $70 billion) under a state program for the development of the national space industry in 2013-2020, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday. “The total volume of funding is quite significant: 2.1 trillion rubles, including extrabudgetary sources,” he said. The program is designed to ensure the country retains its position as a leading global space power, while also supporting its defense capability, and boosting economic and social development, Medvedev said.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

JAXA gives sneak peek at new Hayabusa 2 asteroid probe

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) showed reporters on Dec. 26 the body of its new asteroid-exploring space probe, Hayabusa 2, which is scheduled to be launched as early as 2014. The Hayabusa 2 is the successor to the original Hayabusa space probe, which brought back particles from an asteroid to Earth for the first time. Almost the same size as the original Hayabusa, the Hayabusa 2 will incorporate new, improved technologies that were developed on lessons learned from the 6 billion kilometer (3.73 billion miles) journey of the original space probe to the asteroid Itokawa. With a 2014 launch date, the destination of the Hayabusa 2 is asteroid “1999 JU3.” JAXA scientists believe there are likely to be water and organic materials on 1999 JU3.

Will Humans Keep Evolving on Ultra-Long Space Voyages?

In the Disney film "Wall-E," a colony of humans becomes an obese population after hundreds of years locked inside a spaceship. A lack of activity and an abundance of food left the starship denizens with little desire to stay in shape. But while "Wall-E" was science fiction, but at least one anthropologist believes the human race will change when it embarks on multigenerational space missions to Alpha Centauri or other nearby stars. To the thinking of Cameron Smith at Portland State University, evolution will continue on starships despite the best attempts to limit it.

New Mars Photo Christens Deep-Space Antenna

Europe's newest deep-space tracking station has received its first interplanetary message: a photo of a half-lit Mars as seen by an orbiting spacecraft. The new Mars photo was snapped by the European Space Agency's Mars Express probe and beamed to Earth on Dec. 18, where it was received by the agency's brand-new space tracking station in Malargüe, Argentina. Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner activated the huge antenna dish via a remote link from the country's Casa Rosada presidential palace to commemorate the event, ESA officials said. In the Mars photo, the Red Planet appears to lie on its side with its daytime side facing down. Three huge volcano domes can be easily seen in the view, as well as several canyons etched into the Martian landscape. The Mars Express spacecraft used its low-resolution Visual Monitoring Camera to capture the image from a distance of 6,065 miles (9,761 kilometers).

Russia Designs New Spaceship

Russian space rocket corporation Energia has completed the technical design of a new manned spacecraft whose flight tests are due to begin in 2017, Energia President Vitaly Lopota said on Wednesday. “We have completed the technical design project taking into account the fact that the new spaceship is to fly to the Moon, among other places,” he said. Energia won the spaceship design tender in April 2009. Federal Space Agency Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin earlier said the new spaceship will be created by 2018 and will be able to fly not only to the International Space Station (ISS) but also to the Moon. There will be several spacecraft modifications depending on whether the flight will use a terrestrial or lunar orbit, or carry out in-flight repair and maintenance of other spacecraft and the deorbiting of malfunctioning satellites and large fragments of space debris.

Paul Allen's Stratolaunch moves toward 2017 test launch from KSC

A billionaire-backed commercial space venture unveiled with fanfare a year ago has undergone a major change but continues to eye Kennedy Space Center as its eventual base of operations as it moves toward a 2017 test launch. Stratolaunch Systems, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is developing the world’s largest aircraft – boasting a wingspan longer than a football field – to carry rockets that would launch satellites from the sky, and possibly someday people. The company and SpaceX recently ended their partnership after SpaceX, which was to contribute a smaller version of its Falcon 9 rocket to the project, determined changes to its production lines would be too disruptive.

Russia upgrading booster rocket for NASA manned missions

Russia was modernizing a booster which U.S. space agency NASA would use for manned flights, a Russian rocket engine manufacturer said Wednesday. "We are adjusting the RD-180 engine for manned missions," Executive Director of NPO Energomash company Vladimir Solntsev told reporters, adding the adaptation work started in early 2012.

NASA Launches Telescope-Toting Balloon from Antarctica on Christmas

A giant helium balloon is slowly drifting above Antarctica, about 22 miles (36 kilometers) up. Launched on Tuesday (Dec. 25) from the National Science Foundation's Long Duration Balloon (LDB) facility on Earth's southernmost continent, it carries a sensitive telescope that measures submillimeter light waves from stellar nurseries in our Milky Way. "Christmas launch!" wrote officials with NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, which oversees the agency's balloon research program, in a Twitter post yesterday. "BLAST launched today from McMurdo Station, Antarctica." This is the fifth and final mission for BLAST, short for the Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Submillimeter Telescope, and mission designers hope it will reveal why so few stars are born in our galaxy.

Energia Rejects Space Industry Engine Holding Idea

Russian space rocket corporation Energia head Vitaly Lopota on Wednesday rejected as a “non-market” measure the idea of establishing an engine holding company in the domestic space industry. “This proposal would completely eliminate the competitive environment in the country,” Lopota said. In the meantime, a Russian Federal Property Management Agency official said the issue was being discussed at several levels. “The central issue is how Russia can compete on the international market. Besides, no one can so far answer the question of what is better: a vertically or horizontally integrated company,” said Sergei Barinov, deputy head of the Agency’s infrastructural, defense and military industry management department.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Russia May Join ExoMars Project in Q1 2013

The Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency (ESA) could sign a long-anticipated agreement on Russia’s participation in a Mars research project in the first quarter of 2013, Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin said. “The agreement will be signed. We are starting financing this project,” Popovkin said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper published on Wednesday. Popovkin discussed Russia’s readiness to join the project in a phone conversation with ESA head, Jean-Jacques Dorden, on December 21, and “the sides agreed to sign the agreement in the first quarter of next year.” According to Popovkin, the signing of the document was expected in November but it has been delayed due to “the complexity of official procedures adopted by ESA.”

Satellite highs, suspension lows for Indian space sector

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scored a century of launches in 2012 by putting into orbit four satellites, including the heaviest one built by it till date, entered a select group of nations that can build and launch radar imaging satellites (Risat) and held an international space summit in an impressive achievement for the internationally acclaimed space industry. The year began for ISRO with the launch of a new mission control centre at its rocket port in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh around 80 km from here.

Workers’ Party of Korea: N. Korea should create more powerful carrier rockets

North Korea needs to “orbit operational satellites for various purposes, including communications, as well as to create more powerful launch vehicles,” says a congratulatory telegram of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) to a large group of scientists, engineers and workers who participated in the December 12 launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite from the Sohae launch site, published on Tuesday. The country’s ruling party called the successful orbiting of the satellite “the great implementation of the ambitious plan developed under the wise leadership of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un” and “the most important event in the 5,000-year long history of the Korean nation.”

Tough to ascertain India’s preparedness, says NASA expert

A senior NASA scientist of the Indian origin feels it is difficult speak on the preparedness of India's ISRO on its Mars Mission scheduled for November 2013 because all the vital information on the mission is not available yet. "Yes, there would be a launch but it is difficult to conclude anything at this stage because of the lack of information," Dr Kumar Krishen said. A scientist of Indian origin, Krishen has been working at NASA, Houston, USA, for more than 37 years. As a senior scientist, he plays a pivotal role in transfer of technology from NASA to US companies. During his private visit to India, he gave his opinion on space exploration and technology.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Turbopump Bearing Blamed For Failed Russian Comsat Orbiting

Russian space agency Roscosmos experts say the destruction of a bearing inside the turbopump of the Briz-M upper stage's engine is the most likely reason for the initial failure of Russia’s Yamal-402 satellite to reach its designated orbit, the Kommersant business daily reported on Tuesday. The satellite was launched from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan on December 8 but separated from its upper stage four minutes early, failing to reach the desired orbit. A four-step recovery plan developed by aerospace company Thales Alenia Space later got the satellite into its target orbit using its engines. The service life of the satellite will be reduced from 15 to 11 years due to the emergency use of some of its fuel reserves. The failure was not the first for Briz, which has a less than perfect reliability record.

Monday, December 24, 2012

SpaceX launches its Grasshopper rocket on 12-story-high hop in Texas

SpaceX's prototype Grasshopper rocket took one giant leap last week, rising to a 12-story height and settling back down safely on its landing legs at the company's Texas rocket test facility. Just for fun, the engineers let a dummy cowboy go along for the ride. The Dec. 17 test flight at the pad in McGregor, Texas, was documented in a YouTube video released today — and discussed in a series of lighthearted tweets from SpaceX's billionaire founder, Elon Musk. "To provide a little perspective on the size of Grasshopper, we added a 6-ft cowboy to the rocket. ... Then we took him for a ride," Musk wrote. So how did the cowboy fare? "No problemo," said Musk.

Jupiter, Moon Align in Christmas Skywatching Treat

As darkness falls on Christmas night, check out the east-southeast sky. Shining brilliantly to the upper left of the bright, nearly full moon will be a silvery "star" with a steady glow. But that's not a star, or Santa returning to the North Pole. Rather, it's the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, serving as a sort of holiday ornament with Earth's nearest neighbor to cap off a year of interesting skwyatching events. As viewed from the eastern and central United States, the moon and Jupiter will appear closest together during the late afternoon or early evening hours on Tuesday (Dec. 25). From New York, they’ll be closest together at 6:25 p.m. EST (2325 GMT); from Chicago, it’ll be 5:18 p.m. local time (2318 GMT).

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Iran to Launch 2 New Home-Made Satellites Soon

Head of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) announced on Saturday that the country is preparing to put two new home-made satellites, called AUT SAT and Sharif SAT, into orbit in the near future. "The AUT SAT will be put into the 55-degree orbit after some changes (in the satellite) and will be launched by Simorq (Phoenix) carrier," Fazeli told reporters in Tehran yesterday. "We try to launch the AUT SAT before the end of this (Iranian) year (March 20)," he added.

Hubble Eyes the Needle Galaxy

Like finding a silver needle in the haystack of space, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has produced this beautiful image of the spiral galaxy IC 2233, one of the flattest galaxies known. Typical spiral galaxies like the Milky Way are usually made up of three principal visible components: the disk where the spiral arms and most of the gas and dust is concentrated; the halo, a rough and sparse sphere around the disk that contains little gas, dust or star formation; and the central bulge at the heart of the disk, which is formed by a large concentration of ancient stars surrounding the Galactic Center.

WMAP Team Releases Final Results, Based on Nine Years of Observations

Since its launch in 2001, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) space mission has revolutionized our view of the universe, establishing a cosmological model that explains a widely diverse collection of astronomical observations. Led by Johns Hopkins astrophysicist Charles L. Bennett, the WMAP science team has determined, to a high degree of accuracy and precision, not only the age of the universe, but also the density of atoms; the density of all other non-atomic matter; the epoch when the first stars started to shine; the “lumpiness” of the universe, and how that “lumpiness” depends on scale size. In short, when used alone (with no other measurements), WMAP observations have made our knowledge of those six parameters above about 68,000 times more precise, thereby converting cosmology from a field of often wild speculation to a precision science. Now, two years after the probe “retired,” Bennett and the WMAP science team are releasing its final results, based on a full nine years of observations.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

N.Korea to Launch More Rockets - Kim Jong-un

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for further development of space technology and the launching of more rockets following the successful launch of one earlier this month, Kyodo reported on Saturday. "You should develop and launch a variety of more working satellites including communications satellite and carrier rockets of bigger capacity," the official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim as telling scientists and other people involved in the rocket launch.

SARAL launch postponed to February

Glitches in SARAL, a satellite meant for studying the ocean currents and sea surface heights, has led to the postponement of its launch from December to the second week of February 2013 from the Sriharikota spaceport. A core-alone version of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was to carry SARAL, an Indo-French joint venture, and five other satellites. But problems that surfaced during the thermo-vacuum testing of SARAL at the ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore, have led to the postponement.

Space Fence program moving forward

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center here recently put out a request for proposal to move the Space Fence program forward. Space Fence will be a system of up to two land-based radars, the first site located at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, to track objects entering Earth's orbit. According to program officials, it will form the foundation of improved space situational awareness by expanding the ability to detect, track, identify and characterize orbiting objects such as commercial and military satellites, smaller objects, maneuvering satellites, break-up events and lower inclination objects.

Germany joins the SKA Organisation

The Board of Directors of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Organisation has approved Germany, represented by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), as the tenth member of the organisation to participate in the detailed design of the SKA telescope. The SKA will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever built. It will enable astronomers to glimpse the formation and evolution of the very first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, investigate the nature of gravity, and possibly even discover life beyond Earth. Professor John Womersley, chair of the board of the SKA Organisation, welcomed Germany’s membership. “Germany has an excellent track record not only in radio astronomy but also in the management and delivery of science megaprojects and associated engineering. This expertise will be of great benefit to the SKA project as we move towards the construction phase of this inspirational telescope”, he said.

Recently Named Mercury Craters Honor Blues Singer and Animation Pioneer

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) recently approved a proposal from the MESSENGER Science Team to assign names to nine impact craters on Mercury. The IAU has been the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919. In keeping with the established naming theme for craters on Mercury, all of the newly designated features are named after famous deceased artists, musicians, or authors or other contributors to the humanities. The newly named craters are:

Black hole exposed as a dwarf in disguise

The white dwarf thought it was sending all the right signals. Embedded near a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, the star was emitting short, bright X-ray flashes that made it look like a feeding black hole. But after a multi-agency stakeout, cosmic detectives have blown the dwarf's cover. Behind the black hole façade, the white dwarf was stealing mass from a much larger companion, a process that occasionally causes a titanic thermonuclear blast. The discovery marks the first such binary system known, and hints that similar pairings may be hiding in plain sight across the universe. White dwarfs had never before produced such enormous flashes, according to Phil Charles, an astronomer at the University of Southampton, UK. "That's why they weren't thought of as the natural explanation," he says. "These findings indicate that binary stars comprising a massive hot star and a much less massive white dwarf are indeed possible, and also show why it has been hard to find them in the past."

Friday, December 21, 2012

"All-Clear" Asteroid Will Miss Earth in 2040

Using the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawai‘i a team of astronomers from the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy (IfA) have confirmed that the chance of asteroid 2011 AG5 impacting Earth in 2040 is no longer a significant risk – prompting a collective sigh-of-relief. Previously, scientists estimated that the risk of this 140-meter-diameter (about the length of two American football fields) asteroid colliding with the Earth was as high as one in 500. If this object were to collide with the Earth it would have released about 100 megatons of energy, several thousand times more powerful than the atomic bombs that ended World-War II. Statistically, a body of this size could impact the Earth on average every 10,000 years.

Briz-M upper stage failure reschedules Proton launches in Q1 13

The Russian aerospace industry continues to investigate the Briz-M upper stage failure in the launch of a Proton-M rocket with the Yamal-402 satellite, a Baikonur source told Interfax. The working group is studying documentation and modeling processes, which might have caused the accident. There will be no Proton launches until the work is done. Therefore, the launch of the Satmex8 Mexican satellite has been postponed. "All launches planned for the first quarter of 2013 will be delayed as well," the source said.

NASA's Space Launch System Core Stage Passes Major Milestone, Ready to Start Construction

The team designing America's new flagship rocket has completed successfully a major technical review of the vehicle's core stage. NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) will take the agency's Orion spacecraft and other payloads beyond low-Earth orbit, providing a new capability for human exploration. The core stage preliminary design review (PDR) was held Thursday at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and included representatives from the agency and The Boeing Co. Boeing's Exploration Launch Systems in Huntsville is the prime contractor for the core stage and its avionics. Marshall manages the SLS Program.

Cryosat Hits Land

ESA’s ice mission is now giving scientists a closer look at oceans, coastal areas, inland water bodies and even land, reaching above and beyond its original objectives. Launched in 2010, the polar-orbiting CryoSat was developed to measure the changes in the thickness of polar sea ice, the elevation of the ice sheets that blanket Greenland and Antarctica, and mountain glaciers. The satellite’s radar altimeter not only detects tiny variations in the height of the ice, it also measures sea level and the sea ice’s height above water to derive sea-ice thickness with an unprecedented accuracy.

Energia Corp Lands $11 Mln Space Lab Contract

Space rocket corporation Energia has won a 350 million ruble (about $11 million) contract to design the orbital laboratory Oka-T-MKS, the state procurements agency said Friday on its website. Russia’s Federal Space Agency Roscosmos announced a tender for the contract in mid-October and only received one bid: from Energia Corp.