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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jules Verne Re-Enters Atmosphere

The Automated Transfer Vehicle Jules Verne of the European Space Agency re-entered the Earth's atmosphere following completion of the first ESA mission to the International Space Station. The spacecraft burned Monday 47-miles above the Pacific Ocean competing a re-supply mission that started March 9.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

FALCON-1 MAKES HISTORY: GOES ORBITAL and MUSK CELEBRATES!

The Falcon-1 booster made orbit this evening giving SpaceX and Elon Musk a place in space history with an effort of less than six years and fewer than 500 employees! CONGRATULATIONS on a "picture perfect" launch [VIDEO].

"This is one of the greatest day of my life," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said. "The future of SpaceX is really great! This is just the first step of many. There are so many cool things in the future."

Musk went on to say that this is " a culmination of a dream; yeah, wow!" The latest on the flight of Falcon 1 Flight 4 is here. More on the launch from the MercuryNews.

Obama & McCain Promise the moon and Mars, Really.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer today examined the presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain as it relates to the two potential White House occupants and the future of the multi-billion dollar civil space program. The John Mangets piece is good and well worth the read.

Sign-Up for GLORY

The NASA mission GLORY has enabled names to be added to the Earth orbiting vehicle to be launched June 15, 2009 for the purpose of studing global warming and man-made climate change. The 2008 NASA Authorization Act reaffirmed Congressional support for the GLORY Earth science mission.

Shenzhou 7 Returns to Earth

Shenzhou 7 successfully returned to Earth landing with three humans aboard with one having conducted China's first space walk. The flight sets the stage for the next phases of the program to build a space station and expand upon longer duration space flights. PICTURES [15].

Shenzhou 8, now under construction, will have two important missions. One will be to make a breakthrough on techniques of rendezvous docking, the other to advance the design of manned transport spacecraft. Shenzhou 8 and Shenzhou 9 are expected to fly in 2010. The Shenzhou 8 and 9 flights may be similar to the NASA Gemini-Titan 6 and 7 flights in late 1965. MORE from The Times of London.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

President Hu Congratulates Taikonauts

The spacewalk performed by Chinese taikonaut Zhai Zhigang Saturday afternoon marks a major breakthrough in China's space program, Chinese President Hu Jintao said.

Hu talked with the trio taikonauts at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center for the Shenzhou-7 mission at 6:35 p.m. Saturday, when he inquired the physical conditions of the three taikonauts.

"Your country and your fellow citizens thank you for your devotion to the space program," he said. He congratulated the trio over the success of the spacewalk, and encouraged them to continue the efforts for a "complete success."

Zhai told the president that he felt "pretty well" during the spacewalk and that the space suit was very comfortable. He thanked the president and the Chinese people for their support and promised to complete their work with precision. The Shenzhou-7 will land in China on Sunday.

NASA Authorization Sent to President

The House and Senate have agreed to advance the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008, authorizing programs at NASA for fiscal year 2009 (FY09). The bill unanimously was sent to the White House today including several specific provisions to advance the return to the moon, commercial space launch, LANDSAT, and others.

H.R. 6063 keeps NASA on its current path toward completing the International Space Station, transitioning from the Space Shuttle to the new Constellation launch systems, and maintaining a balanced set of science and aeronautics research programs. The bill authorizes $20.2 billion for NASA for FY09--including $1 billion to accelerate development of the Constellation systems. The Constellation system, consisting of the Orion crew exploration vehicle and Ares launch vehicles, will provide our country with a modern, more robust, and safer manned spaceflight capability that will enable our astronauts to fly out of Low Earth orbit, an ability we haven’t had since the retirement of Apollo over 30 years ago.

Further, H.R. 6063 directs NASA to fly two contingency Shuttle missions to help ensure the safety and long-term viability of the International Space Station, and adds an additional flight to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the ISS. The AMS is an experiment managed by the Department of Energy to study charged particles in Cosmic rays before they are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Senate version of the bill added language that directs NASA to suspend any activities between now and April 30, 2009 that could preclude operation of the Space Shuttle after 2010. This will provide an opportunity to the incoming Presidential Administration to evaluate the Space Shuttle’s retirement. More from The Washington Post.

SpaceX Falcon 1, Launch 4 Sunday?

The SpaceX Falcon-1 is slated to be launched for a fourth time late Sunday in an effort to place a payload in orbit from the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific Ocean. It could be the first NewSpace commercial rocket to boost a payload to orbit; and, this attempt will be the fourth effort by the private launch firm.

The launch window Sunday could be anytime between 7 p.m. and midnight EDT or 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. PDT. If the weather or another problem prevents an attempt Sunday, SpaceX could try again Monday or Tuesday. Another launch window would open in late October if technical issues prevent an attempt this week. The launch will be webcast. More from MercuryNews.

RED FLAG WAVES IN SPACE!

The launch [video] of the Shenzhou VII spacecraft occured Thursday. The 15-minute space walk today marks yet another Chinese milestone in space as the third nation, following the Russians and Americans, to have humans outside a spacecraft in orbit of the Earth. China plans to build its own space station and, perhaps, have a human lunar mission by 2020. MORE HERE! The Chinese space program is also the world's fastest-advancing and fastest-upgrading space program.

Obama Cites Chinese Space Walk

"We've got to invest in science and technology. China had a space launch and a space walk. We've got to make sure that our children are keeping pace in math and in science," Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama acknowledged last night in the first 2008 presidential debate.

New Mexico Spaceport Design Unveiled

The New Mexico Space Authority are proceeding with contracts to build Spaceport America in the high desert. Design images were released this week in The Architects' Journal. The spaceport will be Virgin Galactic's hub for the commercial version of SpaceShipTwo and the WhiteKnightTwo carrier craft in 2010.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

US House Approves Soyuz Waiver

The U.S. House of Representataives today approved a measure granting a waiver to the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) enabling a waiver for the federal space agency NASA to purchase multi-million dollar taxi flights aboard Russian-made Soyuz into 2016.

The measure passed the Senate in September but there may yet be opposition to develop. Republican presidential candidate John McCain is, reportedly, opposed to an extention of the waiver to utilize Russian-made spacecraft to ferry US astronauts to-and-from the $100-billion International Space Station. The ISS are largely built by flights of the US space shuttle fleet.

The United States has been purchasing seats on Soyuz spacecraft the past few years with the current agreement expiring in 2011. The space shuttle fleet is slated to be retired in the summer of 2010.

Chinese Shenzhou VII Launched!

The Shenzhou VII capsule soared into orbit atop a Long-March II-F rocket from the Jiuquan spaceport in Gansu province in the northwest of China this morning in what may prove to be yet another milestone in the developing Chinese space program.

Zhai Zhigang, 42, will conduct his extra-vehicular activity (EVA) on either Friday or Saturday. Chinese media report that this latest mission is the "most critical step" in the country's "three-step" space program. These stages are: sending a human into orbit, docking spacecraft together to form a small laboratory and, ultimately, building a large space station.

More from the National Geographic News, the BBC, Christian Science Monitor, and Xinhua News Agency.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

STS-125 Delay Until Oct. 14

The launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope has been delayed to the early pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, October 14.

The launch delay is a result of the inclement Hurricane Ike weather conditions closing NASA facilities and halting the seven member crew astronaut training. Hubble Space Telescope replacement parts have also slowed the processing of the payload aboard the shuttle.

NFIRE SATELLITE TEST LAUNCHED

Vandenberg Air Force spaceport successfully launched a space launch vehicle, the Chimera target launch vehicle, which is a modified Minuteman booster vehicle with a simplified target payload at 11:57 p.m. Tuesday from North Vandenberg.

The launch was part of an exercise involving the tracking of along-range target missile by the Near Field Infrared Experiment, or NFIRE, research satellite.

"For the past 50 years Vandenberg has been at the forefront of advancingspace power." said Col. David J. Buck, 30th Space Wing commander. "This launch showcases Vandenberg Air Force Base's global impact and itscritical role in advancing space and missile systems."

This exercise provided an opportunity for the NFIRE satellite to collect high- and low-resolution images of a boosting rocket which will improve understanding of missile exhaust plume observations and plume-to-rocket body discrimination. Program officials will continue to evaluate system performance basedupon telemetry and other data obtained during the exercise.

The Missile Defense Agency, a joint service agency of the Department of Defense, will use this data to validate and update models and simulations thatare fundamental to missile defense technologies.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hypersonic Research Partners Sought

NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington and the Air Force Research Laboratory's Office of Science Research at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, have released a broad agency announcement describing their intent to establish three national hypersonic science centers. Hypersonic speed is defined as Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, and faster.

NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program and the Air Force Office of Science Research plan to set aside as much as $30 million to fund the centers over five years. The maximum grant will be approximately $2 million a year. The jointly funded program will support university-level basic science or engineering research that provides improved understanding of hypersonic flight.

"We have identified three critical research areas: air-breathing propulsion, materials and structures, and boundary layer control," said James Pittman, principal investigator for NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program's Hypersonics Project at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

"These three areas are the biggest hurdles to successful hypersonic flight and low-cost space access using an air-breathing engine."

Falcon-1 Launch 4 Being Readied

SpaceX may attempt the fourth launch of the Falcon-1 booster sometime Tuesday with a window through Thursday marking the fourth attempt to successfully put a payload into low earth orbit (LEO). Stay tuned!

SpaceX President Elon Musk also recently said "Flight 5 production is well underway with an expected January completion date, Flight 6 parts are on order and Flight 7 production will begin early next year. We are now in steady state production of Falcon 1 at a rate of one vehicle every four months, which we will probably step up to one vehicle every two to three months in 2010."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Groundbreaking for New Virginia Launch Pad Set for October 6

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, co-located at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, will be the scene of a groundbreaking ceremony for a new commercial launch pad planned for the Orbital Sciences Corporation Taurus-II booster early next month- Monday, October 6.

FlightGlobal notes in an article today that the commercial space launch firm is on the way to meeting more than half of the NASA COTS milestones to ultimately boost a payload to the International Space Station from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in 2011.

Orbital Sciences Corporation and SpaceX are the two NASA-approved COTS contractors. SpaceX gained recent FAA-AST approval for use of a new launch pad at Cape Canveral, Florida for the Falcon-9 to be launched in 2009.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chinese Spacewalker Named: Zhai Zhigang

Zhai Zhigang, 42, a colonel in the People's Liberation Army, will be the first Chinese taikonaut to walk in space. Zhai will join two other Taikonauts - Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng, both also 42 and People's Liberation Army fighter pilots, on board the Shenzhou VII for China's third manned space mission. Blastoff for a 68-hour flight is set for the evening September 25.

Zhai will spend 40-minutes to an hour in a spacewalk outside of his Shenzhou VII spacecraft on orbit September 26 or September 27 whereupon he will release a micro-satellite to broadcast his spacewalk to the Chinese public. More from China Daily and Space Daily.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Republicans Adopt Space Platform Too

Republicans, like the Democrats, adopted a platform plank at their 2008 national convention supporting America's space program into the next decade saying: "we share the vision of returning Americans to the moon as a step toward a mission to Mars. In advancing our country's space and aeronautics program, NASA will remain one of the world's most important pioneers in technology, and from its explorations can come tremendous benefits for mankind."

Congressman Seeks to Block American Use of Soyuz-to-ISS Flights Post-2011

Florida Congressman David Weldon intends to wield all of his "political influence" to stop the Congress from considering an extension of the space technology exemption to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act as a means to keeping the space shuttle flying post-2010.

NASA needs a waiver from an arms-control law in order to buy Soyuz spacecraft after the planned 2010 retirement of the space shuttle. With neither the exemption nor the shuttle, NASA has no other proven means of sending astronauts to the station.

Weldon said he opposes the waiver for two reasons: 1] to curb job losses at Kennedy Space Center, which launches the soon-to-retire shuttle; and, 2] the weakening foreign affairs position with Russia. He needs only one of the one hundred members of the Senate to object to an extension.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

TacSat-3 to Launch Next Month from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport


Tactical Satellite-3's scheduled October mission is set to demonstrate rapid data collection and transmission to the combatant commander in the theater of interest, according to the US Air Force. The TacSat-3 launch will occur from the Virginia-owned Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, on Wallops Island, Va. This will be the third orbital launch from the commercial spaceport in recent months.

Next Shuttle Launch: October 10?

With Hurricane Ike and Tropical Storm Josephine swirling in the Atlantic and threatening yet more delay, NASA space shuttle launch managers extended the next launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis [STS-125] from October 8 to October 10 at 12:33 AM EDT. The shuttle remains on the launch pad as of now for the Hubble Space Telescope Service Mission 4.

McCurdy: "fog of war with fights over money and strategy" May Foil Moon

NASA Admininstrator Mike Griffin sent an e-Mail to staff decrying the White House OSTP and OMB bean counters to kill shuttle.
Space historian Howard McCurdy of American University noted today that the nation's Vision for Space Exploration to the Moon, Mars and Beyond is rife with tensions between NASA and the White House that may result in the Constellation program "falling apart."

"What you are looking at is the fog of public policy making," McCurdy said. "If you looked down from a distance, (Apollo) was this beautiful straight line to the moon. But if you got up close, it was the fog of war with fights over money and strategy. It's the same now," McCurdy noted to the Orlando Sentinel.

The comment came in reaction to NASA Administrator Mike Griffen's e-mail last month expressing frustration about the White House surrounding funding issues surrounding the development of the Ares-1 booster and Orion capsule to return to the Moon and to replace the aging space shuttle fleet.

Griffin wrote his e-mail in response to messages from advisers encouraging him to call off the retirement of the shuttle. In the e-mail, Griffin says he fully expects the next president to order NASA to continue flying the shuttle, even though he considers the aging orbiter unsafe and consuming money needed to design and build his Ares moon rocket and Orion crew capsule. He acknowledges that the shuttle will remain, for the foreseeable future, the only means to transport U.S. astronauts to the international space station.

"They will tell us to extend shuttle," he says of a new administration. "There is no other politically tenable course. It will appear irrational _ heck, it will be irrational _ to say we've built a space station we cannot use, that we're throwing away a $100 billion investment, when the cost of saving it is merely to continue flying shuttle."

"In a rational world, we would have been allowed to pick a shuttle retirement date to be consistent with Ares/Orion availability, we would have been asked to deploy Ares/Orion as early as possible (rather than 'not later than 2014') and we would have been provided the necessary budget to make it so," he wrote.

"The rational approach didn't happen, primarily because for OSTP and OMB, retiring the shuttle is a jihad rather than an engineering and program management decision."

Thursday, September 04, 2008

NASA Announces Dr. Carl Sagan Fellowships in Exoplanet Exploration


NASA announced Wednesday the new Carl Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships in Exoplanet Exploration, created to inspire the next generation of explorers seeking to learn more about planets, and possibly life, around other stars.

Planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets, are being discovered at a staggering pace, with 307 currently known. Decades ago, long before any exoplanets had been found, the late Carl Sagan imagined such worlds, and pioneered the scientific pursuit of life that might exist on them. Sagan was an astronomer and a highly successful science communicator.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

China Advances Launch Date

The Chinese space agency is advancing the launch of its third human spaceflight - the Shenzhou VII - to late September, reports the Wen Wei Po newspaper. Three Chinese nationals will orbit the Earth and conduct spacewalks during the planned flight.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Palin: Where Does She Stand on Space?

Neo-conservative Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, 44, will be formally named the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee this week but little is known about her views on national civil and commercial space policy. Palin is on a high G-force political ride from small town mayor to governor to .... in little over a decade. [Video 1, 2, 3 and 4] Bio of Sarah Palin.