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Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy 25th Birthday Discovery!


Only six more space shuttle launches to the end of the program that commenced launching in April 1981. Watching the space shuttle and the orbiting space station together this next week is a real possibility with clear weather conidtions. Check your location for viewing here. This video is a high-speed sample.

Poll: Many Want Space Cooperation with The People's Republic of China


"Should the People's Republic of China be included in international human space access efforts?"

The Chinese are poised to launch a mini-space station and another manned spacecraft in late 2010 and 2011 following the now planned retirement of the American space shuttle fleet. That leaves many within space policy circles questioning whether or not the time in right to pursue a more active and transparent cooperation between the United States human spaceflight community and China's human spaceflight program in the coming years.

Fifty percent (50%) of the respondents said "yes" that the People's Republic of China should be included in international human space access efforts while twenty-one percent (21%) said "no" and that the Asia nation is unworthy of cooperation in international space endeavors. Twenty-eight percent (28%) said "maybe" to cooperation but were uncertain as to the level of cooperation because of possible space technology transfer issues.

Bottom line: Over three-quarters of what should be deemed as the "informed" poll respondents believe some measure of human space flight cooperation with the People's Republic of China should be American national (or international partner) space policy. The question really comes down now to what degree and exactly how to proceed.

This Blogger will have much more to say on this topic in the days and weeks ahead - UPDATE HERE.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Twenty-One Lunar Proposals Underway

With twenty-one lunar proposals now underway for the Decadal Survey, the Moon will have a niche within the NASA science exploration efforts on such matters as South Pole-Aitken Basin, Lunar Dusty Exosphere, Lunar Helium-3 Fusion Resource Distribution, Origins of Lunar Remanent Crustal Magnetism and several more.

Discovery Launch Friday: Stay Tuned

Space Shuttle Discovery may launch Friday with two launch opportunities in the making. Here is more from NASA on the mission status. The Discovery launch, mission events at the International Space Station, and landing of the space shuttle will be webcast on NASA-TV. Discovery may spend its 25th birthday in-orbit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Launch Scub Two for Discvery at the Cape

"We have scrubbed [the Discovery space shuttle launch] for the evening, officially at 5:52 p.m. Eastern," said launch commentator Allard Beutel. "The last half an hour or so, a problem cropped up with a fill-and-drain valve in the bottom part of the shuttle, the aft part of the shuttle, related to the liquid hydrogen. This particular valve ... gave indications it did not close when it was commanded to." And, so was the word from the Kennedy Space Center launch pad. A rescheduled launch time and date have yet to be announced.

Joint American-Russian Manned Mars Mission?

The head of NASA's Moscow office has invited Russia to carry out a joint manned flight to Mars, RIA Novosti is reporting today.

Marc Bowman told an international aviation and space conference in Moscow that the Mars mission should take advantage of the achievements made by the International Space Station and use a multinational crew.

Bowman said the flight should be under the control of NASA and the Russian space agency but with the participation of international space agencies. However, he said that before a joint flight to Mars could be made, it was necessary to complete the ISS mission and fly to the Moon to collect essential scientific and technical information.

Bowman is the Manager of Moscow Technical Liaison Office (MTLO), the Deputy Director of the Human Space Flight Program-Russia (HSFP-R), in addition to serving as an attache with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

South Korea Launches Rocket

It was the first rocket that South Korea has launched from its own territory. The rocket was built with help from Russia.

"All aspects of the launch were normal, but the satellite exceeded its planned orbit and reached an altitude of 360km," said Education and Science Minister Ahn Byong-man. The satellite should have separated at around 302km. Despite the satellite failing to reach proper orbit, the KSLV-1 launch should be seen as a "half success" since the rocket functioned without a glitch. More from the BBC, SpaceflightNow, and Yonhap News.

Meanwhile, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Discovery space shuttle was delayed for the launch to the International Space Station due to inclement weather conidtions notes space commentator William Harwood. The flight is expected to launch at 1:10 AM EDT early Wednesday morning.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

ATTENTION: Vote the Subsrciber Poll

ATTENTION Subscribers, Followers, and general readers of Spaceports. At the top right of the web blog is a poll asking you "Should the People's Republic of China be included in international human space access efforts?"

'PLEASE' take the time to vote your judgment as the poll will conclude August 29. At the conclusion of the poll, this Blogger will post a new scenario relating to the Chinese space program so it may be fully vetted among the 400 subscribers, followers and general space niche community.

'Thank you' for your attention and, reading support.

ESA Proceeds with Advanced Re-Entry to Evolve to Human Capsule for Space Access


The European Advanced Reentry Vehicle is proceeding through the development cycle. It is based on an evolution of the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which has shown its capabilities for logistics supply to the International Space Station.

ARV would provide ESA with the means of undertaking complete space transportation missions, from launch to landing, using the International Space Station (ISS) as its initial destination. Launched on an Ariane 5, the ARV would have a forward section to return payloads to Earth. This concept could then be used as a basis for . More from the ESA.

ESAs Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) Being Prepared for 2012 Test


In 2012, Vega will carry ESAs Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle into space. The vehicle will then return to Earth to test a range of enabling systems and technologies for atmospheric re-entry. Vega is targeting a market for small satellite launches.

The National Academies Planetary Science Decadal Survey Seeks 'White-Paper' Input

The National Academies of Science will be preparing a Planetary Science Decadal Survey for NASA later this year. The organization will thereafter recommend the space agency do in planetary science and exploration over the next decade. But a crucial part of the process is for the United States planetary science community to provide input in the form of 7-page 'white-paper' proposal documents for discussion and review.

'White-Paper' proposals submitted at this date indicate the planetary science community has significant interest in missions to the gas giant planets and a few of their moons, Mars and Venus, dwarf planets, NEO asteroids, comets, and interplanetary dust. But conspicuously absent from the Decadal Survey list is the Earth's Moon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

China and India Merit ISS Visit Consideration

China and India are both growing Asian space powers with advancing capabilities to orbit payloads, survey the moon and place humans into space (India in 2014) just at the time the American space agency NASA is operating without adequate political support for an expanded domestic human space hardware budget.

The Chinese have already orbited six taikonauts or yuhangyuans in the past few years. India is expected to launch humans to space sometime about 2015. Both China and India seek international recognition of their national techno-capabilities through their human space programs.

The fledgling Chinese and Indian space powers desire access to the International Space Station expected to be finished next year with the last flights of the space shuttles in 2010. Each of the two nations appear willing to pledge much-needed financial support to keep the orbiting laboratory in space for the next several years and involve their respective space flyers.

But the decision to permit utilization by the Chinese and Indian government space programs will be left to the sixteen (16) nation partnership represented by the American National Aeronautics and Space Agency, the Austrian Space Agency, the Belgian Space Agency, the Brazilian Space Agency, the British National Space Center, the Canadian Space Agency, the Danish Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the French Space Agency, the German Aerospace Center / German Space Agency DLR, the Italian Space Agency, the Japanese Space Agency, Netherlands Space Agency, the Norwegian Space Agency, the Russian Space Agency, the Spanish Space Agency, and the Swedish Space Agency. The collective wisdom of the multinational space effort must sort-out Chinese and Indian participation since the two have the bona fides of spacefaring nations. It needs to be considered sooner rather than later.

Over the past decade, the American political establishment has denied any willingness to enable the Chinese access to the space station for fear of technology transfer while India is seeking readiness to fly human-rated space vehicles. The time has come nontetheless to begin to give serious consideration to the Chinese space flyers visiting the ISS in 2014. While there is reluctance in the West to offer the rising Asian nations access to the $100-billion space station, the Obama Administration should offer the Chinese access to ISS upon the demonstrated willingness for transparency within the Chinese human spaceflight program and despite it being a product of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Chinese transparency may begin in many ways but the first is very apparent: enable American government and non-government delegations to visit the Jiuquan Space Launch Center / human spaceport in the Gobi desert to witness the launches of Project 921-2 and Shenzhou 8, Shenzhou 9 in 2011 and human-rated Shenzhou 10.

If the Chinese government 'net surfers just so happen to read this BLOG, please contact this Blogger to begin the necessary arrangements to enable American witnesses of Project 921-2 launches. From that point, let the People-to-People diplomacy begin!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Crunch Time at the White House: No Moon Landing in the Next Decade by America?

President Barack Obama is not expected to significantly boost the projected funding profile for NASA's manned spaceflight program in the next few years, despite warnings from a blue-ribbon panel that the U.S. space agency needs between $3 billion and $4 billion more annually to send astronauts back to the Moon, according to sources with ties to the administration, reports Amy Klamper for SpaceNews.

Instead, White House and NASA officials are scrubbing NASA's 2010 budget proposal, and the assumptions made by the blue-ribbon panel it underpins, for potential cost savings over the next decade that could help fund some means of sending astronauts beyond low Earth orbit as soon as 2020. One possibility being weighed by the administration is abandoning the idea of astronaut landings on the Moon in favor of missions that would take astronauts on close flybys of heavenly bodies such as asteroids. More reported by NBC News video.

OPTIONS:

  1. Spend some $2.5 billion over the next five years to develop a commercial crew transportation system to low Earth orbit with the $2.5 billion proposed for commercial crew transportation potentially being tapped from existing manned exploration budgets over the next five years;

  2. Shifting NASA's acquisition strategy for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle from a traditional government procurement to one that is commercial in nature that could yield significant savings in the near-term;

  3. Hand space station operations over to a private contractor, potentially saving $500 million to $1 billion per year; and,

  4. Lift options being weighed include a shuttle-derived vehicle — other than Ares 1 and Ares 5, both of which are shuttle-derived — or a commercially developed rocket fueled by kerosene.

The White House is expected to submit an amended 2010 budget request for NASA's exploration program by mid-September, 2009. Space industry workers and space advocates within the United States and around the world await the important presidential exploration decisions soon forthcoming. UPDATE: Wall Street Journal report.

South Korean Rocket Launch Now August 25

The South Korean news media is now reporting that the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) has been rescheduled for launch on Tuesday, August 25th between 4:40 a.m. and 6:20 a.m. EDT (4:40 p.m. and 6:20 p.m. Korean time) from the NARO Space Center.

The liftoff was originally set for Wednesday but was called off after the automatic launch sequence detected a drop in pressure inside a helium tank that controls various valves less than 8 minutes before launch. Experts have since said that there were no mechanical problems in the rocket and that the countdown was halted because sensor software misinterpreted data.

Appalachian Mountain Teachers to be Named for Virginia ZeroG Flight; Students Next


Two rural Central Appalachian Mountain public school teachers from the western tip of Virginia, that appears more akeen to a scene from Homer Hickam's 'October Sky' coal town, will be named Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at one of the public schools in the Town of Big Stone Gap, VA. The two named public school teachers will fly in the Saturday, October 3, 2009 ZeroGravity flight departing on parabolic spaceflight training from Dulles International Airport in Nothern Virginia.

The Powell Valley Masons and the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council each funded the $5,000+ adventures to demonstrate how classroom teachers may help inspire the next generation as to possibilities in space and space commercial ventures. The next step each of the two organizations will undertake is to hold a competition for at least two of the region's students to fly in ZeroGravity beginning in 2010 so as to ignite interest among students and teachers alike - a similar storyline to what happened in Coalwood, West Virginia with Homer Hickam.

One of the central figures in the development of the nexus between southwestern Virginia public school teachers and the ZeroGCorporation flight has been Fairfax County 5th grade public schoolteacher, SFF board member teachers in space advocate, and former Wise County native Megan Seals who was recently featured in The National Education Association (NEA) Journal.

Russia: Mars Direct?

Russia unveiled an ambitious three-decade plan for a manned space program this week at the International Aviation and Space Salon, MAKS-2009, which opened Tuesday in the town of Zhukovsky, near Moscow. The Russian Federal Space Agency’s hope is that its plan will become the basis for a broad international effort to send humans to Mars and build a permanent base on the surface of the moon reports Russian space expert Anatoly Zak in IEEE Spectrum yesterday.

Discovery to Launch Tuesday at 1:36 AM from Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Countdown to the launch of the Discovery STS-128 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) begins at 11 p.m. EDT Friday. Liftoff of Discovery is set for 1:36 a.m. Tuesday Aug. 25. Space shuttle Discovery will carry the Leonardo supply module to the ISS during STS-128, along with a new crew member for the station, Nicole Stott, to be a part of the ISS Expeditions 20 and 21.

NASA / ISRO in Tandem Search for Moon Ice

NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) have attempted a novel joint experiment that could yield more information on whether ice exists in a permanently shadowed crater near the north pole of the moon utilizing the the ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft now orbiting the moon flying in a tandem search.

Both spacecraft are equipped with a NASA Miniature Radio Frequency (RF) instrument that functions as a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), known as Mini-SAR on Chandrayaan-1 and Mini-RF on LRO. The experiment uses both radars to point at Erlanger Crater at the same time. The experiment was conducted late Thursday afternoon. LRO listened while Chandrayaan-1 transmitted. The data were downloaded from LRO to ground stations Thursday night. It will take some time to process the data and evaluate the results to determine if their is lunar ice at Erlanger Crater. More from NASA and The Times of India.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on the Move to Orbital Commercial Space Flights


The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, is making several new improvements at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in preperation for many new exciting commercial space launches beginning in 2011 from Wallops Island, VA. View the TV report.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Global Lunar Conference Set for Beijing 2010

The International Astronautical Federation, together with the Chinese Society of Astronautics (CSA), is pleased to announce that the Call for Papers for the Global Lunar Conference which will be held in Beijing, China, from 31 May to 3 June 2010 is now open.

This three-day Conference (plus one day for technical visits) will welcome all papers related to Moon exploration - (science and exploration, technology and resource utilization, infrastructure, legal aspects, culture, economics…).

BE SURE TO PARTICIPATE in the reader poll survey to the right on Chinese human spaceflight.

Space Frontier Foundation: Government Must Buy All Rides to Space Commercially

In the wake of the Augustine Commission's declaration that the troubled Ares rocket program is unaffordable under any realistic budget projections, the Space Frontier Foundation renewed its call to immediately cancel the costly dead-end project and replace it with multiple commercial vehicles.

"Three years ago [The Space Frontier Foundation] published Unaffordable and Unsustainable, declaring that government must henceforth 'buy all crew and cargo services with a destination of low Earth orbit [from] commercial providers using privately-owned and operated spaceships'," said Foundation co-Founder Bob Werb.

"For over a decade, we've said that continuing to try and develop new government rockets costs too much and delays human exploration beyond Earth orbit," added co-Founder Rick Tumlinson. "Pouring more money into Ares now is the equivalent of giving a taxpayer-funded I.V. to a corpse. Instead, let's use those funds to give birth to a new and vibrant space transport industry that might actually make money and open the space frontier to everyone."

"Derivatives of proven commercial launch systems, and new ones under development, could meet any reasonable need for heavy lift," said Foundation co-Founder, James Muncy. "The barrier is psychological: NASA will have to stop pretending it can design cost-effective launch vehicles and instead focus on exploration systems that fit on the launch vehicles taxpayers can really afford."

Werb concluded: "The choice is clear. We can continue funding an overpriced, government space limousine, or we can kick-start a whole new industry that will reduce government's costs and create new jobs. The tools of private sector innovation and competition offer our best and only chance to have affordable and sustainable human space exploration."

South Korean Space Launch: SCRUBBED!


The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) launch scheduled for 5 AM US EST was 'scrubbed' due to automatic launch sequence technical problems less than eight minutes before liftoff reports The Korea Herald, The Korea Times, AP and the BBC. This will mark the seventh launch delay of the KSLV-1. No new launch date has been set yet.

Earlier reports from The Korea Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, Yonhap News, and Bloomberg said the launch of South Korea's first rocket with a satellite would have been 5 PM South Korea time. South Korea plans to launch a second KSLV-1 rocket in April 2010, with work to begin on developing an engine with 75 tons of thrust. In the long run, the country aims to build an unmanned space probe that can reach the moon by 2025.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Excalibur Almaz Plans Private Orbit Space Flights in 2013: Launch Location: TBA

Excalibur Almaz Limited (EA), an international space exploration company, today announced plans to open up a new era of private orbital space flight for commercial customers, using updated elements of the “Almaz” space system originally developed by JSC MIC NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM) of Russia.

Realization of EA’s project with technical assistance from NPOM will allow regular access to and from space. This project joins Russian space technology expertise with an international private enterprise to create a commercial offering of orbital spaceflight services for global customers [hardware photos].

EA plans to offer week-long orbital space flights beginning as early as 2013 – taking a big leap beyond the sub-orbital flight market targeted by most other private space companies. In addition to NPOM, other leading aerospace firms in the U.S., Europe and Japan will provide technical support for EA’s space flight operations.

The original Almaz space system technology, comprising reusable reentry vehicle (RRV) and space station, was successfully tested in flight by NPOM. Working with NPOM and its international contractors, EA is now updating the spacecraft to conduct crew and cargo space missions for private individuals, corporations, academic institutions and national governments.

EA Founder and CEO Art Dula said, “Through cooperation with NPOM and with the support of leading space contractors around the world and an exceptionally strong management and advisory team, EA is in a unique position to initiate a new era of private orbital space exploration.

EA plans for its spacecraft to be compatible with a number of launch vehicles and capable of being launched from worldwide sites. See the full EA press release PDF and reports from SpaceflightNow, and Space.com.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The RayGun Gothlic Rocketship to Debut at 2009 Burning Man in Black Rock City, NV


For Burning Man 2009, that wacky event taking place in the Nevada desert each year, a group of about 60 artists, scientists and engineers is working on a large, stylized rocket ship called the RayGun Gothic Rocketship. Intended to invoke the romantic notion of space travel before it became reality, the rocket is meant to look like a 1940s-era spacecraft. The artists have been building it in Oakland, Calif., and it will be installed at Burning Man, in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Late in the event, there will be a "launch," and thousands of participants are expected to be on hand to watch what happens. In this artists rendering, the 40-foot-tall rocket is seen as it will look, on the Black Rock Desert, alongside its 25-foot-tall gantry.

The designers say The RayGun Gothic Rocket is a "rococo retro-futurist, future-rustic vernacular between yesterday's tomorrow and the future that never was." Adding it is "intended to creatively explore our ideas about evolution and technology as they relate to our notions about progress and The Future. This project exists at the blurry edge where science and fiction blend and become both our reality, and the stories we tell ourselves about that reality."

The RayGun Gothic Rocket launch should be an interesting cultural commentary event.

The vast and unfathomable immensity of space: It is time humanity explores it


As the human race, our nations have built a many ground-based telescopes and a few space-based telescopes now in-orbit --- all looking about the universe providing knowledge as to the vast and unfathomable immensity of space. Yet as humans in the Age of Space, our footsteps have not yet left the Earth's gravity well of our own Moon and even then - that was decades ago. The human race appears too busy with wars, 'Cap and Trade,' and health care to explore and expand the human footprint beyond our figurative lunar front prorch.

As China's noted Ouyang Ziyuan, academician at China Academy of Sciences and chief scientist of China's moon exploration project, stated the past week: "the US' Project Apollo - which gathered around 400,000 people, about 20,000 firms and more than 200 universities - cost $25.6 billion. But it guided almost all the cutting-edge technologies in the 1960s and 70s, and has created an economic value amounting to 17 times the cost."

Netural public policy observers might realize the dividends that flow from exploration are great and solve many problems of the human race. Yet we seem to languish in "the backwash of space."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bigelow Pushes Human Space Capsule

Bigelow Aerospace seeks a human-rated capsule and booster to lift the firms hopes for a commercial space station known as 'Sundancer' in the not-so-distant future, perhaps 2013-to-2015 timeline. The problem is how to get human beings into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to participate in commercial space station stays in space and building on past success rapidly.

The North Las Vegas, Nevada-based commercial space firm has designed a new space capsule referred to as "Orion-lite" that would be a stripped-down version of the current NASA version designed to carry humans to the Moon - if ever. The Bigelow capsule is designed to be much lighter weight with fewer systems complexities for LEO to space station operations.

Bigelow has spent the past two years working with Denver-based United Launch Alliance to study a human-rated version of the Atlas 5-402 rocket. Bigelow's crew capsule design is modeled on the Orion vehicle that Lockheed Martin — one of United Launch Alliance's corporate parents— is developing for NASA, reports Amy Klamper at Space.com.

Washington-based Bigelow Aerospace attorney Mike Gold notes that the the Bigelow capsule would have the same outer mold line as NASA's 16-foot (5-meter) wide Orion and possibly the same internal pressure vessel, but little else in common. It would be capable of launching on the SpaceX Falcon-9 or the ULA Atlas 5-402. It is not now known whether it could also be launched atop of an Orbital Sciences Corporation Taurus-II from the more secluded Wallops Island, Va. None of the proposed commercial space launch booster configurations have flown to-date.

Gold said Bigelow's commercial variant will accommodate a minimum of seven passengers because it is intended for low Earth-orbit missions only. Bigelow is considering midair retrieval as a safer and more economical means to land the spacecraft following atmospheric re-entry. Yet it may be safer to do the mid-air capture over a body of water as a back-up in the event of a much-needed splashdown option.

Ares 1-X Test Flight Stacked and Readied

For the first time in more than a quarter-century a new space vehicle stands ready in NASA's Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building. The Ares I-X rocket, its simulated crew module and launch abort system are assembled on a mobile launch platform at Kennedy in preparation for launch (tentatively) on Saturday, October 31, 2009. The final segments of the Ares I-X were stacked on Aug. 13, 2009 completing the 327-foot launch vehicle and providing the first look at the finished rocket's distinctive shape. A decision to proceed to launch the Ares I-X will be made at the highest levels of government this fall after review of NASA's next generation launch system slated to replace the aging space shuttles. The Ares I-X Twitter is on-line with more info from NASA on the vehicle.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Odyssey Moon Favored for the Prize

Any one of the 19 Google Lunar X-Prize Teams are commercial underdogs in landing and operating a lunar robot by 2014 to win $30-million and meet all the launch and landing conditions but Odyssey Moon, the first to file as a contestant, appears to be pulling together a champion international team of stellar veterans to master the effort with a potential launch date of mid-to-late 2012.

Insiders are saying that "MoonOne" (M-1) is the early leader to win the prize if the teams is able to manage a ride aboard either an Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur V or SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Many favor M-1 because of its real mission: Odyssey Moon program is seeking evidence for lunar resources that could be mined by future astronauts seeking profit, according to Bob Richards [video].

While Europe, Japan, India, China, the United States have each placed recent spacecraft in lunar orbit with Russia and Germany on stand-by, the latest news is that Odyssey Moon may even bring along England's Beagle-3 or "Lunar Beagle" or at least some of Dr. Collin Pillinger's scientific instruments to aid in finding profitable lunar minerals to mine such as He3.

PlanetSpace Seeks ISS Re-Supply Work Again

A second commercial space launch bid protest has been filed in U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington on July 23, 2009 by Chicago-based PlanetSpace requesting NASA to reconsider or re-open the competition for the $3.1 billion awards to Orbital Sciences Corporation and Space Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) to deliver re-supply cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). On April 22, 2009 the federal Government Accounatbility Office (GAO) denied a similar PlanetSpace protest. PlanetSpace had significant senior space partners in the lost bid.

NASA executed contracts with Orbital Sciences Corporation to launch the Taurus-II from Wallops Island, Va. and SpaceX to launch the Falcon-9 from Cape Canveral, Fla. to haul tons of re-supply payloads to the ISS through 2016. Orbital was contracted to provide 8-flights from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at $1.9 billion while SpaceX will provide 12-flights from the commercial spaceport at Cape Canaveral.

The ISS is now re-supplied by Russian-made Progress spacecraft and European-made ATV and the ESA is planning several more versions. Japan will launch its first ISS re-supply mission next month. SpaceX is expected to launch the first American commercial re-supply mission next year with Orbital Sciences Corporation launching in the spring of 2011.

Japan to Launch Re-Supply to ISS Sept.10


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch a H-2B rocket with the H-2 Transfer Vehicle, or HTV cargo ship from Tanegashima Island, carrying scientific instruments and drinking water to the International Space Station (ISS), on Sept. 10. Liftoff is set for 1704 GMT (1:04 p.m. EDT), or 2:04 a.m. Japanese time on Sept. 11. It will reach the ISS now in orbit six days following launch from the Japan's spaceport at the southern end ot the country [launch and docking animation].

A the first-of-a-kind cargo spacecraft for the Japanese, the American space shuttle, Russian Progress and Soyuz, and the European ATV have each resupplied the 6-crew of the space station. The Japanese HTV [vid] will arrive and astronauts will use the station's robotic arm to grapple the free-flying spacecraft and berth it to an open port docking with a US-made module.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

'Bob' McDonnell Pledges to Make Virginia Spaceport No. 1 in America

Bob McDonnell, Republican gubernatorial nominee, unveiled his plans to have Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) top commercial Spaceport in America, highlighting proposals for more money, organizing areospace business, recruiting space launch firms, and STEM education.

State Senator Creigh Deeds, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, outlined his plans in a letter to the Accomack County Board of Supervisors earlier this week. Both are essentially very supportive of the spaceport.

Highlights of McDonnell's Plan to make Wallops Island the top commercial Spaceport in America include:

· Supporting a ten-fold increase in base funding for the spaceport operations, bringing them to $1 million annually, and focusing a portion of the funding on a coordinated marketing strategy to attract more companies to invest in and create jobs in Virginia;
· Creating an aerospace business roundtable to bring experts together to plan for Spaceport development and future projects;
· Aggressively recruiting and growing new and existing aerospace companies;
· Promoting space tourism initiatives;
· Supporting scholarships and investment in aerospace related educational programs and workforce training opportunities; and,
· Putting "Virginia First" - leading the country in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic (STEM) educational programs and ensuring our workforce is highly skilled in career and technical skills, which the Spaceport relies upon.

Speaking about his plans to make Wallops Island the top commercial Spaceport in America,McDonnell said, "The Virginia Economic Development Partnership projected Orbital's Taurus II project at Wallops Island alone will generate 125 six-figure paying jobs and 222 indirect jobs with suppliers and contractors. Additionally, this project, which provides cargo re-supply for the space station, will generate another 93 direct jobs and countless indirect jobs. In revenue it will produce more than $7 million in five years, $13 million in ten and $23 million in 20 years. These are immediate and positive benefits to the Commonwealth. They demonstrate the importance of making certain that we fully utilize and support this great resource for Virginia. For that reason I will support a ten-fold increase in base funding for MARS to bring them to $1 million in funding annually. The Spaceport is the kind of innovative opportunity that is crucial to the economic resurgence we need in Virginia. I'm running to be a jobs governor and I will work tirelessly to support the Spaceport and every job creating opportunity we have in Virginia"

MARS is now building $70 million dollars worth of new spaceport infrastructure, which will enable the spaceport to launch medium-heavy to heavy rockets. Funding for the new launch pad, horizontal integration facilities, fueling systems, etc., is coming from the Commonwealth, the federal government and private industry.

In June of 2008, after intense, head-to-head competition with Florida, Orbital Sciences Corporation, selected MARS as the demonstration site for the launch of their new Taurus II rocket. To win the launch competition with Florida, the General Assembly and Governor supported $26 million in bond financing for new infrastructure needed at the Spaceport to accommodate larger rockets. Orbital will invest $45 million in Virginia to assemble, test and launch Taurus II. Orbital received $170 million from NASA for the new rocket design and manufacturing.

In December of 2008, Orbital Sciences received a $1.9 billion dollar contract for eight re-supply missions to the International Space Station beginning in 2011 to 2015. Orbital will launch the re-supply missions from MARS. The Chairman of Orbital recently said they expect to launch 4-to-6 rockets a year from MARS after the new infrastructure is operational.

MARS has been selected by NASA to launch LADDEE, [the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer]. The US Air Force has selected MARS, again, to participate in launches for its 'Operationally Responsive Space" program which uses space to help battlefield commanders 'real time' in the field such as TacSat-2, TacSat-3 and NFIRE.

As Governor, McDonnell pledged he will aggressively promote space tourism initiatives. Virginia's hospitality industry is a major economic driver, creating jobs and revenue. He understands the value of our hospitality industry and fully intends to promote our Commonwealth to 'space lovers'. As Governor, he said he will also work to recruit companies to Virginia that sponsor personal/civilian spaceflights. More from The Daily Press.

Augustine Commission Report Due Friday: Mars The End Goal of All Options But $$$$

The presidential appinted panel (known as the Augustine Commission) is set to make recommendations on the future of American spaceflight is expected to brief the federal Office of Management and Budget Friday and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the end of the month with no less than the future direction of the American space agency at stake.

Dr. Sally Ride said yesterday that the United States can not afford to send astonauts anywhere but to low earth orbit (LEO) with the current NASA budget, reports The New York Times. "You just can’t get there,” America's first female astonaut said in Washington yesterday.

Florida Today is reporting that the 'Dash Out of Low Earth Orbit' is not among the recommendations being made to the White House by the commission. The report indicates that no human mission is recommended outside of Earth orbit with NASA's current federal budget projections. Noted space commentator William 'Bill' Harwood writes of the grim projections without a major infusion on new NASA budget monies.

On the other hand, Bloomberg reports that Dr. Ride spoke of a deep-space scenario leading to human lunar return by 2030 -- a decade later than envisioned now but based on NASA budget increases of about $3 billion more annually than current projections. MIT's Technology Review reports that the commission could suggest embarking human missions to asteroids.

The New York Times reports that, in the end, the presidential commission agreed to treat Mars not as an option, but as the end goal of all options. Nonetheless, the Augustine panel favors development of commercial rockets and capsules to ferry astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit, a major departure from past practice notes The Wall Street Jorunal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Image from Mars Victoria Crater

Victoria Crater was explored by Opportunity rover for more than a Mars year; HiRISE images have supported surface exploration and contributed to joint scientific studies. Also, a NASA video about Victoria Crater along with the Mars Rover Opportunity trek into the crater in 2007.

Futures Channel on NASA Advanced Concepts

For nine years, innovative space concepts such as an "elevator" to orbit, anti-matter propulsion and next-generation spacesuits made science headlines and captured the public's imagination, thanks to support from the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC). Budget constraints closed the institute in 2007, but now NIAC is in the news again with the release of a report by the National Research Council that urges NASA to reopen it.

For three years, The Futures Channel produced and shared with teachers and students short documentaries about NIAC researchers and their visionary projects to help inform and inspire our future workforce. These videos were viewed by hundreds of thousands of students in math and science classrooms across the country. With NIAC back on the table, we think it's a good time to re-visit some of these past projects and imagine what the future could bring.

Watch the NIAC Movies!

Does Germany Have the 'Reich-Stuff' to Go to the Moon by 2015? Show us the Money.

The German government is again thinking of building a space probe to explore the moon this time by Peter Hintze, the German government's space and aviation coordinator and a member of Chancellor Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats at the cost of 1.5 billion euros ($2.1 billion) with a hopeful launch date of 2015.

"The Moon is like the archive of our solar system. It is an excellent platform for space research and is of the highest importance when answering the question of how we guarantee the future of our own blue planet," Hintze said. "The moon in a way is the Earth's natural space station. It could be a place from which to launch a Mars mission."

Hintze admitted that "at the moment, the finances are not there." And as the country is only weeks away from a general election at the end of September, it's not something that will be decided any time soon. Hintze said any concrete decision over the issue would have to wait until after the [German national] elections. The German Deutshe Welle has more on this topic but it seems to boil down to 'Reich' - money. Let us hope the Reichstag says 'GO!'

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mars Meteorite Adds To Knowledge of Mars

NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity is investigating a one-half ton, 1' x 2' metallic meteorite the size of a large watermelon that is providing planetary science researchers more details about the Red Planet's environmental history. The meteor called "Block Island" was found on Meridiani Planum. SpaceRef.com story provides wonderful images of the meteor on Mars.

Scientists calculate it is too massive to have hit the ground without disintegrating unless Mars had a much thicker atmosphere than it has now when the rock fell. Atmosphere slows the descent of meteorites. Additional studies also may provide clues about how weathering has affected the rock since it fell. More from NASA JPL.

2009 ISPC Set for Oct 21-22 New Mexico


The 2009 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight is the industry’s leading gathering for the entrepreneurs and innovators coming together to deliver on the promise of spaceflight for mankind set for October 21 and 22 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. ISPCS is again organized by the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium under the leadership of Patricia Hynes [w/hat tip to her]. This theme this year is: “Delivering on the Promise of Spaceflight for Mankind” There will be an optional tour of Spaceport America! Keep-up with ISPC on Twitter and see current launch events on this news video.

Arianespace Offers Ariane-5 to NASA


Arianespace CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall [video] told the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee last week (Aug. 5) that the Ariane 5 booster (Europe's premier rocket booster) is available to support the future of U.S. space exploration, including cargo resupply flights for the International Space Station, along with missions to the Moon and Mars.

"Originally human-rated, the Ariane 5 has adapted to its present day role as the leading large capacity launch vehicle for satellite operators and international partners the world over," the Obama created commission was told by Le Gall. "The Ariane 5 can reach lunar orbit, the lunar surface, and Mars - objectives that are compatible with NASA's exploration missions."

Le Gall pointed to the capacity of the Ariane 5 booster as a mature, proven, capable heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of 20 metric tons to low Earth orbit, seven metric tons to lunar transfer orbit, and five metric tons to Mars. He noted a flight rate of seven Ariane 5 missions per year with 46-new boosters now in various stages of production. More from Arianespace.

However, the Araine 5 Flight 501, the inaugural launch of Europe's Ariane 5 rocket, ended in an explosion shortly after lift-off on 4 June 1996 - more than a decade ago. Nonetheless, over 13 years later, the Ariane 5 is ready for yet another launch on August 21st.

The Arianespace presentation should be a wake-up call to the US Government generally and NASA and the commercial space launch firms specifically that American rocket technology and space policy can not be allowed to languish as the Europeans, Russians, Chinese and Indians fully engage the launch market. American commercial space launch firms should be encouraged to take cargo and astronauts to orbit by private carrier rockets such as the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Orbital Sciences Corporation's Taurus II.

VA Gov Candidate Deeds Supports Spaceport

Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee for governor, sent a letter on Monday to the Accomack County Board of Supervisors to pledge his support for Orbital’s Taurus II rocket project at Wallops Island. Norm Bobczynski, the Orbital Sciences Corp. launch site manager, appeared before the Accomack County Board of Supervisors last week to brief them on the progress of Orbital’s Taurus II rocket project [Video of Deeds on spaceport].

In the letter, Sen. Deeds expressed his interest in the project and his excitement at the new economic possibilities it could bring to the Eastern Shore and the rest of the commonwealth. Sen. Deeds will be visiting the Eastern Shore later this week.

“The Orbital Science Corporation’s decision to stage their launches to the International Space Station from Wallops will create hundreds of jobs, many paying more than $100,000 per year, with a total economic impact of $250 million,” wrote Deeds. “With the right leadership, Orbital’s eight-year contract with NASA will be part of a larger effort to help Wallops continue to grow.”

Deeds was an early supporter of expanding space projects on Wallops Island. Sen. Deeds supported the spaceport at Wallops Island through NASA and through the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), including the Zero G Zero Tax Act of 2008 and the Virginia Space Liability and Immunity Act of 2007. Deeds supported strengthening the Aerospace Advisory Council and entering into a partnership with Maryland to create the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, which then-Gov. Mark Warner did with then-Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich in 2003.

Additionally, Sen. Deeds pledged his continued support for economic endeavors like Wallops Island at the Homestead Debate on July 25th. “We must pursue the exciting economic opportunities of the future. Whether it’s expanding our spaceport to the Eastern Shore or making Virginia the national leader in the development of alternative and renewable energy or pursuing the medical hope and economic promises of stem cell research here in Virginia,” Deeds said.

In his letter, Sen. Deeds committed to: Strongly support MARS and efforts to expand commercial space flight operations from Wallops, including providing state funding to support the base operations of MARS. Enter into a new Memorandum of Agreement with Maryland to continue the multi-state cooperative arrangement that has been critical to the success of MARS. Work closely with Senators Warner and Webb and federal officials to attract new aerospace industries and jobs to MARS. Pursue opportunities to expand spaceport tourism and other ancillary services to create more jobs and enhance the economic benefits of MARS.

Deeds will face Robert McDonnell is the November 3, 2009 Virginia General Election.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Spitzer Space Telescope Finds Planet Smash-Up Sending Vaporized Rock, Hot Lava Flying


NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has found evidence of a high-speed collision between two burgeoning planets around a young star left vaporized rock and flying lava in the wake. Astronomers say that two rocky bodies, one as least as big as our moon and the other at least as big as Mercury, slammed into each other within the last few thousand years or so -- not long ago by cosmic standards. The impact destroyed the smaller body, vaporizing huge amounts of rock and flinging massive plumes of hot lava into space.

"This collision had to be huge and incredibly high-speed for rock to have been vaporized and melted," said Carey M. Lisse of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., lead author of a new paper describing the findings in the Aug. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. "This is a really rare and short-lived event, critical in the formation of Earth-like planets and moons. We're lucky to have witnessed one not long after it happened."

Lisse and his colleagues say the cosmic crash is similar to the one that formed our moon more than 4 billion years ago, [vido 9:36], when a body the size of Mars rammed into Earth. More from NASA -

NASA LCROSS Preps for October 9 Impact


The NASA's The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite [LCROSS] spacecraft is expected to impact the surface of the moon at the south pole on Friday, October 9, 2009, 7:30 AM EDT. Here is a video of the LCROSS mission profile.

The impact experiment is designed to search for water compounds at the south pole of the lunar surface. The final impact crater point is expected to be determined next month. Northrop Grumman created this video about the LCROSS mission profile. LCROSS Flight Director Paul Tompkins gave a mission video update last week; and, you may read his BLOG. You may also Twitter LCROSS as it 'tweets.'

The ESA's lunar probe SMART-1, the Chinese Chang'e-1 and Japanese KAGUYA have each entered into controlled-crashes on the moon to seek data about the lunar surface. India's Chandrayaan-1 may enter into a controlled crash of the moon next year. The Lunar Science Institute is sharing the lunar data on an international basis in an effort to better understand lunar geology and where water may exist in moon's craters.

More robotic spacecraft missions to the moon are planned over the coming few years. The next missions being planned are NASA's [Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory] GRAIL and [Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer] in 2011 LANDEE in 2012. China may also advance the Chang´e 2 to launch in 2011.

'Missing Something Important' on Mars?

"We must be missing something quite important," on Mars French scientist Dr. Franck Lefevre says about the study of methane who, along with associate Dr. Francois Forget, created a computer model that shows methane gas unevenly distributed in the Martian atmosphere that changes with the Red Planet's seasons.

Methane gas was first discovered in the Martian atmosphere in 2004 by the European Space Agency's Mars Express. The measurements indicate that either there is life on Mars, or that volcanic activity continues to generate heat below the martian surface. Either outcome is big news for a planet once thought to be biologically and geologically inactive.

The reason is that on Earth much of the methane in our atmosphere is released by evolved life forms, such as cattle digesting food. While there are ways to produce methane without life, such as by volcanic activity, it is the possible biological route that has focused attention on the discovery noted Agustin Chicarro, ESA Mars Lead Scientist.

The current chemistry as we know it is not consistent with the measurements of methane on Mars. There is something else going on, something that lowers the methane lifetime by a factor of 600. So if the measurements are correct, we must be missing something quite important," Dr. Lefevre says about his compuer model study at the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, France.

Clearly something unusual is going on at Mars. Methane was thought to be stable in the Mars atmosphere for around 300 years but instead of taking 300 years to disappear, the methane had almost entirely vanished by early 2006, according to a study led by Michael Mumma of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Balitmore, Maryland.

Yet the two French scientists conclude in their published article in Nature 460, 720 (2009)that: “Such a [methane] lifetime suggests that organics are quite readily scavenged from the modern Martian environment, if reactions in the surface are the only cause of the observed methane variations. This would leave little hope that life as we know it can exist at present or that evidence of past life can be preserved in the shallow surface layer.”

More from the ESA, BBC, Space.com, and Geology. The next mission to Mars is set to begin in October with Chinese and Russian spacecraft probes.

China's Yinghuo-1 to Launch to Mars

China's Yinghuo-1 will go into orbit around Mars in 2010 after a 10-month, 236-million mile (380-million-km) journey beginning in October reports the BBC. It will function for an expected life of two years. The 253 lb. Yinghuo-1 will be launched by a Russian Zenit carrier rocket which will also carry the Russian-made Phobos-Grunt. Both probes will be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome space base in Kazakhstan. The Chinese Mars probe was sent to Moscow the past week to be readied.

Yinghuo-1 will be China's first Mars probe and China's first project to explore another planet. The Chinese meaning of Yinghuo is "light from firefly." Yinghuo-1 will study environmental changes in the climate of Mars, including the disappearance of water from the planet. The Chinese have an ambitious space program as evidenced in this video.

"If Yinghuo-1 enters the preset orbit smoothly and works well, China will become the fourth country that has ever succeeded in launching a Mars probe, following the United States, Russia and Europe," Pang Zhihao, a researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology told a news outlet in China.

Meanwhile, China's second unmanned moon probe, Chang'e-2, is likely to be launched within a year, and a year ahead of schedule [video]. It will be China's second lunar orbiter, part of the second phase of the Lunar Probe Project. The probe will conduct research at a 100-kilometer-high moon orbit as a preparation for a soft landing by Chang'e-3.