25 December 2010

Space Junk should force us to new capabilities!

What this tells us is that we must begin to start thinking about real Space Traffic Control (STM), and active space debris de-orbit (which can be done in a number of ways, including electromagnetic tethers and lasers to push small debris into more elliptical orbits that spend more time in the atmosphere and burn up sooner).

From: http://www.technologyreview.com/business/26806/?nlid=3869

Friday, December 10, 2010

Anticipating Collisions between Spacecraft and Space Junk

With its sophisticated predictive model, NASA can peer hundreds of years into the future at Earth-orbiting objects that could crash into each other.
In September, a piece of debris broke off from a 19-year-old nonoperational NASA satellite 330 miles up in the sky. The United States Space Surveillance Network (SSN), which is responsible for monitoring the more than 22,000 satellites and other objects in orbit, detected the event, plotted out the fragment's orbital path, and determined that it was headed for the International Space Station (ISS). If it hit the $100 billion laboratory, the junk could cause catastrophic damage. Upon receiving the warning, NASA decided to maneuver the spacecraft out of the path of the debris, a task that it now performs about twice a year. The threat of such a collision has more than doubled in just the past two years, says Nicholas L. Johnson, NASA's chief scientist for orbital debris.
More than half a million man-made objects the size of a marble or larger are now circling Earth—and 15,000 of those are bigger than a fist. This orbital debris, or "space junk," includes inactive satellites, spent rocket bodies, materials from solid rocket motors, collision fragments, and mission waste. Most operational spacecraft use protective shielding to mitigate the impact of objects less than one centimeter in diameter. But since the larger ones are racing around Earth at speeds of five miles per second, any one of them could destroy any satellite it collided with. The situation imperils the $160 billion satellite services industry, which plays a critical role for international phone calls, television broadcasts, climate and weather data, and military surveillance.
The growth rate of debris objects larger than ten centimeters orbiting the Earth.

Credit: NASA
To understand how such threats will evolve and to foresee the paths of space junk so that collisions can be avoided, NASA developed one of the world's most sophisticated predictive models. Called Legend (for "low-Earth to geosynchronous environment debris"), the three-dimensional model simulates the routes of all trackable space objects and even factors in new debris from future crashes. To take uncertainty and randomness into account, hundreds of scenarios are generated using the Monte Carlo method, a set of algorithms that can calculate risk factors in a complex environment. With Legend, NASA scientists use the average of multiple simulations to estimate the number, size, and type of objects that will collide—and approximately how often. Unlike models used by the U.S. Strategic Command Joint Space Operations Center, which detects and tracks large objects and screens active satellites daily for possible collisions within 72 hours, Legend includes smaller fragments and looks far into the future.
In place since 2004, the NASA model is constantly fed with data gathered from the results of ground tests and spacecraft that have broken up in orbit; from telescopes and radars viewing the sky; and from analysis of crater-marked spacecraft surfaces that have returned to Earth. That means new simulations must be run continually. Legend enables scientists to calculate the consequences of a particular breakup or collision and helps them alert managers at the space station that a piece of debris could be in its path. The model also advises soon-to-launch satellites of areas to avoid and will guide scientists as they attempt to develop and launch debris removal technology for the first time.
In his talk at the first Orbital Debris Removal Conference last year, J.C. Liou, NASA's lead scientist for Legend, said that the model predicted 178 collisions in the next 200 years, 83 of them catastrophic ones in low Earth orbit. Collisions are expected about once every five years, on average. The most recent crash happened in February 2009, when an operating Iridium telecommunications satellite smashed into a retired Russian Cosmos satellite at more than 15,000 miles per hour. The collision was the first to destroy an active satellite, and it generated more than 2,000 new pieces of trackable debris. The event led to a change in a policy that had been in place since the creation of NASA more than 50 years ago. Under the "big sky theory," space junk was not seen as a major threat, because space is so vast. "The big sky theory is no longer a viable concept for space operations," says Chris Moss, the director of the Joint Space Operations Center at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. Satellites are now being concentrated into specific orbits, Moss points out. "It's no longer trivial that any two objects could collide. We are taking the problem seriously and spending our resources on ways to solve it. "
That's a daunting task, especially since the smaller pieces of space junk cannot easily be tracked from the ground. "We are now entering a time when the orbital debris environment will increasingly be controlled by random collisions," says Donald Kessler, a consultant who retired from NASA fourteen years ago. In 1978, as a young NASA astrophysicist, Kessler predicted that by 2000, fragments from random collisions in low Earth orbit would become a significant source of small debris that would increase the likelihood of still more collisions. His landmark paper Collisional Frequency of Artificial Satellites: The Creation of a Debris Belt led to the creation of NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office, where he spent 17 years as lead scientist for orbital debris research. Over that time, the scenario he predicted became known as the Kessler Syndrome.
Kessler recently published a new paper verifying that his 1978 predictions were roughly correct, and he compared them with the space environment of today. His conclusion: we face a serious problem. "If we maintain the current population of orbiting spacecraft without adding anything else, just the result of random collisions would be producing debris faster than atmospheric drag could clean out low Earth orbit," he says. His recommendation: it's time to start actively removing the largest debris objects from the sky. "The Legend model shows that even if we did collision avoidance with all of the operational spacecraft successfully," he says, "it would make little difference in the outcome, because there is so much debris that cannot maneuver."
The message from the model is finally getting through. In his 2010 National Space Policy, President Obama directed NASA and the Department of Defense to clean up space and provided a charter to conduct research on how to do it. "Remediation is the next step," says Johnson. Initial funding of space cleanup efforts is expected in 2011. 

23 December 2010


From: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-5587&tab=summary

Establishes in the legislative branch the United States Commission on Planetary Defense to: (1) review the structure, coordination, management policies, and procedures of the federal government, and as appropriate, international bodies, and nongovernmental entities, relative to the detection, characterization, mitigation, and over all response efforts to dangerous Near-Earth Objects (NEOs); (2) assess U.S. and foreign technology readiness levels required to provide effective planetary defense and make recommendations to develop required technologies, including NEO detection and characterization systems, spacecraft, nuclear devices, and laser systems; and (3) submit interim reports and a final report to the President and Congress containing such findings, conclusions, and recommendations as the Commission shall determine for corrective measures. Sets forth provisions regarding the membership, powers, and staff of the Commission.

Bill Would Create Asteroid Threat Commission

Monday July 26, 2010
In 2009, NASA told Congress that it lacked the money needed to properly track large, Earth-approaching asteroids. A year later, Congress is at least showing some concern over the potential extinction of the human race.
Perhaps the most asteroid-aware lawmaker, U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R - CA), has introduced a bill that would create a special government commission to study the threat of major collisions of asteroids - Near Earth Objects -- with the Earth.
Rep. Rohrabacher's bill "To establish a United States Commission on Planetary Defense" (H.R. 5587), would create within the legislative branch a United States Commission on Planetary Defense. The Commission would:
  • determine capabilities of United States Government entities, nongovernment organizations, foreign governments and entities, and international bodies to detect, characterize, and neutralize potentially dangerous Near Earth Objects (NEOs);
  • identify and evaluate roles and responsibilities of United States Government entities to detect, characterize, and neutralize potentially dangerous NEOs;
  • determine United States effectiveness in leading international efforts to detect, characterize, and neutralize potentially dangerous NEOs;
  • build upon United States Government and foreign analyses, studies, and assessments, without duplicating efforts, to determine current and required NEO characterization and mitigation capabilities;
  • identify and report on technology development required to provide effective planetary defense from dangerous NEOs;
  • and investigate and report to the President and Congress on its findings, conclusions and recommendations for corrective measures that can be taken to provide planetary defense.
The bill also requests a maximum budget of $2 million to fund the activities of the Commission on Planetary Defense.
While concern over near earth approaching asteroids has always been substantial, it may have reached a peak on Jan. 7, 2002, when a 300-yard-wide asteroid called 2001 YB missed the Earth by a little more than twice the distance to the Moon. Perhaps the scariest thing about asteroid 2001 YB5 was that it was detected only 12 days before its "close encounter."
Slightly more than a year later, an influential group of scientists and astronauts, including Apollo 17 moon mission astronaut Harrison Schmitt, wrote a letter to Congress urging the U.S. government to begin immediate preparations to deal with the threat of near Earth-approaching objects like asteroid 2001 YB5.
"We cannot rely on statistics alone to protect us from catastrophe;" they wrote. "[S]uch a strategy is like refusing to buy fire insurance because blazes are infrequent. Our countrysimply cannot afford to wait for the first modern occurrence of a devastating NEO impact before taking steps to adequately address this threat."
Now, seven years later, Rep. Rohrabacher's Commission on Planetary Defense would be at least "one small step" in that direction.

Experts Push for a NASA Asteroid-Hunting Spacecraft


Experts Push for a NASA Asteroid-Hunting Spacecraft
By Leonard David
SPACE.com’s Space Insider Columnist
posted: 21 December 2010
04:12 pm ET
NASA needs an asteroid-hunting spacecraft to finally get serious about the potential threat of nearby space rocks that could slam into Earth, experts say. Lately, support is building to finally develop such a mission for both safety and scientific reasons.

An asteroid hunter might take the form of an infrared imaging telescope placed in a Venus-like orbit around the sun. This high-tech spotter scope could view a much larger portion of the sky for possible asteroid threats than could observatories from the Earth.

Such a mission could also provide a rapid means of compiling an inventory of viable Near-Earth Object (NEO) targets for potential human exploration – now on NASA's to-do list as called for by President Barack Obama.

Moreover, a dedicated NEO-studying spacecraft could help humanity finally come up with a plan for how to thwart ominous NEOs on track to smack our fragile world.

Census mandate

NASA already has a congressional mandate to catalogue nearby space rocks.

Named after the late congressman, the George E. Brown, Jr., Near-Earth Object Survey section of the 2005 NASA Authorization Act called upon the space agency to detect, track, catalogue and characterize the physical characteristics of at least 90 percent of potentially hazardous NEOs larger than roughly 460 feet (140 meters) in diameter by the end of the year 2020.

But blue-ribbon panels of experts looking into the matter for the National Research Council reported in back-to-back reports in 2009 and 2010 that a lack of cash and political muscle make it "infeasible" that such a NEO census can be accomplished by 2020.

"If we seriously want to find all the asteroids which could be an impact hazard to the Earth, as well as find the asteroids which would be good destinations for human spaceflight, then a space-based survey telescope in solar orbit interior to Earth's would be the most rapid way to do that," NASA's Lindley Johnson told SPACE.com. Johnson is the space agency's NEO Observations Program Executive in the planetary science division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

Last October, the final report of the Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) was released.

It reported, among a number of findings, that to achieve NASA's NEO search goals in a timely manner as directed by the George E. Brown NEO Survey legislation, the nation will likely need a new space probe in addition to ground-based systems.

"A spacecraft operating with sensors in the infrared band from an orbit sunward of Earth's (such as a Venus-like orbit) offers great advantages in rapid search and repeat observation frequency," the NAC task force wrote. Essentially, the observatory would be able to monitor space rocks over time to determine their hazard potential.

Detailed appraisal

One concept that has already been fleshed out is dubbed the NEO Survey mission, a detailed appraisal done by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colo.

Results of a study by Ball Aerospace highlighted how best to meet the George E. Brown objectives for detecting NEOs. [5 reasons to care about asteroids.]

As explained in a Ball Aerospace white paper review provided to SPACE.com, in only 1.6 years, a spacecraft could locate all of the roughly 165 feet (50 meter) diameter, and larger, nearby space rocks that are potentially accessible for human spaceflight, and within 7.5 years could catalogue 90 percent of all NEOs greater than 459 feet (140 meters) in diameter.

"We have more work to do, but what we've created is a very high-quality existence proof. We have a point design based on real engineering with real parts," said Robert Arentz, a Ball Aerospace Advanced Systems Manager.

Arentz told SPACE.com that the NEO survey spacecraft draws upon the firm's heritage of working on NASA's space-based observatories – from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler exo-planet hunter to the Spitzer infrared telescope and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, along with the company's comet-smacking Deep Impact spacecraft.

Tractable problem

The internally funded Ball Aerospace concept has not yet been given a green light by NASA, noted Kevin Miller, a Ball Advanced Systems Manager, but the point design does showcase proven capabilities and an affordable approach, he said. The work uses a recipe "to establish confidence that, yes, this really is a very tractable problem," Miller said.

In order to meet the George E. Brown requirements to find 90 percent of all NEOs larger than some 460 feet (140 meters) within 7 years, the NEO Survey mission would cost roughly $638 million. The catalog it would yield is a superset of the targets that NASA human spaceflight planners would find of interest for piloted excursions to selected space rocks.

Given a go, the NEO hunter from start to launch should take around 42 months to develop, Arentz added.

But there are technological challenges in building the NEO survey spacecraft.

Dealing with solar radiation is one. The heat load from a location so near the sun means the spacecraft would need a large thermal shield and cryocooler hardware. Also, the telescope's photon-gathering array requires highly advanced engineering.

The key is to prevent the intense solar radiation at Venus from reaching the telescope. This is done by careful design of the spacecraft's solar array and use of two thermal shields between the main array and the telescope.

The spacecraft design, Arentz said, is based largely on the Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft design to reduce cost and risk.

And, if two NEO-hunting spacecraft were placed in roughly opposite locales in a Venus-like orbit, this would allow a binocular view of space rocks, and scientists could chart them with an even greater degree of tracking accuracy.

Moral imperative

Needless to say, space-based searches for NEOs come with technical challenges. But finding the funding for the concept within an already over-subscribed NASA presents another challenge altogether.

"There's also a compelling need to generate momentum and show some positive progress towards this general class of mission in the near-term," Miller said.

Scientists say there would be a significant payoff, eventually.

By the end of the proposed spacecraft's lifetime – in the range of seven to eight years after launch – the NEO catalog would contain somewhere between half a million and a million new objects.

Beyond feeding the scientific community a wealth of new information, the telescopic capability also supports NASA's desire to fly both robotic and human expeditions to select asteroids. Furthermore, the spacecraft would enable a planetary defense response if any Earth-threatening NEOs are found, proponents say.

"It's a moral imperative," Arentz said, whether there's no planetary defense problem at all or our planet has a problem child headed our way.

"So it's exactly like cancer. The sooner you know, the better it is. You either know you're safe or you've got the necessary lead time to fix it," Arentz added.

Potential cost benefit

Former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who served as co-chair of the NASA Advisory Council Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense told SPACE.com: "If perfect tracking were possible using [ground-based] telescopes we'd never have to launch a mission to verify whether or not a NEO were going to impact ... we'd know and launch only if we were definitely going to be hit."

Schweickart said that with current, and even future ground-based telescope tracking, missions would have to be launched from time to time to rendezvous with a threatening NEO to verify whether or not the NEO was in fact headed for a bruising impact with Earth.

This would be necessary, he said, both due to the limits inherent in any telescopic image and to the intermittent nature of tracking, which comes with long data drop-outs.

"With a telescope in a Venus-like orbit, the episodic tracking component of the tracking challenge will all but disappear, the result of which will be a reduction in the need for transponder rendezvous missions," Schweickart said.

The potential cost benefit of improving tracking by deploying a telescope in a Venus-like orbit, and thereby eliminating transponder missions, can only be determined by doing a rigorous analysis, Schweickart said – a step recommended by the NAC task force.

This logic, while critical to planetary defense and cost-saving, only comes into play when one goes beyond finding NEOs into deflecting them, Schweickart suggested. Indeed, a recent White House policy letter for the first time assigns NASA responsibility beyond simply finding, characterizing and cataloging NEOs.

That's welcome news, Schweickart said.

"The interesting thing is that a telescope in a Venus-like orbit contributes to so many different interests... discovery, tracking and building up the catalog for exploration. But planetary defense is the primary rationale for its deployment," Schweickart concluded.

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines and has written for SPACE.com since 1999

Life Ingredients Found in Superhot Meteorites—A Fir

From: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/12/101220-asteroid-meteorite-life-space-science/

Life Ingredients Found in Superhot Meteorites—A First
New evidence that space rocks may have seeded life on Earth.
Andrew Fazekas
for National Geographic News
Published December 20, 2010

Hot on the heels of finding arsenic-loving life-forms, NASA astronomers have uncovered amino acids—the fundamental foundation for life—in a place where they shouldn't be.

The acids—precursors of proteins—have been unexpectedly found inside fragments of previously superheated meteorites that landed in northern Sudan in 2008, a new study says.

Amino acids have already been found in a variety of carbon-rich meteorites formed under relatively cool conditions. (See asteroid and comet pictures.)

But this is the first time the substances have been found in meteorites that had been naturally heated to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 degrees Celsius). That extreme temperature which should have destroyed any hint of organic material inside, said study leader Daniel Glavin, an astrobiologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

"Previously, we thought the simplest way to make amino acids in an asteroid was at cooler temperatures in the presence of liquid water," Glavin said in a statement. "This meteorite suggests there's another way involving reactions in gases as a very hot asteroid cools down."

The discovery also "provides additional support for the theory that life's ingredients were delivered to the Earth by asteroids," he said.

ET Amino Acids a "Big Deal"

The meteorites came from a 13-foot-wide (4-meter-wide) parent asteroid that entered an Earth-crossing orbit in 2008.

A collision about 15 million years ago sent the 59-ton asteroid closer to Earth—and provided scientists the first opportunity to observe a celestial object before it entered our atmosphere in October 2008.

(See "Meteorites in Africa Traced to Asteroid 'Parent.'")

During desert treks, scientists later recovered nearly 600 meteorite fragments from the meteor shower.

"Finding evidence for the extraterrestrial amino acids in this meteorite is a big deal," Glavin said, "since we can learn about the chemistry that took place in space prior to the origin of life on Earth."

Likewise, "these meteorites would have contributed to the amino acid inventory of the early Earth and other planets in our solar system, including Mars."

This may mean that organic compounds such as amino acids—delivered via asteroids—may have been much more pervasive throughout the solar system than thought, he said.

The new meteorite research is featured in 20 papers published this week in an issue of the Meteoritical Society's journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

Using Star Gravity for Interstellar Communication

From: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40731890

 Sun's gravity could be tapped to call E.T.
Since massive stars cause light to bend, focal points may be found

By Adam Hadhazy, updated 12/18/2010 2:07:57 PM ET

Our own sun might represent the best communications device around, if only we
could harness its power, scientists say.

If the sun's gravity could be used to create a giant telescope, people could send and receive intensely magnified signals that could allow us to call an alien civilization, some researchers propose.

According to Einstein's general relativity, the sun's behemoth mass warps space-time around it, which actually bends light rays passing by like a giant lens. If a detector was placed at the right focal distance to collect the light, the resulting image would be extremely magnified.

The only catch is, the nearest focal point is about 550 times the distance between the Earth and the sun.

Nonetheless, eventually harnessing this power might enable Earth to view distant objects, communicate with interstellar probes, and even contact aliens, scientists say. The technique could be applied to optical light, or longer-wavelength light in the radio spectrum, for example.
Claudio Maccone Placing communications satellites at certain distances from stars where the massive bodies' gravity bends and focuses radio waves might enable us to communicate with far-flung space probes, distant colonies and even aliens. Sun's gravity could be tapped to call E.T. Since massive stars cause light to bend, focal points may be found Plus, an even stronger network could be created by placing relay spacecraft near other stars to form "radio bridges" across the great voids between stars that weaken and distort cosmic communiques. 

"If we use the sun as a gravitational lens, then we can keep in touch with our own probes even at considerable interstellar distances," said Claudio Maccone, technical director of the Paris-based International Academy of Astronautics, and author of a new study on the mechanics of the proposed technique.

"This is key to exploring the neighborhood of our galaxy in the centuries to come," he said.

And alien civilizations might have already discovered this means of long-distance calling, Maccone said. If so, we might be able to intercept their messages.

The research was detailed in a recent issue of the journal Acta Astronautica.

Phoning deep space
To guide NASA rovers on Mars or to tell the Cassini spacecraft to snap pictures of Saturn, scientists rely on the U.S. space agency's Deep Space Network.

The network's antenna arrays pack enough power to keep astronomers in contact with the twin Voyager probes some 10 billion miles (16 billion kilometers) from Earth and flying through our solar system's edge.

As far as that might sound, it is small potatoes  when compared with the span between the sun and its nearest stellar neighbors, the triple-star Alpha Centauri system, located 4.37 light-years, or around 26 trillion miles (41 trillion km) afield.

Communicating with aliens that far away, or even with our own spacecraft sent on distant missions, is a real issue.

Over these celestial distances, our electromagnetic communications signals grow feeble and garbled by ambient "space noise," such as the cosmic microwave background radiation, the relic heat signature from the birth of the universe 13.7 billion years ago.

This interference could scramble half of the information exchanged between us and intrepid, Alpha Centauri-bound explorers or probes in the future, according to Maccone's calculations.

So even if humankind went star-hopping, staying connected might be impossible, Maccone said.

"For interstellar missions, the number one problem we normally face is that we don't know how to propel a spacecraft that far," Maccone said, yet "communication is equally important."

Building a bridge
To set up a radio bridge, we'd need to start placing a relay satellite at the minimum distance from the sun where bent light could convene at a focal point about 550 times the distance between the Earth and the sun, or 550 astronomical units (AU). 

Then, on the receiver side of things Alpha Centauri, say a second relay station would be established to boost incoming and outgoing signals.

For the biggest Alpha Centauri star, which is a shade more massive than the sun, the minimal focal distance turns out to be 749 AU from that star.

With these relays in place, the error rate between the two points would drop from 1-in-2 to 1-in-2 million on par with the accuracy achieved by the DSN in our local solar environment.

Shockingly little transmitting power is needed, too: just one-tenth of a milliwatt, or several orders of magnitude less than the DSN's antennas, Maccone found.  Maccone also gauged the focal points and transmission strengths for two other nearby stars: Barnard's star, a small red dwarf, and Sirius, a blue giant, which are located 5.6 and 8.6 light-years from Earth, respectively.

A 'provocative concept'
While it may be many eons before humankind ever projects itself 26,000 light-years into the core of the Milky Way, and even longer to reach the Andromeda Galaxy 2.5 million light-years away, Maccone showed that radio bridges could enable far-flung correspondence.

Bob Cesarone, strategy development manager for the DSN at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was not involved in the study, calls Maccone's two-way interstellar radio bridge "a very provocative concept."

Cesarone said that such a system might well succeed the current DSN, though optical  frequencies lasers, that is look like a nearer-term solution for what is at any rate a problem that humanity won't have to deal with for decades.

Is E.T. phoning (our) home?
If an advanced alien civilization has wired up the stars via gravitational lensing, Maccone said, the ongoing extraterrestrial-seeking SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) program could attempt to eavesdrop on the conversation.

Earth would have to lie in the line-of-sight between the two fixed endpoints of the listening posts, which is a drawback to deploying such a telecommunications system in the first place. 

But if aliens have spotted our solar system with its appealingly habitable inner planets, they might drop us a line, Maccone said, albeit a less energetic one than SETI normally looks for.

"Now that we know that stars are very powerful lenses, we might expect that alien civilizations could transmit with much lower power if they know roughly where we can possibly be," Maccone said.

Nevertheless, engineers would have their hands full in rolling out a gravitational lensing interstellar radio network.

For starters, relay stations would have to remain precisely aligned with respect to each other and their stellar amplifiers over extreme distances, Maccone said.

This will require revolutionary celestial navigation and orientation systems, such as a galactic GPS powered by pulsars. 

And although these radio bridges might help us keep in touch, the Einsteinian universal speed limit of light (and therefore information) means that a dialogue would take a very long time anyway.

Given the distance, a message relayed between a colony on an as-yet-undiscovered habitable world at Alpha Centauri, "Avatar"-style, would have a round-trip time of nearly nine years.

"At this moment, there is no solution to the problem of the [time] delay," Maccone told SPACE.com. "But the good news is that now we have a reliable way to communicate across interstellar distances."

20 December 2010

SBSP Close to $1 Niche Market Today?

From: http://quantumg.blogspot.com/2010/12/soonest-space-solar-power.html
"It appears space solar power is now ready for niche markets, such as forward military bases, where the price of power can be as much as $1/kWh."
"It should come as no surprise that reducing launch costs makes space solar power more feasible. What does surprise me is that sufficient specific power improvements in solar collection has been demonstrated which makes it reasonable to choose a lower efficiency beaming technique, with the resulting effect on the mass of the spacecraft making it launchable on existing boosters. This is a revolutionary idea which not only makes sense right now but defines a path for future work that will bring space solar power to the meter."

Planetary Defense Update

Gaiashield Group's comments on the NASA Ad hoc planetary defense group:
"Here, even with explicit Executive authorities and a crystal clear mandate, the prospect of NASA actually coordinating the efforts and performance of DoD and DHS in fact, warrants a great deal of skepticism...Then the
most important thing Mankind can ever know will always be which asteroid is The Next Large Asteroid on its way to strike Earth and deflecting it will always be the most important thing Mankind can ever do. At any cost. By any means... Failure will never be an option."

Some videos posted to YouTube by a "Planetary Defense Foundation"

HR 5587: To establish a United States Commission on Planetary Defense, and for other purposes

18 December 2010

New Solar Power Satellite Competition

Visit: http://sunsat.gridlab.ohio.edu/

SunSat Competition Logo

International SunSat Design Competition

SunSat Design is an international competition intended to accelerate the design, manufacture, launch and operation of the next-generation satellites that will collect energy in space and deliver it to earth as electricity.
This Design Project will generate visualizations to aid in the design, manufacture, launch and operation of the new types of satellites that will collect sun’s rays in space and deliver them to earth as a clean and renewable source of energy. These visualizations will also inform the public debate about the way forward for development and implementation of universal access to space-based solar power.
This Competition will link global scientific communities with university-based digital media labs for the purposes of advancing knowledge of space-based solar power technologies and illustrating their many earth-energy applications.
Winning designs will be high-impact digital art, supported by credible science, engineering and business plans, that best promote media understanding and public acceptance of a path forward in using space satellites to deliver energy on-demand to any and all places on earth.

Space Energy Reviews NSS-Kalam

From: http://www.spaceenergy.com/AnnouncementRetrieve.aspx?ID=61027#Kalam

Kalam-NSS Energy Intitiative and the Growing Indo-U.S. Strategic Partnership

In an unprecedented and historic move, the ex-President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has become the first Head of State to publically advocate the need for Space Based Solar Power as an achievable means to upgrading the living standard of the human race and providing a viable solution to the widening global energy gap.  He made the visionary citation during the announcement of the Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative, which, aims to become a platform upon which different nations will contribute different components, based upon their particular strengths and skills in respect of space based solar power.

This really signifies acceptance of the fact that the development of Space Based Solar Power is critical to all of humanity.  This isn´t about money, this isn´t about making the spreadsheets balance, this is about working towards solving some of the world´s most pressing issues - transitioning towards energy security for all nations; preventing resource wars; dealing with poverty and rural electrification; moving away from our reliance on fossil-fuels towards a solar-electric economy; preventing serious global climate change and pollution; and, reverting from short-term protectionism towards more open and longer term visions built on relationships of trust, participation, inclusion, respect and shared success.  The best, most efficient way to target global problems and achieve sustainable human development is with global responses.

In an excellent paper endorsed by the Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative, entitled “An International Preliminary Feasibility Study on Space Based Solar Power Stations,” R. Gopalaswami summarises the “state of play” for the US and India vis-à-vis space and energy – two critical topics that are typically not linked. The paper concludes with a focused proposal for an international, prefeasibility study of a revolutionary concept for sustainable, carbon-neutral global energy: space-based solar power.

The Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative has built upon the recent momentum towards the necessity of creating a strengthened U.S.–Indo strategic partnership as India´s emergence as a major global power changes the geopolitical landscape irreversibly.  A recent study by The Centre for a New American Security (CNAS) this October called for a “bold leap forward” in India-U.S. relations.  Entitled “Natural Allies: A Blueprint for the Future of U.S.-India Relations”, the high-level strategic document states that: “The recommendations in this report are based on the belief that the United States has an interest in working more closely with India and in assisting its further emergence as one of the world’s great powers.  This will require policy changes by both the United States and India.  Many of these changes will be difficult, and some differences may endure.  But the potential gain is worth the effort.  Now is a critical time in this partnership, a moment to transform past bilateral accomplishments into regional and global successes.  We urge American and Indian leaders to seize it.”

As reported in the September edition of Space Energy´s newsletter, Peter Garretson really gave the momentum a gargantuan shot in the arm with his excellent work in India and his strategic paper entitled “Sky´s No Limit: Space-based Solar Power, the next major step in the Indo-U.S. strategic partnership?” which was undoubtedly very influential to the CNAS report and ultimately the direction of US-INDO relations that have followed ahead.
As Dr. Feng Hsu contributes eloquently: “I wish that we could all work together to contribute in whatever way we can to ensure that the likelihood of the peaceful rise of the two major vibrant Asian nations (China and India) is maximized - in the course of a true globalization effort and in the build-up to sustainable human development (cultural & economic) in the 21st century!”

Perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that following from all the excellent progress at the strategic level of Space based Solar Power recently, NASA´s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate has amended its “Opportunities in Aeronautics 2010” program to include a new Hypersonics Program, at the heart of which, they say, are requests for proposals about enabling technologies.  These include air-breathing access to space and entry, descent and landing of high-mass vehicles in planetary atmospheres.

Many commentators suggest that this is because there are people deep in NASA who do not want to be left out of this new wave of change at the dawn of the 21st century.  Furthermore, NASA is planning $7.5 million in study contracts, spread over 13 companies, over the next 6 months in response to the 2010 NASA Authorisation Act, which requires the agency to begin work this year on a vehicle capable of lifting at least 70 metric tonnes to LEO by 2016.

Following on the 8th of November, during U.S. President Obama´s visit to India as part of his Asian tour, he and Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, announced initiatives including new research facilities on renewable energy, public health and civil nuclear security in the attempt giving further substance to the rhetoric of a 21st-Century partnership.

One of the most interesting aspects of this announcement was that the U.S. will finally relax restrictions (export controls) on space-related business with India.  As part of the agreement, the Obama administration will support India’s full membership in multilateral nuclear non-proliferation regimes and remove India’s defence and space organisations from the U.S. 'entities list', which restricts them from doing business with the U.S.

Astronomers Get First Peek at Atmosphere of a "Super-Earth" Exoplanet

New constraints on a relatively small extrasolar world are beginning to reveal what the planet is made of--and whether it looks anything like our own
By John Matson  | Wednesday, December 1, 2010 | 19
Super-Earth GJ 1214 b
FILTERED: With telescopes on Earth, astronomers can detect starlight trickling through the atmosphere of distant planets such as GJ 1214 b, depicted here in an artist's conception.
Image: Paul A. Kempton

Someday in the coming years, if astronomers finally succeed in locating a virtual Earth twin outside the solar system—a tiny dot of a world at a temperate, life-enabling distance from a sunlike star—the achievement will hardly be cause for resting on observational laurels. Instead another race will begin: to characterize the planet and its atmosphere and to determine if the world is truly habitable or, tantalizingly, if it is already inhabited by some extraterrestrial life-form....

In the past several days a number of news articles have touted the passage of a tidy astronomical milestone—the discovery of the 500th known planet outside the solar system. In the past 15 years, the count of those extrasolar worlds, or exoplanets, has climbed through single digits into the dozens and then into the hundreds. The pace of discovery is now so rapid that the catalogue of identified planets leaped from 400 to 500 entries in just over a year....Jean Schneider, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory, has since 1995 maintained The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, a modest-looking Web site that charts a wealth of data on known exoplanets as well as those that are unconfirmed or controversial.

Air Force may share secret data on killer space rocks

Air Force may share secret data on killer space rocks

21 November 2010

White House Adviser: US Must Prepare for Asteroid...A Close Shave...And NASA is Running Out of Money

From: http://www.aolnews.com/weird-news/article/us-must-be-ready-for-asteroid-strike-top-science-adviser-john-holdren-says/19687765?icid=main

White House Adviser: US Must Prepare for Asteroid

Lee Speigel
(Oct. 25) -- If an asteroid were on a collision course with Earth, would we be ready to defend against its destructive impact or would we be helpless and defenseless?

NASA, America's space agency, is being charged with leading the way to protect not only the U.S. but the entire world in the event of such a horrifying scenario. And a top White House science adviser says we have to be prepared.

In separate 10-page letters to the House Committee on Science and Technology and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, outlines plans for "(A) protecting the United States from a near-Earth object that is expected to collide with Earth; and (B) implementing a deflection campaign, in consultation with international bodies, should one be necessary."

Getty Images
The White House has asked Congress to consider how to best deal with the potential threat to Earth of an impact with an asteroid from space.
Asteroid collides with Earth
While Holdren indicates that no large asteroid or comet presents an immediate hazard to our planet, the fact that devastating impacts have occurred on Earth in the distant past is enough to warrant safety precautions for the future.

"Indeed, a steady stream of these objects enters the Earth's atmosphere on a daily basis, consisting mostly of dust-sized particles and estimated to total some 50 to 150 tons each day," Holdren wrote.

As remote as it may seem that Earth could be the target of a giant rock from space, nevertheless, Holdren insists that "the possibility of a future collision involving a more hazardous object should not be ignored."

Asteroids are rocky bodies found within the inner solar system, originating in an area known as the asteroid belt, located between the planets Mars and Jupiter.

If a large asteroid were to strike Earth, it could cause a global climate change, which many scientists believe is what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago -- not a good prospect for life on Earth in the present day if a similar event occurred.

NASA's Near Earth Object program, or NEO, looks for and monitors asteroids that are at least a kilometer in diameter.

But, as Holdren points out, one problem in the search is that "the orbits of known objects can be changed by gravitational or solar radiation perturbations, or even collisions with other objects, meaning that periodic monitoring of known NEOs must also be conducted."

Numerous movies have depicted the devastation caused by an asteroid collision with Earth, including "Meteor" (1979), "Deep Impact" (1998) and "Armageddon" (1998).

After 12 years of cosmic hunting, NASA search teams have determined that 149 NEOs larger than a kilometer in size are in orbits that might pose a problem for Earth, but none is considered an impact threat in the next 100 years.

The White House OSTP office is working to establish plans and procedures in the event of a possible NEO threat to America.

One of those plans involves using the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in the Department of Homeland Security, to handle responsibilities on the ground regarding an NEO threat.

After an asteroid-to-Earth trajectory is determined to impact an area of the U.S., FEMA would notify the population through the National Warning System and it would begin emergency response activities.

Holdren's letter also indicates the importance of notifying other countries of an impending asteroid strike "in an effort to minimize the potential loss of life and property."

And there's the hope that, if an asteroid becomes an actual threat to our planet, a plan would be implemented to try to somehow either destroy the rock or deflect it off course.

Holdren suggests to Congress that NASA and the Department of Defense should work together to devise any strategy that would involve the military.

So the good news is that high-level discussions are on the plate as to how Earth can defend itself against the onslaught of a potential disaster from space.

The bad news: There's no plan set up yet. For the time being, we're staying out of harm's way.

Here is the entire text of Holdren's letter to Congress.

From: http://news.yahoo.com/s/space/20101116/sc_space/smallasteroidtogiveearthacloseshave

Small Asteroid to Give Earth a Close Shave

Tariq Malik
SPACE.com Managing Editor
SPACE.com – Tue Nov 16, 4:45 pm ET
This story was updated at 4:32 p.m. ET.
A tiny asteroid will zip close by Earth tonight (Nov. 16) at a range much closer than the moon, but poses no threat of striking our planet or even entering the atmosphere, NASA has announced.
The asteroid 2010 WA will pass Earth at 10:44 p.m. EST (0344 GMT), missing the planet by about 24,000 miles (38,000 kilometers), NASA's asteroid-watching team wrote on Twitter. It is nearly 10 feet (3 meters wide), so small it would simply break apart if it encountered Earth's atmosphere.
NASA officials said the asteroid is a "very small space rock" that will pass the Earth at roughly one-tenth the distance between our planet and the moon, according to NASA's AsteroidWatch Twitter feed. [5 Reasons to Care About Asteroids]
On average, the moon is about roughly 238,900 miles (384,402 km) from Earth. Some of the highest satellites above Earth fly in geostationary positions about 22,370 miles (36,000 km) up. The International Space Station sails through space about 220 miles (354 km) above Earth.
Asteroid 2010 WA is the fourth space rock in as many months to buzz harmlessly by the Earth within the moon's orbit. The asteroid 2010 TD54 passed the planet at nearly the same miss distance on Oct. 12. In September, a rare sighting of two asteroids – called 2010 RX30 and 2010 RF12 – was spotted when they both passed within the moon's orbit on the same day (Sept. 8).
Like 2010 WA, those earlier asteroid flybys posed no threat to Earth and most were small enough that they would burn up in the atmosphere if they hit it.
"Still, a good practice in detection," NASA's asteroid-tracking team wrote of 2010 WA on Twitter.
An asteroid about 16.5 feet (5 meters) across can be expected to pass Earth inside the orbit of the moon about once a day, NASA scientists have said. They typically enter Earth's atmosphere about once every two years, they added.
Bigger asteroids of about 460 feet (140 meters) wide can cause widespread damage around their impact sites. But much larger space rocks would have to strike Earth to cause global devastation.
There are an estimated 30 million unknown asteroids in our solar system, NASA has said.
Asteroid 2010 WA is not even the first space rock to slip by the Earth-moon system this month.
On Nov. 9, the small asteroid 2010 VL65 passed the Earth at a range of 610,000 miles (980,000 km) – about 2 1/2 times the distance between our planet and moon, NASA officials said. That asteroid was only 23 feet (7 meters) across – small enough to burn up completely in the atmosphere – and was only visible to seasoned skywatchers with telescopes.
NASA routinely tracks asteroids and comets that fly near Earth as part of its Near-Earth Object Observations program, which uses a network of ground and space telescopes to monitor the space rock environment around the planet. To date, the program has tracked about 85 percent of the largest asteroids that fly near Earth and 15 percent of asteroids in the 460-foot class, according to the latest report.
The U.S. space agency also plans to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 under a space plan ordered by President Obama. The mission could help scientists better understand the composition of asteroids, as well as develop better methods of deflecting them before they pose a threat to Earth, agency officials have said.

NASA Is Running Out of Money to Monitor Earth-Destroying Asteroids (Part 1 of 2)
Michio Kaku on September 7, 2010, 11:14 PM
NASA is in a catch 22 situation.  Five years ago, Congress mandated by law that NASA should track 90% of all of the dangerous asteroids and comets that may threaten the Earth by 2020. Just last month, though, the National Academy of Sciences announced that NASA may be out of money to meet this mandate. I think it would be short sighted and unwise not to fund NASA's continued monitoring of extraterrestrial objects that could potentially destroy all life on Earth.

I go back to the perception that Hollywood has gave us all these years in the movies. Anyone who has watched films like Armageddon gets the impression that there are all kinds of tracking stations and professional astronomers combing the skies looking for these dangerous objects. Well, not so fast; in reality, most researchers are in fact amateurs who do the thankless job of hauling out their telescopes on a cold night and taking pictures of the sky and comparing it to the previous days photographs.

On July 19th, an impact mark on Jupiter was spotted by an amateur astronomer in Australia which “drew the attention of scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to the change in Jupiter’s south polar region."  NASA posted both images and explanations on their website, and stated: “Following up on a tip by an amateur astronomer, Anthony Wesley of Australia, that a new dark 'scar' had suddenly appeared on Jupiter, this morning between 3 and 9 a.m. PDT (6 a.m. and noon EDT) scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, gathered evidence indicating an impact.“
This just goes to show that incidents like these have in fact caught us off guard where no one necessarily knew that it was going to happen. If you compare this incident to the Shoemaker-Levy comet, for example, there was warning, and it was tracked by both professional astronomers and amateurs alike. This time, the astronomical community was in a sense caught with its pants down because we only saw the end result (the point of impact) and we still don’t know if it was a comet or a meteor. The object that hit Jupiter is probably less than a mile across (if it’s similar to the Shoemaker-Levy comet). However, the fireball the was created by the impact was nearly the size of the Earth—or it least the size of the Pacific Ocean—and so it’s humbling to realize that even small objects can create enormous destruction.

For example, the Meteor Crater in Arizona was formed about 50,000 years ago and is about 4,000 ft in diameter with some areas reaching 570 feet deep and is surrounded by a rim that rises over 100 feet above the surrounding plains. Based on recent research, the impact was substantially slower than originally thought (about 28,000 mph) and itis believed that about half of the impact’s 330,000 short tons bulk was vaporized during descent before it actually hit the ground.

NASA Is Running Out of Money to Monitor Earth-Destroying Asteroids (Part 2 of 2)
Michio Kaku on September 8, 2010, 7:06 PM
So let’s now speak about the future. You may have heard about the asteroid Apophis, which is about the size of the Rose Bowl Stadium. It’s said that the large asteroid will streak by the Earth sometime around 2029. The NASA website states that “The future for Apophis on Friday, April 13 of 2029 includes an approach to Earth no closer than 29,470 km (18,300 miles, or 5.6 Earth radii from the center, or 4.6 Earth-radii from the surface) over the mid-Atlantic, appearing to the naked eye as a moderately bright point of light moving rapidly across the sky. Depending on its mechanical nature, it could experience shape or spin-state alteration due to tidal forces caused by Earth's gravity field...  Using criteria developed in this research, new measurements possible in 2013 (if not 2011) will likely confirm that in 2036, Apophis will quietly pass more than 49 million km (30.5 million miles; 0.32 AU) from Earth on Easter Sunday of that year (April 13).”
We are also amazed at the meteor showers when we are able to see them. The local news usually let’s you know when you will be able to catch a glimpse and you will find all kinds of people running outside to peer at the night sky. Perhaps one of the most famous meteor showers took place in 1833, the Leonid meteor shower (image below). This particular shower gave us several hundred thousand streaks per hour across the night sky. It was so brilliant and awe-inspiring that several religious cults can in some sense trace their lineage to the panic that was created as a result of this particular shower. So, speaking about the doom and gloom and mysticism surrounding these things, you may remember when Hale Bopp sailed through the heavens when we heard about the famed “Doomsday Cult” that believed the comet was a sign ofthe Second Coming. The cult believed that they were going to be beamed up to a flying saucer which they thought was on that comet and the members all ended up committing suicide as a result. This just goes to show that these types of things really stir deep seated fears andemotions in people.
If you caught my Second Season premiere of my show Sci-Fi Science on the Science Channel which aired September 1, you would have seen an episode called Earth 2.0 which shows that the future of the human race may be the destruction that we fear here on Earth. The episode went into detail about the process of terraforming Mars, and featured ideas from Chris McKay, a NASA research scientist and even Bob Zubrin of the Mars Society. Chris McKay of NASA suggested the possibility of building huge solar mirrors the size of Texas to melt the Martian ice caps, and I even went into detail about how we could possibly heat up Mars by shooting asteroids at the planet’s surface essentially jump-starting the terraforming process. First, the heat ofthe impact would be that of millions of atomic bombs which would heat up the surface. Second, asteroids contain frozen gases which would help to thicken the atmosphere and finally set off a runaway greenhouse effect.