Search This Blog


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Soyuz Readied for Launch to ISS 12 AM Friday

The ISS Expedition 23 Soyuz TMA-18 Launch Coverage on NASA-TV will commece at 11:15 PM April 1, 2010 with the launch set for 12:04 a.m. EDT April 2 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan; launch replays follow) with a NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts to the orbiting International Space Station.

Armed police with sniffer dogs walked ahead of the train and a helicopter circled overhead as the Soyuz booster rolled to the pad and was erected for the final launch campaign of the Soyuz TMA-18 amid heightened security following the Moscow subway bombings, which killed dozens of people [Russia Today].

The three Soyuz space flyers departing Friday will join three crew members currently aboard the space station — Russian commander Igor Kotov, NASA astronaut Timothy J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi of Japan. Within days of the Soyuz docking at the space station, a U.S. space shuttle with seven people on board will launch from the Kennedy Space Center (April 5, 2010) and it is due to arrive for a brief visit, ensuring a busy time for the Soyuz newcomers.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

ISS Cosmonaut Blogger Back from Space

Russian cosmonaut Maksim Suraev, who was the first-ever Russian to blog online from orbit, described his everyday space life and shared his feelings and thoughts with Internet users. Suraev's 6-month experience on the ISS is reviewed in a Russia Today report. His Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan on March 18, 2010, wrapping up a 167 day stay aboard the International Space Station.

JAXA Spacecraft to Explore Venus in 2010

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is in the final weeks of the launch campaign to explore the planet Venus with the Akatsuki spacecraft or previously known as the Planet-C spacecraft. Currently planned for launch on May 17, 2010, the $220 million mission will arrive at Venus in December 2010 for a mission of two years or more.

The JAXA Akatsuki spacecraft will join The European Space Agency's Venus Express spacecraft to explore the cloud shrouded planet five years ago. The ESA probe entered Venusian orbit on 11 April 2006 and has extended remote sensing operations into 2012. The European science at Venus will aid the JAXA probe to expand human knowledge of Earth's sister planet. Together the two spacreaft will contribute to science like those which proceeded them to Venus.

The JAXA space agency history and plans have been recently documented in the book Emerging Space Powers: The New Space Programs of Asia, the Middle East and South-America by Brian Harvey, Henk H. F. Smid, and Theo Pirard. The book provides insights into the JAXA Hayabusa asteroid, Akatuski Venus, and other JAXA missions as well as five other national space programs of those yet to place humans in space nonetheless launching satellites to orbit of Earth and/or the Moon.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Europa Ice: Thick or Thin?

Europa, one of the many moons of Jupiter, merits serious review by individuals who believe nations of the world should be spacefaring in the 21st Century and if you subscribe to the NASA mantra "to follow the water" -as on the planet Mars. Water and the thickness of the Europa ice is the key to determine if it is a dynamic water world to be explored.

Unmasking Europa: The Search for Life on Jupiter's Ocean Moon (2009), by Richard Greenberg, provides insight to the moon Europa and the debate about the thickness of the ice crust that covers the global surface. Therein is a significant part of the answer of whether or not it is a new life habitable zone within the solar system. Greenberg was recently interviewed on The Space Show.

Beyond the Moon and Mars, Europa is in the sights of human space exploration in the 21st Century. The planned unmanned joint NASA-ESA Europa Jupiter System Mission is now being designed to analyze and monitor the icy shell of Jupiter's moon Europa and begin to settle the debate of thick or thin ice that is detailed in the content of Greenberg's book.

Hopefully, many of the questions raised will be fully vetted in 2026/2027 as a new mission is designed to characterize water oceans beneath the ice shell. Meanhile, the Russians have discussed a Europa lander in the future.

Space Shuttle Manifest May Grow into 2013?

NASA has the equipment and supplies for four additional space flights on the shuttle, officials announce and reported by a WESH-TV video from Florida Friday. In a news conference NASA revealed that it can produce three additional fuel tanks in 2012-2013 and enable four additional space shuttle flights beyond the current manifest ending in September 2010.

The cost of continuing the space shuttle flights with the additional hardware is staggering and could place additional pressure on the $6-billion proposed to enable commercial space launch providers in the President's NASA FY 2011 budget submission to the Congress if adopted.

A rally is being planned in Florida to push the idea of continuing the space shuttle and continue with the Constellation program. Planners hope to draw 5,000 people to the 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11 at the Cocoa Expo near Interstate 95 and state Road 520 in Cocoa.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Athena Coming Back to Launch Pads

Lockheed Martin Corp. and Alliant Techsystems Inc. are teaming up to offer rocket launch services with the Athena rocket launch vehicles capable of carrying payloads up to 3,775 pounds to low Earth orbit as well as to the moon.

Available for launches beginning in 2012, the new Athena can be launched from four U.S. locations including Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, Vandenberg Air Force Base in Calif. and the Wallops Island, Va. Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

First-generation Athena I and II rockets began operating in 1995 and have flown seven times. Athena II launched the Lunar Prospector to the moon in 1998 and remains the only commercially developed launch vehicle to fly a lunar mission. The Athena rocket previously launched from Cape Canaveral, Kodiak and Vandenberg.

“Clearly we have been talking to [Lockheed Martin and ATK] for awhile now and are very close to arranging a deal with them for LC-46,” Space Florida President Frank DiBello said.

Lockheed and Alliant are restarting the Athena project to compete for light military satellite launches, a market currently dominated by Orbital Scinences Corporation's Minotaur rocket family that uses retired strategic missile components and SpaceX's Falcon 1E. More detials from Spaceflight Now, SpaceNews, and the Orlando Sentinel.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Champion of Commercial Space: Rohrabacher

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a past advocate of a federal "Zero G, Zero Taxes" policy, remains the only member of the Congress who is an outspoken supporter of the NewSpace policy direction proposed in the President's NASA FY 2011 budget citing in a subcommittee hearing yesterday that private innovation in railroads and airplanes as examples of how private enterprise can work effectively.

Rohrabacher said using commercial companies could significantly reduce government costs and still do the mission, citing upcoming efforts by SpaceX to launch the first flight of its Falcon 9 rocket after getting less than $300 million from NASA to design a spacecraft capable of transporting cargo.

"They have done it on a minuscule [budget] amount compared to what NASA has already spent on the Ares project," he said. "If we are going to do space, we better do it cost effectively and doing it cost effectively is not relying on the government."

Mark R. Whittington, author of The Last Moonwalker, Children of Apollo and Nocturne, has suggested that Rohrabacher should advance that idea of "Zero G, Zero Taxes" again, if only to test President Obama's odd support of capitalism in space. Yet in reality such a federal policy would make space an enterprise zone, eliminating taxes for goods and services created in space.

Presidential Space Summit Key to Future

Lack of Full Funding for Virginia Spaceport Concerns Legislator: $500,000 Lacking

Virginia State Del. Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack Co.) has expressed public concern with state funding for "the lack of full funding for the budget request, which had been supported by the Governor's office for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. While the spaceport did receive a significant increase in funding, it is not enough to do what must be done in light of the terrific projects evolving at the spaceport."

The spaceport will soon have two operational launch pads capable of Minatour I and V boosters along with the yet-to-be-tested Taurus II scheduled to deliver commercial cargo to the crew of the International Space Station beginning in 2011. The launch facility has a lunar orbiter spacecraft mission in the manifest for 2012.

Last year Virginia supported spaceport operations with less than $100,000 annually. In the 2010 General Assembly, the spaceport budget was increased to $838,000 annually for the next two years but about $500,000 less than the $1.37 million requested annually.

"The Governor's office has indicated that they are willing to mount an effort between now and the reconvened session on April 21, to amend the budget to provide for full funding of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport budget request," Del. Lewis, representing the district where the Virginia spaceport is situate, noted in a press statement for the

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

China Takes Pride in Space Program But ... 4th Spaceport Construction Will be Late

Wenchang the fourth space center being built in China will not be ready for service earlier than 2014-2015, a media report said. The construction of the space center was previously expected to be completed by 2013[w/vid].

"The construction of the fourth space center, Wenchang, is ongoing. China's first low-latitude space center will be commissioned in 2014-2015," Ria Novosti quoted a local government official as saying to CCTV. More from Space Daily.

The Chinese Contemporary Dance video above is by a group from the Wenchang spaceport region.

Congressional Hearings on Human Spaceflight

Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords gives the opening statement fore the Hearing on NASA's FY 2011 Budget Request and Exploration before House Science and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. The hearing title is "Proposed Changes to NASAs Exploration Program: Whats Known, Whats Not, and What Are the Issues for Congress?" The witness statements are here. Hearing video relating to commercial space launch included comments on space launch technologies and safety. More.

Mike Gold Talks with The Economist

Bigelow Aerospace attorney Mike Gold is interviewed by The Economist. He recently discussed the Bigelow Aerospace effort with New Scientist earlier this month. This is a 5-Star Video.

Bolden Appears Before House Committee

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden provided testimony Tuesday to the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Hearing on NASAs FY 2011 Budget Request. Above Bolden interacts with the subcommittee chair, Congressman Alan Mollohan (D-WVa) and Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va). In addition, Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) questions [vid] Administrator Bolden as well. More on the hearing from The Wall Street Journal, The Hunstville Times, Orlando Sentinel, and Florida Today.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

British Minister of Outer Space Launches UK Space Agency for Innovation in Industry

The Times of London, Reuters UK, Wired UK, and the BBC provide details on the creation of the United Kingdon's UK Space Agency [UKSA] today.

Russians Prepare Next Soyuz for April 2nd

Expedition 23 Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov and Flight Engineers Mikhail Kornienko and Tracy Caldwell Dyson departed for the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to train for their launch to the International Space Station in their Soyuz capsule on April 2, 2010. Upon arrival at the ISS, the space station will have a crew of six.

Buzz Aldrin Dancing with the Stars

Apollo 11 hero and mookwalker Buzz Aldrin, 80, appeared on Dancing with the Stars last night and will again next week on the popular TV show. The show should have Buzz sing. More on the apperance by CollectSpace and

ESA Has Big Space Plans for 2010

This ESA video provides an overview of Europe's efforts in space for 2010.

ESA Promotes Virtual Europa Exploration

Showing human planetary exploration on Jupiter's moon Europa in a distant future, the mock-up demonstrates exploratory game play while highlighting learning aspects and multi-player event possibilities in an immersive online game based on a ESA study. Europa, a moon of Jupiter, may harbor life in the global ocean beneath the ice shell.

Her Majesty's Space Agency Named Today

The British government is set to unveil the name and logo of Britain's mini-version of NASA today after having been alone among the major industrialised nations in not having an executive body to direct its activities beyond the Earth's surface, according to the BBC.

The body will take overall responsibility for UK space activities, replacing the soon-to-be defunct British National Space Centre (BNSC).Currently British space policy is handled by a loose partnership of Government departments and research councils. The new agency will for the first time bring them together under "one roof" to allow a more strategic approach, [ITN Vid].

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tumlinson: Virginia is for Spaceport Lovers

"Since its founding Virginia has always cut its own path to the future. Virginians have always had their own ideas about right and wrong, and their own understanding of what was best for their own children and the destiny of the state. And yes, although many of its people work there, several times the state has stood strong against the prevailing tides of the palatial city on its northern border," Rick Tumlinson, Founder of the Space Frontier Foundation writes in the Sunday edition of The Richmond Times Dispatch.

"Frankly, Virginians realize there are times in history when going along to get along is just the wrong way to go. Today Virginia faces a very 21st-century version of this choice, in the form of the current debate over U.S. space policy and what is best for Virginia versus other states whose vested interests are in direct conflict." [MORE Tumlinson on Virginia ->]

Private "Enterprise" Flys in California

The SpaceShipTwo (SS2) "Enterprise" took to the bright skies of California today for the first time hailing the dawn of a NewSpaceAge. The Mojave Air and Space Port launched the WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane for the nearly three-hour test flight in which VSS Enterprise remained attached, CNN video].

The sleek, six-passenger suborbital spacecraft is owned by Virgin Galactic. The private firm has collected about $45 million in deposits and fares from more than 330 aspiring amateur astronauts, each of whom will be charged $200,000 to experience a few minutes of suborbital spaceflight beginning in late 2011 or 2012 over the California Mojave desert or the high desert of New Mexico. Virgin may also launch the spacecraft from snow and ice-covered Sweden into the Aurora Borealis sometime in 2012 or 2013.

Commenting on the milestone flight today, Burt Rutan said: “This is a momentous day for the Scaled and Virgin Teams. The captive carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely exciting and successful spaceship flight test program.”

Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic added: “Seeing the finished spaceship in December was a major day for us but watching VSS Enterprise fly for the first time really brings home what beautiful, ground-breaking vehicles Burt and his team have developed for us. It comes as no surprise that the flight went so well; the Scaled team is uniquely qualified to bring this important and incredible dream to reality. Today was another major step along that road and a testament to US engineering and innovation.”

More from Alan Boyle at MSNBC, Leonard David at, and Jason Paur at Wired.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

NASA to Talk Budget With Senator Mikulski

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin and NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Council member John Frost are now scheduled to appear before the US Senate Appropriations subcommittee chaired by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). The purpose of the hearing is to provide an overview of the fiscal year 2011 budget request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration submitted by President Obama. The hearing is Thursday, March 25, 2010, 10 AM in room No. 192 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.

"Proposed Changes to NASA’s Exploration Program: What’s Known, What’s Not, and What Are The Issues for Congress?" is now the scheduled topic of the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics this coming Wednesday, March 24, 2010. NASA Associate Administrator Douglas Cooke and Lockheed Martin retired executive A. Thomas Young are scheduled to testify in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building between 2 and 4 PM. More on hearings this week.

Will Obama See The Red Planet from Florida?

President Barack Obama will be playing to a skeptical NASA pro-space audience come April 15, 2010 at the Kennedy Space Center meeting venue and the much larger Interstate 4 Florida population between Tampa and Cape Canaveral. Thousands of pro-space voters help determine the Florida presidential electoral college votes of 2012. Nevertheless, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson predicts the President will boldly set a new goal of sending American astronauts to Mars.

Think about it - could it be tougher than a health care bill? Going to Mars that is, NOT Florida if you are Obama. The president will advocate a viable space plan that incorporates a bold NASA plan with recognition of the commercial space niche coming of age and ready to very competitive in global space markets.

Nelson, a one-time NASA spaceflight participant during his tenure in the Congress, noted support for a heavy-lift booster. President Obama may have been for an Ares V-like booster for some months ---but not articulated through NASA FY 2011 budget documents. Some view the president as likely to include more inspired space propulsion systems for a dramatic 'Dash Out' option.

Many space advocates have suggested a possible compromise of space interests between the New Frontier civil exploration-research model and the NewSpace aggressive for-profit model. A so-called WIN-WIN may be where NASA cedes low Earth orbit (LEO) and perhaps the Moon to private transport providers like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. while NASA pushes beyond LEO to asteroids and the moons of Mars rapidly with NASA astronaut explorers.

The Moon is being well mapped for surface topography, geology and hydrology by a small army of American, European, Indian, Japanese and Chinese remote sensing scientists. With water found at both the north and south poles, the economics of the Moon has significantly changed in the past few years. There is now significant international interest in the H2o and the He3 embedded in the lunar regolith.

At the same time, American, European, Russian and Chinese unmanned mission plans to Mars are now underway to supplement the recent European and American orbital and surface operations on The Red Planet. A propulsion technology generational leap beyond chemical rockets for a human-rated spacecraft for Mars in the next decade is needed. Such an advanced spacecraft could set human beings on interplanetary journeys to Jupiter's moon Europa and several of the Asteroid Belt objects between Mars and Jupiter before mid-21st Century and the return of Comet Halley in 2061.

This Week in Space with Miles O'Brien

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Commercial Human Launch by 2015

Orbital Sr. VP Frank Culbertson appearing before the Augustine Commission in 2009.
Former NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson, now Senior Vice-President at Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation, appeared before a Senate Commerce subcommittee this week giving testimony as to the capability of the Taurus 2 booster planned for launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Va. saying that human launches could occur by 2015.

"Orbital believes, as do I, that U.S. industry, given the right conditions, relationships, and investments, should be able to develop and demonstrate safe and reliable crew transportation systems for International Space Station support by 2015," Culbertson told the Senate subcommittee.

"Since 2008 Orbital has been fully engaged as one of two companies contracted to provide the delivery of crew and cargo to the International Space Station. Although this has been a huge development program for a company of our size, and unprecedented in scope for a purely commercial venture between a private company and NASA, I am very pleased to report that from Orbital’s perspective, and that of our shareholders, we have made steady and valuable progress. We expect to have achieved all but 3 of 21 NASA program milestones by the end of this year," with the Taurus-2 launching from Wallops Island, Va. for the first time in the April 2011.

Soyuz Plans April 2, 2010 Flight to ISS

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, fellow Russian Mikhail Korniyenko and American NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell-Dyson, will take off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in the desert steppes of Kazakhstan on April 2, 2010 aboard a Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft rocketing to the International Space Station. The crew will spend two days in a Soyuz capsule before arriving at the ISS, where they plan to join NASA astronaut Timothy Creamer, Soichi Noguchi of Japan and Oleg Kotov of Russia.

The space shuttle Discovery is set to depart the Kennedy Space Center on the morning of April 5, 2010 to subsequently dock with the space station. The seven space shuttle astronauts will converge with the six astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS for Expedition 23. There are only four space shuttle flights remaining in the American flight manifest.

The head of Russia's space agency Roskosmos Anatoly Perminov said on Friday that a moratorium on space tourism to the ISS would continue "for two or three years," as NASA will remain reliant on the three-seater Soyuz launch for missions. "There are many people interested. Very many countries have made requests, but now it is physically impossible for us," Perminov said, the Interfax news agency reported. Russia is expected to increase production of the Soyuz from four to five boosters per year to answer the market demand.

Back to the Future: NanoRacks to ISS

NanoRacks is an exciting space payload firm being launched by commercial space pioneer Jeff Manber (vid). His firm has two NanoRacks payloads in association with Kentucky Space now at the Kennedy Space Center ready to fly to the International Space Station with the scheduled launch of STS-131 Discovery April 5, 2010.

NanoRacks will have commercial and university experiments flying on the remaining four space shuttle flights. It is now looking for commercial space launch agreements for firms using orbital launch pads at Wallops Island, Va. and Cape Canaveral, Fla. Manber, author of the book Selling Peace, was recently featured on The Space Show with host Dr. David Livingston. Last year Manber of featured in the DVD Orphans of Apollo.

Kentucky Space now is a part of the Sub-orbital Cubesat Experimental Mission (vid) at a Wallops Island, Va. launch pad awaiting lift off March 27 or 28, 2010. Kentucky Space is an ambitious non-profit enterprise involving a consortium of universities, public and private organizations to design and lead innovative space missions within realistic budgets and objectives. Kentucky Space was recently featured on NASA-TV.

2010 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: Where, If Anywhere, Is NASA Headed?

The Scientific American covered the five space policy experts as they debated at the 2010 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate of where NASA is going in the Obama Administration lead space program. Sky and Telescope, Science Insider and Small Planet have more on the polic debate hosted by Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Nelson Pushes Large NASA Booster Rocket

The U.S. Senate will direct NASA to develop a super-size rocket and a spacecraft for missions beyond Earth orbit, the senior senator from Florida, Bill Nelson, said Friday to 200 space workers. The Senate also is drafting legislation that would push commercial companies -- with contracts to fly cargo or crews to the International Space Station -- to hire people from the Space Coast work force, Nelson said, and reports Florida Today.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Where The Planetary Society Stands

Sail Your Name to Venus and the Stars!

The Planetary Society is collecting names and messages to fly on two exciting solar sail missions: Our own LightSail mission and JAXA’s IKAROS mission. The last day to send messages on IKAROS now Sunday, March 22. However, you will still be able to send messages on the LightSail mission for a few more months.

Lightsail, a project of The Planetary Society, will merge the ultra-light technology of nanosats with the ultra-large technology of solar sails setting a course to the stars. LightSail-1 is the beginning of an innovative program that will launch three separate spacecraft over the course of several years.

IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun) is a solar sail which gathers sunlight as propulsion by means of a large sail. This solar powered sail craft will employ both photon propulsion and thin film solar power generation during its interplanetary cruise. IKAROS will be launched together with the [vid] Venus Climate Orbiter, 'Akatsuki' in fiscal 2010 by JAXA.

Compete with Soyuz? SpaceX Says 'Dah!'

As lawmakers weigh the pros and cons of turning over US manned spaceflight to contractors, one commercial hopeful vowed Thursday that her firm could fly US astronauts to the orbiting space station for less than a trip on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Gwynne Shotwell, president of Space X, said she could guarantee her company would be able to provide at least three flights to the International Space Station (ISS) for less than 50 million dollars a seat. A ride on the Soyuz currently costs the US space agency NASA 51 million dollars per astronaut, and that price is likely to rise when current agreements expire, reports The Earth Times.

The first SpaceX Falcon 9 booster is set for launch from Cape Canaveral Complex 40 for April 12, 2010 - only 72 hours prior to the visit of President Barack Obama at the Kennedy Space Center for the presidential space conference.

United Launch Alliance — a jointly-owned partnership of defense giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin — offered his “full support” to the Obama Administration NASA FY 2011 budget proposal that cancels the Constellation program and engages the American commercial space launch sector during a U.S. Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on the future of American spaceflight, according to a report in The Orlando Sentinel.

United Launch Alliance will boost at Atlas V to space on April 19, 2010 in the wake of the presidential visit to the Kennedy Space Center with the secretive yet unmanned X39B mini-space shuttle.

Commercial Space Safety Regs: NASA vs. FAA

Today's edition of The Wall Street Journal signals what may be the first public salvo in the bureaucratic regulatory infighting between the FAA-AST and NASA over who will determine what safety standards are to be used for future commercial human spaceflights - with one Senator perhaps planning to seek to cancel the FAA human-rating spaceflight safety oversight.

George Nield, the official in charge of commercial space transportation at the FAA, told the Senate Commerce subcommittee on science and space that his agency sees such oversight as practically inevitable because "we have a regulatory environment that works right now." But Senator Bill Nelson responded that he did not intend for the FAA to be regulating spaceflight safety in an immediate response to Nield's testimony.

Bryan O'Connor, the head of NASA's safety and mission assurance office, told the subcommittee that his agency is developing its own, independent safety requirements covering proposed commercial transportation of astronauts. With "appropriate respect for out safety lessons learned in the past," he said, NASA intends to seek comments shortly from industry on the issue of future safety standards.

The regulatory issue will make for some interesting policy reflection over the next several months as the issue of human spaceflight safety between the civil and commercial sectors takes shape on Capitol Hill.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Russian Space Expert Says Soyuz Will Resume With Private Space Explorer Flights in 2012

Russia will increase the number of Soyuz spaceship launches and resume space tourism in 2012, an aerospace industry source told Interfax news agency on Thursday and reported on Russia Today.

“There will be five Russian spacecraft, instead of four, starting from 2012. Four spacecraft will perform the International Space Station program, and one will be offered to space tourists,” an unnamed source said and reported in RIA Novosti. “If no problems occur, the construction of the fifth spaceship will begin in the middle of this year.”

Less than a fortnight ago, Sergei Krikalyov, the head of the Russian Cosmonauts' Training Center, was saying "as for (space) tourists ... there are now going to be six crew members, and it will be impossible to ferry a tourist each time there is a new crew shift in orbit, and for some time there will be a break in these journeys. The talk will definitely be about years, but it's hard to say now, whether it's going to be one year, two years or five years,” Krikalyov said.

Virginia-based Space Adventures CEO Eric Anderson, about one year ago, said that spaceflight participants may be on a dedicated Russian Soyuz by 2012. The market prices for human spacecraft seats are developing since the first private Soyuz passenger flight in 2000. Markets were a part of US Senate testimony referenced by one witness recently.

Soyuz Price May Challenge American Space Commerce, Says Former NASA Comptroller

Malcolm L. Peterson, a former NASA Comptroller, told the US Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee that the Russian Soyuz today provides the greatest market challenge to commercial space launch carriers to carry passengers. Peterson benchmarked the average market price for the three-passenger Soyuz at $150-million [76-min mark or PDF testimony].

US commercial ventures rocketing humans to orbit will be a direct market challenge to the Soyuz. Peterson expressed concern with the ability to sustain the human launch market. He also noted that space commerce venture investors may seek a guaranteed return on investment (ROI) on the order of 40%.

Testimony offered by the former NASA Comptroller reminded this Blogger of Jeffrey Manber's recent book, Selling Peace: Inside the Soviet Conspiracy that Transformed the U.S. Space Program. Manber's book provides greater insight to the current space policy debate now going full-steam on Capitol Hill as evidenced by today's testimony from Peterson. The Wall Street Journal has more about the Senate hearing in the Friday edition.

Nelson Advances Extra Space Shuttle Flight

Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla), today chairing the science and space subcommittee of the US Senate Commerce Committee, hinted strongly that he desired to see one additional flight added to the space shuttle manifest going into 2011. Nelson indicated that the idea is being advocated to President Barack Obama prior to his planned April 15, 2010 visit to the Kennedy Space Center. The space center has the hardware and capability to launch such an extra mission, the Senator noted [vid starts at 23 min].

Monday, March 15, 2010

IMAX: Hubble 3D Opens Across the Nation

Preview here "IMAX Hubble 3D !" Change your view of the Universe.

Can the Space Shuttle Fly Beyond 2010?

In the 7:26 video, leader of the John Shannon and responsible for all space shuttle activities, discusses supply line logistics of any federal policy to continue the space shuttle program beyond 2010. Shannon notes the base annual cost of $2.4 billion regardless the number of spaceflights manifested each year. Launch after 2010 will require a 24-months wait to produce large extenral tank supplies from the 30-yr old civil space launch service hardware.

Meanwhile, STS-131 Discovery will continue the April 5 launch campaign at the Kennedy Space Center to achieve orbit prior to the Florida visit by President Barrack Obama April 15. How any launch day delay may impact the inaugural launch of the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 is not known. SpaceX hopes to launch April 12. The USAF/DARPA X39B minishuttle is expected to be lofted to space aboard an Atlas V in an undisclosed April date too.

Taurus II Booster Advances 1st Stage Engine

Aerojet and Orbital Sciences Corporation along with Aerojet's Russian partner, SNTK, announced that a series of NK-33 rocket engine tests conducted in Samara, Russia were successfully completed in support of the development of Orbital's Taurus® II space launch vehicle. The purpose of the extended-time testing of the NK-33 engine, on which the AJ26 first-stage engine for the Taurus II rocket is based, was to demonstrate a 'hot-fire' duration equal to two times a normal Taurus II acceptance testing and launch profile duty cycle.

Aerojet is the provider of the AJ26/NK-33 rocket engine for the first stage of the Taurus II launcher. The basic NK-33 engine was originally designed and produced in Russia for the Russian N1 lunar launch vehicle. Aerojet subsequently purchased approximately 40 of the basic NK-33 engines in the mid-1990s and, under contract with Orbital, the company is currently modifying the engines specifically for the Taurus II launch vehicle. MORE ->

Virginia Commercial Space Launch Operations Budget and Policy Adopted

The 2010 Virginia General Assembly wrapped-up late Sunday with positive results for the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport as it prepares extensive mulit-year launch campaigns to rocket cargo to the orbiting International Space Station next spring. The follow-on launches will be at the rate of every six-months for the next five years. A NASA lunar probe to orbit the Moon will pierce the Virginia skies in 2012 from the spaceport - now only one of four federally licensed orbital launch pads in the nation.

Yet the intensive negotiations among state budget weary legislators culminated with the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (VCSFA) having won a major victory for operations for the spaceport over the next two-years. Enjoying vocal support of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and the House of Delegates, the assembly included $838,000 in the state budget for each of the next two years to assist the VCSFA FBO with the rapidly growing spaceport.

State Del. Terry G. Kilgore (R-Va) obatined passage of HB 21 to invalidate the July 1, 2013 sunset clause on the Virginia Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act. It now places the state on par with Florida and New Mexico with no sunset provisions. Virginia was first in the nation to enact human space ride waiver in 2007. The sunset is gone with the wave of the governor's pen.

The Virginia General Assembly past resolutions favoring the Obama NASA FY 2011 budget in recognition the new Taurus 2 booster rocket set to launch from Virginia's spaceport and the prospect of more jobs and contracts to Orbital Sciences Corporation to launch cargo to the ISS beyond 2015, perhaps to 2030.

The Virginia Aerospace Council was extended to advise and assist the governor in making the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport the top commercial launch pad in the nation over the years ahead. There remain staffing concerns to conduct the needed studies due to limited state finances. Several Virginians harbor the idea of Virginia becoming a human-rated commercial space launch pad to the chagrin of Florida aerospace business interests.

On the down side of the ledger, budget amendments to earmark any income or sales taxes derived from spaceflight training or actual human spaceflights from Virginia launch pads or runways were killed in budget committees due to the uncertainly of the tax revenue loss in lean state budget cut by some $4-billion over the next 2-years. Just as well, Virginia-based Space Adventures will not be selling $35-million Russian Soyuz space tourist flights until 2014.

The reaction of Virginia Congressional delegation to the bi-partisan and near unanimous commercial space policy and well-reasoned space budget investment is yet to be seen. The most critical decision to be made about the Wallops Inland, Va. commercial FAA-licensed spaceport originate from the White House and in the Halls of Congress and relate to future prospects of the private suborbital and orbital launch sectors.

Senate Commerce Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Assessing Commercial Space Capabilities: Eyes Turn to Sen. Mark Warner

ARCHIVED WEBCAST [starts at 34 min.]--- The United States Senate Commerce Science and Space Subcommittee hearing on Assessing Commercial Space Capabilities on Thursday, March 18, 2010 beginning at 2:30PM in the Russell Senate Office Building - 253 on Capitol Hill in which commercial space launch firm executives will be appearing just as space policy observers look to Virginia Senator Mark R. Warner to engage the NewSpace policy debate with 'the right stuff.'

The subcommittee is chaired by Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla) with Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) the ranking minority member. Both Senators recently participated vigorously in the subcommittee's hearing of February 24, 2010 on the future of the space agency and the Obama submitted NASA FY 2011 budget.

Senator Mark R. Warner, who played a very significant role in the establishment of the FAA licensed commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport while Virginia's governor, serves as a majority junior member of the Senate Commerce Science and Space Subcommittee. Nonetheless, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation will be launching the commercial space launch booster Taurus-2 from the Wallops Island, Va. spaceport early next spring with several orbital missions planned to provide re-supply and cargo to the International Space Station through 2015 and perhaps beyond. The result is a growing job spurt in Virginia.

Virginia's junior Senator may become a key legislator in the debate between commercial and civil space in the days ahead as a result of Virginia's fledgling role as a space state contender in the evolving commercial space launch business especially if he forges a pro-space relationship with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md), a key member on NASA budget matters. However, the House delegation will apparently not be united as Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va) recently expressed concern with the Chinese in space reasoning that NASA's under-funded and over-budget Constellation program is the strategic answer.

Warner's home state legislature has passed a Senate and House-backed resolution urging support for the Obama commercial space launch policies and the NASA FY 2011 budget. Both current Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell (R)and former Governor Tim Kaine (D) are supporters of the Virginia commercial spaceport. NASA recently announced an additional $43-million in spaceport infrastructure development to support upcoming commercial space launch missions.

Moreover, the Virginia legislature has been advancing pro-commercial space law in the past four years ranging from new spaceport operating funds from the cash-starved state budget to $26-million in state backed bonds to build spaceport infrastructure to the the Virginia Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act to ZeroGravity-ZeroTax laws that earned Virginia recognition from the FAA/AST --- and observational concern from aerospace interests in Florida.

Warner's seeding of the commercial space launch movement during his tenure as Virginia's governor now has legs. Northern Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation is morphing into one of the nation's leading commercial space launch providers employing hundreds. There are thousands of space workers at the Eastern Shore NASA Wallops Flight Facility and the Tidewater NASA Langley Research Center who stand to benefit from the Obama Administration NASA FY 2011 budget.

In far-flung southwestern Virginia's Appalachian coalfields, even the Powell Valley Middle School students are 'wondering' with their public school teachers about the NewSpaceAge opportunities ranging from becoming rocket propulsion scientists, asteroid or Moon miners, space fashion designers, or Bigelow Aerospace orbiting space hotel workers. Sen. Warner may open the door of job opportunity for the school kids to decide by the end of this decade.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mini-Shuttle to Fly from Cape Canaveral

With every day drawing closer to the President arriving at the Kennedy Space Center and countdown clocks and launch campaigns underway for the so-to-be retired space shuttle Discovery and the new SpaceX Falcon 9, there is a new secret spacecraft ready to take flight next month from Cape Canveral as well. The USAF X-37B unmanned space plane demonstrator will make its first orbital launch boosted by at Atlas rocket, if secretive reports are correct.

As a mini-space shuttle, this Boeing Phantom Works craft has been under development for years. Several agencies have been involved in the effort, NASA as well as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and various arms of the U.S. Air Force, reports

The X-37 will test and validate technologies in the environment of space as well as test system performance of the vehicle during orbital flight, reentry and landing. Results from the X-37 will aid in the design and development of NASA's Orbital Space Plane - designed to provide a crew rescue and crew transport capability to and from the International Space Station, says NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

NASA no longer has any near-future space plane plans, but the X-37B "reusable unmanned space test platform" project has been kept going by Boeing with Air Force money. Boeing have previously said that the USAF's objectives are "concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies."

This vehicle has the potential to become United States' first operational military space plane, after the cancellation of Dyna-Soar in 1963 and similar to the old Soviet MiG-105 plan. The new mini-shuttle X-37 is expected to operate in a velocity range of up to Mach 25 or 17,500 miles per hour (28,163 km/h), capable of orbit, and conduct operations for up to 21-days.

Among the technologies to be demonstrated with the X-37 are improved thermal protection systems, avionics, the autonomous guidance system, and an advanced airframe. The on-board engine is the Rocketdyne AR-2/3, which is fueled by hydrogen peroxide and JP-8.

Similar programs by commercial launch firms such as a SpaceShipThree, SilverDart, the British Skylon. Government sponsored programs abound around the globe with the European IXV, a ESA-Russian Kliper, and India's Avatar.