space

ULA and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Announce Rocket Engine Partnership

An anonymous reader writes During an event at the National Press Club, Bezos announced an agreement with Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to continue development of a new rocket engine for ULA’s Atlas and Delta rocket lines. From the article: “Called BE-4, the engine has been in the works at Blue Origin for three years and is currently in testing at the company’s West Texas facilities. ULA, founded in 2006, has supplied rockets to the US Department of Defense and NASA and will now co-fund the BE-4 project to accelerate its completion. The agreement is for a four-year development process with testing slated for 2016 and flight in 2019.”

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Astronomers Find Star-Within-a-Star, 40 Years After First Theorized

derekmead writes: After 40 years, astronomers have likely found a rather strange celestial body known as a Thorne–Zytkow object (TZO), in which a neutron star is absorbed by a red supergiant. Originally predicted in the 1970s, the first non-theoretical TZO was found earlier this year, based on calculations presented in a paper forthcoming in MNRAS. TZOs were predicted by astronomer Kip Thorne and Anna Zytkow, who wasthen postdoctoral fellow at CalTech. The pair imagined what might happen if a neutron star in a binary system merged with its partner red supergiant. This wouldn’t be like two average stars merging. Neutron stars are the ancient remnants of stars that grew too big and exploded. Their cores remain small — about 12.5 miles across — as they shed material out into space. Red supergiants are the largest stars in the galaxy, with radii up to 800 times that of our sun, but they aren’t dense.

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NASA Is Outsourcing ‘Space Taxi’ Service to SpaceX, Boeing

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We finally have a replacement for the Space Shuttle — or rather, two replacements. And neither of them will be built by NASA.

SpaceX and Boeing will both be awarded contracts for a “space taxi” rocket launch system that will deliver up to four NASA astronauts to the International Space Station at a time, with an eye to full NASA certification of the systems in 2017

Currently, NASA has to buy seats on Russian Soyuz rockets to ferry astronauts to the ISS. Not only does that cost $70 million per seat — at a half-dozen seats per year — it’s increasingly problematic as Russia has become more belligerent and Western nations have been searching for sanctions Read more…

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European Space Agency Picks Site For First Comet Landing In November

An anonymous reader writes Europe’s Rosetta mission, which aims to land on a comet later this year, has identified what it thinks is the safest place to touch down. From the article: “Scientists and engineers have spent weeks studying the 4km-wide “ice mountain” known as 67P, looking for a location they can place a small robot. They have chosen what they hope is a relatively smooth region on the smaller of the comet’s two lobes. But the team is under no illusions as to how difficult the task will be. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, currently sweeping through space some 440 million km from Earth, is highly irregular in shape. Its surface terrain is marked by deep depressions and towering cliffs. Even the apparently flat surfaces contain potentially hazardous boulders and fractures. Avoiding all of these dangers will require a good slice of luck as well as careful planning.

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Rosetta Mission Now Has A Landing Site on Comet

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A European spacecraft flying alongside a comet in deep space finally has a place to land after a 10-year journey through the solar system.

The European Space Agency on Monday unveiled the target landing site on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for the Philae lander riding aboard the agency’s Rosetta mission. Mission controllers picked a drop zone called “Site J” as the primary target from five potential landing sites shortlisted in late August. If all goes well, the lander will touch down on the comet on Nov. 11.

“There are flat areas, but there is also rough terrain,” Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center, said of Site J during a news conference on Sept. 15. “There are some cliffs, there are some boulders. [...] It’s not a perfectly flat area as we probably would have hoped for a safe landing site.” Read more…

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Solar Storm Nearing Peak Could Cause Vivid Northern Lights Display

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Thanks to two solar flares that occurred in rapid succession late this week, a widespread and potentially vivid display of the Northern Lights is possible for many parts of the U.S. and Canada. This could include parts of the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest, including cities such as Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Missouri, and Portland, Oregon.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which monitors space weather, has issued a G3 or “strong” geomagnetic storm watch for Friday, due to the combined influence of two coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, that were associated with the solar flares. Read more…

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Congress Can’t Make Asteroid Mining Legal (But It’s Trying, Anyway)

Jason Koebler writes: Earlier this week, the House Science Committee examined the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act, a bill that would ensure that “any resources obtained in outer space from an asteroid are the property of the entity that obtained such resources.” The problem is, that idea doesn’t really mesh at all with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, a document that suggests space is a shared resource: “Unlike some other global commons, no agreement has been reached at to whether title to extracted space resources passes to the extracting entity,” Joanne Gabrynowicz, a space law expert at the University of Mississippi said (PDF). “There is no legal clarity regarding the ownership status of the extracted resources. It is foreseeable that the entity’s actions will be challenged at law and in politics.”

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Strong Solar Storm Will Hit Earth Starting Thursday Night, Scientists Say

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Energy from two significant solar flares is hurtling toward the Earth, and is predicted to hit the planet’s magnetic field beginning on Thursday night and lasting through Saturday, scientists said Thursday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which monitors space weather, has issued a G3 or “strong” geomagnetic storm watch for Friday, due to the combined influence of two coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, that were associated with the solar flares

Coronal mass ejections, which are essentially magnetic clouds ejected at high velocity from the sun, can affect the electricity grid, radio transmissions and GPS signals, among other things, when they interact with the planet’s magnetic field. One benefit of this event, though, could be a significant display of the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. According to NOAA scientists, the Northern Lights may be visible on Friday night as far south as New York City, Chicago, Illinois and Seattle, Washington. Read more…

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Will We Ever Really Find Intelligent Alien Life?

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In the summer of 2012, a dusty, car-sized rover named Curiosity touched down on the surface of Mars

A few months later, the little-rover-that-could dug up dirt samples that hinted that a fresh water pond, including carbon, hydrogen and other life-essential elements, had once existed some four billion years prior.

Finally, humanity rejoiced, there was reason to believe Mars was once home to alien life! At least, life in the form of microscopic water amoebas.

But amoebas aren’t sexy; they’re certainly not scary; and they’ve got nothing on the little green men we’ve grown up seeing in the movies. So what’s the deal, if at all, with the “intelligent” alien life our imaginations have been craving to discover for centuries? Read more…

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Universal Big Bang Lithium Deficit Confirmed

An anonymous reader writes New observations of the star cluster Messier 54 show that it is just as deficient in lithium as our own galaxy, furthering a mystery about the element’s big bang origins. “Most of the light chemical element lithium now present in the Universe was produced during the Big Bang, along with hydrogen and helium, but in much smaller quantities. Astronomers can calculate quite accurately how much lithium they expect to find in the early Universe, and from this work out how much they should see in old stars. But the numbers don’t match — there is about three times less lithium in stars than expected. This mystery remains unsolved, despite several decades of work.”

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