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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Soyuz TMA-16 Crew Set to Clown Around

William Harwood reports on CBS and another report on MSNBC. YouTube video of the Soyuz TMA-16 rollout is here. Linked here is an Associated Press story on Russian space launch traditions and rituals.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

LCROSS Impact Target Crater Changed

NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission (LCROSS) based on new analysis of available lunar data, has shifted the target crater from Cabeus A to Cabeus (proper), according to a NASA Ames press release.

The new impact target decision was prompted by the current best understanding of hydrogen concentrations in the Cabeus region, including cross-correlation between the latest LRO results and LP data sets and after consultation with scientific community, including impact experts, ground and space based observers, and observations from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), Lunar Prospector (LP), Chandrayaan-1 and JAXA's Kaguya spacecraft.

Simualtion models show a small valley in an otherwise tall Cabeus perimeter ridge, which will allow for sunlight to illuminate the ejecta cloud on Oct. 9, and much sooner than previously estimated for Cabeus. While the ejecta does have to fly to higher elevations to be observed by Earth assets, a shadow cast by a large hill along the Cabeus ridge, provides an excellent, high-contrast, back drop for ejecta and vapor measurements.

NASA and the Newseum in Washington, D.C. have partnered to host a complimentary, public event to celebrate the lunar impact on Friday, October 9 at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC beginning at 7AM with doors opening at 6:30 AM. Light refreshments will be served. This event is open to the general public free of charge. NASA’s Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver, the media, congressional and industry stakeholders will assemble to view live coverage of the LCROSS impact on the Newseum’s multi-story video screen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Soyuz TMA-16 Readied for Launch Sept. 30

The next Soyuz TMA-16 mission to the space station is on the "Gagarin's Start" launch pad for a Wednesday blast-off from the Kazakh steppe, more from AP and Russia Today. NASA plans TV and webcast coverage of the launch Wednesday beginning at 1:45 AM. Soyuz Spaceflight participant Guy Laliberte plans a multi-million dollar October 9 global space show.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New Moon Missions Planned for 2011-2014

Future American, Russian, Chinese and Indian robotic spacecraft to the Moon will have enhanced scientific interest with the discovery of water-ice molecules spread about lunar surface. Over the next four years, missions are being planned.

The next two lunar probes set to be sent to the Moon are the United States Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) and Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) set for launch by NASA in 2011 and 2012.

GRAIL is actually twin lunar satellites designed to determine, via X-ray observation, the moon from crust to core to reveal the moon's subsurface structures and, indirectly, its thermal history. The mission is expected to help lunar scientists create a lunar gravity map after launch in 2011.

LADEE will determine the global density, composition, and time variability of the fragile lunar atmosphere before it is perturbed by further human activity; determine if the Apollo astronaut sightings of diffuse emission at 10s of km above the surface were Na glow or dust, and; document the dust impactor environment (size-frequency) to help guide design engineering for the outpost and also future robotic missions following the mid-2012 launch from Wallops Island, VA.

China plans to launch their second lunar probe, the Chang'e-2, prior to the end of 2010 to advance the nation's lunar space program's core technologies such as orbital adjustments and soft landings. The mission is designed to advance the Chang'e 3 mission tol land on the moon with an unmanned rover in 2013.

Russia is now planning the 2012 launch of the Luna-Glob-1 mission including an orbiter with four Japanese-made ground penetrating sensors. The orbital spacecraft will also contain astrophysics experiments, dust monitors, plasma sensors, including the LORD astronomy payload, designed to study ultra-high-energy cosmic rays.

India's Chandrayaan-2 will be launched in late 2013 or early 2014 with an orbiter and a Russian-made lunar surface landing craft called Luna-Glob-2. The six wheeled, solar powered rover is planned to land at the South Pole. The rover will chemically sample the soil and relay the data to Earth-based scientists.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

NASA Seeks Input on New Prize Program

NASA now formulating plans for new prize challenges with the help of engineers and scientists throughout NASA - and we would like to consider ideas from private industry, outside organizations, and the public. The deadline is November 8, 2009 to submit new challenge ideas. More here.

On The Space Show yesterday there was a brief discussion with the Lunar Regolith Excavation Challenge sponsor about how the NASA challenge may change in the future as a result of the finding of water on the Moon.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Two Dozen Firms Express Interest in NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program

Space News is now reporting that roughly two-dozen companies had expressed interest in $50 million to a so-called Commercial Crew Development (CCDEV) program in an effort to accelerate development of commercial human space transportation systems. Industry proposals were due Sept. 22, and NASA expects to make one or more awards in November from among those who actually submitted proposals.

“Old habits die hard. Many of us who have grown up in the traditional space program, you know, we really believe we have all the answers. It has to be our way or no way at all,” he said. “I don’t believe that. I am becoming more and more convinced every day in this job that there are different ways that we can and must do this," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has expressed [Space News].

Lunar Regolith Excavation Challenge Set for October 17-18 at NASA Ames in California

The California Space Authority is hosting the 2009 Lunar Regolith Excavation Challenge Saturday and Sunday, October 17 and 18, 2009 at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA. with the California Space Education and Workforce Institute spearheading the event. The NASA Centennial Challenges is providing the $500,000 first place prize money. Moonraker, TeleOp, Thunderbird, Astrobotic Moon digger and Attila are among the over 20 challenger teams signed-up to dig lunar simulant in 2009. Twitter the Regolith Challenge.

Lunar Real Estate: Location, Location!

Human colonization of the Moon may have just taken a bold step forward with the announcements of confirmed water. Many lunar scientists and would-be lunar real estate developers believe the South Pole region will be where the first human settlements will be staked. Perhaps it is time to get to know the important real estate. The above YouTube video gives one an idea of the important lunar geography around Shackleton Crater [video].

NASA hopes to verify water-ice deposits when its Lunar Crater Observations and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) impacts crater Cabeus A near the moon's south pole on Oct. 9, 2009.

NASA's Messenger Spacecraft to Fly Within 142 Miles of Planet Mercury Sept. 29

The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, or MESSENGER, spacecraft will do a close encounter (142 miles from the surface) of the inner-most planet Mercury on Tuesday, September 29, 2009 to set the stage to go into orbit around the planet in March 2011. More from UPI.

Russian Space Agency Head: "US Space Shuttles to Could Continue Beyond 2011"

Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos head Anatoly Perminov said earlier today in Moscow that the United States will continue utlization of the space shuttle fleet beyond 2011 saying: "We have received information from certain sources that the use of space shuttles could be extended beyond 2011." Perminov added that this information arrived through unofficial channels, according to Interfax.

While there has been no official word about President Barack Obama's civil or commercial space policy plans, debate in Washington is expected to take on renewed intensity by a number of factors: 1] new findings of water on the Moon; 2] several commercial space launch firms planning crewed-capsules; 3] the test flight of NASA's Ares-1 X next month; and, 4] European and Russian partner pressure to sustain the International Space Station beyond 2015; and, 5] resumption of human flights by China's taikonauts next year and the planned spaceflights of India's gaganauts in 2015.

Phobos-Grunt Officially Delayed to 2011

The Russian space agency Roscosmos has now officially delayed the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft to to study and return samples from the Martian moon Phobos along with the Chinese Mars orbiter. The United States had previously delayed the Mars Science Laboratory mission [video] to 2011 too. Favorable launch opportunities to the Martian system occur only every 26 months, therefore, the American, Russian, and Chinese missions to explore the Red Planet will be reset for launch in 2011 for 2012 exploration.

Mars Water-Ice Found at Vastitas Borealis

The Red Planet's water-ice has been imaged [video] on the surface by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter adding more to the mounting body evidence that the life sustaining substance is spread throughout the solar system. The latest findings on Mars are from a meteorite impact crater in the topographically flat, dark plains within Vastitas Borealis where the surface water-ice was exposed and imaged. More from Alan Boyle, The Los Angeles Times, and The Christian Science Monitor.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

EUREKA! Water Confirmed on the Moon

The above NASA press conference continues at NASA YouTube 2, NASA YouTube 3, NASA Q & A 4, and NASA Q & A 5. The science may be a game-changer for lunar exploration and colonization by humans in the future. At a minimum, the lunar water confirmation demonstrates that the neglect of the lunar exploration since the days of Apollo has been an error. Water on the Moon is like gold. The announcements were also shared by Brown University and the University of Maryland.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Water Ice and Lunar Lava Tube Nexus?

News of significant large water deposits at the poles of the Moon is giving rise to more serious scientific thought of "possible correlation between locations of polar water ice and lava tubes" for future human lunar habitats, says Andrew Daga.

A noted lunar surface systems architect currently working on a NASA funded study, Daga says "ordinarily," [lava tubes and water deposits] are "counterintuitive, because most of the polar regions are highlands, and you typically see lava tubes in mare areas." The Moon's South Pole Aitkin Basin, however, "is an enormous and deep hole formed from a collision, and that sort of thing typically causes a lot of molten material to well up and form a lava plain."

Daga notes that there are possible significant cost reductions in a lunar lava tube human habitat -- "20% less expensive, depending on how many years you look out. Mix in the fact that you have nearby water, and that starts looking like a convergence of issues. It’s cheaper, it’s the place all the scientists want to go, you can stay there, it is where other countries will want to go."

Daga and others have studied utilization of lunar lava tubes for subsequent human habitats for more than a decade. There exisit ongoing studies including design plans, safety analysis, and academic papers. A recent YouTube video explains the extreme interest in the Moon's water-ice. Scientific confirmation of significant lunar water will drive public policy for a return to the Moon in the years to come. Daga's work, along with many others, will enable humanity to be ready.

See the reports from the blog Next Big Future, MSNBC, and NASA will hold a media briefing at 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 24, to discuss new science data from the moon collected during national and international space missions. NASA Television and the agency's Web site will provide live coverage of the briefing from the James E. Webb Memorial Auditorium at NASA Headquarters, 300 E St. SW, in Washington

Moon Mineralogy Mapper: Water, Water!!!

WATER UPDATE: --- Moon water and lots of it is expected to be announced at a 2 PM EDT press conference set for Thursday at NASA HQ detailing the results from the The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) that was abaord the science suite of India's now defuct Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiting spacecraft.

Dr. Carle M. Pieters of Brown University, planetary geologist and principal investigator of the M3 instrument, will conduct the press briefing. A recent report published by Nature News hints: “Results soon to be published… will show detailed spectra confirming that, indeed, the polar regions of the moon are chockfull of water-altered minerals.”

After suffering from several technical issues including failure of the star sensors and poor thermal shielding, Chandrayaan stopped sending radio signals on August 29, 2009 shortly after which, India's space agency officially declared the mission over. Chandrayaan operated for 312 days as opposed to the intended two years but the mission achieved 95 percent of its planned objectives.

Many space science experts believe that confirmed water ice on the moon may result in spacefaring nations sending several new probes to the Moon in the near-term years ahead and re-spark national and international efforts to return humans to the lunar surface.

Russian Mars-wear Spacesuit Ready

The Russians are testing a spacesuit for 500-days utilization on the surface of Mars. The question is: 'when will it be worn on Mars?'

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cassini Reveals New Ring Quirks at Saturn

More information is located at the Cassini spacecraft web page. Hat tip to Dr. Mitch Gordon at the SETI Institute for expanding the interest in the rings.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Two Buzzes Ticker Tape Parade Oct. 2nd

More from and the Orlando Sentinel. The ticker tape parade will be held Walt Disney World in Florida on Friday, Oct. 2, 2009 beginning at 2:45 PM EST to celebrate Buzz Lightyear's record-setting 468 days in space. He will be joined by Dr. Buzz Aldrin in the parade.

Buzz Aldrin Calls for More International Cooperation at the Space Station

Former Apollo 11 moonwalker and MIT-educated NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin has called for more international cooperation in space in an interview with Mike O'Sullivan at the Voice of America.

Aldrin says the United States now has a president who promised change, and one change the former astronaut wants to see is greater cooperation in space. "We, the United States, could help the international partners that we could bring into the space station - China, India, South Korea, Brazil - have them join there and begin to gradually look at the moon as an international project that the US experience can help the other nations land on the moon, and we'll work with them, but not spend our resources and our big rockets and spacecraft to go to the moon. We've done that," he said to the VOA.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

NASA to Advance Environment and Education

The Wall Street Journal reports that NASA's No. 2 official Lori Garver the past week vowed to provide taxpayers "better value" by focusing on environmental goals and promoting science education. Garver noted that she expects no major increase in NASA's federal budget over the next decade. More from Jeff Foust at Space Politics; Amy Klamper at Space News; and, Keith Cowing at NASA Watch.

Wallops Launches CARE Resulting in UFO Calls From Throughout the US East Coast

Black Brant XII Suborbital Sounding Rocket was launched to study the Earth's highest clouds from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility from Wallops Island, VA. The light came from an artificial noctilucent cloud formed by the exhaust particles of the rocket's fourth stage about 173 miles high. The strange sight caused reports on CNN, AP, Examiner, and a unique report from WFMZ-TV 69 about the Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE). More from

Last Space Shuttle: STS-133 Crew Named

Space Shuttle Discovery STS-133, the last mission to space for the fleet of aging orbiters, is now set for launch from the Kennedy Space Center on September 16, 2010. The last shuttle crew has been named consiting of just five astronauts. The smaller crew will enable the launch of a slightly larger mass payload.

The space shuttle fleet started flying in April 12, 1981 with STS-1. The program will have spanned nearly three decades. Yet it is time for America to dash out of low Earth orbit again!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lunar Scientists May Have Found New Water Deposits on Moon Along with Coldest Spot

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's seven scientific instruments have indeed confirmed the presence of large amounts of hydrogen -- a marker for water -- in permanently shadowed south pole craters, where scientists had known there were deposits of hydrogen. But the instruments have also found the element in regions where the sun shines, reports The Los Angeles Times.

NASA scientists said Thursday that this could mean water is buried underground. Water could not exist on the surface, where it is exposed to daytime temperatures as high as 220 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Richard Vondrak, project scientist for the mission, known as LRO.

Scientists also suggest that the coldest spot in the solar system may well be the Moon's South Pole while producing the first ever temperature map of the lunar surface. Temperatures there were measured at 397 degrees below zero. That's just 62 degrees higher than the lowest temperature possible, notes an AP story. That ultra-cold temperature is important because it can trap volatile chemicals, such as water and methane, said NASA probe project scientist Richard Vondrak with more from Science Daily.

The story of water on the Moon is related in MSNBC, The Scientific American, and The New York Times. Many believe a major finding of water at the Moon will be the necessary driver to bring human astronauts back to the lunar surface along with taikonauts and cosmonauts [sound track].

Spaceport Truckers Worry Some New Mexico Residents in Truth or Consequences

Japan's HTV-1 Brings Tons of Cargo to ISS

The Demonstration Flight H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) was successfully berthed at the International Space Station (ISS) on September 18, 2009 following the successful September 11, 2009 launch aboard a the H-IIB Test Flight Launch Vehicle from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The HTV spacecraft will remain docked with the ISS until November 1, 2009 provding ample time to unload the five tons of cargo for the Kibō Japanese Experiment Module. The HTV will ultimately burn-up upon re-entry into the atmosphere.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Project 2012: First Chinese Female Taikonaut to Fly to Space?

Chinese space officials have narrowed the second round of taikonaut selection down to 45 air force pilots, seven of which may likely fly to space and include at least two Chinese females. "It is the first time women have been up for selection in China's space development cause," one of China's space experts noted in a recent interview with ChinaView.

The 45 men and women now under review to become bona fide taikonauts are between the ages 27 and 34, members of the People's Liberation Army air force, and hold college degrees. The vetting process will continue to narrow the group of 45 to 7 following extensive physiological and psychological tests to undertake stays in space and at a space lab.

China selected 14 taikonauts years ago and from among them six have now flown to space including the now famous taikonaut Yang Liwei aboard the Shenzhou-5 in 2003, followed by two taikonauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng aboard the Shenzhou-6 in 2005, and more recently three taikonauts - Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng - aboard Shenzhou-7 in 2008 whereupon the first Chinese spacewalk was conducted.

A Chinese space lab is expected to be launched in late 2010 foloowed by the robot capusle of Shenzhou-8 to perform the first Chinese on-orbit docking in 2011. Shenzhou-9 is also expected to dock with the unmanned space module that year carrying taikonauts selected from the original 14 taikonauts. The first female taikonaut is not expected to fly until 2012.

China has the ambition of landing human taikonauts on the Moon by 2020.

Masten Space: Xombie to Try Another Day

Masten Space Systems' Xombie rocket got halfway through a round-trip flight in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge but apparently sprung an engine leak. As a result, the Masten team called off Wednesday's initial bid to win a $150,000 prize from NASA. More from Alan Boyle. Linked is a YouTube video of Xombie test flight.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Desert Rats Test New Lunar e-Vehicles

NASA Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS) web page. The Arizona State University News School of Earth and Space Exploration provides more detailed news information along with a Desert RATS FlickrSite photos.

Space Politics: Ares-1 Push Back Underway

Key members of the House Science and Technology Committee Tuesday expressed disagreement with the recent summary White House report on the future of the American space program lead by Norman Augustine. Stories from the Voice of America [vid], The New York Times, The Orlando Sentinel, and The Houston Chronicle.

The US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will held a hearing today. Here is Senator John D. Rockefeller IV's (D-West Virginia) statement and that of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)

The Senate subcommittee hearing video begins at 13:31 minutes into it with Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida). Norman Augustine is the lead witness.

There is a growing cleveage of opinion between civil and commercial space advocates as to American human spaceflight strategies involving commercial launch providers and the in-house NASA ride. But there is one matter that everyone seems to agree: MORE MONEY NEEDED. Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin put the federal budget decline in stark stark terms noting that NASA's annual budget has suffered a 20 percent decline in real dollars since 1994.

NASA-TV Coverage Planned for Soyuz TMA-16

NASA Television will air the launch of the next two residents of the International Space Station, a spaceflight participant and the return of two members of the current station crew. Coverage begins with a broadcast of prelaunch activities Sept. 17 and continues through the landing on Oct. 11.

Soyuz Commander Max Suraev, NASA Flight Engineer Jeff Williams and spaceflight participant Guy Laliberte are scheduled to launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:14 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 30.

Laliberte, a Canadian citizen and founder of Cirque du Soleil, will fly to the station under an agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency brokered by Virginia-based Space Adventures, Ltd. Labiberte will host a global Space Show on October 9th from the ISS.

First Rockey Planet Outside Solar System Found Advancing Hunt for Earth-like Body

The search for a habitable exoplanet is one of the holy grails in astronomy and today the CoRoT space mission announced the discovery of the only the fifth known terrestrial planet in the Universe to add to the known planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars and Earth, [ESA].

Exo-planet CoRoT-7b is now being described as the first rocky planet outside our Solar System marking a significant step forward in the search for Earth-like exoplanets. Astronomers and planetary scientists have found 373 exo-planets in alien star systems; and the number of exo-planets discovered expands almost daily now with a growing number of space telescopes.

The COROT and Kepler space telescope missions are designed to find many, many more exo-palnets and perhaps a space telescope will find one or more similar to Earth with an oxygen atmosphere and more or less 1G. More with a Planet Hunting vid and

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Teachers Have Plans for Space Education

More from the teachers in Zero-G event from The Bristol Hearld Courier and The Kingsport Times-News.

Virginia Teachers Named to Zero-G Flight

Two rural southwestern Virginia public school teachers were named today to fly aboard the Zero Gravity Corporation's jet from Dulles International Airport on Saturday, October 3, 2009 to experience weightlessness of initial astronaut spaceflight training and subsequently return to the classrooms to inspire their students.

Gate City High School leadership teacher Rhonda O. Kilgore of Scott County was named by the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council and Powell Valley Middle School language teacher David Stallard of Wise County Public Schools was named by the Masonic Lodge No. 208 to next month's zero-gravity flight.

Both Stallard and Kilgore will experience zero gravity, 1/6 lunar gravity, and 1/3 Mars gravity during the flight. Both will be working with their respective students developing a flight experiment this month.

In the event that the named teachers can not fly for whatever reason back-up were named. Kilgore's back-up will be Steve Gregory, a Chilhowie Middle School technology teacher in Smyth County, while Stallard's back-up will be Lindsey Mabe, a Powell Valley High School mathematics teacher in Wise County.
Each teacher is being supplied with what-will-become a class text book entitled: The Space Tourist Handbook written by Virginia-based CEO of Space Adventures Eric Anderson. The nearly one hundred classroom students will subsequently be enabled to envision the short-term future of spaceflight in the terms of commercial tourism with their astronaut-trainee school teacher.

The four winning teachers are also being invited to tour the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, VA. where commercial space launches will commence in April 2011 to re-supply and carry cargo to orbit destined to the six-member crew of the International Space Station announced Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority secretary Jack Kennedy of Wise, VA.

Next year the Masonic Lodge No. 208 plan to hold a competition for a Powell Valley school student to undertake zero-gravity astronaut training to further boost STEM education.

Megan R. Seals, a 5th grade teacher at Fairfax County Public Schools and Big Stone Gap native, told the nearly 600 students assembled at the Powell Valley Middle School of her experience in zero-gravity flight and the Space Frontier Foundation program to fly public school teachers to suborbital space.

Feting the public school teachers for their commitment to STEM education and for serving as a role model for hundreds of Central Appalachian Mountain students was State Delegate Terry G. Kilgore (R-Gate City). Both Kilgore and State Senator William C. Wampler, Jr. (R-Bristol) have been influential in shaping Virginia's spaceflight public policy.


Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation Monday announced that the Minotaur V rocket will propel NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) probe on a trajectory to enable it to orbit the Moon from the Wallops Island, VA. Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

"We are pleased to support NASA and the Air Force for this exciting mission to Earth's Moon," said Mr. Lou Amorosi, Orbital Vice President and Program Director of the Minotaur product line. "The Minotaur V launch vehicle was designed exactly with missions such as LADEE in mind, using both government-supplied and commercial rocket motors to provide highly reliable and affordable launches for high-energy and escape-trajectory missions."

LADEE is a NASA probe that will orbit the Moon to characterize the atmosphere and lunar dust environment and determine the global density, composition, and time variability of the lunar atmosphere before it is perturbed by further human activity. More from MarketWatch.

Augustine Testifies to House Sci & Tech

Norman Augustine testified to the House Committee on Science and Technology today on the Options and Issues for NASA's Human Space Flight Program. Linked above is his opening statement. There are more documents at the House Science and Technology web page along with a committee press release.

Meanwhile the Commercial Spaceflight Federation projects the creation of 5,000 new jobs from a commercial crew program.

'Paper Rockets' Video Makes Rounds Within the NewSpace Community

The NewSpace community is advancing the foregoing video as the pitched-politics begins on Capitol Hill as to the future of the NASA Ares rocket booster and the planned October 31, 2009 Ares 1-X test flight. The YouTube video casts the Ares-1 in competition with the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the ULA Atlas V. Be sure to vote the poll to the right of the page prior to the expiration date.

China Starts Construction of 4th Spaceport

The People's Republic of China is a emerging spacepower as it starts to build its fourth national spaceport to launch satellites, human-rated spacecraft and space stations in the coming years. The new facility is the Hainan Space Satellite Launch Center on the northeast coast of the tropical island province of Hainan. It is expected to be completed by 2013 at a cost of almost 5 billion yuan. More photos from China Defense Mashup.

The Hainan site is being built to accommodate the Long March CZ-5 carrier rocket, which will be able to carry larger payloads and is slated to become the workhorse of China's manned space and space station program. Covering an area of 20 sq km, the Wenchang Satellite Launching Center will cover a space launching port, a space theme scientific park, a rocket assembling plant, a rocket launching base, and the command center.

The theme park, dubbed as the first-ever one in Asia with the theme of areospace, will exhibit rockets and model rockets and provide opportunities for visitors to experience zero gravity. Chinese tourist sources indicate that upon completion this spaceport and others will be open to American foreign nationals - perhaps the 'ice breaker' is dawning in Sino-American space diplomatic relations.

Upon becoming operational, the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center will join the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center and the Xichang Satellite Launch Center for Chinese civil, commercial, and military launch campaigns. The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert is not open to Americans [with no immediate prospect for change] but the spaceport has served as the base for the three Chinese human space launches since 2003.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Phobos-Grunt May be Delayed to 2011

Anatoly Zak advises today in the BBC that the Phobos-Grunt mission [fun vid animation] aims to land on the Martian moon Phobos to collect soil samples and return them to Earth may be delayed for launch next month to sometime in 2011. A final Russian space agency decision is expected next week.

A delay for Phobos-Grunt would also affect China's first Mars probe Yinghuo 1, as the two craft are due to be launched together on the same Zenit rocket. The decision to roll out the vehicle to the Baikonur spaceport would mean a commitment to launch this year, while failure to do so would postpone the mission to 2011, says Zak.

A delay in the Phobos-Grunt mission launch campaign would be unfortunate for the Mars planetary science and sci-fi communities to learn much more about the Martian moons.

Decadal Survey: 29 Lunar White Papers

The Planetary Sciences Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate is undertaking its Decadal Survey. White papers can be submitted to the different panels of the survey until midnight Eastern Daylight Time September 15, 2009. With regard to Lunar white papers, there are 29 listed (or soon to be listed!) of the LEAG web site that have either been submitted or will be submitted.

Several NASA robotic lunar probes are now being planned to land on the Moon within the decade ahead. The Google Lunar X-Prize Teams may also find ideas for lunar science among the scientific community effort. The Lunar White Papers are filled with ideas on the science the Moon probes should undertake while operational on the surface. [Hat tip to Andrew 'Andy' Daga, a former UND Space Studies classmate. His proposal is on a survey of lunar lava tubes.]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Interorbital Systems Plans Crewed Capsule Launch from Spaceport Tonga in 2011

Mojave, California-based Interorbital Systems (IOS) announced Saturday that it is developing a two-person orbital crew module as an addition to its orbital tourism operations to loft in late 2011 aboard the company’s modular NEPTUNE 1000 rocket.

Two Interorbital Systems test pilots---Nebojsa Stanojevic, a 'Tweeting' Serbian, and Miroslav Ambrus-Kis, [vid], a 'Tweeting' Croatian, both of whom are seasoned explorers, will be aboard the NEPTUNE 1000 spacecraft. The test pilots are also a part of the Synergy Moon Team for the Google Lunar X-Prize.

The two-man capsule is designed to orbit the earth for approximately 12 hours or 8 orbits around the planet. For assured reentry, the spacecraft will be launched into a self-decaying orbit. The crew module, which has a launch escape system to ensure the pilots’ safety, will splash down Apollo-style on parachutes in the South Pacific Ocean near its launch location in the Kingdom of Tonga. The Spaceport Tonga is being readied by IOS for human and lunar robot flights.

The price for the Interorbital Systems spacecraft ride to orbit is expected to be $800,000 per person when commercial service begins in 2012. The BBC looks at IOS too. There appears to be no commercial plan to service the International Space Station (yet any way). More from the Croatian Times and

Space Advocates: e-Mail Rep. Mollohan Today

Key pro-space lawmakers and space advocates are looking for a House-Senate conference committee to restore the funds cut before the Augustine panel completed its work earlier this year to enable a more favorable operating environment for the federal space agency.

U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee, is a key member of Congress with regard to the NASA budget next year. The West Virginia Congressman cut next year's NASA spending nearly $500 million below what President Barack Obama requested. Blog readers may contact Mollohan to urge support for the civil and/or commercial space funding. Express your views in just a few sentences to be most effective.

NASA supporters initially are targeting the Democratic leadership of appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate with jurisdiction over NASA. Space advocates have an ally in Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee panel that handles space agency spending. But effort must be focused on Congressman Alan Mollohan.

Armadillo Aerospace's Money Qualifying Flights: Videos From the X-Prize Foundation



HD HERE. More from The Launch Pad.

Click here for the X-Prize YouTube spot. There is more from yesterday! NASA's budget may have just got $1-million lighter.

Hat Tip to Robin!

Astronaut Flight Cost: $20 vs. $51 Million?

Elon Musk says that the Falcon 9 -Dragon crew configuration can beat the Russians cost per astronaut to the international space station by about $32-million per astronaut if his commercial space launch operation is succcessful in proving the viability of the booster and spacecraft in the coming few years.

"At Space X we feel pretty confident in being able to do it for $20 million per seat," Musk told a recent conference call with reporters. That is about 40% of what it costs to contract astronaut launches with the Russian Space Agency, he said. The Space-X benchmark price is based upon flying four Dragon crew capsules per year with seven astronauts each.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos last May raised the charge to NASA to fly American astronauts at the rate of $51-million per seat to the International Space Station beginning in 2012. Virginia-based Space Adventures, Ltd. notes that there may be a significant potential price difference due to Russian "training and language requirements."

Space-X is building the Falcon-9 while Orbital Sciences Corporation is building the Taurus-2 to mount crew capsules atop the boosters to deliever government or commercial astronauts to low Earth orbit following numerous test flights with cargo to the space station. But as former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin noted this week, there is no commercial launch option for orbital astronauts today with most experts projecting crewed commercial flights by 2016.

Anderson has noted that Space Adventures could market seats at $20-million much more broadly to the public than is done to today using the Russian-made Soyuz. Increased space tourist demand would require a destination other than the ISS such as a Bigelow Space Hotel.

"Just show me the 'Quid!'"

Szoka Tells Russia Today "NASA Must Change"

Space Frontier Foundation Board Chairman Berin Michael Szoka discusses the Augustine Committee report regarding the future of NASA's human space-flight programs with Russia Today TV.

Artistic-Social ISS Mission of Guy Laliberte

Billionaire Guy Laliberte, who owns Cirque du Soleil, is set to become the world's seventh, and Canada's first space tourist slated to travel on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station at the end of September. Two members of the crew tell Russia Today they are ready. Laliberte tells more about his October 9 space show. The launch will be webcast on NASA-TV.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Armadillo Aerospace Wins NASA $1-Million?

Armadillo Aerospace qualified to win $1,000,000 from NASA Centennial Challenges today as a part of the Lunar Lander Challenge after being adjudged to have achieved all the contest requirements. Contestants have until October 31st to do better.

The Launch Pad blog reports "Armadillo Aerospace successfully completed the requirements for Level Two of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge today. Braving rain delays, igniter problems, software re-compiles, and muddy roads, they put together two successful 180-second flights within the required 135 minute time period."

Here are the pictures, thanks to Will Pomerantz and more video from Jeff Foust along with his report on Personal Spaceflight. Alan Boyle filed a report on the success on the MSNBC Comsic Log. Peter Diamandis described the day in this pre-flight YouTube video.

John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace won $350,000 Prize for winning Level 1 of the 2008 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge held last October in New Mexico.

Up next is Masten Space Systems with the XA-0.1B-750 VTVL rocket vehicle. Masten will attempt to claim purses in both levels from Mojave, CA, on September 15-16, 2009 (Level One), October 7-8 (Level Two), and October 28-29, 2009 (Level Two). It will be followed by Unreasonable Rocket [vid of test] from Cantil, CA, on Oct 30-31, 2009.

The Space Diving Sport will not be far behind now! Armadillo has given the idea some obvious thought.

STS-129 Atlantis Launch Set for Nov. 12

The STS-129 Space Shuttle Atlantis is set for launch from the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, November 12, 2009 on an 11-day mission to deliver two experiment racks [EXPRESS Logistics Carriers 1 & 2] and parts, including a spare gyroscope to the International Space Station. STS-129 will conduct station crew exchange on-orbit and will feature three spacewalks. There are now only six space shuttle launches remaining in the NASA flight manifest. The shuttle launch programs will end in about one year as now planned.

Prior to the launch of STS-129 Atlantis, the Russian-Soyuz TMA-16 will liftoff on September 30, 2009 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for subsequent docking with the ISS. The three-member crew will include Canadian entrepreneur and circus billionaire Guy Laliberte who will conduct a show from space.

The Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle will dock with the port on the ISS Harmony module Thursday, September 17th with 4.5 tons of supplies and cargo for the international space station for the first time. The HTV-1 mission at the ISS is for no more than 55-days -- probably undocking prior to the arrival of STS-129.

Civil vs. Commercial Space Debate Tuesday?

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology will hold a hearing Tuesday, September 15 on the Options and Issues for NASA’s Human Space Flight Program: Report of the “Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans” Committee report submiited to the White House last week. The witnesses include space expert Norman Augustine and former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

The scheduled two-hour hearing will be webcast LIVE here between 2 PM and 4 PM EDT from Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building inWashington, D.C.

Griffin recently sent a memo to friends and Washington-insiders critical of the so-called Augustine Commission work with one specific traget the commercial space launch sector seeking to support re-supply and cargo missions to the International Space Station in the near-term and provide commercial crew launches in the 2015-to-2016 time period. The resulting testimony will certainly be a source of debate between the civil and commercial space advocates as to the future direction of America's space effort and funding resources in coming annual federal budgets.

Orbital Sciences Corporation Plans to Develop Cygnus-Based Crew Capsule

Space News is reporting that Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation has plans to develop a Taurus-2 Cygnus-based astronaut crew capsule that will open remarkable possibilities at Virginia's commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport by 2016.

A crew variant of Orbital's Cygnus pressurized cargo module capable of carrying three or four astronauts, along with a human-rated version of Taurus 2, could be developed at a cost of $2 billion to $3 billion requiring significant private investment and supporting space launch infrastructure over the next five years. Orbital Sciences started a study last year.

The White House is being urged by commercial space launch advocates to set aside at least $2.5 billion to stimulate private-sector competition to develop a commercial crew capability. Many commercial spaceflight experts see the recommendation being viewed favorably by the Obama White House.

Orbital Sciences will employ its Taurus-2 medium-lift launch vehicle and the Cygnus spacecraft in order to service the International Space Station (ISS) under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract from Virginia's Eastern Shore Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport co-located at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

Orbital Sciences now joins SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, and Excalibur Almaz in the development of commercial human space transport capsules. The four commercial space launch firms will continue development testing in the year(s) ahead prior to any commercial crew launch to orbit.

Meanwhile the civil space sector seeks to advance the development options of the NASA Orion human capsule. Orion options and scenarios are explored in these Lockheed Martin videos one [1], two [2], and three [3] released recently. The Indian government is also planning a new space capsule for a crew of three to debut in 2015 as the operational Russian Soyuz and the Chinese Shenzou capsules continue to soar above their boosters to orbit.