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Thursday, December 31, 2009


China Building New Radio Telescope to be Used in Moon and Mars Space Missions

A new 65-meter-diameter radio telescope started construction this week in Shanghai, China designed to support tracking and collecting data from satellites and space probes including Chinese astronomical projects like Chang'e lunar probe, YH-1 Mars exploration and other deep space explorations, said Zhan Wenlong, deputy dean of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The nearly $30-million (USD) project is also capable of receiving data for Jupiter and Saturn exploration, said Hong Xiaoyu, head of Shanghai Astronomical Observation, which will run the project after it is expected to be fully completed in 2015 but will provide support for tracking and locating missions during China's lunar probe program from 2013 to 2014; more from China Daily.

The Chang'e-2 lunar orbiter is expected to be launched at the end of 2010.

2010: The Year We Make Contact?

Estimate how many exoplanets will be found in 2010? There are 415 now. Will any exoplanet be Earth-sized and in the so-called "habitial zone" found in 2010? How about just one exoMoon? Comment please.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Russain Space Agency Sounds Asteroid Earth Impact Alarm; Seeks International Defense

The large asteroid Apophis is BAAAACK!

Russia's Roscosmos space agency chief, Antoly Perminov, is advising that the world's space agencies take the Apophis asteriod impact threat seriously, saying "lives are at stake," in a statement to a Russian news agency. "We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would ... prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people."

Perminov is saying that "calculations show that it's possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have" and "the threat of collision can be averted" if the Russia's , American, European, and Chinese space agencies band together to do build space defense hardware before the 2036 impact date. There is more in this Agence France Presse report, from Pravda with video, and The Guardian.

The impact of Apophis, as suggested by the Russians, would be much larger than the impact at Meteor Crater in Arizona and described as three times the size of the almost three times as large as the Tunguska meteorite that struck Sibera over 100-years ago. Here is more on the the asteriod threat from A.C. Charania's Planetary Defense blog.

America's NASA has plans to defend against the asteriod. The United Nations has been listening to the counsel of former Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart on these matters for some time. Congress has taken the matter seriously and funded Near Earth Asteroid searches but not building hardware yet to do it.

Near Earth Objects and Planetary Defence group made a volunteer made video documentary last month about the current issues surrounding defending the Earth from Asteroid and Comet impacts in four parts.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Secrets of the Coming Webb Space Telescope

It's going to take infrared eyes to see farther back in time than even the Hubble Space Telescope, and that's what the James Webb Space Telescope's MIRI or Mid-Infrared Instrument detectors will do. Now there's a new short movie that shows what the MIRI detectors are all about and what they can do. More from NASA's JPL. The telespcope launch is planned for June 2014 aboard an ESA Ariane 5 booster rocket from the French Guiana Space Center.

Japan to Launch Venus Probe in May 2010

Akatsuki (meaning dawn), formerly known as PLANET-C and Venus Climate Orbiter (VCO), is a planned Japanese unmanned spacecraft to explore Venus currently planned for launch in May 2010, with arrival in December 2010 for a mission of two years or more. The Akatsuki spacecraft will be launched from Earth to Venus aboard a H-IIA (type 202) booster rocket; JAXA is allowing it to carrying your name and message.

The $100-million mission will conduct several scientific investigations including surface imaging with an infrared camera and experiments designed to confirm the presence of lightning and determine the existence or otherwise of current surface volcanism.

Akatsuki is not the first spacecraft to explore Venus; it will be the 27th mission launched from Earth. But Venus was the first planet to ever be reached by a space probe in 1962. The Mariner 2 spacecraft flew within 34,400 kilometers of the surface of Venus and transmitted to Earth information about its temperature and details about its atmosphereand rotational period.

The Orbiter of Pioneer Venus was launched on May 20, 1978. It entered an orbit around Venus in December of that same year. Most of the Orbiter instruments were still working when the probe entered the Venusian atmosphere in October of 1992.

The Soviet probe, Venera 7 was the first probe to land on Venus. Unfortunately, it was put out of operation within an hour by Venus' high temperature. In 1982, Venera 13 transmitted the first color pictures from Venus' surface.

The Magellan spacecraft, launched in 1989, arrived at Venus on August 10, 1990. Before its demise in October 1994, Magellan was able to collect radar images of 98% of Venus' surface.

United States Lagging in Rocket Propulsion

The White House Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy submitted to the Congress on December 22, 2009 a 14-page report on the "capacity of the United States industrial base for development and production to meet" the nation's demand for space launch vehicles. The report was signed by John P. Holdren, the President's Science Advisor.

According to the report released: "Despite the importance of space to government and commercial activities the U.S. space launch industry has seen a decline in launch services over the past decade . . . From 2004-2008 the U.S. shared of commercial launches was about 17 percent, compared with 42 percent for Russia, 21 percent for Europe and 18 percent for the multi-national company SeaLaunch." [Video is of SpaceX Falcon 9 ground test in 2008.]

Friday, December 25, 2009

Time for China-US-Russia Joint Human Missions in 2012-2013 to Space Stations

PROPOSAL: The future of space is internationally important as evidenced by the serious efforts of the Chinese civilization becoming the third in the world, behind Russia and the United States, to launch humans to low earth orbit repeatedly. A multinational space mission is exactly what is needed to be planned in 2010 to become operational in a multinational "Project 2012" (using Chinese space parlance).

An American-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) could be organized to execute a contract with Virginia-based Space Adventures to purchase a $100-million USD dedicated Russian Soyuz 2012 spaceflight. The mission would be crewed by perhaps a Russian spaceflight commander/pilot cosmonaut, a Chinese taikonaut passenger, and an American commercial astronaut-diplomat -- all of distinguished careers --- to fly for a 10-day stay at the International Space Station. Such a People-to-People-like space mission would demonstrate the possibilities for multinational cooperation in human spaceflight. The concept mission would be well worth Chinese financial investment giving the civilization-state the desired recognition as an equal partner in the human exploration of space.

But there should be a second People-to-People-like mission whereby a second $100-million USD Russian Soyuz would be contracted in 2013. The purpose of the second mission would be to fly a multinational crew of a Russian spaceflight commander/pilot cosmonaut, a Chinese taikonaut passenger, and an American NASA astronaut (should 'the agency' accept the gesture). The purpose of the mission would be to rendezvous in space with a Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft at (or near) the planned Chinese space station known as Tiangong-1. There a Chinese taikonaut crew member could be exchanged between the orbiting Soyuz and Shenzhou for seperate returns from orbit. The crew-swap would constitute the first Chinese space station crew exchange.

The importance of a joint mission to the Chinese Tiangong-1 station is for the Chinese to provide 'clarity of intent' to the West, and the United States Congress more specifically, that the new spacefaring nation openly petitions to be a part of civil space exploration and discourse without hostile intent.

In 2009 this blogger visited China, read Chinese space-related literature, and listened to informed commentators. The Project 2012 concept has been vetted (through the creation of a draft paper and Power Point) with Space Adventures, US academic Chinese space experts, commercial space lawyers and space policy experts, business organizations, a member of the United States Congress, and others gaining vaired reactions.

With United States President Barack Obama clearly sending signal of his desire to cooperate with China in space, it is time to make this proposal more open and direct with the Chinese. It is time for breakthrough diplomacy in space that captures global imagination while utilizing the existing and short-term planned space assets to set the larger political foundation for government-to-government [G2G] international human space policy progress and action. The Project 2012 concept is more significant and more challenging than the Apollo-Soyuz handshake of yesteryear. The American government would not have a human-rated booster rocket in the space center stable.

Your views would be welcomed in the comment section below or in a direct connection via e-mail or cellular telephone or a 'Tweet.' It is time to think ahead of the curve and advance human space cooperation to the next level.

Think about it; John F. Kennedy did.

European Space Trekkers Send Greetings

Christmas on the International Space Station

The five-member crew of the International Space Station are today sharing special food in the celebration of the traditional Christmas celebration but in less than a fortnight the crew will again celebrate the Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7, 2010 in addition to ringing in the New Year 220-miles above planet Earth. The crew will have American, Russian, and Japanese food supplies to share for the three holidays adding to the multi-culutral orbital holiday season.

NASA: 2009 in Review

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Blue Moon for the New Year's Eve

A "blue moon" will be upon us this coming New Year's eve in what Old English mystics believed to show the light of the "betrayer" while some early alternative interpretations referenced the blue moon as references to absurdities and impossibilities such as the Moon is made of cheese. In folklore some have said the moon had a face and talked to those in its light, perhaps it does to some at least in music.

But in modern science, a blue moon is a full moon that is not timed to the regular monthly pattern but it is a rare event usually caused by smoke or dust particles in the Earth's atmosphere. Specifically, a blue moon is a second full moon in a calendar month.

Two full moons in the same calendar month happens about every 2.7 years. The exact time of full moon is 2:13 p.m. Dec. 31, or about three hours before its 5:16 p.m. rise time for those who take an outside stroll evening/night hike into the Blue Moon New Year.

Christmas-Eve Message from the Moon

Forty-one years ago Apollo 8 astronauts were the first human beings to circle the Moon caputuring the attention of billions of peoples on the Earth. Now humans have found water and other significant minerals and are in a global contemplation of new robotic probes and a return to the Moon by human beings. It is time to seriously think about, what Bill Gates years ago called, "The Road Ahead."

GAO Cites Lack of Science on ISS

The US General Accountability Office has issused a 39-page report [PDF] targets the International Space Station for underutilization by the scientific community because of the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in late 2010 and the uncertainity associated with federal funding of the $100 billion orbiting facility national laboratory after 2015.

"[T]he uncertainty of the ISS program beyond its 2015 retirement date has deterred members of the scientific community from considering the station as a platform for fundamental research," GAO says.

The problem is compounded by the upcoming retirement of the space shuttle fleet after five more missions, and NASA's decision not to use Russian Progress capsules for cargo transport to the station after 2011. NASA is estimating an 88,000-pound shortfall in cargo capacity in 2010-15, and severe shortages in the ability to return samples and other scientific cargo to Earth.

Commercial vehicles NASA is counting on to ease the shortfall -- the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Orbital Sciences Corporation Taurus II -- are behind schedule, as is the Ares I/Orion vehicle NASA is developing in-house. Developed under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative with federal seed money, both commercial vehicles are critical to using the station for research, reports Frank Morring, Jr. at Aviation Week.

The GAO recommended seven executive actions to enhance the ISS based upon options of retirment of the facility in 2015 or extenting its operations into future years [most likely 2020]. The GAO indicates that it will provide the Congress with additional information depending upon the course of executive actions. The President is now reviewing space policy options at the White House.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

FAA to Fund Spaceport Infrastructure

FAA Space Transportation Infrastructure Matching Grants (STIM-Grants) have been funded by the Congress in an initial amount of $500,000 in Fiscal Year 2010. The grant(s) will be competitively awarded to spaceports nationwide through FAA's spaceport grant program, the first time the grant program has been funded since being created in 1993.

The grants will be awarded by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) under Dr. George Nield to allow spaceports to support operations and protect public safety. Existing and proposed spaceports in Virginia, California, Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Alaska, Wisconsin, Indiana, and other states, will be eligible for these competitively-awarded grants.

In addition to promoting safety, the STIM-Grants program is expected to increase the competitiveness of U.S. launch facilities and create new jobs.

Virginia to Boost Commercial Spaceport Budget $1.37 Mil Each of the Next 2-Years

Virginia's spaceport is on the move in 2010 with outgoing Governor Tim Kaine including $1.37 million in the next state budget [114 (K)] for each of two years to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA) to operate the commercial launch facility.

The budget amendment, backed by Governor-elect Robert F. McDonnell during the 2009 statewide political campaign, became even more urgent when the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts released the 17-page 2009 audit of the VCSFA and looked to the future.

The 2010 General Assembly faced with significant budget cuts must act favorably on the request during the course of the winter. Virginia readers may opt to mention this budget line-item favorably to members of the state legislature.

Orbital Science Corporation of Dulles, Va. is expected to begin launching the new Taurus II booster from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Va. in the spring of 2011 to re-supply and ferry cargo to the International Space Station under contract with NASA.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Obama Said to Back Heavy-Lift Booster to Dash Out to the Moon and Beyond

In an exclusive ScienceInsider report, President Barack Obama has decided to ask the Congress next year to fund a new heavy-lift launcher to take humans on 'dash outs' to the Moon, asteroids, and the moons of Mars. NASA would receive an additional $1 billion in 2011 both to get the new heavy-lift launcher on track and to bolster the agency’s fleet of robotic Earth-monitoring spacecraft. The report failed to indicate if the heavy-lift vehicle would be the Ares-V.

New Mexico Looks at Spaceflight Liability & Immunity Legislation Again in 2010

The state of New Mexico, home of Spaceport America and the launch site for commercial paying space tourists aboard the first Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo flights, is again considering spaceflight liability and immunity legislation similar to the measure killed last year by the state's legislature, reports The Las Cruces-Sun. The measure is designed to reduce insurance costs for spaceflight companies.

Virginia was the first in the nation with Spaceflight Laibility & Immunity state law in 2007 followed by Florida in 2008 and Texas in 2009. New Mexico may be the fourth state to adopt risk assumption for spaceflight in 2010 with state officials saying "We're confident it will pass."

Virginia will seek to repeal the July 1, 2013 senset clause attached to the state's orginial law to place it on the same cometitive footing as Flroida and Texas in the 2010 session of the state legislature. The measure has been pre-filed by Virginia State Delegate Terry Kilgore. The veteran state legislator carried the original spaceflight liability & immunity measure in 2007.

ExoPlanet with Atmosphere and Water Found

Planet GJ1214 has been found by astronomers recently only 40 light years away with a mass about six times that of Earth. The planet's interior is likely mostly made of water ice surrounded by a thick but very hot atmosphere, which makes it inhospitable for life as we know it on Earth, according to the European Southern Observatory and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. NASA JLP now notes that 403 exoplanets have been discovered outside of Earth's solar system. Popular Science notes that many more exoplanets are soon to be found with perhaps the Earth-like twin planet not far ahead.

Scientists say they will soon find such a rocky planet in the habitable region, or "Goldilocks zone," of a star, where its orbit will make it "not too hot" and "not to cold" to theoretically support life. One estimate today is that an erath-like planet will be found orbiting a star within the next 24-months or less.

The Universe is an interesting place!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Professor Brian Cox Advocates Fusion Energy

Professor Brian Cox is an emerging voice in international physics. The combined 12-minutes of the two linked YouTube videos are well worth the time to review.

President Pledges Support to Space Program

The space community was buzzing today with the news that President Barack Obama was in an afternoon meeting with the NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to discuss the future direction of the space agency.

"The President confirmed his commitment to human space exploration, and the goal of ensuring that the nation is on a sustainable path to achieving our aspirations in space," said White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro. There will be a clear idea of the future direction prior to the President's Statue of the Union addess to Congress next month.

Meanwhile, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) was critical of NASA's human spaceflight funding today.

For more on the meeting between Obama and Bolden linked are articles from The Huntsville Times, SpaceNews, MSNBC, SpaceflightNow, The Orlando Sentinel, Florida Today, SpacePolitics, and NASAWatch. There will be much more said about this meeting in the days ahead.

Monday, December 14, 2009

WISE Off-the-Pad to Search for New Galaxies

The WISE spacecraft will most probably make a lot of science history. Keep-up with WISE on the NASA mission web page.

WISE Launch to be Webcast This Morning

WEBCAST OF THE LAUNCH: The launch of NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission is now rescheduled for Monday December 14, 2009 with a launch window of 9:09-9:23 a.m. EST. The operational mode for WISE anticipates many new discoveries both internally and externally to the solar system. The spacecraft will ride a Delta-II to orbit from Vandenberg, California. More from NPR News [audio].

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Friedman Touts Augustine Committee Space Goals in Houston Chronicle Editorial

The executive director of The Planetary Society, Louis D. Friedman, penned a worthy editorial last Saturday in The Houston Chronicle. It is recommended for reading by those who have concern with space policy in Washington.

Former US Senator and Apollo 17 astronaut-scientist Harrison 'Jack' Schmitt resigned from The Planetray Society last year when the advocacy organization openly supported a NASA program that would take humans to Mars rather than the Moon.

Both Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Friedman do agree that NASA should move beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This Blogger continues to support the 'Dash Out of LEO' option by building the Ares-V and then, once in orbit, put a real propulsion system on it and let's go to the Moon, Mars, and the asteroids. It is time to be bold and make them all destinations as opposed to wish petitions!

Alan Boyle Speaks About Space on MSNBC

In a late November interview on MSNBC, renowned space journalist Alan Boyle talks about exoplanets, solar systems, Pluto, and how planets should be calssified with host Dara Brown.

Budget Adds $4-Million for Space Innovations

The $4-million dollars buried deep in the “Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2010″ will continue the innovative NASA’s Centennial Challenges program for space entrepreneurs and citizen inventors in the years ahead. NASA has sought new ideas for the a renewed innovation prizes.

William Pomerantz recently penned an article regarding the NASA prizes which included: the Regolith Excavation, Green Flight, Lunar Lander, Power Beaming, Tether, Astronaut Glove, and Lunar Oxygen Production Challenges. Only the Lunar Oxygen Production Challenge expired unclaimed from the $10-million program started in 2005 thereafter leading to the contests.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thin-Film PhotoVoltaics May be Energy Game Changer on Earth and in Space

Thin-film nansolar may be a key to making space-based solar power a more vaiable business venture while providing several new more Earth-based energy solutions so says well-known international entrepreneur Peter Sage in a recent Space Show with Dr. David Livingston.

Sage notes that Thin-Film PhotoVoltaics improve efficiency, lower mass, and increase deployment size, thus they effectively lower launch costs adding to new business opportunities including space-based solar power. Listen to Sage advise on The Space Show.

The above video is from NanoSolar but there are several new firms that are involved with the production thin-film photovoltaic solar panels. Think ink, not silicon.

NASA Spending Bill Posied for President's Desk with Ares-1 and Ares-V Ongoing

Ending a filbuster on $447 billion in federal spending bills on a 60-34 US Senate vote, the six bundled spending measures which include NASA's budget, are expcted to clear the Senate Sunday and place the measure on President Barack Obama's Oval Office desk for final signature for the coming year.

The House and Senate have agreed to provide NASA with $18.7 billion in 2010, $942 million more than in 2009. Human spaceflight projects would receive $3.8 billion in 2010. The passed measure includes a statement for the NASA budget that targets Project Constellation for preservation by stating: "any program termination or elimination or the creation of any new program, project or activity" must be apporved by the Congress.

Project Constellation includes the development of the Ares I rocket and Orion spacecraft to transport astronauts, as well as the Ares V heavy-lift launch vehicle needed by the federal space agency to conduct planned lunar and/or asteroid human exploration.

This week, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said President Obama wants the agency to embrace more international cooperation after the space-shuttle era ends in 2010 and hinted that its Constellation moon-rocket program could see major changes. “We are going to be fighting and fussing over the coming year,” Bolden said. "We are not going to do the same kind of things we’ve always done.”

“We are going to reach out to what I call nontraditional partners. And I can say that with confidence because the president has told me to do that,” said Bolden. “There are not a lot of things I can tell you with certainty. But I can tell you, he said, ‘Do that.’ “ Bolden said that Obama told him to use NASA as a way to reach out to new partners, including China, one of only three countries that have launched astronauts into space.

According to insiders, the White House is looking at four options, each of which would scrap Ares I, dramatically revise Constellation and start new programs allowing commercial space companies to carry humans to the space station. Perhaps all would be blocked by the latest move by Congress.

“They are at an impasse,” space historian Roger Launius of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum told The Orlando Sentinel. “And unless the White House levels enough pressure, Congress could prevail.” IF the Congress previals the Ares-V and Ares-1 would continue as the NASA human space program of record.

The Space Shower Comes Sunday Night!

More from The Baltimore Sun, The Times of London, and The San Francisco Chronicle. Here is a video of how to see the upcoming meteor shower.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cassini Flybys to Yield More Data on Titan's Lake-riddled Polar Regions in December

UPDATE: The Saturnian moon of Titan will continue to lure planetary scientists into further research this month with two planned encounter flybys by the Cassini spacecraft now in orbit around the ringed planet. The flybys scheduled for December 12 and 28 will advance the climate research being conducted into the polar lakes and/or seasonal change detection on Titan.

A recent NASA-commissioned study indicates that the eccentricity of Saturn's orbit might have produced the unusually uneven pattern of lakes over the polar regions of Saturn's largest moon. Saturn's oblong orbit around the sun exposes different parts of Titan to different amounts of sunlight, which affect cycles of precipitation and evaporation in the polar regions.

Martian Moons Imaged by ESA Probe

The Mars moons Phobos and Deimos have been caught on camera together for the first time. ESA's Mars Express orbiter took the pioneering images last month (above). The Russian federal space agency had planned a mission to the moon Phobos this year to return soil but the mission was delayed by technical issues until 2011 along with a Chinese Mars orbiter. NASA is also considering a human spaceflight to the moons of Mars in the decades ahead as a part of the Constellation-Orion program probably in the range of 2025-to-2030.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

British Government Takes More Focused Approach to Space Exploration in 2010

Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson has announed that the United Kingdom will have its own space agency in 2010 to coordinate under a single entity the national space exploration effort in the country. The new agency will bring together six Government departments, two research councils, the Technology Strategy Board and the Met Office. The British space agency, expected to be similar to NASA, will help create thousands of new highly-skilled jobs, [Video].

"Our space sector hasn't missed a beat during this recession," Drayson said. "The new space agency is about making sure that the UK fully exploits its competitive advantage in satellites, robotics and related technologies," reports The Guardian and the BBC.

PlanetSpace CEO Chirinjeev Kathuria Interviewed About Space Business

Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, a Chicago-based serial entrepreneur and Chairman of PlanetSpace, is interviewed for 10-minutes about his plans in the commercial space launch sector. He predicts commercial cargo will go to ISS in the next 24-to-36 months; commercial astronauts in 3-to-7 years. Point-to-point (P2P) space tourism he estimated to 2-to-5 years for the industry to achieve the goal. Dr. Kathuria's firm partnered with major space firms to seek NASA cargo-to-space contracts. He is also a former founding director of MirCorporation.

Taurus II Booster Passes Second Stage Test

Orbital Sciences Corporation announced that Alliant Techsystems and the U.S. Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Center successfully ground tested the second stage rocket motor of the company’s Taurus® II launch vehicle at AEDC in Tennessee.

The solid-fuel CASTOR® 30 motor, which is supplied to Orbital by ATK Space Systems of Magna, Utah, was test fired for approximately 150 seconds, producing 72,000 lbs. of maximum thrust. In order to accurately test the motor performance, the static fire test was conducted using a vacuum chamber specially designed to simulate upper atmospheric conditions, since motor is designed to ignite at altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet.

Orbital will soon begin testing of the rocket’s liquid fuel first stage at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi as a part of the program to resupply the International Space Station. Nine Taurus® II launches are in the manifest to be boosted from the FAA-commercial licensed Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport pad on Wallops Island, VA. beginning in 2011.

A Failed Russian ICBM Booster Test Leaves Strange Visual Over the Norwegian Sky

A Russian submarine test-fired an ICBM missile Wednesday evening leaving highly unusual and strange lights in the skies over Norway. The third stage of the booster failed after having rocketed from the Dmitry Donskoi submarine in the White Sea. The malfunction was captured on video. FoxNews also carried an interesting conservative commentary video report. A Norwegian news video report is translated for review. Some UFO observers in Norway thought a stargate had opened. Meanwhile, Russian media explained the submarine test fire of a missile. Russia Today however says the failed Russian missile and the Norway lights have NOT been linked. Some observes point to HAARP.

Geminids Meteor Shower December 13-14

LOOKUP! The time has come to break out comfortable chairs, hot chocolate, warm cloths, blankets, plus a red-filtered flashlight for reading maps and charts without ruining your night vision to see the a fiery lightshow stirred up by dead comets in Earth's upper atmosphere during the cold of winter in the dark of night of the annual Geminids Meteor Shower [vid]. The show peaks on Sunday and Monday evenings December 13 and 14th. Binoculars are not necessary. NASA provides viewing tips.

The predicted Geminids Meteor Shower maximum is Sunday, December 13, 2009 just prior to midnight. The radiant is highest in the sky at around 2am, but from mid-northern latitudes it is at a decent elevation from around 10pm until the beginning of morning twilight. The Geminids can produce observed rates of over 100/hour at maximum, and are reliable (for a meteor shower) as well as spectacular. More from NASA JPL and initial observations.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

NASA Proposed Budget Saves Constellation

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Dec. 8 on a 2010 omnibus spending bill that includes $18.7 billion for NASA — a $942 million increase over the agency’s 2009 budget — and includes a provision that would prevent the agency from scaling back or canceling its current human spaceflight activities in the absence of formal legislative approval from congressional appropriators, reports SpaceNews. The story notes that the conference committee bill protects the NASA Constellation program which includes Ares-1 and Ares-V.

The complete committee report is here in PDF. Appropriations breakouts for the various NASA programs, projects, and activities - runs from Page 179 of 339 to Page 183 of 339. [Hat Tip to Fred McKee.]

Of note in the SpaceNews report is "Within the $3.8 billion appropriated for exploration, the conference bill includes $100 million for “heavy lift cargo launch capability” and $39.1 million for development of commercially procured cargo transport to the international space station under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract." More from Florida Today.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

University of North Dakota Advances PhD in AreoSpace Studies: Perhaps 2012 or 2013

The Department of Space Studies and the Department of Aviation, within the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota, are proposing a joint Ph.D. in Aerospace Studies. The program requires the approval of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education (SBHE) and involves two stages.

The Stage 1 includes a short, one page proposal for consideration of the development of the full Stage 2 proposal. Both Stage 1 and Stage 2 proposals need to be vetted by various department, college, and university committees and administrators, and approved by the SBHE. Though typically, each of the proposal stages take about an academic year to be approved, the thorough process ensures the long term viability and quality of the program. Once the Stage 1 is approved, the two departments will be given two years to come up with a detailed Stage 2 proposal, according to Santhosh Seelan, Professor and Graduate Director at UND.

The Stage 1 proposal was submitted early in the fall semester of 2009 and is making its way through the various committees. UND PhD proponents expect the SBHE approval for Stage 1 to be obtained sometime in spring 2010. We will then be given two more years to submit the Stage 2 proposal. Our hope is to submit the stage 2 proposal sometime in 2011, Seelan reported in an e-mail. The exact date the university will offer a doctorate in aerospace studies is not yet exactly known but appears possible in the fall of 2012 or 2013. [This blogger holds a M.S. in Space Studies from UND.]

New Hubble at Work Seeing 78-Trillion Miles

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has made the deepest image of the universe ever taken in near-infrared light. The faintest and reddest objects in the image are galaxies that formed 600 million years after the Big Bang. No galaxies have been seen before at such early times. The galaxies are an estimated 78 trillion miles (music vid) distant from Earth! The galaxies are about 13 billion light years away. Each light year is about 6 trillion miles. The Wide Field Camera-3 captured the unique images. More from the BBC, Scientific American, The Times On-Line, and AP.

When was the last time you went to space?

Historically, every dollar spent on space exploration has yielded significant returns in the form of innovations that touch our lives here on Earth. We experience the benefits from space every day. Each time we use our GPS systems, talk on our cell phones or get the weather forecast. The video is provided by the Coalition for Space Exploration.

Monday, December 07, 2009

SpaceShipTwo Revealed with Richard Branson and Burt Rutan in the Hanger

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo "Enterprise" was seen and discussed today in Mojave, California. SpaceShipTwo will be carried to high altitude by the WhiteKnightTwo before being dropped and boosted to space under rocket power with six passengers and two pilots upon going into commercial operations in mid-2012. Flight tickets may be reserved for $200,000 to join the hundreds on the waiting list. More details from, CNN, Alan Boyle at and the BBC.

But what is more interesting is that SpaceFlight Now reports that the Pentagon's Operationally Responsive Space program is interested in the LauncherOne version with WhiteKnightTwo to boost satellites.

NASA Administrator to Speak to the National Council of State Legislatures Friday

Charles F. Bolden, Jr., administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and former astronaut, will talk about the importance of science and math education and NASA's short and long-term plans for space exploration at National Council of State Legislatures Conference to be held Friday, December 11, 2009 in San Diego, California. Many expect a news-to-be-made by the NASA Administrator at the conference.

STS-135 Atlantis A Possibility in 2010?

One additional space shuttle flight is under active consideration by officials at the Kennedy and Johnson Space Flight Centers in either late 2010 or early 2011 as a logistics mission to the International Space Station, according to NASA If the ISS program is extended to 2020 as many now expect, NASA officials see the additional flight as necessary to boost cargo to orbit by Atlantis. There would be a Soyuz mission dedicated to back-up the flights as a rescue mission.

The report also notes that Colonel Steven W. Lindsey has been pencilled in to command the STS-135 mission to orbit should it be added to the space shuttle flight manifest in late 2010 or, more likely, early 2011. Some advance the idea of extending the space shuttle program to 2015 in the event the ISS is extended to 2020.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

California Electric Utility Regulators Advance Space-based Solar Power Plan

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) last Thursday (December 3, 2009) approved a renewable energy contract for Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), furthering the state's progress towards its renewable energy goals and advancing space-based solar power projects (if successful) in 2016.

Through its power purchase agreement with Solaren Corporation, PG&E is entitled to generation from a first-of-its kind space-based solar project. The experimental technology uses orbiting satellites equipped with solar cells to convert the sun's energy into electricity, which is then converted into radio frequency energy that can be transmitted to a local receiver station.

California-based Solaren Corporation anticipates 1,700 gigawatt-hours of energy per year throughout the 15-year contract term beginning in 2016 at a facility in Fresno County. While an experimental project is unique for the state's Renewables Portfolio Standard program, the CPUC approved the agreement because it is consistent with the state's objective of increasing its reliance on a diverse supply of renewable energy resources and of supporting renewable technologies at reasonable costs and risks to ratepayers.

Delta-IV w/Four Solids Launchs from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Saturday Evening

The video above is the Delta IV Medium rocket with 4 solid rocket boosters lifting-off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Flordia on Saturday night at 8:47 PM EST, Dec. 5, 2009. Details of the launch are provided by SpaceflightNow. That Delta IV has a thundering ROAR!

Virginia Railroad Car Float $1-Million Repair May Boost Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport

The Bay Coast Railroad line is seeking $1 million for repairs to the railroad car float that links Virginia's Eastern Shore with the rest of the state -- and which some say could play a future role in developments at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport such as moving rocket boosters and large parts to the Virginia space launch facility from the port at Norfolk.

The $1 million is needed to make repairs to the railroad car float that links Virginia's Eastern Shore with the rest of the state. Both Accomack County and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. Virginia has $700,000 in grant money to repair the float, which ceased operations last summer, but another $300,000 from a revolving loan fund administered by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission would need to be repaid over 10 years by some combination of the two Virginia Eastern Shore counties and the railroad.

The railroad line uses two tug boat guided rail barges (car floats) of 25 and 15 car capacity to link the 26 mile water route across the Chesapeake Bay between Cape Charles, Virginia and Norfolk — using the north and south terminals of the now defunct Little Creek-Cape Charles Ferry. The rail-to-car float operation of the Bay Coast Railroad has been in continuous service since April 1885 enabling the rail line connection between Pocomoke City, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia, and is one of only two remaining in the United States.

Orbital Sciences Corporation's Taurus II booster, set to be used for re-supply and cargo missions to the International Space Station and to be launched from the Wallops Island, Virginia spaceport beginning in 2011. The Taurus II requires first-stage fuel tanks built in Ukraine and to be delivered to the port in Norfolk. Transport options include barge or the rail-barge combination. More detail from DelmarvaNow.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Spirit and Opportunity: Almost 6-Years on Mars; Rover 'Curiosity' to Launch in 2011

A brief history of the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity Part II available by clicking here.

The Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity are nearing six years on Mars beginning next month in what is being seen as one of the more successful planetary science missions in human history - especially since the rovers were designed to last only 90-days. NPR conducted an interview Friday on getting the rover Spirit mobile again and get it free from the Mars sand.

A new Mars Rover is being prepared for a landing on Mars known as the Mars Science Laboratory [video]. The new rover will be launched in September 2011 for Mars surface operations in 2012. The new rover should yield even greater scientific achievement building upon the legacy of the NASA Mars program. The rover will carry the moniker "Curiosity" and it is on Twitter.

Friday, December 04, 2009

NASA Readies New Era of Space Monkeys

The first time in decades NASA is performing tests on primates, though the agency famously relied on the close human relatives to make some of the first forays into space in the 1950s. The testing is drawing the disgust of animial rights advocates with a dozen protestors taking to the streets in Boston this week seeking to halt the space agency tests.

NASA recently awarded the McLean Hospital in Boston a $1.75 million research grant to investigate the effects that space radiation may have on astronauts during future space explorations. The 27 squirrel monkeys primates will be hit with radiation doses equivalent to three years of space travel at a New York facility and then will be shipped to McLean Hospital to live under the watch of Harvard Medical School researchers.

The initial phase of the study is proposed to take place at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory, located at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY, where up to 18 non-human primates (squirrel monkeys) will receive a one-time exposure of low levels of space radiation similar to what an astronaut would encounter on a Mars mission. The second phase of the study will be conducted at McLean Hospital, where the primates will be monitored for changes in behavior. All primates involved in this study will spend the remainder of their natural lives in a vivarium with full veterinary oversight.

Soyuz Launch to ISS Set for Sunday Dec. 20

NASA-TV will webcast the launch of the Soyuz TMA-17 to the International Space Station (ISS) on December 20, 2009 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:51 p.m. EST. Launch coverage begins at 4 p.m. Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov, NASA Flight Engineer Timothy J. (T.J.) Creamer and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi will be transported to the ISS to commence Expedition 22 on orbit with arrival set for Tuesday, December 22, 2009 at 5:58 EST.

Kotov, Creamer and Noguchi will join Expedition 22 Commander Jeff Williams of NASA and Russian Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev, who have been on the orbiting complex since October.

Preview of New Film: Space Tourism

How do you put a price on a dream?

In his most recent film "Space Tourists", Swiss filmaker Christian Frei turns to an age-old dream of man: to leave our planet as a «normal person» and travel into outer space. For 20 million dollars, the American Anousheh Ansari was able to fulfil this childhood dream.

This documentary follows her journey into space and shows everyday life as it is on the International Space Station. The North American Premiere is set for the World Cinema Documentary Competition, Sundance Film Festival, January 21-31 2010.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

SpaceX Readies Astronauts for Dragon ISS Flights between May and November 2010

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) recently conducted its first Dragon spacecraft operations training for a group of NASA astronauts and personnel at its corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CA. The October training focused on how the crew will interface with the Dragon spacecraft while it is approaching and berthed to the International Space Station (ISS). Three of the participating astronauts — Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Shannon Walker and Douglas Wheelock — will be on board the ISS for Expedition 24 when Dragon makes its first visit under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

SpaceX plans expects to launch its cargo-carrying Dragon capsule on its first flight to the ISS sometime between May and November 2010.

The astronauts were briefed on vehicle ingress and egress, habitability of the spacecraft, payload handling and commanding through SpaceX's COTS Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Communication Unit. The training was a key step in SpaceX's progress towards providing NASA an alternative for cargo transport to and from the ISS when the Space Shuttle retires. More from BusinessWire.

SpaceX is under contract to NASA to conduct three COTS demo flights, to be followed by 12 cargo flights between 2010 and 2015 from Cape Canaveral. Meanwhile, Orbital Sciences Corporation will conduct cargo flights in a similar time period using the Taurus 2 booster.

GAO Testimony Cites Critical Issues for the FAA and Commercial Space Launch Industry

The Government Accountability Office offered testimony [1:25 hr vid] Wednesday morning before the before the Subcommittee on Aviation of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the US House. The initial GAO statement was entitled: Commercial Space Transportation: Development of the Commercial Space Launch Industry Presents Safety Oversight Challenges for FAA and Raises Issues Affecting Federal Role.

The report cites seven critical issues that must be resolved by the Federal Aviation Administration and the federal regulatory scheme to better ensure the edevelopment of commercial space launch activities.

Two Congressional Committee subcommittees held hearings on safety within the commercial space launch industry as the President and his advisors continue to review space launch policies. Here are various statements and press coverage reports: one, two, three, four, five, and six.