NASA News: NASA Seeks Space Launch System Advanced Development Solutions

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville,
Ala., has issued a NASA Research Announcement (NRA) for advanced
development proposals to support the nation's next heavy-lift rocket,
the Space Launch System (SLS).

NASA is soliciting proposals from industry and academia for innovative
advanced development in areas including concept development, trades
and analyses, propulsion, structures, materials, manufacturing,
avionics and software. These efforts will focus on affordability and
sustainability of the SLS as it evolves from a 70-metric-ton vehicle
to a 130-metric-ton vehicle.

"We look forward to hearing from both industry and academia on
advanced development solutions that will enable the full capability
of the evolved Space Launch System," said Mindy Niedermeyer, the
evaluation team chair. "It's an exciting time for NASA. These
solutions will create entirely new developments in space technology,
taking humans farther in space than ever before."

NASA anticipates making multiple awards in response to this
solicitation with approximately $48 million in total funding. Of this
total amount, the funding anticipated for the base year (Fiscal Year
2013) is $22 million, with $14.5 million for the first year option
(Fiscal Year 2014), and $11.5 million for the second year option
(Fiscal Year 15). Total funding to be allocated to academic awards
for this NRA is approximately $1.5 million per year. Individual
academic awards are expected to be valued up to $250,000 per year.
The deadline to submit proposals is May 15, 2012.

To view the announcement and instructions for submissions, visit:


For more information about SLS, visit:



NASA'S Swift Narrows Down Origin of Important Supernova Class

WASHINGTON -- Studies using X-ray and ultraviolet observations from
NASA's Swift satellite provide new insights into the elusive origins
of an important class of exploding star called Type Ia supernovae.

These explosions, which can outshine their galaxy for weeks, release
large and consistent amounts of energy at visible wavelengths. These
qualities make them among the most valuable tools for measuring
distance in the universe. Because astronomers know the intrinsic
brightness of Type Ia supernovae, how bright they appear directly
reveals how far away they are.

"For all their importance, it's a bit embarrassing for astronomers
that we don't know fundamental facts about the environs of these
supernovae," said Stefan Immler, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard
Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Now, thanks to unprecedented
X-ray and ultraviolet data from Swift, we have a clearer picture of
what's required to blow up these stars."

Astronomers have known for decades that Type Ia supernovae originate
with a remnant star called a white dwarf, which detonates when pushed
to a critical mass. The environment that sets the stage for the
explosion, however, has been harder to pin down.

According to the most popular scenario, a white dwarf orbits a normal
star and pulls a stream of matter from it. This gas flows onto the
white dwarf, which gains mass until it reaches a critical threshold
and undergoes a catastrophic explosion.

"A missing detail is what types of stars reside in these systems. They
may be a mix of stars like the sun or much more massive red- and
blue-supergiant stars," said Brock Russell, a physics graduate
student at the University of Maryland, College Park, and lead author
of the X-ray study.

In a competing model, the supernova arises when two white dwarfs in a
binary system eventually spiral inward and collide. Observations
suggest both scenarios occur in nature, but no one knows which
version happens more often.

Swift's primary mission is to locate gamma-ray bursts, which are more
distant and energetic explosions associated with the birth of black
holes. Between these bursts, astronomers can use Swift's unique
capabilities to study other objects, including newly discovered
supernovae. The satellite's X-ray Telescope (XRT) has studied more
than 200 supernovae to date, with about 30 percent being Type Ia.

Russell and Immler combined X-ray data for 53 of the nearest known
Type Ia supernovae but could not detect an X-ray point source. Stars
shed gas and dust throughout their lives. When a supernova shock wave
plows into this material, it becomes heated and emits X-rays. The
lack of X-rays from the combined supernovae shows that supergiant
stars, and even sun-like stars in a later red giant phase, likely
aren't present in the host binaries.

In a companion study, a team led by Peter Brown at the University of
Utah in Salt Lake City looked at 12 Type Ia events observed by
Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) less than 10 days after
the explosion. A supernova shock wave should produce enhanced
ultraviolet light as it interacts with its companion, with larger
stars producing brighter, longer enhancements. Swift's UVOT detected
no such emission, leading the researchers to exclude large, red giant
stars from Type Ia binaries.

Taken together, the studies suggest the companion to the white dwarf
is either a smaller, younger star similar to our sun or another white
dwarf. The X-ray findings will appear in the April 1 issue of The
Astrophysical Journal Letters; the ultraviolet results appear in the
April 10 edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

The ultraviolet studies rely on early, sensitive observations. As
Brown's study was being written, nature provided a great case study
in SN 2011fe, the closest Type Ia supernova since 1986. Early Swift
UVOT observations show no ultraviolet enhancement. According to the
findings in an unpublished study led also by Brown, this means any
companion must be smaller than the sun.

Swift data on SN 2011fe also figure prominently in unpublished studies
led by Alicia Soderberg at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. Preliminary results suggest that the
explosion was caused by merging white dwarfs.

Swift launched in November 2004 and is managed by Goddard. It is
operated in collaboration with Pennsylvania State University and
other national and international partners.

For images related to this story, visit:



NASA Calls for Student-Designed Deep Space Habitat Proposals

HOUSTON -- NASA is offering college and university students a chance
to help design a deep space habitat. The Exploration Habitat (X-Hab)
Academic Innovation Challenge is accepting applications for the 2013
challenge, inviting students to design, manufacture, assemble and
test systems for use on NASA's deep space habitat prototype.

Past projects have included an inflatable loft for crew sleeping
quarters, plant growth systems and sample handling tools. This year,
students in multiple disciplines can choose projects from a variety
of possibilities, including photovoltaic solar arrays, a workstation
to support human-robotic collaboration or a telepresence and holodeck
conceptual system. Students will work together on potential solutions
to needs future astronauts might have living and working outside Earth.

"Students will play a vital role in our critical early system planning
and development," said Alvin Drew, a NASA astronaut and habitat
systems project manager at the agency's Johnson Space Center in
Houston. "Their designs could become the basis for the concepts and
technologies that will make up the habitat we eventually send to space."

The X-Hab Challenge is part of a continuing effort to engage and
retain students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,
or STEM, and provide a real-world challenge exposing them to
engineering and design processes. NASA will directly benefit from the
development of innovative habitation-related concepts and
technologies that could be applied to future missions.

The challenge is run by the National Space Grant Foundation for the
deep space habitat project team at Johnson, which is part of NASA's
Advanced Exploration Systems Program. The goal of for the X-Hab
Challenge is to help NASA inspire the STEM workforce of the future
and the next generation of explorers. Winners will receive between
$10,000 and $49,000 to produce functional products based on their
designs. Proposals are due May 2, 2012, and awardees should expect to
deliver their product to Johnson in May or June 2013.

To learn more about the X-Hab Challenge, visit:


To see the solicitation, project list and challenge timeline, visit:



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