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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Solar Eclipse Live from China Friday

Thousands are expected to coverge in the Gobi desert in far-off western China Friday's total eclipse of the sun with an 80% chance of clear skies for the solar event. Yet for millions of remote viewers the solar eclipse may be seen LIVE on the WEB beginning at 6:00 AM EST Friday.

The solar eclipse will begin with the shadow of the orbiting moon slowly moving over the sun's face until it obscures the bright solar disk completely for about 2 1/2 minutes before the shadow recedes. Totality will occur at 7:09 AM EST.

Video of the 2006 solar eclipse from Turkey may be viewed HERE. The next total solar eclipse to occur in Northern America is 2017.

Gov. Kaine Veep Speculation May Aid Prospects for Commercial Space Launch

Commercial space advocates may be pondering the prospects of having a United States Vice-President that signed into state law the nation's first Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act and the first state 'ZeroGravity, ZeroTax Act' if Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama picks Virginia Governor Tim Kaine as his running mate for the November election. From recent media attention, Kaine appears to be on the 'very, very' short list to be on the 2008 Democratic national ticket as a vice-presidential candidate. The 50 year old Virginia governor has been a strong backer of development of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and he has supported commercial space launch efforts in Virginia during his tenure. Both Obama and Kaine are Harvard University law graduates.

New Phobos Moon Images to Aid 2009 Russian Phobos-Grunt Mission Planning

The European Space Agency's Mars Express snapped images of the Martian moon Phobes last week that now will be used to aid in the planning of the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission to be launched in 2009. The Phobos-Grunt mission will seek to gather soil from the small Martian moon and return it to Earth.

Griffin Says Ares Booster Tanks Could be Used in Commercial Venture

NASA's Constellation rockets Ares I crew launch vehicle and the cargo carrying Ares V could be modified for future commercial use if proposals were made to the agency NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said as Oshkosh, Wis., according to Flightglobal. The statement came about from a question about future use of the Ares-I and Ares-V external tanks in orbit by commercial space developers.

Monday, July 28, 2008

SpaceShipTwo Carrier Plane "EVE" WhiteKnightTwo on the Tramac

Virgin Founder, Sir Richard Branson and SpaceShipOne designer, Burt Rutan, today pulled back the hangar doors on the new WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft that will ferry SpaceShipTwo and thousands of private astronauts, science packages and payload on the first stage of the Virgin Galactic sub-orbital space experience. [VIDEO 1 and VIDEO 2]

Christened EVE in honor of Sir Richard’s mother, who performed the official naming ceremony, WK2 is both visually remarkable and represents ground-breaking aerospace technology. It is the world’s largest all carbon composite aircraft and many of its component parts have been built using composite materials for the very first time.

At 140 ft, the wing span is the longest single carbon composite aviation component ever manufactured. It has the power, strength and maneuverability to provide for pre space-flight, positive G force and zero G astronaut training as well as a lift capability which is over 30% greater than that represented by a fully crewed SpaceShipTwo.

The vehicle has a maximum altitude over 50,000 ft and its U.S. coast-to-coast range will allow the spaceship to be ferried on long duration flights. An all carbon composite vehicle of this size represents a giant leap for a material technology that has already been identified as a key contributor to the increasingly urgent requirement by the commercial aviation sector for dramatically more fuel efficient aircraft.

Powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A engines, which are amongst the most powerful, economic and efficient available, WK2 is a mold breaker in carbon efficiency and the epitome of 21st century aerospace design and technology.

WK2 will be able to support up to four daily space flights, is able to carry out both day and night time operations and is equipped with a package of highly advanced avionics.

Rutan’s Scaled Composites facility has been strictly out of bounds whilst design and construction has been underway, but guests today were additionally given a tantalizing preview of SpaceShipTwo, clearly visible but heavily shrouded and well on its way to completion, in the smaller of Scaled’s two hangars awaiting its own rollout in 2009. Also see, CrunchGear for photos.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Push the Pickens Plan

2009: International Year of Astronomy

During the month of July this blogger had the opportunity to visit the Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, and the Very Large Array radio telescope in the desert of New Mexico but unfortunately desert monsoon clouds and rain foiled each and every night image observation opportunity. Even the night of lesiure astronomy in Sedona, Arizona was cancelled [video] because of the night cloud cover!

While the observational astronomy of the moon, Jupiter, and star systems was a bust this summer, there is the International Year of Astronomy coming in a few months to again seek to repeat some of the lost observation time with some of the professional astronomers met from the summer 2008 trek in which to celebrate 400-years of the telescope. [VIDEO]

Many thanks for the several e-Mails from readers who missed the July Blog posts!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Space Shuttle Launch Dates to Advance

Space shuttle launch managers Friday requested approval of new launch dates for STS-125 Atlantis to service the Hubble Space Telescope and STS-126 Endeavour to resume construction at the International Space Station by advancing 3-days, according to CBS News.

If approved and no delays encountered in the launch campaigns, Atlantis STS-125 would take off on the Hubble servicing mission at 3:02 a.m. EDT on Oct. 5. Launch of shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-126 would occur around 10:39 p.m. on Nov. 7.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Orbital Science Corporation's Taurus-2 May Seek Human Launch Rating!

Space News is reporting that Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation is conducting a study of human-rating the Taurus-2 launch vehicle following the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to demonstrate an ability to ferry cargo to and from the international space station.

An Orbital source told Space News that the company in early July began an internal study intended to identify the costs associated with human-rating the Taurus 2 and modifying the Cygnus system to carry a two-person crew.

The source said the main market Orbital has in mind is space tourism but that a human-rated Taurus 2 also could be used for space station crew rotation flights if demand warrants.

The Taurus-2 will launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia in the fall of 2010. Meanwhile, SpaceX is preparing the Dragon spacecraft for launch from Cape Canaveral.

Intelligent Space Robots to Explore Solar System as Human Vanguard

Before the year 2020, scientists are expected to launch intelligent space robots that will venture out to explore the universe for us, reports ComputerWorld today, noting that autonomous spacecrafts that will be able to analyze data about points of interest as it passes and then make quick decisions about what needs to be investigated.

NASA is planning an unmanned mission to Titan, Saturn's largest moon, around 2017. CalTech physicist Wolfgang Fink says that an orbiter would most likely release a balloon-type vehicle that would float above the surface of the moon and send its findings back to Earth requiring it to make decisions with Earthly controllers because of communication time lag.

WhiteKinightTwo is to be Unveiled Monday at California Spaceport

The Bakersfield Californian is reported late yesterday that the WhiteKnightTwo will be unveiled in the Mojave Desert Monday by British billionarie Sir Richard Branson and aerospace engineering legend Burt Rutan as a part of the commercial system to fly passangers to space in 2010. WhiteKnightTwo is being designed to boost SpaceShipTwo to launch at 50,000 feet altitude.

Aldrin Calls for NASA Moon Plan Review

Apollo 11 moon-walker and space icon Buzz Aldrin is calling for a new independent study of the Constellation program including the Orion space capusle and the Ares-1 booster designs, reports The Houston Chronicle.

Concerned by reports that the Ares rockets and Orion crew capsule are beset by cost overruns, schedule delays and complex technical woes, Aldrin says he wants to create a panel of experts to make sure that Constellation is the right way to go, the Texas newspaper reported today.

The National Academy of Sciences is currently assembling a 14-member panel for a $400,000 study of the goals and rationale of the U.S. space program. And The Planetary Society, one of the country's largest organizations promoting space exploration, is preparing a position paper for the candidates that will encourage NASA to save money by, for example, exploring asteroids rather than the moon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Aurora Borealis Caused by Explosions of Magnetic Energy NASA Study Says

Magnetic energy explosions 80,000 miles above the surface of the Earth result in the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights witnessed in northern areas of the planet revealed NASA scientists studying the mysterious bright wave-like movements in the atmosphere.

Using a fleet of five NASA satellites designed to observe and record magnetic and electrical activity around Earth, the researchers found that the sudden changes were caused by magnetic reconnection, a common process that occurs throughout the universe when magnetic field lines stretched by the force of the solar wind suddenly snap into a new shape, like a rubber band that has been stretched too far, reported The Washington Post today.

New Human Spacecraft Proposed by Russian/Europeans for 2018 Flight

A new Russian-European human-rated spacecraft called the Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS) is being proposed to replace the Russian-made Soyuz in 2018 according to the BBC. NASA's Administrator has been urging the Europeans to develop their own human-rated spacecraft for low earth orbit operations. Yet the new Euro-Rus spacecraft may be designed for lunar operations.

Orion's Max Launch Abort System Test Set at Wallops Island, Virginia

The Orion space capsule now being designed as NASA's next human spacecraft may have a new launch escape system if tests now underway at NASA Wallops Flight Facility this year prove positive.

The Max Launch Abort System (M-LAS) tests will provide data to the NASA Engineering and Safety Center which is charged with evaluating a potential alternate design for the launch abort system of NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle. The name "Max" is in honor of Maxime Faget, the original designer of the Project Mercury capsule and holder of the patent for the "Aerial Capsule Emergency Separation Device" (escape tower). M-LAS incorporates a sleek, bullet-shaped composite fairing that completely encapsulates the Orion crew and service modules.

The proposed MLAS uses existing ATK-built solid-rocket motors placed, at 90° intervals, in a bullet-shaped boost protective cover originally designed to protect the Orion spacecraft from aerodynamic stresses during launch, along with providing an interface between the spacecraft's crew module with the LES. With the MLAS, NASA can not only reduce the height of the Orion/Ares I stack, but also reduce weight and center-of-gravity issues that a traditional LES would have incurred

The M-LAS concept will be validated by conducting an unmanned pad-abort test at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia this fall 2008.

Lunar GPS in Development Stage

Future lunar astronauts traversing previous unexplored regions of the moon will utilize a Moon Positioning System similar to those used by Earthly motorists using GPS. The new moon system will rely on signals sent from lunar beacons, stereo cameras and sensors on lunar orbiting spacecraft with the data being provided to the astronaut's spacesuit and moon buggie/rovers. More from Scientific American and Spaceflight Now.

Moon-Walker Claims Alien Contact

Apollo 14 moon-walker Edgar Mitchell claims that governments around the globe have covered-up alien visits to Earth for over 60-years based upon his research work with other scientists and military intelligence officials in a British Radio Interview.

Dr. Mitchell was the sixth human to walk on the surface of the moon in 1971. The 77 year old former NASA astronaut indicated in several UFOs have visited our planet since the Roswell, New Mexico incident in 1947.

Mitchell is author of The Way of the Explorer. He grew-up in Roswell, New Mexico.