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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Launch Pad Decision Time at Orbital

After being selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration last February to demonstrate a new space transportation system for delivering cargo to the International Space Station, Orbital Sciences Corporation is expected to make a final decision on launch pad utilization between the Wallops Island Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia or Cape Canaveral, Florida this week.

In a three-year, $320 million cooperative program, NASA will invest $170 million and Orbital will contribute $150 million (including its planned Taurus II launch vehicle development investment) in the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) project. In its first phase, the COTS project will involve the development and flight demonstration of a commercial cargo delivery system to low Earth orbit with the potential to support ISS operations following the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010.

The initial announcement included a proposal to launch from Virginia's fledgling FAA-licensed commercial spaceport. But after intense lobbying by Florida aerospace interests, Orbital Sciences Corporation opened the launch site to bid. Both states have reportedly offered packages to lure the new Taurus II medium-lift rocket.

Orbital’s COTS demonstration mission is scheduled to take place in the fourth quarter of 2010. Subject to NASA’s future requirements, Orbital will be prepared to carry out several follow-on operational COTS missions in 2011 and to conduct as many as eight operational ISS cargo flights a year by 2012 and 2013. The Cygnus spacecraft to be launched aboard the Taurus II rocket will be capable of delivering up to 2,300 kg of cargo to the ISS and will be able to return 1,200 kg of cargo from the ISS to Earth.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Virginia Provides Spaceport Bonds


The Virginia General Assembly today adopted a multi-million dollar public bond package known as the 21st Century Capital Improvement Program which includes new funding for the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority to make significant infrastructure upgrades to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. The spaceport bond package enjoyed strong bi-partisan support from Governor Tim Kaine and the Legislature. The funding measure comes on the heels of the Virginia ZeroGravity-ZeroTax in 2008 and the Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act in 2007.

2 in 3 Vote for Spaceport America Tax District in Sierra County New Mexico

Spaceport America moved more from vision-to-reality today with nearly a 2 to 1 majority favoring the .25c gross recepits tax on each $100 spent to aid in the construction of the first purpose-dedicated $200-million commercial spaceport at a spot in the high desert known to locals as "Upham."

The raw votes totals were 2,046 voting in favor of the spaceport and 1,066 voting against in a huge victory for New Mexico spaceport advocates leading New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) Executive Director Steve Landeene to say, “The people of Sierra County have made a commitment to improve the quality of life for themselves and their children."

The certified vote total will enable formation of a new spaceport tax district providing part of a small revenue stream to assist construction of Spaceport America. In November, voters in adjacent Otero County will go to the polls to decide on a similar tax in that county. The state of New Mexico will provide the bulk of the $200-million for the new facility.

In the meantime, NMSA officials will continue to seek their site operator’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) along with a finalized agreement from Virgin Galactic as the spaceport’s anchor tenant, both of which conditions must be met prior to the project moving forward. More from MSNBC and the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

New Mexico Spaceport Vote Tuesday

Sierra County, New Mexico voters will have their say on Spaceport America Tuesday as the polls open to decide a .25% gross receipts tax referendum to help fund the $198-million dollar state-supported commercial space launch facility. The first-of-its-kind commercial spaceport is now planned for operation in 2010.

Virgin Galactic has added more voter-incentive to pass the referendum by offering one local resident each year of operation the opportunity to fly to space for free - a $200,000 value - from Upham.

A rejection of the tax by Sierra County voters could cripple the entire spaceport project because of conditions that must be met to access state funding for the facility at the time of creation of the spaceport tax district.

Early voting continues in Sierra County through today (Saturday). The election will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. A high voter turnout is expected.

Ballistic Re-Entry for Soyuz TMA-11

Soyuz Re-Entry Capsule
Departing the International Space Station last evening, South Korean Spaceflight Participant Yi So-Yeon, Russian flight-engineer Yuri Malenchenko and the US Commander Peggy Whitson boarded the Soyuz TMA-11 capsule only to ride a flaming hot "ballistic re-entry" - an uncontrollable, steep trajectory, much shorter than the planned path home exposing the crew to 10 times normal Earth gravity. But all ended safely after the spacecraft landed near the Kazakh border, south-east of the Russian city of Orsk and 260-miles off course. [Video 1 and Video 2 and The New York Times]

Oddly, in a unusual statement to reports post-landing Russian Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov seemed to blame women being on the Soyuz for the spacecraft being off course and in the ballastic re-entry telling AP: "You know in Russia, there are certain bad omens about this sort of thing, but thank God that everything worked out successfully. Of course in the future, we will work somehow to ensure that the number of women will not surpass [the number of men]. This isn't discrimination. I'm just saying that when a majority [of the crew] is female, sometimes certain kinds of unsanctioned behavior or something else occurs, that's what I'm talking about."

Soyuz TMA-1 in May 2003 and Soyuz TMA-10 in October 2007 also made ballistic descents to Earth from the space station. The ballistic re-entry is a degraded mode for landing. Ideally reentering spacecraft need to generate a small amount of lift to keep them at high altitudes for as long as possible to avoid the strain of 10G's on the crew.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Peggy Whitson Sets New Space Record

Peggy Whitson, US Astronaut and the first international space station female commander, will set a new American record with 377 cumulative days in space by the time she lands in Kazakhstan aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-11 on Saturday [Whitson bio video].

Whitson took the American spaceflight record from fellow NASA astronaut Mike Foale, who spent 373 days, 18 hours and 18 minutes in orbit during six career spaceflights that included a tour as ISS commander during the Expedition 8 mission between 2003 and 2004.

During Whitson's most recent tenure as the international space station commander, she participated in the installation of Harmony, Columbus, the first part of Kibo module additions as well as the docking of the Jules Verne space freighter, three space shuttles, and another Soyuz spacecraft. She commanded Americans, Russians, an Italian, a Frenchman, a German, a South Korean, and a Japanese crew at the station during the most recent stint as the ranking space station officer.

Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev holds the record for the most days in orbit with stints aboard two U.S. shuttle flights and four long-duration missions to the Space Station Mir and ISS for a total of 803 days in space.

NASA Bets on Commercial Launch Firms to Resupply Station Post 2011

The National Aeronsautics and Space Administration is not asking the US Congress to reauthorize the purchase of the Russian Progress resupply spacecraft after 2011. Instead, the space agency is betting on commercial launch firms SpaceX or Orbital Sciences Corporation to fill the demand along with bartered trades with Europe and Japan for use of their respective cargo space freighters.

According to a Request for Proposal [RFP] issued last week, NASA will seek to purchase transportation to the ISS for at least 20 metric tons of cargo between 2010 and 2015, when NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle is scheduled to begin flying astronauts and cargo.

Europe has lofted its forst new Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to the station this year and Japan's planned H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) is slated to fly next year.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Moon People vs. Ring People at Saturn

Cassini mission planners have been extended by two-years into 2010 and sixty additional orbits of the Lord of the Rings - Saturn. The tour plan selected includes 26 more flybys of the hydrocarbon-filled moon Titan, ice-spewing Enceladus will get seven more encounters, close encounters with several other Saturnrian moons, more study of the planet's famous rings and the gas giant's magnetosphere. The route selected pitted the "moon people" against the "ring people." [VIDEO] The Cassini mission cost is estimated at $3.27 billion by NASA and the ESA - and worthy of every single penny.

Rocket Racing League to Takes to Sky

"Gentlemen, start your rocket engines!" -vid

The Rocket Racing League is ready to take to the skies at varied venues around the United States beginning August 1 and 2 with the first Exhibition Race of the Rocket Racing League® to be held at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to be followed by the Reno National Championship Air Races (Reno, NV) - September 10-14; the X Prize Cup (Las Cruces, NM) - TBD 2008; and the Aviation Nation, Nellis AFB, (Las Vegas, NV) - November 8-9. [VIDEO Promo; an EZ-Rocket demo flight VIDEO in New Mexico in 2005; and earlier test in Majove VIDEO].

Full-fledged racing competition should begin in 2009, reports The New York Times. The news of the events is spreading through the media at MSNBC, New Scientist, Fox News, Wired, and the Las Cruces Sun-News.

ONE YEAR: ARES 1-X Countdown Begins

The countdown clock is ticking at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B to April 15, 2009 for the first "shakedown" test flight of NASA's new flagship - the developmental Ares 1-X. Three subsequent unmanned test flights of the Ares 1-X first stage will follow with a "dummy" second stage and Orion capsule providing "real-life" weight. The 327-foot booster rocket will loft humans on flights to the space station by 2015 and the Moon before the end of 2020 - if all goes as planned. [Ares 1 Test Flight Animation Videos One, Two, Three and Four.]

Monday, April 14, 2008

US Navy-JPL Bots May Put Telescope on the Moon in the Next Decade

The United States Naval Research Laboratory and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are working to place a telecope on the moon using robot rovers sometime in the not-so-distant future. Called the Dark Ages Lunar Interferometer, the DALI mission is still in its conceptual stages, but the rovers that would be delivered to the moon via lander need to be agile, able to work together, lightweight and multitudinous. One such concept provided by JPL — is the insect-like ATHLETE [see video or video].

The larger problem is energy - how to power the robots to do the work over time? The 'bots need to run for long stretches, be able to recharge their power stores and can't use heavy components that would drastically increase the mission payload. Such is one of the challenges to advance energy technology as a part of the Decadal Survey Committee.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

ONE HOT FOTO: ISS Transit of the Sun

John Stetson photographed the International Space Station transiting the sun on April 8th. "The transit movie lasts about 11 seconds," he says, "but the actual transit lasted less than one second." The silhouette traces the space station's impressively long and recently unfurled double solar arrays. The ISS appears to be skimming the surface of the sun, it is only 200 miles above Earth. Even so, this is one hot foto!

STS-124 Launch Target May 31st

The next launch of the space shuttle STS-124 Discovery is targeted for Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 5:01 EDT. The May 31 date is fluid due to a lack of contingency days in the current launch campaign. The Discovery 13-day mission is designed to continue construction of the International Space Station. STS-124 will be the last of 11 remaining flights of the space transportation system [STS] according to both official and unofficial flight maifests.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Yuri's Night Parties Around the Globe

Yuri's Night 2008 - Marking 47 Years!

Yuri's Night 2008 LIVE! More Gagarin video - 1, 2 & 3.

Top dog: Laika honored for being 1st

Laika, the female dog, was the first earthling in space says USA Today reporting the Russian street pooch is immortalized in bronze, 50 years after her historic, sacrificial flight as a part of the Russian Cosmonautics Day April 12 celebrations. The three-year-old mongrel was selected from an animal shelter to become the first living passenger to fly on any spacecraft - Sputnik 2.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Crew Arrives to ISS on Soyuz

The crew members of Expeditions 16 and 17 participate in an interview aboard the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Korea Launches Cosmonaut on Soyuz


Video here of one of the youngest female astronauts, 29 year old South Korean Yi So-yeon, and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko launched into space on the Soyuz. Thousands of South Koreans celebrated their first national launching to the space station today.

Press reports about "youngest woman" at 29 years old are incorrect, according to Derek Webber of Spaceport Associates. There may be other examples too, but in any case I think Valentina Tereshkova was only 26 when she flew on Vostok, and Helen Sharman was either 28 or 29.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Richardson Touts New Mexico Space

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, now out of the Democratic presidential contest, was back in Washington the past week touting his state's budding commercial spaceport with NASA, the Congress, and looking for funding for the Upham, New Mexico's Spaceport America slated to open in 2010.

Richardson believes Spaceport America in particular, and space commercialization in general, can be an important piece of New Mexico's future economy. And most of the economic benefit will land in our backyard, it was reported in the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Despite the influence of Florida, Texas and California, Richardson avers his western state of New Mexico makes more sense than any of them for commercial space travel. The governor frequently notes that there is history, expertise, great flying weather, lots of open space and sparsely populated land and, because of the altitude, the first mile's free in New Mexico.

With but a few days until the April 22 vote in Sierra County, New Mexico on a gross recepits tax to support the construction of the spaceport, Richardson may be telling the story more over the next few days.

Countdown Underway for Souyz to ISS

The countdown clock is ticking for the first South Korean, Yi So-yeon, and a second-generation Russian cosmonaut, Commander Sergey Volkov, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to launch to orbit, according to the JoongAng Daily. The Soyuz spacecraft to be launched Tuesday is now on the pad being readied for depature to the International Space Station. NASA-TV coverage of the Soyuz TMA-12 launch begins at 6:15 AM Tuesday for the 7:16 AM EDT launch. Docking coverage will be broadcast Thursday beginning at 8:30 AM.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

F-22 Raptor as Space Fighter?

The F-22 Raptor is an adaptable high-technology military flying machine with capability to become an early 21st Century anti-satellite weapon launcher, according to a recent report indicating that a derivative of the Aim-120 AMRAAM missile is being modified for just such a new mission.

A senior U.S. Air Force official confides that the capability is inherently that of a cheap, rapidly-deployed, air-launched weapon for shooting down satellites in low-Earth orbit if the service or Missile Defense Agency were to order its further refinement and development.

“If you put the missile in an F-22 [Raptor] and launch it at Mach 2 and 60,000 ft. while in a zoom and at a 45-degree angle, you’ve got an ASAT capability against spacecraft in low-earth orbit,” says one USAF General.

Air Force planners are said to be adamant that the missile be on forward deployed, manned fighters like the F-22 Raptor. Tactical air planners bring up the frustration in the 1991 Gulf War when pilots could see Scuds ascending but had no way to attack them.

Subscribe to Spaceports to stay infromed as to military space applications.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Mikulski Miracle: 3rd Time Charm?

U.S. Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today expressed concern for the future of NASA's budget and America's space program pledging at a hearing today in Washington to fight to add $1-billion to the federal space agency budget in 2009.

The 2009 CJS spending bill is Senator Mikulski’s third attempt to gain approval of her $1 billion NASA amendment. In 1987, Congress allocated $2.7 billion in the aftermath of the Challenger tragedy to pay for a replacement shuttle. In the aftermath of the Columbia tragedy, however, NASA was not given any additional funding to repair the remaining shuttles. The amendment will pay back the costs of returning the Shuttle to flight and restore cuts to science, aeronautics and exploration programs that were cut in order to pay for the return to flight.

The Senator's press release is HERE; the Hampton, Va. Daily Press and the Political Action for Space offers more.

Docked!

At 10:45 AM EST the European Space Agency’s first resupply and reboost vehicle successfully performed a fully automated docking with the International Space Station (ISS). This docking marks the beginning of Jules Verne’s main servicing mission to deliver cargo, propellant, water, oxygen and propulsion capacity to the Station, as well as ESA’s entry into the restricted club of the partners able to access the orbital facility by their own means. More ESA.

Dr. Mike Griffin, NASA Administrator said in a statement, "I am incredibly proud of and pleased for our European partners with this demonstration of a successful automated docking of the ATV cargo vehicle with the ISS. Only Russia has previously achieved a successful automated docking in space. This accomplishment showcases yet again the progress which has been made by the international partnership in bringing this incredible program to fruition. Together with the arrival of the Columbus Module at the ISS earlier this year, the success of the ATV marks the arrival of Europe as a full-fledged space power. I applaud their achievement."

While Europe and Japan plow ahead with new station resupply space freighters, the United States proceeds with the last 11 flights of the space shuttle amid hopes that SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation will both demonstrate new commercial space freighter resupply vehicles before the end of 2010.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Jules Verne Cleared to Dock at 10:41

The European space freighter Jules Verne has been cleared to dock with the International Space Station at 10:41 AM EDT Thursday demonstrating a new means to bring supplies to the platform. NASA-TV will provide LIVE coverage beginning at 8 AM.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Sierra County Spaceport Vote April 22

Tuesday, April 22 is the date set for a tax referendum among Sierra County, New Mexico voters to decide whether or not to impose a .25% sales tax to become part of the team sponsoring Spaceport America.

The deal struck nearly two years ago was that at least two of the three counties surrounding the New Mexico spaceport would create a taxing district by voting to levy a quarter percent on gross receipts to support the spaceport construction with the state.

Dona Ana County approved the tax last year, with Las Cruces going for it in a big way and voters in the southern part of the county making it a close election. Otero County has not set a date for a vote. Sierra County is the site of the would-be spaceport.

The April 22 vote in Sierra County is expected to be close just as it was in Dona Ana County last April even with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's active support [video].