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Monday, March 31, 2008

Jules Verne Set to Dock with ISS

The Jules Verne ATV-1 approached within 36 feet of the International Space Station tonight using an advanced laser autopilot system. The 20-ton European Jules Verne re-supply space freighter will dock with the ISS on Thursday if all goes as planned.

Designing and building Jules Verne has cost European Space Agency over $2 billion. Four more cargo space freighters are in the works, with their assembly and launch each costing nearly $500 million.

Named after Jules Verne, the French author who pioneered science fiction, the vehicle carries 7.5 tons of water, food and other essentials for cosmonauts and astronauts residing at the space station.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Jules Verne and ISS in Night Sky

On March 28th Tom A. Warner photographed the pair flying over Rapid City, South Dakota to create this unique movie. Linked is yet another from Jirka Bulant of Orlov, the Czech Republic.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Space Access Society 2008 Underway

Armadillo Aerospace CEO John Carmack will talk about the 'six-pack' concept vehicle being designed to fly to NearSpace and perhaps one day enable a space dive back down to Earth. [Video]

The Space Access Society 2008 conference is underway in Phoenix, Arizona this weekend with an impressive annual agenda. Kindly reminded by conference blogger Henry Cate, there are four blogs covering the gathering. Rand Simberg is blogging about the conference at Transterrestrial Musings. Clark Lindsey is blogging at HobbySpace, you can start here. Jeff Foust is blogging at Personal Spaceflight. With reports from Henry, Rand, Clark and Jeff, one should get the feel for the gathering in Phoenix.

Jules Verne Closing on Space Station

The Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle is closing on the International Space Station [ISS] for docking on April 3rd at 10:40 EDT [video] following Demoday 1 and Demoday 2, currently scheduled for 29 and 31 March. The Demodays are intended to demonstrate the ATV's ability to dock entirely safely with the ISS and, in particular, to perform an escape maneuver commanded by the ISS crew when Jules Verne is just 12 metres away from the station. The BBC News notes that the space truck is ready for rehearsals.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Soyuz to Launch April 8 to International Space Station

Cosmonauts Yi So-yeon, the South Korean Spaceflight Participant, Commander Sergei Volkov, and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko.
The Russian Soyuz TMA-12 mission is set to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Tuesday April 8 to the International Space Station following the Thursday April 3rd first docking of the new European unmanned payload spacecraft known as the 'Jules Verne.' Soyuz Commander Sergei Volkov, [the first offspring of a past space explorer cosmonaut Alexander Volkov], and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko will begin the Expedition 17 along with Garrett Reisman who will be replaced by Gregory Chamitoff upon the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on May 31.

Shuttle Down; Jules Verne to Dock w/International Space Station April 3

ISS/Shuttle Flyby Credit: Billy Teets at Dyer Observatory, Brentwood, TN
With the space shuttle Endeavour safely down at Kennedy Space Center following a textbook 16-day spaceflight, the next major event at the orbiting International Space Station is the docking of the new European Space Agency’s automated transfer vehicle (ATV), Jules Verne, which is slated to make a "first time" automated docking on April 3.

Jules Verne will begin a series of automated maneuvers to approach the ISS this coming weekend with the most important maneuvers occuring on March 31 and April 3. They will be shown live on NASA TV. NASA coverage of the event will begin at 8 a.m. EDT on March 31, 2008, as the Jules Verne begins its approach from about two miles away from the International Space Station.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

XCOR to Launch Lynx Spaceplane in 10

XCOR, a Majove Desert, California commercial space firm, introduced the new two-seat Lynx suborbital spacecaft designed to fly high atmospheric flights of 40-miles to the edge of space several times per day using rocket engines in 2010 [VIDEO]. Flight ticket prices are expected to be $100,000.

"The Lynx will offer affordable access to space for individuals, researchers and educators," said XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. "Future versions of Lynx will offer ever-improving capabilities for scientific and engineering research and commercial applications." More from The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the New Scientist.

XCOR is the same private commercial space firm that brought the EZ Rocket Racer forth in 2005 [video 1 and 2]. Clark Lindsey has more details on the history and future of XCOR's commercial spacecraft.

ZeroTax = Zero-G in Virginia

Virginia-based Space Adventures has purchased 100% of the equity in Zero-G Corporation, reports Florida Today noting that the recently enacted Virginia ZeroGravity-ZeroTax measure may have played a small role in the decision [audio].

Zero-G provides 90-minute flights, during which passengers experience weightlessness for seven to eight minutes during 30-second climbs and dives along a parabola, [video].

The new owner, Space Adventures Ltd., is based in Vienna, Va., although company officials said the Zero-G plane will remain in Fort Lauderdale, where Zero-G previously was based. Formerly a part-owner, Space Adventures now owns 100 percent of the company.

Zero-G in January landed a $5 million-a-year contract with NASA to provide microgravity flights the agency now flies with its own planes. NASA has two planes to fly microgravity missions, but contracted with Zero-G to begin a commercialization policy.

Space Adventures President and Chief Executive Officer Eric Anderson said the Virginia tax break is welcomed, although it did not influence his decision to buy the company.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mars Rover 'Spirit' May Continue Despite Cuts NASA Administrator Says

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin indicated this afternoon that despite media reports that one of the two Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) may have to be shut down because of a $4-million budget cut to the $20 program for 2008, 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity' WILL REMAIN roving about the surface of Mars, reports CNN International. The knowledge value of the science returned from the Red Planet by the twin rovers over the past four years is untold depsite the nearly $900-million multi-year program cost.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Double-Flyby Views of the ISS and ATV 'Jules Verne' Possible This Week

Those interested in viewing the ATV-1 Jules Verne and the International Space Station with the space shuttle Endeavor may gain a look-see this week in a clear night sky with timing aided by SpaceWeather.

The European Space Agency's new robotic cargo carrier, 'Jules Verne', has parked itself in the earth's orbit, 1,000 miles in front of the International Space Station and will begin to close the distance after space shuttle Endeavor departs the station. The vehicles will be seperated by only minutes apart following the same track across a dark sky.

As ATV-1 Jules Verne vanishes in the East, the ISS appears in the West, notes the NASA's Spaceweather website and QuickTime VIDEO - a must see!

Election Puts Space at Crossroads

Douglas MacKinnon, a former White House and Pentagon official, has pinned an editorial in the Saturday Houston Chronicle entitled "No place for partisans on NASA, space exploration." The editorial is a worthwhile read for those interested in presidential leadership in civil space policy.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cosmic Blast Detected from Billions of Years Ago by NASA Swift Satellite

The NASA Swift satellite detected the brightest cosmic explosion ever recorded from the Earth with the naked-eye on March 19 as a massive gamma ray burst of energy known as GRB 080319B half-way across the universe or 7.5 billion light years away. Gamma ray bursts are among the most violent phenomenon produced in the universe, [NASA Video about Swift].

Gamma ray bursts occur when huge stars use up all their fuel and their core collapses, forming black holes or neutron stars that release bursts of gamma rays, ejecting particles into space at nearly the speed of light and generating afterglows. National Geographic reports more on the record-setting explosion.

Eta Carinae is expected to provide a large blast one day in near cosmic time [Stardate] lighting the night sky more than the Moon! Swift will be looking for it in the meanwhile [video].

Hubble Space Service Repair Mission May be Delayed from Aug. 28 Target

The Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission by space shuttle Atlantis [STS-125] may be delayed due to external fuel tank development issues now slated for launch August 28 from the Kennedy Space Center.

The so-called "in-line" external tank built from the ground up with post-Columbia upgrades, including a new ice-frost ramp design and titanium oxygen line support brackets assembly line is incomplete for flights after the next May 25 mission by Discovery [STS-124] that remains on target.

Lockheed Martin's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans East [video] has a backlog of assembly work for the new "in-line" external tanks slowing downstream tank deliveries. The delay most likely will require new launch target dates for the now planned August 28 space shuttle flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope and all the space station final assembly flights until the production issues are better managed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mars Salt Deposits Clue to Future Hunt

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University/University of Hawaii

Over 200 salt deposits have been discovered in numerous places on the Mars southern hemisphere. Using the Themis thermal camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, the spacecraft imaged areas where water was once in abundance and which could point to the past existence of life on the planet, according to Mikki Osterloo at the University of Hawaii and reported upon by the BBC News.

Mounting scientfic observational research [video] by Mars planetary scientists points to water being largely available on the surface 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago.

Titan May Have Subsurface Ocean

Saturn's moon Titan may have a significant worldwide subsurface ocean of water and ammonia in evidence being uncovered from radar data collected from the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around the ringed planet. [Video]

"We believe that about 100 kilometers (62 miles) beneath the ice and organic-rich surface is an internal ocean of liquid water mixed with ammonia [at Titan]," said Bryan Stiles of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The New York Times, the BBC News, The Planetary Society, Sky & Telescope, and Science Daily each share in the new data discovery news from Titan.

Titan has dazzled planetary scientists before as seen in this BCC video.

Planet HD 189733b Show Signs of Methane & Water 63 Light Years Away

Credit: BBC
Exo-solar Planet HD 189733b has now been found to harbor molecule methane in its atmosphere as a result of new data collected from 63-light year away on a Jupiter-sized planetary object by the Hubble Space Telescope, reports Science Daily and The Baltimore Sun.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke Passes Today at 90

Arthur C. Clarke, a visionary science fiction writer and "futurist" who won worldwide acclaim with more than 100 books on space, science and the future, died Wednesday in his adopted home of Sri Lanka. He was 90 [video]. Linked is the account from Times Online in London, The New York Times and audio from NPR.

Clarke is credited with the concept of communications satellites in 1945, decades before they became a reality. Geosynchronous orbits, which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground, are called "Clarke orbits."

Several real-life space vessels have been named in honor of his fiction works, as a testament to how they helped scientists envision the future of humanity's place in the cosmos [video]. NASA named the command module for the Apollo 13 mission as well as a Martian orbiter after Clarke's 'Odyssey' [video].

"Sir Arthur's positive vision of the future excited generations about space exploration, and inspired millions to pursue scientific careers," said Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 lunar astronaut.

Clarke was also honored by the United Kingdom, which had him knighted in 2000, and Sri Lanka, [video] which bestowed upon the author its highest civilian honor in 2005. Sir Arthur will be missed by the international space community. Ad Astra our friend!

NASA Probes to Explore Beyond Mars

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told the 39th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Tx. recently that the federal space agency is cutting its planetary exploration budget to $343 million, which is just nearly half of the $620 million in last year’s budget estimates but will focus more exploration spacecraft on the outer planets of the solar system in the future.

Dr. Griffin said that NASA is now planning in earnest for an outer planets flagship mission to Europa, Titan or Ganymede. Europa [video] and Ganymede are moons of Jupiter. Titan is a moon of Saturn. The major funding cuts would come at the expense of future Mars programs as noted by the BBC News.

Earth's Most Powerful Telescope Fully Operational in Southern Arizona

The $120-million Large Binocular Telescope [LBT] is planet Earth's most powerful camera with two 28-foot mirrors mounted side-by-side located on Mount Graham at Emerald Peak in southern Arizona is now operational and looking throughout the universe with ten times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope by 2010. The technologically-advanced optical telescope was the subject of an NPR Radio story this week. [Video]

Astronomers will be able to see planets circling distant stars, a step beyond the capabilities of current land and space telescopes using the LBT. The long-term result should be the discovery of many more exo-planets beyond the current 277 within the Milky Way Galaxy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

NASA Altair Lunar Lander to be Studied

Andrews Space of Seattle, Wash., The Boeing Co. of Houston, Tx., Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company of Denver, Co., Northrop Grumman Corporation of El Segundo, Calif., and Odyssey Space Research of Houston, Tx. have each been awarded a part of $1.5 million NASA Constellation contracts for a 210-day study to independently evaluate NASA's in-house design concept [video] for the Altair lunar lander that will deliver four astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2020, [video] and Aviation Week.

"These studies will provide valuable input for developing a sound set of requirements for the Altair lunar lander," said Jeff Hanley, the Constellation Program manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Industry collaboration will provide insight for our planning and early design efforts for the spacecraft." SEE The Lunar Database video.

EADS Astrium Wants Spaceship Fleet

EADS Astrium, the would-be European tourist spaceship-maker, says the market demand for 63.5-mile plus space tourism flights will require production of 10-spaceplanes a year as ticket fare prices drop with global competition. Each spacecraft would have a design life of ten years. [Astrium video]

Robert Laine, chief technical officer (CTO) of the pan-European company, told BBC News, that spaceflight tourism will "develop towards a classical aeronautical business model. Someone will build the planes; somebody will operate them; somebody will sell the tickets; somebody will provide the accommodation - like any tourism."

The Astrium toruist spacecraft is being designed to seat five spaceflyers - one pilot and four passengers. It will use jet engines to leave a runway and fly to 12 kilometers before firing rocket engines to roar through the atmosphere and to over 100 kilometers or 63.5-miles. The spaceplane will be in zero-g for several moments then return to earth as a powered glider using subsonic jet engines in the atmosphere prior to landing.

As to a spaceport, Laine suggests, "in Europe, I'd say the most likely location is around the Mediterranean. Why? Because there are blue skies most of the time, and because from 100km you can see mountains, the sea and the coast."

Noting the possibilities of exo-atmospheric transport, Laine also said, "being able to climb on a regular basis to 100km will give us the motivation to develop the plane that goes, not just up and down to the same place, but from here to the other side of the Earth."

"When the Ariane 5 takes off, 15 minutes later it is over Europe; and 45 minutes later it is over the Pacific. The fastest way is to go outside the atmosphere and that will be the future," he told the BBC News.

EADS Astrium is the supplier of the Araine 5 booster and the ISS ATV Jules Verne.

"IT IS ALIVE!" Dextre the Robot on Orbit

Dextre, the Canadian Space Agency's $209 million space station robot, is alive and on-orbit at the International Space Station [ISS] brought to life by space shuttle Endeavour astronauts over the weekend. [video]

To one spacewalking astronaut he's Mr. Dextre. To another, Mr. Roboto, the eerie humanoid. To a third, he's Gigantor the Space-Age Robot. And to newspapers near Cape Canaveral, the "way cool space bot" and "the Canadian android," says

The robot has gangly mechanical handyman's 11-foot-long arms and once fully assembled, Dextre [video] will stand 12 feet and will perform may duties previously required of a spacewalking astronaut or cosmonaut at the ISS [video].

Dextre — short for dexterous and pronounced like Dexter — has seven joints per arm and can pivot at the waist. Its hands, or grippers, have built-in socket wrenches, cameras and lights. The New York Times today says that the robot "brings out a love of schlocky science fiction."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Russian Proton Fails After launch

A Russian Proton [YR-500] failed a few minutes after the Proton-M carrier launched from the Baikonur Space Center which Russia rents from Kazakhstan, the Breeze-M orbit insertion booster failed during its upper stage, putting the American DISH Network/SES AMERICOM commercial telecommunications satellite into orbit significantly lower than required for planned use.

International Launch Services (ILS), a joint venture Khrunichev Center, RSC Energia, and U.S. firm Space Transport Inc. headquartered in McLean, Va., have now suffered two launch failures of the Breeze M second stage engine within the passed six months. Commercial launch insurance rates and launch costs within the scetor are anticipated to now go up.

The now stranded satellite may still have a chance of doing a lunar flyby to reach the necessary geosynchronous earth orbit, a maneuver first proved successful about a decade ago.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Clinton-Obama Standoffs April 16/19

Space industry advocates may have more chances to ask space-related questions in what may be the last two Democratic presidential debates between Hillary R. Clinton and Barack H. Obama April 16 and 19. The debates may help shape the Democratic Party's race as to who will face would-be Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

Too few space questions have been asked of the presidential candidates outside of brief editorial questions in Texas and a TV news segments in Ohio. Someone may yet ask a question about commercial space launches, ITAR space technologies, and/or space treaties IF mainstream media questions may advance beyond gender and race, the Iraqi War, health care, or a pop quiz of name the Russian president. There needs to be a science journalist on one panel.

Clinton and Obama will debate April 16 in Pennsylvania sponsored by ABC News and April 19 in North Carolina sponsored by CBS. Pennsylvania voters go to the primary polls April 22 and North Carolina voters on May 6. And, who knows, there may yet be a Space Coast, Florida debate?!

Building Blocks of Life at AA Tauri

"Spectral fingerprints" of water and simple organic molecules that are precursors of the building blocks of life have been found in the dust and rubble swirling around a young star similar to our own sun known as AA Tauri - 450 light years away from Earth - by the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The new observations reveal the chemical precursors of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, up to three times the distance from the Sun to our own Earth, according to a report today in The Telegraph.

First of Five Spacewalks Tonight

Two astronauts - Rick Linnehan and Garrett Reisman - will commece the first of five planned spacewalks tonight at about 9:30 EST to start installation of Japan's first orbital room (a part of Kibo) and begin constructing the giant robot named Dextre. The space shuttle Endeavor is on a 16-day mission to the ISS. View the spacewalk on NASA-TV.

More Water Found on Mars

Very large deposits of water-ice have been found on the planet Mars far from the polar ice caps planetary scientists believe based upon latest data radar evidence presented at the 39th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas today.

The Sharad radar experiment, on Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft made the discovery in Mars' mid-northern latitudes, reports the BBC.

NRO Atlas V Launches from 'Vandy'

Vandenberg AFB successfully launched a AtlasV rocket today at 3:01 a.m from the California spaceport. The rocket took off from Space LaunchComplex-3 carrying a National Reconnaissance Office payload.

"This launch was an incredible achievement for Team Vandenberg, ULA,NRO and our other fellow launch partners," Col. Steve Tanous, 30th Space Wing commander said. "The hard work and dedication of everyone involved for the first launch of an Atlas V and for the year here, continues to ensure our nation'saccess to space."

The Atlas V is an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. This was the first Atlas V launch from Vandenberg.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Virginia's NASA Langley Leads the Way with Return to the Moon Orion Capsule

The Orion space capsule is rolled-out in Hampton, Va. It will undergo suborbital test flights at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico later this year. In 2014 the first orbital test flight will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with plans for return to the moon flight in 2020. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. today displayed the new Orion [video] simulated space capsule which will be used in the first in a series of tests of the ability of the launch-abort system to whisk the astronauts and capsule to safety in case of a problem on the launch pad, such as a fire, or during the uphill climb to low earth orbit, according to NASA. The guiding rocket motor is currently under construction at Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Va. MORE from The Daily Press w/video and The Virginian-Pilot w/video.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cassini Spcaeprobe Close Flyby of Saturian Moon Enceladus Wednesday

The Cassini spaceprobe, continuing its multi-year mission in orbit around the planet Saturn, will make a close encounter with the Saturian moon Enceladus on Wednesday making the closest approach yet to the edges of huge Old-Faithful-like geysers erupting from giant fractures on the surface of the far away moon, [video].

The errupting geysers are of very significant interest to planetary scientists who have been lead to theorise water - even a subsurface ocean - may be below the surface of Enceladus. Cassini will be approximately 120 miles from the surface. At closest approach to Enceladus [vid], Cassini will be only 30 miles from the moon, reports The Pasadena Star-News.

Europeans are now considering a new probe to Enceladus [vid] named Tandem.

SMART-1 Maps South Pole of the Moon

Credits: ESA/SMART-1/Space-X (Space Exploration Institute)
The European Space Agency's SMART-1 data is proving valuable in ploting strategy for future lunar landing and exploration missions. The above pictured mosaic of the lunar south pole was obtained with images taken by the Advanced Moon Imaging Experiment (AMIE) on board SMART-1. The pictures were taken between Dec 2005 and March 2006, during the lunar southern summer. The mosaic, composed of about 40 images, covers an area of about 500 by 150 km. Read more from the ESA.

Endeavour Makes Night Launch

With a busy 16-days ahead, the Space Shuttle Endeavour blasted skyward early Tuesday morning in the dark from the Kennedy Space Center with its crew of seven to begin the longest shuttle mission in the program's 27-year history. Five spacewalks are planned along with the deployment of the Kibo (Hope) space lab and the operation of the human-like robot Dextre.

The shuttle took flight with a flash of light, giving a peach-yellow glow to the low clouds just offshore before disappearing into the darkness after rumbling the ground [good vid] as its rocket motors thundered to 104% thrust. MORE Video

Monday, March 10, 2008

South Korea Replaces First Cosmonaut

South Korean space officials have named 29-year old female Yi So-yeon [vid] as the prime cosmonaut crew member and the first Korean national to go to space after replacing its initial choice, Ko San, at the request of Russian space authorities. [vid]

Ko allegedly violated regulations at a Russian space training center leading to his removal from the now scheduled April 8 space flight aboard the Soyuz TMA-12 booster rocket to the international space station, according to the International Herald Tribune.

Yi So-yeon, who holds a doctoral degree in bio systems engineering, will work aboard the International Space Station for about a week with two Russian cosmonauts, conducting scientific experiments. The mission will make South Korea the world's 35th country and Asia's sixth to send an astronaut into space.

The two South Korean cosmonaut candidates have been training together the past year after having been selected as the finalists to train in Moscow. Ko had been named the prime and Yi the back-up until today.

Florida Proposes $40 Million Resuable Space Industry Prize Program

Two Florida state legislators have offered identical Senate and House bills to create a "Resuable Space Industry Prize Program" funded by a proposed $40-million dollar prize "to the firm or individual in the private space sector providing the most significant advancements within the reusable space vehicle industry during the period beginning January 1, 2009 and ending January 1, 2014."

The Lieutenant Governor of Florida would serve as the proposed prize program chairman with authority to appoint a committee to establish the prize rules, according to the bills as introduced in the legislature.

Senate Bill 2310 [PDF] and House Bill 1295 [PDF] seeks $20-million in state funding to be matched by $20-million in private sector funding with the justification, (or legislative finding), being a $40-million dollar resuable space vehicle prize would stimulate the entrepreneurial investment with "a significant monetary return on the prize purse as well as considerable social benefit."

The V-Prize Foundation, a Virginia-based non-profit corporation, is developing a similar competitive prize program for point-to-point suborbital exo-atmospheric space flight.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Private European Mars Mission in 2009

The first private interplanetary space mission to the red planet Mars is being planned for launch from the European spaceport next year carrying the Amateur Radio Mars Orbiter P5-A and the Archimedes Mars Ballon Probe. The probes will be launched on an Ariane 5 [video].

The Mars Orbiter will make use of the Amateur Satellite Service allocations at 2.4 at 10.45 GHz and the 10 GHz beacon should be receivable by well-equipped Amateur Radio stations as it travels to Mars. [Video]

Archimedes will hover close to the surface of Mars taking crisp, full-color images. The privately financed German Mars Society in Munich is building Archimedes - a brainchild of Hannes Griebel.

In an hour long descent to the ground, the balloon craft would use an array of sensors to take temperature, wind and humidity readings to gain better understanding of Martian weather patterns, acording to a 2006 report in The New York Times.

Japan Builds H2-B Transfer Vehicle

The international operational aspects of the orbiting space station are entering a new phase with the European Automated Transfer Vehicle and the Japanese H2-B Transfer Vehicle being developed to service a growing multinational crew and new European and Japanese modules. The Japanese Transfer Vehicle is expected to make a maiden voyage to space in 2009.

In the past building and servicing the space station has been left to the American space shuttle and Russian Soyuz and Progress vehicles. The ISS program will have additional service options originating from launch pads in both South America with the European Ariane-5 and Japan H2-B.

As the United States retires the space shuttle in 2010, Europe and Japan are stepping-up to fill the supply transport void. It may yet come to pass the SpaceX and/or Orbital Sciences Corporation will fill the American spaceflight gap between 2011 and 2015 with commercial resupply and crew exchange launches from Florida and Virginia perhaps by 2011. The two American commercial launch firms may serve a private space station [video] as well.

'Dextre' Ready for Space Station Duty

Dextre, [video] a robot ready to fly aboard the space shuttle Endeavor Tuesday, will permanently reside at the International Space Station as an additional automated crew member. Dextre will demonstrate how far along space technology has come through international partnerships as it interacts with module segments from the United States, Russia, Europe and Japan.

Dexter is a $200-million Canadian creation; and, its formal name is 'Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator.' Through teleoperation, Dextre will perform tasks as a robot assistant in space station construction and maintenance once requiring spacewalking astronauts and cosmonauts. [Video on Kibo and Dextre].

Europe launches its first re-supply ship – Jules Verne ATV – to the ISS

Jules Verne, the first of the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV), a new series of autonomous spaceships designed to re-supply and re-boost the International Space Station (ISS), was successfully launched [video] into low Earth orbit by an Ariane 5 vehicle this morning, according to the ESA.

It will remain in a "parking orbit" and then is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on April 3 to deliver around eight tons of food, water, fuel and personal items to the orbiting crews, reports the BBC w/launch video commentary.

This ATV, dubbed "Jules Verne" in honor of the visionary French science fiction writer, is the first ATV that Europe has committed to its participation in the ISS program. Seven ATVs will be built in Germany to be launched from the Cayenne, French Guiana, South American spaceport about every 18-months. The Europeans could evolve the ATV to a human-rated launch and return vehicle in the years ahead.

ESA's ATV BLOG and videos 1 and 2 provide mission commentary prior to this quite historic European launch marking the beginning of a more significant role for the EU in the ISS and the beginning of the end for space shuttle operations in 2010.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Twin Countdowns to ISS Underway

The European Automated Transfer Vehicle [ATV1] 'Jules Verne' and the space shuttle Endeavour STS-123 vehicles are each in final countdown campaigns for launch Saturday night and early Tuesday morning night respectively.

The ATV1 will launch first from Ariane 5 rocket set for 10:59 p.m. EST Saturday, March 8, 2008 (tonight) from the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, South America while the space shuttle Endeavor STS-123 launch is set for 2:28 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, March 11 from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, North America.

Both will be destined for the International Space Station and both launches may be viewed on NASA-TV and on the web.

Endeavour 'GO for Launch!' Tuesday

Friday, March 07, 2008

"Weekend Astronauts" in Hawaii?

The Hawaii state legislature provided unanimous approval to a measure to fund a commercial spaceport study with the goal of a FAA/AST license last Tuesday. Specifically, the legislation appropriates an unspecified sum to the state’s Office of Aerospace Development “to conduct feasibility studies for a spaceport and to pay for consultation and other expenses incurred in applying to the Federal Aviation Administration for a commercial space transportation license,” notes Jeff Foust on the Space Politics blog.

NASA Wary of Relying on Russia to ISS

In 2 1/2 years, just as the station gets fully assembled, the United States will no longer have any spacecraft of its own capable of carrying astronauts and cargo to the station, in which roughly $100 billion is being invested. The three space shuttles will be retired by then, because of their high cost and questionable safety, and NASA will have nothing ready to replace them until 2015 at the earliest, relates an article entitled "NASA Wary of Relying on Russia" in today's edition of The Washington Post.

AstroPolitics Looks at 'Starship traders'

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may think they have their hands full with NAFTA, but just wait until it's time to renegotiate DSFTA, the Deep Space Free Trade Agreement. In the latest issue of Astropolitics, political scientist John Hickman thinks where no social scientist has thunk before in his new article, "Problems of Interplanetary and Interstellar Trade."

Hickman believes that interplanetary trade could be one of the primary economic drivers for space exploration in the future. The potential problems are by no means minor, however. MORE.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

New 'NewSpace' Videos Posted

New Space community leaders discuss their goals and ideals in a newly posted YouTube video entitled "Is space green?" Another new YouTube video post is the Orphans of Apollo Trailer. The Orphans of Apollo web site is here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine Signs 'ZeroGravity, ZeroTax' Into Law

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine signed into law the so-called 'Zero Gravity, Zero Tax' measure patroned by State Senator William C. Wampler, Jr. (R-Bristol) Sunday at the state capitol in Richmond.

Virginia will levy no income tax on business earnings that relate to human spaceflight training or actual space flights launched from the state's spaceport or for spaceflight in with NASA COTS contracts. The measure becomes effective July 1, 2008 for the tax year beginning January 1, 2009.

Governor Kaine signed the nation's first Spaceflight Laibility and Immunity law, sponsored by State Delegate Terry G. Kilgore (R-Gate City), last year. Florida is now seeking to duplicate Virginia's informed consent law with other states expected to follow.

ESA Jules Verne Launch to be Webcast

NASA Television coverage of the maiden launch of the European Space Agency's "Jules Verne" Automated Transfer Vehicle, or ATV, to the International Space Station will begin Saturday, March 8, at 10:15 p.m. EST with the liftoff of the Ariane 5 rocket set for 10:59 p.m. EST from the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. NASA-TV coverage will last until about midnight. ESA launch coverage is an alternative.

Norwegian Girl to Launch Music to ISS

Young Norwegian Therese Miljeteig, 14, won ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle music playlist competition in July 2007. Her music playlist will be launched to the astronauts onboard the International Space Station with Jules Verne ATV scheduled to launch from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, early in the morning of Sunday 9 March 2008.

The music playlist includes: Here Comes The Sun - Beatles; Come Fly With Me - Frank Sinatra; Rocket Man - Elton John; Up Where We Belong - Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes; Imagine - John Lennon; Flashdance - What A Feeling - Irene Cara; Walk of Life - Dire Straits; Fly - Celine Dion; Rockin' All Over The World - Status Quo; and, I Believe I Can Fly - R Kelly.

In the competition, youngsters from the ten countries who participate in the ATV Programme (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland) were invited to send in a top 10 music playlist for the astronauts onboard the ISS. As the winner of the ATV competition, Therese and her family will be travelling to Europe’s Spaceport. Here they will watch as Jules Verne ATV soars into the sky.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

October Shenzhou-7 Spacewalk Key to Future Chinese Orbiting Space Station

The Shenzhou VII three-man spacecraft is being readied for low earth orbit in October of this year with the mission of the first Chinese spacewalk as a critical step in the subsequent establishment of a big space laboratory, according to Qi Faren, former chief designer of China's Shenzhou spaceships.

"The taikonauts will move out of the spacecraft and exchange with the staff in other space probes, a crucial technical preparation for building a large space lab or station in the future," Qi told the Xinhua News Agency.

Monday, March 03, 2008

NASA Proposes $17.6 Billion for FY09

NASA announced a $17.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2009 to continue exploring the solar system, building the International Space Station, studying Earth from space and conducting aeronautics research.

NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said the increase for NASA’s 2009 budget demonstrates President Bush’s commitment to the agency’s missions. With the increase, NASA still accounts for less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

The NASA budget includes $5.78 billion for the space shuttle and space station programs, $4.44 billion for science, $3.5 billion for development of new manned spacecraft systems and $447 million for aeronautics research.

Dale noted steady progress with NASA’s missions, with three successful space shuttle launches last year and up to six planned for this year, including a flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope. The agency also is making progress in developing the Orion spacecraft and Ares launch vehicles to replace the aging shuttle fleet and prepare for journeys to the moon and destinations beyond.

NASA has 55 science missions currently in space, about half involving international partnerships, with 15 additional missions scheduled for launch by the end of 2009.

"The development of space simply cannot be ’all government all the time,’ " Dale said. "NASA’s budget for FY 2009 provides $173 million for entrepreneurs - from big companies or small ones - to develop commercial transport capabilities to support the International Space Station. NASA is designating $500 million toward the development of this commercial space capability."

"With over $2.6 billion in NASA funds available over the next five years to purchase cargo and crew services to support ISS operations, we would much rather be using this money to purchase cargo and crew services from American commercial companies than foreign entities" Dale added.

NASA Releases ISS Commercial Resupply Services Draft RFP

Quietly, America's space agency took an unprecedented step to a free and open frontier in space, with the February 28th release of the ISS Commercial Resupply Services draft request for proposals. The document symbolically represents a dramatic turn of direction for NASA, which has a long history of designing everything in-house and limiting itself to the use of cost-plus contracts.

"This baby step toward buying space station cargo services in a commercial-like manner is the beginning of a trend we like," Space Frontier Foundation Chairman Bob Werb said. "I look forward to the day when government will buy all needed launch services from commercial industry. I'm thrilled to put aside any concerns for the moment and celebrate this important step toward a free and open space frontier."

NASA is requesting industry comments to the ISS Commercial Resupply Services DRFP. The Foundation believes there may be significant problems with this first attempt by the old-NASA to operate in a new manner. Therefore, the Space Frontier Foundation encourages all industry leaders to read the draft carefully and send comments to NASA by March 13, 2008. Find the DRFP HERE.

SpaceX Releases Spaceflight Manifest

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) announced this Monday morning its newly revised mission manifest listing twelve flights of its Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles into space over the next 48-months including three NASA COTS demonstration flights in 2009 and 2010 and one flight in 2011 dedicated to Bigelow Aerospace.

"We are on track to deliver our first Falcon 9 vehicle to Cape Canaveral by the end of 2008," said Gwynne Shotwell, Vice President of Business Development for SpaceX. "In addition, we're very pleased to have signed a significant new US government customer for our next Falcon 1 flight, and will be releasing details shortly."

The full SpaceX mission manifest extends into 2011 and lists nine customers on twelve flights, including the three demonstration flights of SpaceX's testing the new Dragon spacecraft for NASA as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) competition with significant utilization of its new Cape Canaveral, Florida launch facility.

New Moon Rover Will Be Used for Planned Moon Mission in Near Future

NASA has released images of its latest lunar exploration concept vehicle named "Chariot" - a six-wheeled, variable height, stand-to-operate surface rover prototype designed to provide ideas for future designs as part of the long-term goal of establishing an outpost on the moon by 2020.

Built at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, each wheel on the new prototype vehicle has independent steering to enable "crab crawling" on the face of steep craters and other challenges presented by the lunar terrain, as well as having advantages for unloading and docking manoeuvres. Having six-wheels also means that the rover has more chance of continuing to function if something goes awry with one or two of the wheels - a point already proven on Mars.

Malenchenko Votes in Russian Election from the Orbiting Space Station

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko cast his ballot from the International Space Station in the presidential election held Sunday for the successor to President Vladimir Putin.

As in the 2007 parliamentary elections, Malenchenko voted "distantly," making his decision heard via a trusted person in the mission control center, who learned about his choice during the radio contact and thereupon preceeding to cast his ballot. To honor Malenchenko's vote, the cosmonaut corps in Star City, Russia went to the Cosmonauts' House where three polling stations were set up to cast their ballots simultaneously with their comrade cosmonaut Malenchenko.

Malenchenko did not say he voted for the new Russian President-Elect Dmitry Medvedev preferring to keep his ballot secret.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

SS3 on Point-to-Point Trajectory?

SpaceShipThree (SS3) is said to be the follow-on to a successful suborbital launch business from the 2010 Upham, New Mexico Spaceport America. Both Live Science and Hyperbola provide more insight to possible point-to-point (P2P) plans and/or orbit. SS3 may be similar to that of the Russian Myasishchev Design Bureau if one looks carefully at the Live Science posting.