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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Final Frontier in Space Biz

The old adage that "the undertaker will be the last person to let you down" may no longer be true if you exercise another option. The coming Commerial Space Era may enable the undertaker to be the last person to lift you up -- to orbit, the Moon, or to the heavens beyond!

Texas-based Space Services, Inc. is offering commercial cremated burial in outer space on memorial spaceflights. The firm is planning its 2007 Explorer Flight from the Vandenberg spaceport on a SpaceX booster to pay final tribute in over 200 deceased Earthlings who shared a passion for space. On launch day family and friends come to watch the remains thrust into space. The cost is less than $15,000.

While the idea is not new with about 150 remains having been launched to low Earth orbit, only one Dr. Eugene Shoemaker's remains have been placed on the moon by the Lunar Prospector in 1999. In January of this year, part of the remains of astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the planet Pluto, were sent into deep space aboard the New Horizons spacecraft.

In addition to Space Services, Inc., Difinity, Inc.will send remains plus a DNA sample into space while Columbad's Starburst Memorial will launch your ashes around the world. The space burial services industry is expected to grow as space access costs diminish.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

When will Alt.Space Go Mach 25?

Dream Chaser and SpaceShipThree are exactly what the commercial space industry needs to achieve - an orbital spaceplane - but when?

Cost is the killer of human spaceflight and low cost is the life blood of the nascent Alt.Space or NewSpace industry. Several relatively small space firms are endevoring to build and license low cost suborbital vehicles for space tourism over the next 6 to 36 months but none are slated yet for orbit.

SpaceShipOne had its "Shepard" moment with the 2004 suborbital flight from the Mojave Spaceport flying straight-up 62.5 miles and back down like NASA's Alan Shepard achieved on a Redstone Rocket in 1961. The SS1 flight was hailed by many as the opening of commercial space to the masses but more must be done to open orbital access.

SpaceShipTwo, now under construction, will be larger and capable of a nine seater- three times the capability of SS1 - but with a similar flight profile of up 70 to 75 miles and back down. Many may claim the achievement of space but none will orbit aboard SS2 to have their "John Glenn" moment in 2008.

The holy grail of spaceflight is to boost humans and cargo to low earth orbit at $1,000 per pound or less. Access costs of $10,000 per pound is too costly to open an orbital space access era for humans.

SS3 could be the ticket. SS3 could be the first low cost orbital spaceplane if the technology and engineering enables a Mach 25 flight to achieve orbit sometime after 2010. But there are others who could leap over the best plans of Rutan and Virgin Galactic.

Jim Beason, CEO and founder of SpaceDev, is striving to build the first low cost to orbit spaceplane called the Dream Chaser but with a vertical (vid) rather than horizonal flight pattern. The firm may get a boost from NASA if selected for its Commercial Orbital Transportation System this summer.

Friday, May 26, 2006

DARPA Supports 'Cloaking Device'

Star Trek science fiction fans may recollect the Romulan 'Bird of Prey' spaceship cloaking device used frequently throughout the series and movies and expect it to be decades into the future. Well, maybe NOT.

IF the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) investment pays dividends, the US and UK may soon have the 'cloaking' stealth technology for military applications so says the BBC and MSNBC. Researchers have unveiled blueprints for building a cloaking device.

The technology was officially started in the 1950's for the U-2 spy plane. The 1943 near-mythical Philadelphia Experiment, a possible urban legend, allegedly used Albert Einstein's unified field theory of gravitation.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Spaceport Betting on NewSpace

CBS News touted the Southwest Regional Spaceport in a evening segment national news broadcast. Featuring New Mexico's Secretary of Economic Development Rick Homans describing the 'unique' spaceport now under construction near Truth or Consequences at an empty location near Upham, the segment includes Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic.

"Well, it is a lot of land," Homans said describing how the location will be transformed over the next three years. "We are betting on the Second Space Age."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hubble to be Serviced by Shuttle

The internationally beloved Hubble Space Telescope has been tentatively scheduled for a 5th space shuttle service mission for April, 2008 according to book author Robert Zimmerman in an interview on The Space Show. The tentative date is dependent upon the success of the planned missions to continue the construction of the International Space Station. A 2008 HST service mission should enable the telescope to remain operational beyond 2012 barring some major system failure. Whether the Hubble Space Telescope is serviced again will depend upon the success of the Alt.Space sector's ability to launch commercial astronauts to low earth orbit to conduct operations such as a sixth space telescope service mission.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

SpaceX to Launch Falcon 1.0 in the Fall

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk may be the newest "Come Back Kid" with the planned September/October launch of the dubbed "Falcon 1.0." The come back follows a human error resulted in a fuel line leak that placed the original Falcon 1 into the sea 500 feet from the Kwajalein Atoll launch pad.

Business-wise, Musk notes that SpaceX is in a "cash flow positive" and gaining post-crash contracts. SpaceX is preparing an aggressive launch schedule with Falcon launches every two to three months after the fall 2006 presumed success saying, "I hope that we're the primary mechanism for getting people to orbit in the world. By 2020 I'd like to take someone to another planet."

SpaceX plans to offer a orbital boost for $6-million as compared to the more traditional large contractor price of $25 to $30-million.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Teacher Barbara Morgan to Fly!

NASA has selected former Idaho teacher astronaut Barbara Morgan to fly on STS-118, a space shuttle launch to the International Space Station, planned for the spring of 2007. Morgan will go if four launches continue without a hitch in July, August, and December of 2006 and March 2007. The ex-teacher announcement will rekindle interest in the NASA Teacher in Space program first started in 1986 and ending in the disasterous launch loss of Space Shuttle Challenger.

Recently, the Space Frontier Foundation has advocated a renewed effort to get teachers to space. Several NewSpace firms announced last month the donation of seats on private suborbital rockets for teachers to ride to space. NASA's announcement, meanwhile, is expected to fuel the Space Frontier Foundation's suborbital teachers in space competition. Hundreds of America's teachers have sought to become a part of the NASA program. Several will have better opportunities with the Alt.Space or NewSpace firms planning to launch from New Mexico.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Space Act Agreement Advances for Commercial ISS Transport

NASA plans to announce its final selection of one or more commercial space firms to proceed to the next phase of development for service to the space station on August 8, according to Michael Belfiore.

NASA will make a final selection from among six space firms: Andrews Space, Rocketplane Kistler, SpaceDev, SpaceHab, SpaceX, and t/Space. Each firm has a different design plan to achieve the specifications. Twenty firms initially made application to NASA for consideration following the expressed interest of nearly 100 for a Space Act Agreement demonstration contract.

NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) hopes to fund $500 million for one or more demonstration projects following the planned August 8 space firm selection. The agreement will be to ferry cargo and astronauts to the space station perhaps as early as 2010. The demonstration winner may forgo winning the privately funded America's Space Prize.

A successful Space Act Agreement for ISS commercial services will be a major boost to private integration with NASA government-directed operations.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Might a Killer Asteroid be Mined?

Former Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart is concerned about the 1 in 1000 year average impact of a killer asteroid striking the Earth while others like Dr. John S. Lewis have advocated private sector mining of asteroid objects for their potential wealth. There is legal debate about the application of the Outer Space Treaty on moving or mining an asteroid based upon the term "use" and definition of "celestial body" within the space treaty.

Schweickart is advocating a new United Nations Treaty to address a global response to asteroids. The risk of doing nothing is great. On Sunday, April 13, 2036 a 1,000-foot-wide asteroid named 99942 Apophis could hit the Earth with a blast equal 880 million tons of TNT. NASA, at the direction of Congress, is tracking hundreds of asteroids while looking for other Near Earth Asteroids (NEOs).

Mining asteroids may be a profitable venture for the nascent commercial space firms by 2025 but it may be just in time. In 2029, seven years before the possible impact of Apophis, it will come closer to our planet than the television and weather satellites that beam back signals from 22,300 miles above. Some fear the close proximity will cause it to fall under gravitational influences to hit the Earth in 2036. Capture and mining the object may not only save the Earth from a catastrophic event but moreover asteroid mining could be a significant money maker for a would-be commercial space mining firm. Linked is a Planetary Radio interview with Schweickart.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

X-Prize Opens Office in New Mexico

The X-Prize Foundation has opened a permanent office in the Sugerman Space Grant Consortium on the campus of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces to be staffed by Josh Neubert. The primary purpose of the Las Cruces office will be to focus on outreach and education.

The X-Prize Foundation is spearheading the the world toward the commercialization of space, and hosts the annual X Prize Cup in Las Cruces set for October 18-21 to promote technology competitions and other rocket advances.

Len Sugerman, who has kept the vision of a spaceport in southern New Mexico alive for many years, presented a $10,000 check to the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium to help with the efforts to make the spaceport a reality.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Russian 'Kliper' is 'GO' to Production

A new Russian six-passenger spacecraft 'Kliper' or 'Clipper' is expected to start production soon leading to a 2013 liftoff with a human crew. It will be the successor to the Soyuz capsule. The Kliper spacecraft is expected to ferry cosmonauts to orbit for international orbital space operations and subsequently to the Moon. The European ESA and the Japanese JAXA have been considering a partnership on the vehicle development for several months. Moscow's Rocket and Space Corporation Energia will build the space vehicle.

The first stage of the Kliper project envisages putting an 11-ton spacecraft into a 200-km orbit on the Soyuz-2-3 under the Russian Federal Space Program. With the second stage, the rocket's capacity would be upped to 13 tons, to launch the Kliper spaceplane, with a possible further increase to over 16 tons after engine modernization, according to RIA Novosti.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"Darwinian Explosion" of Rocket Designs Emerging

The Economist magazine published a wonderful overview of what was referred to as the "Darwinian explosion" of suborbital emerging rocket designs. The article provides some insight into the near-future. Meanwhile MSNBC notes several private sector firms that NASA is engaging for possible commercial service of the International Space Station by perhaps 2010.

New Mexico Launch Campaign Underway at Spaceport

UP Aerospace is continuing the inaugural launch campaign from the Southwest Regional Spaceport for the month of July with the firm's SpaceLoft XL vehicle. Hundreds of New Mexico citizens are expcted to be joined by others from across the nation to mark the first historic launch from the new commercial spaceport. The Upham launch facility has been the focus of news stories around the world since Virgin Galactic owner Sir Richard Branson visited the site declaring the location the space firm's world headquaters.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

2006 Space Elevator Games Set for New Mexico Desert

The 2006 Space Elevator Games will be held in Las Cruces, New Mexico in conjuction with the October 19-21 X-Prize Cup in what is shaping-up to be a space extravaganza! -------Three (3) NASA Centennial Challenges will now be held in New Mexico with the Lunar Lander Analog Challenge and the Power Beam and Tether Space Elevator Challenges merging to add to the debut of the Rocket Racing League and other activities associated with the annual X-Prize Cup events. Thirty space elevator teams have already signed-up to compete for $400,000 in prizes. To view the Space Elevator video download HERE.

Spacesuit Designer Pablo de Leon Works with Space Scholars

University of North Dakota Space Studies graduate student Fabio Sau tested a Mars prototype space suit in the badlands of North Dakota designed by Adjunct Faculty Professor Pablo de Leon. The $100,000 project is being funded through the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium from NASA. CNN covered the event.

Pablo de Leon, an experienced spacesuit designer and former Ansari X-Prize suborbital contender, is also said to be designing new spacesuits for upcoming suborbital tourism and Rocket Racing League teams set to take off this coming October in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Field tests for the Mars prototype suit began May 1, with space studies graduate student Sau tucked inside the prototype. It enjoyed a public debut Saturday, May 6. View the BLOG.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Millionairess Anousheh Ansari May Go to Orbit

Anousheh Ansari, a Founding Trustee of the $10-million Ansari X-Prize and ever-growing figure in NewSpace, is the active alternate for the spring 2007 tourist seat aboard a Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station. A contract has been executed with the Russian space agency making Ansari the back-up cosmonaut for Japanese Internet millionaire Daisuke 'Dice-K' Enomoto.

A 38 year old millionairess telecom entrepreneur and Iranian-born naturalized American of Plano, Texas, Ms.Ansari would be the first female space tourist. The Ansari family owns the Prodea firm investing in the emerging United Arab Emirates spaceport and a new Russian-made "Explorer" suborbital spacecraft.

Private Enterprise to Enable Next Moon Landing

Private enterprise may well enable the next human landing on the Moon if the X-Prize Foundation is successful with the Lunar Lander Analog Challenge (LLC). The NewSpace competition will start from the New Mexico desert this October as one of the NASA Centennial Challenges. NASA has put-up $2-million in prize money to encourage the private sector to get humans back to the Moon and return safely to Earth by 2018 or so.

The LLC will require a rocket capable of vertical takeoff and vertical landing to fly from one pad to another and back. The LLC is broken into two difficulty levels to maximize the interest from potential competitors while still resulting in the development of vehicles that are of value to NASA. Linked are the draft rules of the Lunar Lander Analog Challenge offered by the X-Prize.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Sweden Spaceport Business Forms to Lure Virgin

The Swedish Space Corporation, LVF, and the Ice Hotel are now putting together a consortium, Kiruna Spaceport, which will cooperate over space tourism and launch Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo to suborbital flights in 2010 from European soil.

The deal has been in the works for months with Sir Richard Branson who wants to make the Esrange launch pad in Kiruna one of its bases along with America's New Mexico's Southwest Regional Spaceport. The future of global spaceports was a recent topic of study.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Zero-G Bride: The Next New One-Upmanship

Japanese fashion designer Eri Matsui is working to enable the first "astro bride" dress in an effort sponsored by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The cosmic design catwalk Hyper Space Couture Design Contest is underway with the first design winners expected this summer.

"As there has never been anyone who has actually worn a dress in zero gravity, the challenge was in having to hypothesise the situation," Matsui recently told British publication the Guardian. The new space tourism industry will certainly have such a wedding blast before the decade is out and Mastsui will be ready having tested several designs in Zero-G parabolic flights to ensure modesty is kept without the aid of gravity. There will be a designer microgravity wear line in 2007.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Rutan Promotes Mojave Spaceport

Aerospace engineer legend Burt Rutan recently spoke of plans to build a modern spaceport at his Mojave, California base as reported by Michael Belfiore in "Dispatches to the Final Frontier" Blog. Rutan spoke of the eventuality of "a hotel, a space passenger terminal, and training facilities that include a centrifuge will support two to four spaceflights a day out of Mojave Spaceport" using the SpaceShipTwo now under construction for Virgin Galactic's use at the Southwest Regional Spaceport in Upham, New Mexico.

Excitement is building throughout the region as the state's first commercial spaceport takes shape in the beautiful high desert of New Mexico. The people of Southern New Mexico are in hopes of an economic transformation from the significant state investment. Hopefully, Mr. Rutan might consider placement of a mock-up SpaceShipOne or even SpaceShipTwo at the New Mexico Museum of Space History so the thousands of young children who visit the site may too be inspired to share his goals of commercial spaceflight in the years to come.