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Thursday, April 30, 2009

NASA Moon Base Plan Scuttled?

Acting NASA Administrator Chris Scolese told the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies that a lunar base being planned for a time after 2020 may be scuttled in favor of longer-term plans for Orion to visit a near-Earth asteroid and Mars. Space analysts and the Planetary Society have advocated that the agency cancel plans for a permanent moon base, carry out shorter moon missions instead, and focus on getting astronauts to Mars, according to NewScientist. The testimony of Scolese is referenced here.

Space Shuttles May Fly Until 2011

The space shuttle program may get an additional $2.5 billion to keep the fleet flying until 2011 and thereby enable a higher safety standard to be used for the final eight flights now planned reports Florida's WFTV. Space advocates around the nation should contact members of the Congress to support the funding measure and keep Florida space workers on the job as the commercial space launch firms Orbital Sciences Corporation and SpaceX or others seek to close the human space flight gap with NASA's COTS-D program and/or until the NASA Orion space vehicle starts to fly.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Launch Campaign Underway in Virginia

Several dignitaries and economic development officials will gather to witness the launch of the Air Force’s TacSat 3 planned for Tuesday, May 5, 2009, from the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, co-located on the NASA Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Va. The Orbital Sciences Corporation's Minotaur-1 rocket has a launch window from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. (EDT) next Tuesday.

Information on launch status may be obtained by dialing via telephone 1-757-824-2050 or visit the launch web site with live launch video feed. For those along the east coast and particularly around the Metro Washington, DC area, here are driving directions and maps.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Two Candidates for VA Governor Endorse Spaceport Funding in Next State Budget

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Creigh Deeds endorsed increased operational funding to enhance the staff size of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport today speaking at the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council Energy Technology Summit as interest in the fledgling commercial space operations increases among the Virginia public [VIDEO].

Deeds promised that he would seek increases in the spaceports operating budget while McAuliffe assured the same adding that he would leverage his contacts to pull more commercial space launch firms to the Virginia Eastern Shore if elected governor.

Brian Moran, the third Democratic candidate in the upcoming Democratic Party primary did not appear at the gubernatorial forum held on the campus of The University of Virginia's College at Wise. Neiether did would-be Republican gubernatorial nominee Robert McDonald.

Hopefully more questions will be posed to all the candidates prior to the primary and general election campaigns about Virginia commercial spaceport.

PlanetSpace Denied Protest to Halt Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Orbital Launches

PlanetSpace, Inc. has lost its appeal to the General Accountability Office (GAO) of a $1.9 billion contract award to Orbital Sciences Corporation by NASA clearing the way for eight orbital flights to originate from Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport beginning in 2011 to re-supply the International Space Station.

PlanetSpace is a private commercial rocket startup that contracted Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Co. to develop a cargo delivery vehicle that would dock with the ISS. The company contracted to launch the cargo aboard an Athena III rocket built by aerospace giant ATK, maker of space shuttle boosters.

The NASA contract award to Orbital Sciences Corporation was made December 23, 2008 and was protested by PlanetSpace on January 14, 2009 and denied April 22, 2009. Orbital will use the yet fully developed Taurus-2 booster to re-supply the space station with unmanned flights.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

ZeroGravity Flights Take-Off in Virginia!

The Virginia Big Stone Gap Masonic Lodge No. 208 is launching a fund drive to enable a Powell Valley teacher to take a zero-gravity flight in late 2009 or early 2010; and, it may be followed by several local Kiwanis Clubs banding together to do another.

Big Stone Gap native and fifth grade teacher Megan Seals recently flew a ZeroGravity flight [video] and is working with the lodge and the Virginia Technology Alliance to raise funds for a teacher from Powell Valley primary, middle or high school to take a ZeroGravity flight. The flight costs $5,200 per seat, Masonic Past Master, current Senior Warden and Virginia Technology Alliance chairman Donald Purdie noted in the release.

Flights are arranged through the Spaceflight Training for Educating Minds ZeroGravity Flight program. STEM places a teacher on a micro- and zero-gravity flight to test Newton’s Laws of Motion. As the teacher shares the experience with his or her students, there is the potential to energize students’ interest in science, space research and related fields. Special emphasis is placed on students in the formative middle-school years.

Businesses and individuals who contribute to this fund-raiser will be affirming the importance of advancing science, technology, engineering and math studies to our young students, the lodge release states.

The Virginia Technology Alliance (regional technology councils in Virginia) are banding together to promote the idea of teachers and students flying ZeroGravity from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility after touring the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Futures Channel Debuts Ares Vehicles for the 21st Century Moon Program

The Futures Channel has yet another outstanding video it has released about the Constellation Ares-1 and Ares-V program now underway at NASA centers around the nation.

"Imagine a rocket the size of a small skyscraper. Now imagine shooting it into the air with so much force that it goes from zero to a thousand miles an hour in less than a minute. What kind of engines can generate that much thrust? And why is that rocket built in stages? Take your students inside Marshall Space Flight Center to meet members of the Ares Rocket team who can answer those questions and more." Here is a LINK to the second of six parts of the series.

White House Science Advisor Suggests US Astronauts on Chinese Shenzhou Spacecraft

White House Science Advisor John Holdren recently suggested that NASA astronauts may be ferried to space aboard Chinese-made Shenzhou capsules in addition to the Russian-made Soyuz representing a significant departure from the past US national policy as recently related in an interview with ScienceInsider and reported upon by Jeff Foust.

In addressing the suggested 5-year gap between space shuttle launches and the development of a new human-rated booster such as Ares-1, Holdren said: "I don't see any way we can do it before 2015, and if things go as they often do, it might be a little later than 2015. And what we'll have to do in that interim period is rely on our international partners, which means the Russians. It might also be the Chinese, depending on how our relationship develops."

ScienceInsider: "Do you have confidence in China's ability to launch our astronauts?"

Holdren: "I think it's possible in principle to develop the required degree of confidence in the Chinese. I put it out there only as speculation, but I don't think it should be ruled out."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NASA Needs $5-Billion More Each Year

The Congressional Budget Office has released a report entitled: The Budget Implications of NASA;s Current Plans for Space Exploration. The report indicates that the federal space agency needs $5 billion additional dollars each and every year to reach an annual budget of $24-billion a year to put humans back on the Moon by 2020, keep flying to the International Space Station, and keep the space shuttle operational until 2015.

Star Trek: Kobayashi Maru Redux May 8

The 126-minute PG-13 si-fi action adventure motion picture release of Star Trek is set for Friday, May 8, 2009 at theaters across the United States. In limited locations the Star Trek [video] movie will viewed in a digitally re-mastered and unparalleled image and sound quality of The IMAX Experience®.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Commercialization of Space-based Solar Power Begins in California

The utility news abounds this week with the announcement that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) and Solaren Corp., an eight-year-old company based in Manhattan Beach, Calif., are seeking state regulatory approval of using a space-based solar power generator in Earth orbit to power a segment of the state's energy grid in 2016. More from Scientific American.

Last year, the Virginia-based Dominion Resources utility officials heard a presentation a space-based solar power form a representative of the Pentagon's National Security Space Office and offered to support the concept in letters to members of Congress. Space advocates in Virginia are urging a partnership among Dominion Resources, Orbital Sciences Corporation, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and others to use Virginia assets for space-based solar power late in the next decade as well.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Phased Shutdown of Space Shuttle Begins

With nine remaining orbital missions on the launch manifest going into the fall of 2010, NASA will resume the phased shutdown of the space shuttle program May 1, 2009, the agency revealed today. The space shuttle phaseout was commenced by President George W. Bush in 2004 as a part of an effort to return to the moon by 2020. President Barack Obama has indicated that he intends to stay the course and retire the fleet in 2010 after nearly three decades.

"The plan all along has been that we would follow the course that already had been laid out and resume a slow and methodical phasedown of the shuttle program," NASA spokesman Mike Curie said. "We have to do this to meet the budget allocations we have been given for this year and next year." More from The Wall Street Journal.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Moon Movie to be Released in June

The Moon Movie [vid] is slated for a limited release June 12 in cities across the United States depicting an as an astronaut named plays Sam Bell, (actor Sam Rockwell ), who is assigned to work on a moon base by himself for three years mining for clean power (He3) , with only an intelligent computer called GERTY (Kevin Spacey) to keep him company. The Moon movie was popular this year at Sundance and Tribeca film festivals. The story plot has lunar miner Bell entering the last two weeks of his stay when things start to get...strange. Or do they?

The setting of mining the Moon for He3 is becoming possible in the early part of the mid-21st Century. One of the leading advocates of lunar mining is former Apollo 17 astronaut/geolgist and former United States Senator Harrison "Jack" Schmitt [vid] in his book Return to the Moon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Texas May Offer Commercial Space Launch Provider Protections Too!

Not to be outdone by New Mexico or California, the Texas state legislature is now considering a waiver of liability measure for commercial space flight reports Pudget Sound Business Journal's TechFlash (Amazon's Jeff Bezos). Texas is in the race with New Mexico and California, following both Virginia in 2007 and Florida in 2008 to sustain the race to space tourist liability waivers. Where is Oklahoma with a legislative waiver proposal one wonders?

The new round of spaceflight liability in Texas, New Mexico and California comes after a no change recommendation to the United States Congress of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act (CSLAA) - effectively removing the sunset clause of the federal act with respect to the informed consent principle. The principle underpins the CSLAA, which defines space tourists as "spaceflight participants" and states that they fly in an "environment of informed consent,"according to a recent report by Rod Coppinger at FlightGlobal. Coppinger provides an excellent underpinning as to why states are now on the move.*

Virginia's liability waiver law considered the CSLAA sunset provision and took a more conservative alternative of adding a July 1, 2013 sunset provision to the state's law. Virginia may now find the need to remove, extend, or allow to expire the state's liability waiver provision. The Florida law constains no such setset to mirror the former CSLAA sunset clause.

Commercial "spaceflight participants" advocates argue that the waivers may actually retard ticket purchase as would-be passengers shy away from waiver executions govered by such state laws. But commercial space launch competition among the states (especially those in the south and west) appear to be a variable driving legislation within the various legislatures this year and the two years past.

New Mexico and California to Consider State Liability Waivers for Space Flight Like VA

The legal concept of informed consent (FlightGlobal) is becoming a major issue with commercial space tourism as New Mexico and California look to mimic Virginia's 2007 Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act - like Florida did in 2008. If passed, New Mexico would become the third state to adopt the tort limit by the space tourist against the flight operator with California becoming the possible fourth.

The FAA recently named Virginia as the Agent of Change referencing the state's 2007 liability waiver and the state ZeroGravity, ZeroTax Act. Also, the Commonwealth of Virginia will soon consider a new spaceport tag at the same time the state's regional technology councils are advancing significant investment in teacher-student ZeroGravityCorporation space flight training.

Meanwhile, an orbital launch campaign is underway at the Virginia-based Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport of TacSat-3 with plans to launch re-supply to the International Space Station in 2011 following a NASA COTS demonstration flight in late 2010 of the newly designed Taurus-2 booster.

Virginia Spaceport to Conduct Moon Shot

An Orbital Sciences Corporation five-stage Minotaur V is being scheduled to rumble from Pad 0B at the Virginia-based Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in March 2011 on a le voyage das le lune (movie tease) carrying as a payload the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) as a part of the NASA Lunar Science Program. The civil space launch would be the first to the Moon from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility thereby making some Virginia history from the promising commercial spaceport that could. More from Blogger Joel Rapue.

Friday, April 10, 2009

ZeroGravity Teacher Flight Competitions Start in Virginia to Boost Classroom STEM!

The Virginia Technology Alliance, through the leadership of the Southwestern Virginia Regional Technology Council, is promoting the utilization of ZeroGravity flights for teachers and students throughout Virginia to boost public interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (The Bristol Herald Courier).

The ten regional technology councils and other public-interest civic groups are banding together to purchase as many as twenty ZeroGravity seats this year with the aspiration of flying more in the future boosting classroom science from one end of the state to the other! A press conference was held at the state capitol in Richmond this week to launch the program with State Senator William C. Wampler, Jr. and State Delegate Terry Kilgore.

Virginia Technology Alliance Chairman Donald Purdie indicated that his plan is to encourage each of the state's technology councils to hold public school teacher competitions for the pathfinder flight from Wallops Island, VA. Thereupon, the Virginia Technology Alliance will challenge every technology council in America to create a teacher-student ZeroGravity flight competition and fly a teacher or student with experiments.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

TacSat-3 Plans May 5 Liftoff from Virginia

The FAA/AST licensed Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, co-located upon the NASA Wallops Flight Facility along Virginia's Eastern Shore, will provide launch facilities for the boost of the TacSat-3 military satellite to orbit on Tuesday, May 5 as now scheduled following repeated delays. Linked is video of the TacSat-2 launch from the spaceport using the Minotaur-1 rocket produced by Orbital Sciences Corporation.

Virginia Accomack County Supervisor Ron Wolff will hold an April 13 constituency meeting at 7 p.m. at the NASA Wallops Visitor Center. The meeting will be held to discuss the upcoming May 5 launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Officials from the spaceport, NASA Flight Facility and Accomack County Department of Public Safety will attend. The public is invited.

North Korea's Lodestar-2 Satellite in Orbit???

UPDATE 2: President Barack Obama's [video] statement on NKorea rocket launch in Prague today; and, a BBC video report of the satellite's failure to achieve orbit. Linked is an editorial as to why the launch violated international law.

UPDATE 1: The North’s Kwangmyongsong-2, or "Lodestar-2," named after the propaganda nickname of its leader, Kim Jong-il, is said to be in an orbit 490 to 1,426 kilometers, 304 to 886 miles, from the Earth and circling once every 104 minutes, said the North’s state-run news agency, KCNA. Here a report from Reuters . and an editoral; from The Wall Street Journal as to the target. The status of the satellite is now in question. RT Video.

The North Korean government launched a Taepodong-2 rocket at 10:30 pm ET Saturday evening that allegedly carried a small satellite. More details .... MSNBC, CNN, BBC, The Times of London, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times. Video from CNN and FOX. The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet in emergency session later today.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Russians to Build New Human Spacecraft

The Russians are expected to announce within hours the planned development of a new human spacecraft that will carry six cosmonauts to orbit or four cosmonauts to the Moon sometime in the next decade if planning and development proceed as envisioned, reports the BBC today.

Soyuz Landing Delayed Due to Weather

The Soyuz TMA-13 capsule scheduled landing in the Kazakhstan has been delayed by a day from April 7 to April 8 due to flooding and snow in the original landing zone leaving American astronaut Michael Fincke, Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov and space tourist Charles Simonyi aboard the International Space Station one extra day.

The mission had been scheduled to conclude with a touchdown on April 7 northeast of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, but the landing zone has been moved to a backup site about 180 miles to the southeast, where conditions may be more favorable. Touchdown now is targeted for 3:15 a.m. EDT on April 8. The new landing zone is now set for an area northeast of Dzhezkazan, in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz TMA-14 will remain at the International Space Station awaiting the next crew exchange with Soyuz TMA-15.

"There is a possibility that one of Space Adventures' clients could launch on Soyuz TMA-16, which is currently scheduled for launch this September 30," Eric Anderson, CEO of Space Adventures, told reporters Friday. "We have learned from Roskosmos (the Russian space agency) that the third seat aboard Soyuz TMA-16 may not, in fact, be used by the cosmonaut from Kazakhstan, and if that seat is not used...Roskosmos is considering both the possibility of another spaceflight participant opportunity for Space Adventures or using the seat for a professional Russian cosmonaut."

Friday, April 03, 2009

North Korean Rocket Launch Any Time Now

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Friday that he believes North Korea will fire the rocket Saturday if weather conditions permit, according to reports. Therefore, the North Korean military may launch a rocket with a satellite for orbit anytime now. MORE from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and Bloomberg.