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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


What a night in Prague! Happy New Year 2009.

Videos best watched full screen from beginning-to-end with the speakers up (NOT wide open). And a Moscow and Sydney 2009 New Year!

2009: International Year of Astronomy

IYA: 400-Years of the Telescope
The 2009 International Year of Astronomy has arrived with 140-nations around the Earth turning "eyes into space" to ponder the magnificance of the moon, the planets, the Milky Way and the Universe. What better way to say: "Happy New Year!" And celebrate the year for 365-days and listen to daily Podcasts. More on 2009 as the International Year of Astornomy - Vid-1, Vid-2 and Vid-3.

For those lucky to view it, there will be a Total Solar Eclipse [TSE] over India, China and parts of the Pacific Ocean on July 22, 2009. Meanwhile, the 1st International Planetary Defense Conference will be held in Spain April 27, 2009; and the The International Astronomical Union will meet in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil August 03 - 14, 2009.

The calendar year 2009 will also bear witness to several new and exciting space launches that have been previously profiled. The space shuttle fleet will undertake an ambitious launch schedule to continue construction of the space station and make Hubble Space Telescope repairs; a private spaceflight participant will make his second flight to ISS; the Russians and Chinese will be a joint unmanned mission to Mars; the United States will send space probes to the Moon and flyby Mars while probes will be launched to seek-out new planets and asteroids; and, NASA's Constellation Project will test the new Ares-1.

The Europeans and Americans will conduct climate change observations; SpaceShipTwo will make the first test flights from the Mojave Spaceport; the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport will launch another orbital military satellite and build a new launch pad; the South Koreans will launch their first space satellite as well.

Then too, full-fledged Rocket Racing should start in 2009! So please, stay tuned. There will be much in civil, commercial, and military space to blog about in 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008

NASA and the Second Decade of the 21st Century: Where is the future?

The New York Times today provided its readers a Interactive Graphic of ten slides of the Constellation systems Ares-1 and Ares-V along with a story of the political challenges associated with the program entitled: The Fight Over NASA's Future. The story and ten slides are well worth review.

China Planning Place in Heaven

Space Lab SimulatorA located inside the Beijing Space City

The People's Republic of China rocket scientists and engineers are planning a "place in heaven" called Tiangong 1 [vid] for future taikonauts in the 2011 to 2012 time frame according to various sources. Tiangong 1 will be an eight ton "space laboratory module."

Zhang Jianqi (张建启), Vice Director of China manned space engineering. declared in an interview of China Central Television that Tiangong 1 will be launched at 2010~2011 with the possibility that an unmanned Shenzhou 8, and human-rated Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 will dock with the new Chinese orbital outpost, according to Global Security. The Long March 5 booster is being planned to boost space labs and space stations [video] and perhaps using the new booster to break earth orbit for a human fly around of the moon.

China said in 2006 that it wants to become the 17th member of the International Space Station program, which includes the U.S., Canada and nations in the European Space Agency.

2009: Space Age Economic Stimulation

Virginia is gaining some Space Age economic stimulation in Northern Virginia and the Eastern Shore with the much anticipated development of an Orbital Sciences Corporation Taurus-II booster. The rocket is to launch supplies to the International Space Station in 2011 from Virginia's fledgling Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

Orbital Sciences Corporation is planning a 500-to-600 job expansion at the launch firm's Dulles, VA facilities upon the announcement of the $1.9 billion NASA space station re-supply contract. Another 100-to-125 will be created on Virginia's Eastern Shore with $26-million planned expenditures on a new launch pad and associated infrastructure.

Does Virginia mean business? Aerospace business that is; and, perhaps, even human-rated space flights from Virginia? Many believe in the possible-to-probable.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kitt Peak National Observatory Offers Public Use of 36" Telescope for $95

For the first time in history the Public Outreach Department of the Kitt Peak National Observatory (Arizona) in conjunction with the WIYN consortium is offering stargazing nights on a 36" research telescope on the evenings of January 3, 4, 5 and 6 at a cost of $95. Participation is limited and avaiablity will go fast. So ... celebrate 400 years of the telescope! [More: Vid-1, Vid-2, Vid-3 and Vid-4]

2009: Dawn Gravity Assist Feb. 7

The NASA DAWN spacecraft, enroute to visit asteroids Vesta in 2011 and Ceres in 2015, will gain a gravity assist from the planet Mars February 7, 2009 to gain speed [Vid-1 and Vid-2]. Dawn's ion engines may get a short workout next January to provide any final orbital adjustments prior to its encounter with the Red Planet.

India to Place Humans on Moon 2021

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is working to place humans in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) before 2015 and on the surface of the Moon by 2020 or 2021 says ISRO Chief Madhavan Nair.

"We're developing a capsule to carry humans to space. 2 astronauts are going to the earth's orbit for a week or so in 2015 and then 5 or 6 more years to send a man to the moon," Nair said in a recent interview.

China to Build World's Largest Radio Telescope to be Completed in 2013

The Very Large Array on the Plains of San Agustin, New Mexico is now one of the world's premier astronomical radio observatories consisting of 27 radio antennas.

Construction of the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) commenced in Guiyang, China yesterday; and, when completed in 2013 it will be the largest radio telescope in the world at a cost of over $102-million USD, according to the Xinhua News Agency and The Shanghai Daily.

It will have 4,600 panels and be similar in design to the Arecibo Observatory, utilizing a natural hollow (karst) to provide support for the telescope dish. It will use an adaptive surface that adjusts to create parabolas in different directions, with an effective dish size of 300m. This means that, unlike Arecibo, it will not be confined to pointing directly upwards [2002 PDF].

The advantage of FAST lies in its sensitivity which is double that of the Arecibo Radio Telescope and one order of magnitude higher than fully steerable 100-meter diameter antennas. The project is being supervised by the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Friday, December 26, 2008

2009: 1st Planetary Defense Conference Set for April 27th

Meteor Crater, Arizona is an asteroid impact site [vid].

The International Academy of Astronautics will hold its first conference on protecting our planet from impacts by asteroids and comets the week of April 27, 2009 in Granada, Spain. The 2009 conference will bring together worldwide experts to discuss:

In late November 2008, a United Nations panel was advised to prepare protocols for a asteroid impact by creating an international decision-making program to respond to the threat of Near Earth Objects (NEOs).

The report -- Asteroid Threats: A Call for Global Response -- was compiled by the international Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation, a group comprised of members of the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), as well as other experts tackling the NEO threat and repercussions to the Earth. The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will meet in February 2009 to take-up the international poilcy issue.

2009: Simonyi to Make 2nd Commercial Spaceflight in March

Billionaire Hungarian-American software engineer and private spaceflight veteran Charles Simonyi will be making his second Russian Soyuz spaceflight to the growing International Space Station on March 25, 2009 as a commercial spaceflight participant (tourist) [video]. His first spaceflight was in the spring of 2007.

The Soyuz TMA-14 be the final flight of a space tourist to the International Space Station. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the extension of the crew of the station to six crew members, all Soyuz crew positions in the foreseeable future should be occupied by the long duration Expedition crews.

Esther Dyson, the daughter of physicist Freeman Dyson and mathematician Verena Huber-Dyson, and sister to digital technology historian George Dyson is training as the back-up crew member for Simonyi [video].

Thursday, December 25, 2008

2009: United States to Send Orbiters to the Moon to Map the Surface in 3D

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is set for launch scheduled for launch aboard an Atlas V 401 rocket from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Friday, April 24, 2009.

The orbiter [the LRO] will spend a year mapping the moon from an average altitude of approximately 30 miles. It will carry six instruments and one technology demonstration to perform investigations specifically targeted for preparing for future human exploration [video]. The instruments are provided by various organizations throughout the United States, and one is from Russia.

Along for the ride to the Moon will be the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite [LCROSS] with a defined mission to confirm the presence or absence of water ice at the moon's south pole. Both spacecraft will join Japanese, Chinese and Indian lunar probes now in orbit conducting remote sensing of the entire lunar surface. Several other lunar missions are planned in the decade ahead.

2009: Earth Science Satellite Launches Planned by NASA & ESA

In 2009 three key environmental data-collection satellites will be launched to enhance global climate change studies. The NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory will launch in late February 23, 2009; NASA GLORYwill launch June 15, 2009; and, the European Space Agency CryoSat-2 will launch in November 2009.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will provide global space-based observations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal human-caused driver of climate change. The spacecraft is currently scheduled for launch no earlier than (NET) February 23, 2009.

NASA's GLORY satellite will collect data on the properties of aerosols and black carbon in the Earth's atmosphere and climate system. It will enable a greater understanding of the seasonal variability of aerosol properties following the planned June 15, 2009 launch.

The European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 will will monitor the thickness of land ice and sea ice and help explain the connection between the melting of the polar ice and the rise in sea levels and how this is contributing to climate change. The observations made during CryoSat's lifetime will determine whether or not Earth's ice masses are actually thinning in response to climate change folliwng the November 2009 launch campaign [Video] following the loss of CryoSat-1.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

$3.5 Billion NASA Awarded Two Private Space Launch Contractors

NASA today announced that Space Exploration Technologies Corp. [SpaceX] and Orbital Sciences Corporation [OSC] were awarded two International Space Station (ISS) freight contracts totaling $3.5 billion dollars with a 1.9-billion-dollar order for 8 launches to the OSC and a $1.6 billion dollar order for 12 flights to SpaceX, said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate Administrator for Space Operations.

Orbital Sciences Corporation will use a new launch pad at the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island while SpaceX will launch from its new commercial spaceport at Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The first SpaceX launch is scheduled for December 2010, and the first OSC launch is set to take place in October 2011. The two contracts, which take effect on January 1, 2009 and expire on December 31, 2016, each plan for transporting a minimum of 20 tons of freight to the ISS.

The Wall Street Journal reports that this is "the biggest boost yet for commercial investment in outer space." Saying further "that it also could be the ultimate risk in government outsourcing." More from Delmarva Now, The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Washington Post, NASA and The Space Frontier Foundation. What a super announcement for Virginia's spaceport!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Forty Years Ago Apollo 8 Circles the Moon: Merry Christmas!

Forty years ago the first human beings navigated the first human spacecraft around the Moon on Christmas eve 24 December 1968 following the launch from Earth. A little more than six months later the first humans set foot on the surface of the lunar surface marking a new epoch in the Space Age. The Chicago Tribune recently did a series on the Apollo 8 Christmas. Astronauts on the International Space Station paid tribute to the Apollo 8 crew of 40 years ago in this video.

2009: Red October for the Red Planet

The Russian spacecraft Phobos-Grunt will launch to Mars next October (2009) along with what is China's first planetary mission named Yinghuo-1 [Mars-1, Firefly-1] in a bilaterial exploration of the Red Planet and one of the Martian moons Phobos [vid].

China’s Yinghuo-1 and Russia’s Phobos-Grunt probes will fly to Mars together onboard a Russian by a Russian Zenit rocket with a Fregat upper stage from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The two spacecraft will fly together for 11 months, and will carry out separate missions upon reaching the Martian orbit in September 2010.

During the flight to Mars, the two satellites will be connected by cables and Phobos-Grunt will supply the energy for Yinghuo-1 which will will focus mainly on the study of the external environment of Mars. Chinese researchers will use photographs and data to study the magnetic field of Mars and the interaction between ionospheres, escape particles and solar wind.

The Russian spacecraft ("Phobos Soil") mission’s objectives are to collect soil samples from Phobos, a satellite of Mars and to bring the samples back to Earth for comprehensive scientific research into Phobos, Mars and Martian space [video].

Phobos-Grunt makes the Russian space program first return to Mars in excess of a decade yet it will be the second mission to the moon Phobos [vids]. Five new missions are now being planned to Mars in the decade ahead.

2009: Kepler and WISE Seek Answers in the Nearby Milky Way Galaxy

Two space missions in 2009 will seek to answer significant questions about our nearby galaxy in the upcoming year when the spacecraft Kepler launches in March and the Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer [WISE] spacecraft launches in November.

NASA's Kepler mission is designed to search for exoplants within the habital zone of 100,000 stars where liquid water and possibly alien life might exist in the relative nearby region of our own Milky Way Galaxy. The mission will launch March 6th and it is now in the launch campaign at Cape Canaveral, Florida for the four-year mission [vid-1 and vid-2].

The NASA WISE mission is designed to study asteroids, the coolest and dimmest stars, and the most luminous galaxies. WISE will survey the entire sky in a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum called the mid-infrared with far greater sensitivity than any previous mission or program ever has seeking out brown dwarf planets, hundreds of asteroids, and inventory nearby young stars and their dusty disks.

Taken together, the two planned 2009 spacecraft missions will advance planetary science significantly answering critical questions about space in our neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy and perhaps survey nearby asteriod threats.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

WhiteKnightTwo Makes Year End Flight

Rob Coppinger's blog Hyperbola provides exclusive video of the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) mothership "Eve" WhiteKinghtTwo (WK2) in flight. SpaceShipTwo tests will begin in the New Year. More from Leonard David.

Ares 1-X Flight Launching in 2009

William Harwood has a good story for CBS News posted on Spaceflight Now as to how NASA is proceeding with the Ares-1X Flight Demonstration Test later next year (2009) despite the uncertainty associated with the incoming White House Administration. The test may come July 11th or be delayed into October. Linked is a video of the 10th quarterly progress report.

Ariane 5 Boosts Last Payload for 2008

The Saturday launch of the Ariane 5 rocket lifts two communication satellites to orbit: The HOT BIRD 9 (primary payload) and W2M (secondard payload) and may be viewed in the above video [best full screen].

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Obama Names Harvard's John Holdren White House Science Advisor

Dr. John Holdren, a well-respected Harvard physicist and director of the program on science, technology, and public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, has been named by President-elect Obama as the next White House science advisor today.

Holdren, 64, former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, is a specialist in energy and climate change who advised former Vice President Al Gore on the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

“The disruptions and its impacts are growing more rapidly than anyone expected even just a few short years ago; there is already widespread harm,” Holdren said in an interview last year. Linked is an article by Dr. Holdren entitled: The Energy Innovation Imperative.

Dr. Holdren's positions on space science and NASA are not well known. But here is a video interview by him earlier this year Vid-1, Vid-2, Vid-3 and Vid-4.

TacSat-3 Delayed Until Ides of March

UPDATE: The TacSat-3 or Tactical Satellite is now DELAYED until approximately the Ides of March but it is set for launch aboard an Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur I booster rocket from the FAA/AST commercially licensed Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport co-located at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia for a pre-dawn mission to orbit [video].

The TacSat-3 will be the third orbital launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in a little over two years with the Minotaur I booster rocket. The TacSat-3 launch campaign has been delayed into 2009 because of glitches with the USAF satellite. But the Minotaur I has successfully boosted the TacSat-2 and the NFIRE from the spaceport [video] to low Earth orbit [LEO]. The TacSat 2 launch was seen by observers west of Detroit in late 2007.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport was selected by Orbital Sciences Corporation for the first test flights of the Taurus-2 NASA COTS flight to demonstrate re-supply capability to the International Space Station in late 2010.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter Solstice Sunrise to be Webcast from Ireland to Kick-Off International Year of Astronomy

The Irish node of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 is offering to share with IYA2009 Worldwide a live webcast from the neolithic passage tomb of Newgrange, in County Meath, Ireland, of the winter solstice sunrise on December 21st. This event is organised and sponsored (for IYA2009), by the Office of Public Works in Ireland. This will be the first of many IYA2009 events. See and

The webcast will be live from 08.30 to 09.30 UTC on December 21st. The actual sunrise is ~08.55 UTC. Each person around the World who wishes to take the webcast will have to link to a specified URL (via a clickable link on your website, say) and then the video will be streamed to them directly at 150 Kbps or 300 Kbps. The company can cope with a very large number of simultaneous feeds. There will be clickable links set up on and according to Professor Michael Redfern, School of Physics, National University of Ireland.

Last Launch of Ariane 5 for 2008 Set for Saturday Afternoon from Kourou

With a launch window of 4:51 PM and 5:50 PM ET Saturday, December 20, the last Ariane 5 launch of year 2008 is to be webcast from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, South America. The readiness of Arianespace’s heavy-lift vehicle will be the sixth of year.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told The Baltimore Examiner that "The French/Euro launch vehicle is kicking our butt in the commercial space market. The U.S. used to have more than 90 percent of that market."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ares 1X test flight could be delayed

The Ares 1X test flight slated for launch in mid-July 2009 could be delayed to October due to the need for a rescue launch pad needed for the Hubble Space Telescope mission set for May 12. Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39-B must be modified to launch the the 327-foot Ares 1. A NASA decision will be made soon to determine if Pad 39-A could be used to launch the primary shuttle mission and a rescue mission from the same pad. [Ares 1 Test Flight Animation Videos One, Two, Three and Four.]

STS-126 Crew and Lunar Rover to Join President-elect Inaugural Parade

President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden's Inaugural Committee will have the NASA STS-126 Space Shuttle Endeavour and other agency officials. In addition to the Endeavor crew, the NASA contingent will include a small pressurized rover. That vehicle is one concept for a new generation of lunar rovers that astronauts will take with them when they return to the moon by 2020.

A new NASA float was suggested by NASA Watch :-)

The 56th Inaugural Parade for the 44th President will proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol steps to the White House. It will follow the swearing-in ceremonies on Tuesday January 20, 2009.

Gov. Tim Kaine Proceeds With $10M Spaceport Bonds at Wallops Island

Despite an expected $2.9 billion shortfall in the Virginia state budget, Governor Tim Kaine is proceeding with a $10-million for new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport via infrastructure bonds through the Virginia Public Building Authority, as was expected.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport will serve as the launch pad for the planned Taurus II rocket being developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation as a part of the NASA COTS. The first launch of the new booster is expected in late 2010. A $16 million bond was adopted last year to build a new launch pad for the Taurus-II.

"Governor Kaine is clearly a man of vision," said Jack Kennedy, a member of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. "The General Assembly will need to ratify the spaceport infrastructure funding in the 2009 General Assembly session."

Space-based Missile Interceptor Backed at U.S. Defense Summit

A Space-based Missile Interceptors is gaining currency following Congressional approval of $5 million for an independent study of possible element of the emerging U.S. anti-missile defense. The study was part of the fiscal 2009 defense spending bill signed into law on September 30 by President George W. Bush. It is the first seed money for potential space-based interceptors since a Democratic-controlled Congress canceled such work in 1993, it was noted at the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit yesterday.

A pro-space-based missile defense panel called the Independent Working Group has estimated that a space-based system could be tested within three years at a cost of $3 billion to $5 billion. The group further recommended deploying 1,000 space-based interceptors at a projected cost of $16.4 billion in 2005 dollars to provide "high-confidence" protection against attacks involving up to 200 warheads [video].

New NASA Report Stresses Need to Retire Space Shuttle Fleet in 2010

The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that an internal National Aeronautics and Space Administration study projects that extending the space shuttle program until 2015 would cost up to an additional $13 billion and could increase the chances of accidents with astronauts aboard. Findings of the study, which has not yet been released, are likely to be discussed during a NASA briefing on 4 PM ET (today) Wednesday.

The new NASA report stresses the perils involved in delaying retirement of the shuttle. Continuing shuttle launches to the International Space Station through 2015 would add as many as 15 flights and raise the "cumulative risk" of an accident to "1 in 3.2" missions, the study says. While the risks for a particular flight won't increase, according to the study, overall risks of malfunctions, collisions with space debris and other problems increase with the number of flights.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Clouds of Titan's Lakes Studied

The Saturn moon Titan has clouds that form at the edge of its several lakes at the north pole with the main layer sitting about 25 to 30 miles above the moon's surface according to a report on the findings today published by National Geographic. The clouds may also help scientists determine whether liquid methane or liquid ethane makes up Titan's lakes. [Videos 1, 2, 3 and more from Wired.]

MIT Research Group Suggests Improved US-China Space Cooperation in 2009

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Space, Policy and Society Research Group has issued a report entitled The Future of Human Spaceflight addressing such pressing issues as the retirement of the space shuttle, use of the International Space Station (ISS) and strategies for reaching the moon and Mars. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the report is its call for greater international collaboration, most notably with China. The MIT report has been received by the Obama NASA Transition Team.

The MIT team says we need to begin engagement with China as this could yield "enormous" benefits for both sides. Cooperation, the report says, "could encourage the Chinese to open their space program and help end speculation about their intentions in space," adding that doing so could help avoid a potentially dangerous space arms race, according to MIT's Technology Review.

Message to the Next President: SSP

President-Elect Barack Obama's transition team has posted a space solar power (SSP) position paper on and requested public comments. The Space Frontier Foundation and the National Space Society urge those associated with them to file prositive statements on the presidential transition web site. The next president should get your message [video].

SSP has gained support the past year resulting from a unique report from the National Security Space Office at the Pentagon. Last spring Lt. Col. Paul Damphousse spoke to the 2008 Energy Technology Conference at The University of Virginia's College at Wise on SSP with a traditional electric power provider warming to the concept to the extent of calling for public hearings in the House Energy & Commerce subcommittee on energy. Meanwhile, The Future Channel has recently completed a documentary on the project.

Post your comments today to the Obama Transition.

FAA Issues Spaceport America License

Spaceport America at Upham, New Mexico has won FAA/AST license approval to become the nation's seventh commercial spaceport yesterday. It follows Alaska (Kodiak), California (Mojave and a commercial launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base), Florida (Spaceport Florida at Cape Canaveral), Texas (privately operated by Blue Origin near Van Horn), Oklahoma (Burns Flat) and Virginia (Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport).

The $198 million spaceport (formerly known as the Southwest Regional Spaceport) will start construction early next year with commercial Virgin Galactic flights [5-min video] planned in late 2010 or 2011 [3-min. video of spaceport construction plan].

Saturn Moon Enceladus surface 'splits and spreads' with ice so data denotes

Similar to Earth's ocrean floor, the Saturian moon Enceladus splits and spreads at the surface suggesting a vast sub-surface sea on this alien world reports the BBC from a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco this week [6-min. video].

High resolution images taken by the spacecraft Cassini [video] indicate that the surface of Enceladus is active and changing. New surface crust is created from distinctive cracks known as "tiger stripes" that are similar to the mid-ocean ridges central to the tectonic system on our own planet states a NASA press release.

Two moons of Saturn -- Enceladus and Titan -- have taken on new scientific interest resulting from the Cassini mission.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cryovolcanos May Errupt on Titan

Ice volcanos or cryovolcanos spewing a super-chilled liquid into its atmosphere may be errupting on the surface of the Saturn moon Titan suggests the results from data collected during several recent flybys of Titan by NASA's Cassini spacecraft according to new research released today at an American Geophysical Union gathering in San Francisco, Calif.. The Saturn moon Enceladus also has cryovolcanos. Moon and Saturn ring scientists continue to vie for time with the Cassini spacecraft to answer the many new scientific questions.

Taurus II Engine Test Set for Stennis

NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center will provide propulsion system acceptance testing for the Taurus II space launch vehicle, which Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., is developing. The first Taurus II mission will be flown in support of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services cargo demonstration to the International Space Station. The demonstration currently is planned for the end of 2010 from the Virginia-owned Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport co-located upon the NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

Orbital's Taurus II design uses a pair of Aerojet AJ26 rocket engines to provide first stage propulsion for the new launch vehicle. Orbital anticipates the first engine will be delivered to Stennis in mid-2009. Linked is the complete NASA Stennis Space Center press release on the test project.

Animation: Space Diving Sports!

Kyle Botha has released an excellent space diving animation video this month vividly creating what a participant may do and see from a leap 100 km above the Earth. Xtreme Space of California along with Orbital Outfitters have been developing the space diving concept for some time.

Now the real deal in video of "the man" who did it nearly half-a-century ago from a lower altitude than space but who still holds the record.

Six Space Shuttle Launches in 2009?

The space shuttle fleet has an extremely ambitious six launch manifest to continue construction of the international space station and repair the space telescope in New Year 2009 with scheduled launches in February, May, June, August, November and December plus the first test flight of the Ares-1 booster in July.

The STS-125 Atlantis will fly seven astronauts into space for the fifth and final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope May 12. During the 11-day flight, the crew will repair and improve the observatory's capabilities to capabilites never witnessed previously.

Five of the six space shuttle missions are dedicated to station construction beginning with the planned February 12 launch of STS-119 Discovery taking the the fourth starboard truss segment to orbit to be followed by STS-127 Endeavour in June with the delivery of the exposed facility of Japan's Kibo laboratory to the ISS.

In mid-July 2009, NASA has now planned the first text launch of the Ares-1 booster configuration. The Ares I-X flight will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I, [video].

STS-128 Atlantis is now slated for launch in August will boost a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module to carry experiment and storage racks to the ISS while STS-129 Discovery will deliver components including two spare gyroscopes, two nitrogen tank assemblies, two pump modules, an ammonia tank assembly and a spare latching end effector for the station's robotic arm in November.

Completing the busy 2009 space shuttle launch schedule, the December-planned STS-130 Endeavour which will deliver to orbit the final connecting node, Node 3, and the Cupola, a robotic control station with six windows around its sides and another in the center that provides a 360-degree view around the ISS.

The year 2009 will be one busy launch schedule for the Kennedy Space Center teams if the proposed schedule is sustained while marking a huge year for International Space Station construction and crew number expansion from three to six.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

NASA Constellation Progress Report Set for Wednesday, 17 December 4 PM

NASA will host a media teleconference Wednesday, Dec. 17, at 4 p.m. EST, to brief reporters about recent developments and ongoing progress in NASA's Constellation Program. Constellation will build the spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and return humans to the moon by 2020 [video].

The teleconference participants are: - Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington - Jeff Hanley, Constellation program manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston - Steve Cook, Ares projects manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. - Mark Geyer, Orion project manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

To participate in the call, parties should dial 800-790-1836 and use the pass code "ESMD update." Replays of the call will be available through Dec. 24, 2008 by dialing 866-507-3617 and entering the pass code 52368. The teleconference audio will be broadcast live here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Geminid meteor shower coming ...

Planet Earth is passing through a significant space debris field this month known as the Geminid meteor shower with part of it entering the planet's atmosphere to appear as “shooting stars” in the night sky. The maximum peak of the meteor shower is expected December 13, 2008. More from StarDate and Space Weather. A viewer that can block the Moon glow may usually expect to see around 50-80 meteors per hour at peak, and under ideal conditions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tension Builds With NASA Transition?

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the NASA Transition is becoming tension-filled as words are exchanged between leaders of the Obama Team and NASA Administrator Mike Griffin about the Constellation Program. The report further states that President-elect Obama is likely to name a NASA Administrator soon, assuming the report to be correct.

Dr. Griffin has subsequently denounced accuracy of the initial Sentinel article reports The Washington Post quoting the NASA administrator saying, "This report, largely supported by anonymous sources and hearsay, is simply wrong," he wrote in an e-mail to NASA employees. More from Time.

Nobel Laureate Physicist to Lead DOE

Berkeley physicist Steven Chu will be named the US Secretary of Energy under the Obama administration charged to spearhead a federal department with a $25 billion budget, 14,000 employees and more than 193,000 contract workers.

A 60-year-old Nobel laureate, Chu has been Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since August, 2004 (with a staff of 4,000 and a budget of about $600 million). Chu's Nobel credentials will be a first for the cabinet-level energy post in Washington. [Video]

It is expected that the Chu-lead Department of Energy will pay a critical role in the government's efforts in zero-carbon energy development and the climate change mitigation efforts. He may be friendly to the efforts of the Space Frontier Foundation to advance Space-based Solar Power [SSP]. [More Audio/Video on Chu]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Virgiliu Pop: Who Owns the Moon?

Romanian lawyer Virgiliu Pop has a new book entitled Who Owns the Moon?: Extraterrestrial Aspects of Land and Mineral Resources Ownership now available via

The author's work investigates the permissibility and viability of property rights on the celestial bodies, particularly the extraterrestrial aspects of land and mineral resources ownership. In lay terms, it aims to find an answer to the question "Who owns the Moon?" [Video]

Leonard David provides more about Pop's latest book with an article in today. This Blogger ordered the book yesterday after reading his first space property rights book Unreal Estate - The Men who Sold the Moon in 2007.

HST: Extrasolar Planet Found With Carbon Dioxide Atmosphere

The Hubble Space Telescope, set for installation of new equipment and repair by space shuttle astronauts next May, has made an outstanding new discovery of a Jupiter-sized planet, called HD 189733b, with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere orbiting its parent star.

The significance of the HST find is that the basic chemistry for life can be measured on planets orbiting other stars setting the scientific standard on which finding the chemical biotracers of life as we know it on other worlds is now possible. Here is more from the ESA, Scientific American, and Wired.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Friday the Moon to be 'Whopper'

NASA is advising to look to the dark sky to see a largest full Moon of the year yet cautions that Apollo lunar footprints may still be hard to see even with a telescope! Nonetheless, HEADS-UP!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

President Obama Talks Travel to Stars

President-elect Barack Obama told viewers on Meet the Press : "Part of what we want to do is open up the White House and remind people that this is the people’s house… When it comes to science, elevating science once again, and having lectures in the White House, where people are talking about traveling to the stars or breaking down atoms: inspiring our youth to get a sense of what discovery is all about." Hat Tip Space Politics.

Kaine May Boost Virginia Spaceport Again With $10-Million More in Bonds

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is expected to announce his annual executive state budget request to the money committees of the Virginia state legislatuve on December 17th. He is expected to include an additional $10-million in bonding authority for the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority to aid the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

The bond funds are needed for: (a) the Horizontal Integration Facility and (b) the cryogenic fueling system to enhance the state-owned launch pad infrastructure. The Commonwealth of Virginia will be committed to a total of $26 million using its bonding authority with $16 of the $26 million being approved last year for the Virginia facility co-located at the NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility.

Orbital Sciences Corporation is building the Taurus 2 booster to launch re-supply to the International Space Station using a new launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport facilities beginning in late 2010.

Virginians are urged to contact members of the Senate and House of Delegates in Richmond with support for the bonding authority in what has been one of the NewSpace stories of the year 2008. With the NASA COTS rebid and the ensuing competition among private launch firms and commercial launch pad sites, the Virginia-based Orbital and the Virginia spaceport have forged to the front of the new commercial space era.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

VA Spaceport Auto Tag May Be Issued

Virginia State Delegate Terry G. Kilgore (R-Gate City) plans to introduce a bill to authorize a new Virginia license plate tag displaying the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport logo during the 2009 Virginia General Assembly convening in Richmond next month.

The potential new tag to be distributed by the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles may generate revenue for areospace education at the FAA/AST commercial licensed spaceport co-located at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. A minimum of 350 must be pre-paid prior to Virginia DMV issuance. Interested residents of Virginia should contact Jack Kennedy.

Kilgore patroned the Virginia Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act in 2007 and helped State Senator William C. Wampler, Jr. advance the ZeroGravity-ZeroTax measure in the 2008 Virginia General Assembly. Both measures were signed into law by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.

Missile Defense Test Successful

A Missile Defense Agency interceptor missile was successfully launched on Dec. 5, at 12:21 p.m. from North Vandenberg, California. The launch was part of an exercise and flight test involving the intercept of an intercontinental ballistic missile by a ground-based interceptor missile designed to protect the United States against a limited long-range ballistic missile attack, according to a report from the SAF 30th Space Wing. [Video] and [Foto]

Launch of the Orbital Sciences Corporation designed FTG-05 was programmed to simulate a missile attack by North Korea or Iran on the United States. The offensive missile launch test occured from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. The interceptor defense missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California thereafter.

Reports from The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, the BBC, and raw video 1 and video 2 from WSBY-TV6 provide more detail and reaction. Ten operational missile defense interceptors are expected to be deployed in Poland in 2011, if approved by President-elect Obama. More from Stars and Stripes.