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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

International Space Station Toliet Diplomacy?

After reading AP and The New York Times story entitled "‘National Toilets’ Complicate Life in Space," this Blogger was left wondering which space station toliet that American billionaire cosmonaut-spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi is being REQUIRED to use under American-Russian toliet regulations? Both perhaps? The man does pay a lot of US taxes! Yet he rides a Soyuz!

Simonyi contracted to fly to the space station with the Russians (via Space Adventures). Thank goodness Simonyi brought his own food but did he bring his own water canteen? What a quandary!!!

Satellite Export Control Policy to be Reviewed by US House Subcommittee

The United States House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade has scheduled a hearing Thusrday, April 2, 2009 on Export Controls on Satellite Technology to be held in Room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building with at least three witnesses being called to testify.

The potential loss of jobs among U.S. satellite component providers is an argument in favor of relaxing at least some elements of the current licensing regime says Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who chairs the subcommittee set to hold the hearing.

Aerospace companies and U.S. intelligence officials have told members of Congress that the U.S. aerospace industrial base has been weakened by controls on exports of satellites and satellite components. The current export control regime, known as ITAR, or International Traffic in Arms Regulations, treats satellites as weapons and has made it more difficult for builders of satellite parts to win business abroad.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mexico to Build Spaceport in Quintana Roo

The nation of Mexico will commece construction of a new spaceport later this year following the decision of the Mexican National Congress to fund a satellite launch facility Quintana Roo on the border with Belize. The location was chosen after extensive studies in part because of its proximity to the Equator according to state planning minister Jose Alberto Alonso Ovando.

Last year the Mexican national assembly approved nearly $2-million to wage a start-up of a new space agency known as AEXA to coordinate research and work with universities and the private sector to launch communication and weather satellites. Mexico seeks to advance in diverse fields of science and technology, including robotics, electronics and telecommunications.

Mt Redoubt Volcano Sulfur Dioxide Clouds Captured by Remote Sensing Satellite

Mount Redoubt remains an active belching volcano in Alaska with a host of remote sensing satellites capturing numerous images and data about the ongoing enviromental impact throughout the region and around the globe [video]. The material ejected from the volcano mainly consisted of water vapor, along with smaller amounts of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Ash imagery has been collected as well.

The Mt. Redoubt volcano (first post) has erupted no fewer than 19 times since March 22nd, and several of the larger blasts have hurled plumes of ash and gas into the lower stratosphere. The GOME-2 (Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment) sensor onboard Europe's MetOp-A satellite has been tracking Redoubt's sulfur dioxide clouds, colored red in this 5-day animation, according to SpaceWeather.com.

Conditions near Mt. Redoubt remain hazard RED. Credit : NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data provided by the United States Geological Survey.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spy Satellites Gain Images of NKorea Rocket

Above is a natural color, 60 centimeter (2 foot) high-resolution QuickBird satellite image featuring the Musudan Ri missile launch facility, formerly known as Taepo-dong from DigitalGlobe.com.

North Korea has the so-called space satellite launch vehicle on the pad and being readied at Musudan-Ri rocket facility indicated by new satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe.

The vehicle is being prepared for launch sometime between April 4 and April 8 according to North Korea government sources. Fifteen space launch experts from Iran are providing technical assistance at the launch site. The pad site is expected to have either snow or rain in the afternoon on April 4, cloudy skies on April 5 and clear skies from April 6 to 10, the unnamed government source said.

The United States, Japan and South Korea believe Pyongyang is actually testing a Taepodong-2 missile that could, in theory, reach Alaska or Hawaii. While US missile defense systems may be on alert in the air, on the high seas, and on ground bases in Alaska and California, US Defense Secretary Bill Gates told FoxNews that "the United States is not prepared to do anything about it."

All Eyes Turn to Hubble Telescope Mission

UPDATE: Space shuttle Atlantis' rollout to Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida has been rescheduled to begin at 4 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, March 31, as preparations for the STS-125 mission move forward.

With STS-119 Discovery mission complete, all eyes are now turning to the launch of space shuttle Atlantis for the STS-125 the final Hubble Telescope Servicing Mission 4 set for launch from the Kennedy Space Center on May 12, 2009 as now scheduled. Over 11 days and five spacewalks, the shuttle Atlantis’ crew will make repairs and upgrades to the telescope, leaving it better than ever and ready for another five years – or more – of research. [Video]

Space Adventures Plans Dedicated Soyuz Two-Passenger Tourist Orbital Flights

The last orbital space tourist may now aboard the International Space Station, at least for some time if the brokered deals of Virginia-based Space Adventures cease as professional astronauts book all seats on future Soyuz capusle flights to the International Space Station.

The Soyuz flights now in the launch schedule are dedicated to professional space flyers of the government partners of the International Space Station. The space station crew expands to a permanent six in May of this year and the American space shuttle fleet is retired in mid-2010 leaving no seats available for the $35-million tourist class seats.

"It makes it more difficult to obtain flight opportunities on the missions that are scheduled to rotate crews," Space Adventures president Eric Anderson recently told SPACE.com. "I'm actually optimistic, but it's too early to tell," Anderson said. "Even with a [space station] crew of six people it's conceivable that there might be a couple of seats for commercial purposes for 2010 or 2011."

Anderson suggests that a dedicated tourist Soyuz space mission is in-the-works with the Russians. "The objective would be a tourist mission," Anderson said. "The mission would be paid for entirely by Space Adventures for the purposes of tourism."

Such dedicated Soyuz tourist flights would be piloted by one professional cosmonaut and carry two paying passengers and would not begin until 2011 or 2012, if then. Many expect the tourist seats will also go up more in price well beyond the current $35-million as the supply diminshes and the demand increases. MORE from AFP.

NASA may even find itself in the bidding with Space Adventures if commercial space flight carriers Orbital Sciences Corporation and SpaceX fail to achieve human-rated flight status by 2013 and the new NASA Orion capsule and Ares-1 booster are slowed for whatever reason.

Soyuz TMA-15, Soyuz TMA-16, Soyuz TMA-17, Soyuz TMA-18, Soyuz TMA-19, Soyuz TMA-01M, Soyuz TMA-20, Soyuz TMA-21, and Soyuz TMA-02M are all now crew assigned launches through May 2011 for flights to the space station.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Soyuz TMA-14 Docks With Space Station

Space Adventures, Ltd., the only company that provides human space missions to the world marketplace, announced today that its orbital client Charles Simonyi and his crew successfully arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) after launching onboard the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 26.

The spacecraft docked to the ISS at 9:05 a.m. (EDT) with Dr. Simonyi and Expedition 19 crew members Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt. They were greeted at approximately 12:30 p.m. (EDT) by the Expedition 18 crew, which includes NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, when the hatch to the space station opened.

Dr. Simonyi made history by becoming the first private explorer to launch a second mission to space. He previously flew to the ISS in spring 2007 as Space Adventures’ fifth orbital client. On his return mission, Dr. Simonyi aims to continue to make contributions toward space research, and advance civilian space travel while inspiring kids in their studies of science and math. Listen to Charles on HAM RADIO.

Sir Patrick Moore Says Life May be on Mars

Renowed British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, 86, told the Sunday Mercury [video] in England that he expects life to be found on Mars within the next 10 years. MORE->

Mars Science Laboratory Outreach Offers Citizen Participation Opportunities

A new Mars Science Laboratory animation video demonstrates how the rover will enter, descend and land on the surface of Mars following launch in 2011. Upon landing in 2012 it will assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet's "habitability" [video].

The rover's onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the martian environment was like in the past. It may be called upon to explore Martian mud volcanos.

The rover will analyze dozens of samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet's climate and geology is essentially "written in the rocks and soil" -- in their formation, structure, and chemical composition [video].

Readers may opt to send your name to The Red Planet with the Mars Science Laboratory. You may even want to cast a last minute vote to name the rover!

Constellation Remains in Development

The NASA Constellation components of Ares-1 and Ares-V are at mission critical phases in 2009 as this video demonstrates. The crawler used for Apollo 11 and several shuttle flights has been turned over to the Ares 1-X launch effort the past week [video]. Also,
see the Ares March Quarterly Report.

Space Expert James Oberg Talks of Future

Space expert James Oberg discusses the future of the Russian and American space programs on Russia Today television pointing to the ISS and the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission as the two most important events of 2009. He discusses the future of commercial space, the future of civil space programs, and the consolidation of the Russian space industry. Oberg also speaks to the space programs of Iran and North Korea. In the reporter's final question, Oberg points to the many challenges ahead for a human flight to Mars. View the TV interview here.

Discovery to Land Today at 1:39 PM

The Discovery space shuttle is set for a Saturday 1:39 PM landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida with second opportunity is available for a 3:14 p.m. touchdown should it need 'a once around.' Weather conditions are forecast to be acceptable for landing at the cape. Discovery should fire its engines at 12:33 PM to begin the descent to Florida.

The seven space shuttle astronauts are concluding a 13-day mission that was highlighted by the successful installation and unfurling of the space station's last pair of solar wings. The $300 million addition brought the orbiting outpost up to full power. It's an essential part of NASA's plan to double the space station population by late spring and boost the amount of science work.

The space station, meanwhile, is getting more guests Saturday with the arrival of a Russian Soyuz TMA-14 capsule. There are 13 more crew exchange, construction, and re-supply missions planned to the ISS in 2009 including four space shuttles and three Soyuz capsules.

US and Japan Prepare for NKorea Launch

The United States and Japan [videos] are planning possible shoot-down of a North Korean missile if launched between April 4 and April 8. The Japanese government has authorized the interception of any N. Korean rocket on its territory, [video].

North Korea has enetered into space treaties to further its position of a space exploration launch while the US, Japan, and S. Korea have denounced the anticipated missile launch as a breach of a UN Resolution.

Scientist Provides Insight on Solar System Volcanoes as Redoubt Erupts in Alaska

Alaska's Mount Redoubt continues to erupt for the first time in twenty years while members of the Planetary Society were treated with expert analysis by prominent NASA JPL planetary geologist and vulcanologist Dr. Rosaly M. C. Lopes of the unusual event the past week in Alaska.

The author of books entitled Volcanic Worlds: Exploring The Solar System's Volcanoes (2004); The Volcano Adventure Guide (2005); Io After Galileo: A New View of Jupiter's Volcanic Moon (2006); and, Alien Volcanoes (2008), Dr. Lopes provided explanations and comparisons of volcanic activity on Earth, Mars, the Jovian moon Io and the Saturian moon Titan [2009 article] to some 44-members of an aurora expedition to Alaska.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Aurora Borealis Appears Over Poker Flat

Planetary Society members last week embarked upon an expedition to view the Aurora Borealis from Mount Aurora, Alaska near the Poker Flat Research Range. Noted astronomer Dennis L. Mammana lead the attempts to photograph the unusual natural phenomena. He was accompanied into the -15F cold by this Blogger, [video].

Some of the nearly 44-member expedition were giving consideration to possible human space tourist launches from Alaska into the Aurora Borealis in the next decade during a discussion at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The space flight tour could include the Alaska Railroad Aurora Winter Train Ride.

Bright Sky Object May be ISS

The International Space Station has deployed all of the solar arrays to power-up for six-person crews later this year. The Discovery space shuttle recently completed a fly around of the station enabling a video view of the growing magnitude station. The ISS is now the brightest point in the night sky (save the Moon) for Earthlings to see.

Taikonaut Zhai Zhigang to be Honored at 25th National Space Symposium

Chinese Taikonaut Zhai Zhigang will be among the China Shenzhou 7 Manned Space Flight Mission Team to be honored at the 25th National Space Symposium to be held at The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs Monday.

Zhai Zhigang, who performed China's first space walk during the Shenzhou 7 mission, will be making his first public appearance in the West with the Chinese delegation being led by Chief Manned Space Flight Mission Designer Dr. Zhou Jianping. The Chinese spacewalk caputred the attention of President Barack Obama when it occured.

The Chinese government has placed special emphasis on the development of space hardware and space science in recent years leaping into human orbital missions and robotic space missions to the moon in the past few years. A small Chinese space station and joint Mars operations with the Russians are planned.

Soyuz On the Way to ISS

The Russian Soyuz TMA-14 has launched to orbit and is now preparing to dock with the International Space Station following the departure of the space shuttle Discovery this week following the installation of new solar panels.

The crew of the International Space Station and the Discovery astronauts spoke with President Barack Obama this week prior to the planned landing of the space shuttle later today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ZeroGravity Teacher Commended

ZeroGravity flyer Megan Seals has her home region 'all fired-up' about ZeroGravity Corporation flights with the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council now planning to fund one southwestern Virginia rural school district teacher to fly weightlessness later this year so as to honor the work of Seals in the promotion of STEM academics.

While planning to tout ZeroGravity flights in Virginia, Seals got an unexpected honor from her native Wise County with a dedication of $1,000 to offset the $5,000 costs of the next teacher-to-zerogravity flight comeptition to be sponsored by the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council. Wise County specifically donated the money to honor Seals.

A competition will be held among the southwestern Virginia public school teachers to fly later this year. A significant part of the selection process will be based upon the merit of the zerogravity student experiement designed with the teacher's classroom students. The Teachers-in-Space Team of the Space Frontier Foundation will assist in the selection process.

Station and Discovery Visable - 8 PM

The International Space Station and the space shuttle Discovery are now docked and may be viewed Wednesday evening, March 18, 2009 at 8:04 PM EDT looking directly West. The sight should last about two minutes. It is a great chance to see ten astronauts and cosmonauts orbiting the Earth with children or grandchildren and talk about the future with them.

Spaceship Ride Through the Aurora Borealis

Spaceport Sweden has announced a partnership with Virgin Galactic to fly boosted Earth-to-space rides into the aurora borealis (polar lights) beginning in 2012, as expected for the past three years. The Ice Hotel Travel in JukkasjÀrvi, Sweden is among the five approved ticketing agents. Space tourists launching from Sweden will be able to chose whether to go through the winter season's aurora borealis or the midnight sun of Swedish summer [video of Ice Hotel].

There are commercial space advocates encouraging consideration of similar flights into the aurora borealis from northern Alaska sometime after 2012 [video of Virgin Galactic experience at Ice Hotel and video discussion of night flights into the aurora].

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Seventh Time Lucky? Sunday It May Be!

The countdown clock again reads hours for the launch of the space shuttle Discovery. The launch campaign is underway after six previous delays prompted by balky valves and seals on the aging orbiter. The launch of STS-119 is now set for 7:43 p.m. EDT SUNDAY from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The seven astronauts have been waiting to fly since mid-February to carry up one last set of solar wings for the orbiting international space station. Live coverage of the launch from NASA-TV and SpaceflightNow. Pre-launch video reports one and two today.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Clean Coal Dusts Obama NASA Candidate?

Steve Isakowitz, the frontrunner for the NASA Administrator's job, has been taken down by a group of his opponents on Capitol Hill because of an alleged $500 million "mathematical error" in the US Department of Energy's calculations used to cancel the world’s first near-zero emissions $1.8 Billion coal-fueled power plant in Illinois known as FutureGen, reports The Orlando Sentinel.

Florida’s Democratic senior Senator Bill Nelson was reportedly a key player in the so-called 'take down' of what many saw as Obama's favored NASA Administrator candidate. Nelson reportedly favors former astronaut Charlie Bolden.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

North Korea Joins International Space Treaty

The North Korean government has become a signatory to the 1966 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space and has notified the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the communist country's intent to join the 1974 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space providing further evidence of a space launch intent, according to RAI Novosti.

"We've informed the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Maritime Organization and other international bodies of the necessary information for the safe navigation of planes and ships as part of efforts to prepare for launching the Kwangmyongsong-2 (meaning "Bright Star" in Korean), an experimental communications satellite, by carrier rocket Unha-2,'' North Korea's Central News Agency said earlier this morning.

Intelligence agenices say that launch will now occur between April 4 through 8 while diplomats begin to express concern that North Korea may soon violate the 2006 United Nation Resolution 1718 directing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea government not to launch a ballsitc missile. More from SpaceWar.com.

Sen. Webb Announces $21-Million for Wallops

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) announced success in securing $21-million in federal funds for the NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility enabling launch pad improvements, small satellites and unmanned aerial systems as contained in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 (H.R. 1105) that was signed into law Wednesday by the President. (WAVY-TV)

The Wallops flight facility is integral to the economy of the Eastern Shore of Virginia and requires significant improvements to serve NASAs anticipated needs in coming years. The Virginia-owned Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is breaking ground soon on a new multi-million dollar launch pad to facilitate re-supply of the International Space Station beginning in 2011.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Space Shuttle Countdown Halted

The space shuttle Discovery countdown was halted today after the space flight launch team detected a hydrogen gas leak that could have been catastrophic at liftoff in a system that has previously delayed the mission to resume construction of the International Space Station. The shuttle was to launch tonight.

The federal space agency has until Monday, March 16, 2009 to send Discovery to the space station, otherwise the flight will have to be put off until April due to the long-planned launch of the Russian Soyuz TMA-14 rocket on a higher priority mission, with a fresh space station crew later this month.

MARS Tag Design Readied for 2010

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport special automobile license tag plate will not be produced until the summer of 2010 due to the time crunch and failure to gain 350 pre-subscriptions in time for the 2009 General Assembly to pass it, says Jack Kennedy, secretary of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority.

"We have gathered over one hundred subscriptions in southwestern Virginia's Wise County alone and will seek to have 350 subscriptions will be in hand from the mountains of southwestern Virginia by late summer if possible, " notes Kennedy. "We are there on the tag design now."

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport special tag will be one more highly visible tool to market the spaceport within the commercial space launch community and to expand the awareness of the spaceport among the resident populace and among the millions of annual tourists ro Virginia from throughout the nation.

Name Space Station Node 3

NASA is asking space-aware people to help name Node 3 cupola of the International Space Station this month selecting among the names Earthrise, Legacy, Serenity and Venture or write your own suggestion in. Voting will be open until March 20th, 2009. NASA will announce the winning name on April 28, 2009 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida [video].

Scheduled to be delivered to the space station by space shuttle STS-130 Endeavour in December 10, 2009, the cupola will be used as by astronauts as an observation deck and control room for the station’s robotic arm. The cupola’s seven large windows will offer astronauts "a panoramic view that will be unrivaled by any other spacecraft ever flown," providing a perfect platform for photographing the Earth.

Some have said that Earthrise, Legacy, Serenity and Venture names sound like those of organic tea than an orbiting 21st Century space platform. [ "ISS Baby" Video]

Will a SpaceX Dragon Animation Become Reality With NASA COTS-D Next Decade?


'SpaceX should consider Wallops Island, Virginia for the NASA COTS-D launch site.' - Jack Kennedy

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eastern United States May See Shuttle Boost

The launch clock indicates hours, not days ... as Space.com has provided this visability map to witness the STS-119 launch of the space shuttle Discovery Wednesday evening 9:20 PM EDT from the Kennedy Space Center. The predicted clear weather may provide millions of people along the Atlantic coastal states hundreds of miles inland to see Discovery prior to main engine cut-off. Sky-watchers as far north as the southern tip of Nova Scotia and as far west as the Appalachian Mountains may see the shuttle main engine flicker. LIVE VIDEO COVERAGE.

This Blogger witnessed the last night launch in Florida last November. The linked YouTube video captured a special momentary flash of a shuttle cloud ripple at 3-minutes into the vid.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin Feted in Russia for 'Changing the World' April 12, 1961


On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Seven years later he died tragically March 27, 1968 in a crash during a training flight. On March 9, 2009 Gagarin would have turned 75. Russia Today commerates his life in the above embedded video and a 25-minute video linked here with a fellow Cosmonaut.

To honor Gagarin's changing the world through space flight, Yuri's Night is held worldwide on April 12th to celebrate and honor the first human in space and to orbit the Earth. Click here to see Yuri's Night Celebrations from 2008 in San Francisco and video of his launch and celebrations.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Countdown Underway for Next Space Shuttle Launch to the Space Station


Weather deemed EXCELLENT for Wednesday launch, reports William Harwood.

Asteroid Apophis Worries Russian Astronomers as 2029 Approaches

A Russian Academy of Sciences’ Main Astronomical Observatory press secretary indicated the past weekend that asteroid Apophis will pass "ten times closer than the distance between the Earth and the Moon" in 2029.

“Obviously, the 600-meter boulder will do nothing good, especially as it is planned to position telecom satellite platforms on the geo-stationary orbit by that time. It is now impossible to calculate the prospective orbit of the asteroid right now," Sergei Smirnov told Russian media outlet Itar-Tass.

Apophis is expected to come close in 2012 as well, and then its orbit of 2029 will be calculated more precisely. We need to know the asteroid’s trajectory with the precision of tens of meters in order to say for sure whether it may hit the Earth or not,” he said.

More from The New York Times "The Lure of Rocks From Outer Space."

Saturday, March 07, 2009

China to Launch Space Station in 2010

UPDATED: The People's Republic of China will launch the nation's first space station called the 'Tiangong-1' or "Heavenly Palace-1" in 2010 and it will dock with a Shenzhou-8 spacecraft in orbit around the Earth in 2011, Chinese state media has reported. The planned 2011 docking would be remotely carried out by scientists on the ground and would not involve taikonauts, the report said, [Chinese Video]. However, a more recent report from the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) meeting in Beijing is that Shenzhou-9 spacecraft with taikonauts aboard will dock with the space station and attached Shenzhou 8 attachment in 2011.

Teacher Megan Seals to Fly ZeroG in Virginia

Megan Seals, a Teachers in Space leader and 5th Grade Fairfax County public school teacher, will be among those flying in the ZeroG flight from Dulles, VA on Saturday, March 14 after being nominated by State Senator William C. Wampler, Jr. [R-Bristol, VA.] to make the space training flight [video].

Seals, a Big Stone Gap, VA. native, presently serves on the board of directors of the Space Frontier Foundation and she has served on the SFF's Teachers in Space Team the past five years. She published an article on Teachers in Space in the Virginia Journal of Science Education while an education graduate student as James Madison University; and, appeared on Northern Virginia television with Del. Ken Plum [D-Reston, VA.] in late 2007.

Wampler was the chief sponsor of the Virginia ZeroGravity-ZeroTax Act enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in 2008. The Federal Aviation Administration recently credited this measure along with the Virginia Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act of 2007 as making Virginia the commercial space launch "Agent of Change."

ZeroG is seeking to reinvest a tax benefit back into Virginia education and acknowledge Virginia's dedication to commercial space flight and space flight training in partnership with Teachers in Space and State Senator William C. Wampler, Jr.

ZeroGravity Corporation is owned by Space Adventures, LLC. of Vienna, VA. The firm is best known for providing wealthy people the ability to book an orbital flight aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station for $35-million or even on to the Moon for $100-million.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Kepler Mission Now On Orbit

Kepler Set for Nighttime Spectacular Launch

LAUNCH BLOG --- NASA is planning a nighttime spectacular with the launch of the Delta 2 rocket from Launch Complex 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 10:49 p.m. The Delta 2 booster will be carrying a robotic explorer named Kepler . The Kepler mission will search for Earth-like planets in solar systems outside our solar system in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Weather conditions for launch are said to be near perfect enabling a lengthly view of the Delta 2 during the boost phase to orbit. See the Kepler Mission Web Page and watch thye launch tonight on NASA-TV webcast. Here is a YouTube view of a day launch Delta 2.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Soyuz TMA-14 Readied for March 25

Russian Soyuz TMA-14 commander Gennady Padalka, American NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, flight engineer, and Virginia-based Space Adventures tourist Charles Simonyi are being readied for a March 25 space launch to the international space station from Kazakhstan [UPDATE].

An American billionaire businessman and software engineer, Simonyi will become the first-ever space tourist to travel to the ISS twice paying a reported $60-million to Space Adventures for both flights. His first flight was in April 2007. [video]

Simonyi told Russia Today, "I don’t think that this flight is going to be difficult, with this wonderful crew that I’m flying with. I feel very quiet and prepared. I’m just waiting for the launch."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Discovery Launch Pushed-up to March 11

UPDATE: STS-119 Discovery and its seven astronauts are tentatively targeted to launch Wednesday, March 11 at 9:20 p.m. EDT from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a much-delayed mission to continue the construction of the orbiting international space station. Those in attendance will have a chance at yet another scenic night launch. [STS-119 mission overview and animation w/o correct launch date].

Water and Fire Give New Clues to Mars

Planetary science experts are awash with new data and new studies about 1.25 million year old water flows and possible water under the large volcano on the surface of Mars. Brown University geologists have found evidence of water flow on the Red Planet as "recent" as 1.25m years ago while a Rice University geologists believe a warm reservoir of water may remain under the solar system's largest volcano known as Olympus Mons.

ZeroGravity to Take Flight from Virginia

Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G), the first and only FAA-approved provider of commercial weightless flights, will host its exclusive ZERO-G Weightless Experience over the Washington, D.C. Metro Area on Saturday, March 14.

The experience offered by ZERO-G is the only commercial opportunity on Earth for individuals to experience true "weightlessness" without going to space. This is the identical weightless flight experience used by NASA to train its astronauts [promo video].

G-FORCE ONE, ZERO-G's specially modified Boeing 727-200 aircraft, will depart from Dulles International Airport at Dulles, VA. [educators flight video].

Perhaps Zero Gravity Corporation may benefit from the Virginia ZeroGravity-ZeroTax Act of 2008? To wit: "For taxable years beginning on and after January 1, 2009, any gain recognized from the sale of launch services to space flight participants, as defined in 49 U.S.C. § 70102, or launch services intended to provide individuals the training or experience of a launch, without performing an actual launch. To qualify for a deduction under this subdivision, launch services must be performed in Virginia or originate from an airport or spaceport in Virginia."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

NKorea Missile Launch In The Ides of March?

UPDATE: The Tokyo, Japan Sankei daily newspaper is reporting that North Korea may test a long-range missile in the middle of this month to match the timing of military exercises between South Korea and the United States [CNN video].

Satellite images show a launch pad is being prepared, the report said, citing an unidentified official at Japan’s Ministry of Defense. It will take as many as seven days to load fuel once the missile is installed on the platform, the newspaper said. It has been reported that Japan may seek to shoot down the North Korean rocket should it approach the Japanese nation, [French News Video].

The United States and South Korean army will conduct military exercises between March 9 and March 20, according to the newspaper sources.

North Korea continues to prepare either a space satellite launch or a weapons missile test with the United States ready to shoot it down should President Barack Obama so direct [ABC video]. Meanwhile, The Korea Times reports that China is very likely to move to sanction North Korea if the latter goes ahead with its missile launch [video].

Orion Pad Abort-1 Test Being Readied at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico

UPDATE HERE: A full-scale mock-up of NASA's Orion launch abort system began a week-long flatbed trailer ride across the country, en route to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The LAS Pathfinder Vehicle will be at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, New Mexico on Monday, March 9, from noon until 3:30 pm. Media are invited to attend. Contact Cathy Harper [SFF Advocate] at the NM Museum of Space History for information or logistical questions at 575-437-2840 ext. 41153 or cathy.harper@state.nm.us.

The Pad Abort-1 Test will be the first of a series of flight tests of the full Orion Launch Abort System (LAS), which is being developed by NASA, Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va. These tests will be conducted at the NASA White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in the coming spring. [video]

Orbiting Carbon Observatory Loss Investigation Launched Today

NASA has selected the members of the board that have started to investigate today the unsuccessful launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory on Feb. 24 [video].

Rick Obenschain, deputy director at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., leads the mishap investigation board.The board consists of four other voting members: Jose Caraballo, safety manager at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.] Patricia Jones, acting chief of the Human Systems Integration Division in the Exploration Technology Directorate at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.; Richard Lynch, Aerospace Systems Engineering, Goddard Space Flight Center; and, Dave Sollberger, deputy chief engineer of the NASA Launch Services Program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The ex-officio member is Ruth Jones, Safety and Mission Assurance manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Wow! What a G-Ring !!!

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found within Saturn's G ring an embedded moonlet (about a third of a mile across) that appears as a faint, moving pinprick of light. Scientists believe it is a main source of the G ring and its single ring arc.

Saturn's rings were named in the order they were discovered. Working outward they are: D, C, B, A, F, G and E. The G ring is one of the outer diffuse rings. Within the faint G ring there is a relatively bright and narrow, 150-miles)arc of ring material, which extends 90,000 miles, or one-sixth of the way around the ring's circumference. The moonlet moves within this ring arc. Previous Cassini plasma and dust measurements indicated that this partial ring may be produced from relatively large, icy particles embedded within the arc, such as this moonlet.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Lunar Regolith Simulant Workshop Set for March 17-20 in Huntsville, AL

The Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) will conduct the third Lunar Regolith Simulant Workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, on March 17-20, 2009 with the focus of this Workshop on Lunar Regolith Simulant Development and Characterization, in addition to Simulant User Needs Assessments.

The Workshop is geared towards anyone that will need to use simulants, such as technology developers, engineers, scientists, and human health researchers. Registration for the Workshop is now open.

Lunar Systems Conference Draws New Ideas

NASA wants to build a polar outpost on the Moon starting in 2020, and one of the most promising ways to get that done is by using robo-Tonka trucks supplied by Astrobotic Technology and researchers from Carnegie Mellon University. The lunar robo-dozers would be charged with fleshing out a landing pad and launch site for rockets and other spacecraft. [See PDF Here]

The results of the work on the robo-Tonka trucks and robo-dozers were presented last Friday in Washington, D.C., at a NASA Lunar Surface Systems conference co-sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Space Enterprise Council.

Virginia Approves $10-Million for Spaceport

The 2009 Virginia General Assembly approved Saturday evening $10-million in capital outlay for the development of fueling support equipment, improvements to support buildings and services, and the development of a vehicle integration facility at the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) facility at Wallops Island, VA. The state legislature has now committed $26-million in the past two years to the spaceport expansion.

The launch infrastructure improvements come to ensure the necessary facilities to support a growing launch manifest at the spaceport. One dozen orbital launches are now being planned between 2009 and 2015. Nine of the space launches include Orbital Science Corporation Taurus-2 commercial re-supply missions to the international space station.

The Federal Aviation Administration recently noted Virginia as an Agent of Change demonstrated by the level of legislative support provided the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport [See pgs. 1-4 of FAA report]. Accomack County is now seeking over $8-million in federal stimulus funding to expand the Wallops Flight Facility runways to lure winged spacecraft to the Eastern Shore.

China's Chang'e-1 Impacts Moon

China's lunar probe Chang'e-1 impacted the surface of the Moon Sunding ending a 16-month mission after being launched into space on Oct. 24, 2007. This was the first phase of China's three-stage moon mission, which will lead to a landing and launch of a rover vehicle around 2012. In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and bring back mineral samples for scientific research in 2017 [video].

Beijing officials have said the country is looking to eventually put astronauts on the moon, but the government has not announced any schedule for that task. American space officials have told the US Congress that the Chinese may be on the surface of the moon prior to an American human return prior to 2020. There are also MIT proposals for American-Chinese space cooperation beyond data sharing.

Japan's Kaguya Contiunes to Explore Moon