It's Valentine's Day and the wonders of nature are getting in on the act.  Luckily, ESA was there to capture the memories.

Here, for your enjoyment, are the numerous ways the cosmos and the Earth hearts you.   If you want to see their slideshow with music, go here.   If you want all of the science of Valentine's Day, go here
Proba image of Tupai Island, French Polynesia
While I've been strangely silent, the space industry is surging ahead.  I have, off the record, been told of small companies looking to invest $10s of millions into launchers, of new picosatellite designs (like Cubesat and Tubesat) being bandied about, of a possible new East Coast space port.  NASA is publically funding multiple potential launch providers.

Hey, you got simulation in my roleplay! Hey, you got roleplay in my simulation! Wait, it's two great tastes that taste great together!

Thus my students surprised me when they tossed in a role-based stance into what I thought was a straightforward systems engineering analysis. Herein lies the tale.

Background: I'm teaching a course in space mission operations that focuses heavily on scenario analysis. I presented them with a case where they had to balance risk versus success for a space-borne telescope. In rocket science, risk is never something you can eliminate, no matter how much money or resources you toss at it. That's part of what makes it rocket science. Risk can be reduced, mitigated, or even accepted, but never eliminated.

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft has allowed researchers to measure neutral "alien" particles entering our solar system from interstellar space; a first look at the constituents of the interstellar medium, the matter between star systems, and how they interact with our heliosphere.
Since 2011 is nearing its end, you are already sick of those top 10 lists about the best X Of The Year.  I'll keep it simple and stick to just one.  My favorite photo of 2011 was not taken by me and it wasn't anything elaborate, like Osama Bin Laden getting capped or a science miracle or two kids making out on the street during riots in Vancouver. No, my favorite photo was taken last May, just like the ones of Bin Laden finally getting his virgins (but finding out they are virgin men - namely other terrorists), but it was much quieter.
While we chug away on our Tubesat-style picosatellite, in the 10x10x10cm range, two independent efforts are working on even smaller satellites, and I thought they were worth a nod.
I'm working to make a list of potential conferences for meeting other Cubesat (picosatellite) builders.  A quick search on 'cubesat conferences' primarily turns up past events and past proceedings.  Any ideas?  My list so far:

SpaceUp: any of the regional ones.  The previous SpaceUpDC was fruitful for me.

AAS (American Astronomical Society) twice-yearly meetings.  I will be at the Jan 2014 one, in D.C.

AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) has focused topical conferences, plus an annual on Jan 2013 that might be worth attending.  I haven't been, but a colleague recommends them, and I'd love to hear from others who have attended AIAA events.
Why would anyone build a Tubesat when the Cubesat open standard tends to dominate the picosatellite world?  Well, first, there's only been a bit over a dozen Cubesats, so it's a wide open field.  Second, the Tubesat design is actually a kit, including schematics that are pre-integrated, rather than being an open spec like Cubesat. 
In some ways, it's a little odd to compare them, much like you can't really compare an iPhone to an Android smartphone.  iPhones are a device; Android is an operating system used in over 75 different devices.  Similarly, Tubesat is a device; Cubesat is a specification that people fit their own ideas into.  Different approaches.
MSNBC reported on the latest set of new NASA prizes:
NASA today announced three new competitions offering a total of $5 million in prizes — and only one of them involves actually putting something in outer space.
I'm a huge fan of prizes.  Although I love NASA's work, I dream of a day where fully half of NASA's workload consists of evaluating prize entries by indy companies that are hitting specific get-us-to-space benchmarks.
Science 2.0 favorite Lawrence Krauss of ASU tackled the James Webb Space Telescope issue on the Richard Dawkins website and a commenter there linked to my rationalization that canceling it might be okay, with the hasty disclaimer that he does not agree with what I write - the Dawkins site moderators, and perhaps Dawkins himself, have made their distaste for anyone outside the echo chamber well known so perhaps his rapid disavowal was necessary, though it seems odd Krauss would have the same conce