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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Armadillo Aerospace + Space Adventures = ?

Virginia-based Space Adventures, Ltd., the only company currently providing human space mission opportunities to the world marketplace, today announced that the company has entered into an exclusive marketing agreement with Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace, LLC, a leading developer of reusable rocket powered vehicles. Space Adventures will exclusively market and sell commercial passenger experiences on Armadillo Aerospace's future suborbital spaceflight vehicles that are currently in development. Details of the deal will be made public May 27, 2010 in Chicago.

62 Mile Club News for May 2010

Asteroid 24 Themis Becomes Water Target

The first-time observation was made on 24 Themis, a huge rock that orbits millions of miles out from the Sun, a 200-kilometer wide asteroid that sits halfway between Mars and Jupiter. Several scientists have held that asteroid may contain water as was evidenced in the observation, and some have envisioned the possibility of using the water to make steam for rocket propulsion fill-ups years ago. NASA is now considering more unmanned and future manned missions to the asteroids.

More on the water frost-covered asteroid find from Popular Science, National Geographic, The Times of London, the BBC, MSNBC/AP, and Space Daily.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stephen Hawking: Aliens!

Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five. Exceptional theoretical intuition from Dr. Hawking. This five star review of possible ET astrobiology is fascinating. On first review, however, there is scientific demurer to the thickness of the Europa ice crust.

Chile Selected for the European Extremely Large Telescope to Go Operation in 2018

'On 26 April 2010, the ESO Council selected Cerro Armazones as the site for the planned 42-metre European Extremely Large Telescope. Cerro Armazones is an isolated mountain at 3060 metres altitude in the central part of Chile's Atacama Desert, some 130 kilometres south of the town of Antofagasta and about 20 kilometres away from Cerro Paranal, home of ESOs Very Large Telescope.' Operations are expected to start in 2018.

Peter Diamandis on ReasonTV

"A true breakthrough requires tremendous levels of risk," says Peter Diamandis. "It's really in the entrepreneurial sector that people are willing to risk their lives, risk their fortunes, their reputations, to do something they fundamentally believe they can do."

Japan solar-powered 'space yacht' on May 18

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced plans to launch a solar-powered 'space yacht'-the first of its kind- called the Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun (IKAROS) from Tanegashima Space Center on May 18, 2010, according to JAXA [Video].

The spacecraft uses a special 66-foot (20m) sail made of thin-film solar technology that will allow the ship to use pressure, created by the reflection of sunlight off the sails, as propulsion. Furthermore, the satellite craft will also be equipped with solar cells to generate electricity, effectively making the IKAROS a hybrid spacecraft.

The IKAROS spacecraft will be launched together with the Venus Climate Orbiter, "AKATSUKI" (PLANET-C), using the H-IIA launch vehicle, [BusinessWeek, PopularScience and AFP].

Russian Orbital Spaceplane Next?

MAKS multipurpose aerospace system is now rumored to be active again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ukraine Comes to Wallops Island

The Virginian Pilot in Norfolk, Va. ran this piece yesterday entitled: "Ukraine Comes to Wallops Island" as a part of OpEds being placed from one end of the Commonwealth of Virginia to the other seeking to build support for the upcoming commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launches. The OpEds of the daily newspaper do not appear in online editions. - Let s inspire next generation of moon explorers

New Mexico Gov to Visit Mojave Space Port

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is traveling in California with a business group to promote tourism and economic development in New Mexico. Later today (Tuesday), the group will tour a facility at the Mojave Air and Space Port north of Los Angeles where Virgin Galactic is testing a space tourism rocket - SpaceShipTwo. Sir Richard Branson's space tourism venture has committed to using a spaceport under construction in southern New Mexico expected to open late next year. This is Gov. Richardson's second trip to the Calif. spaceport in recent months. Pictured above, Gov. Richardson as he christened the Enterprise!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kodiak, Alaska Readies for Business!

Alaska's remote Kodiak Launch Complex is state-of-the-art, has a perfect mission record, and will soon be able to launch a satellite-carrying rocket within 24 hours of mission go-ahead [AvWeek].

Schmitt Critical of Space Plan; Tumlinson Responds with "Private Access to the Moon"

Highly respected former Apollo 17 lunar scientist-astronaut and former US Senator Harrison 'Jack' Schmitt today took to the Lunar Listserv to articluate his primary concerns [text link] with the Obama White House space policy announced April 15, 2010 at the Kennedy Space Center provoking a response from Space Frontier Foundation founder Rick Tumlinson - but off the Lunar Listserv. Here is the text of Tumlinson's response to Senator Schmitt, to wit:

"The new NASA policy regarding the end of the doomed Constellation program and its goal of returning humans to the Moon may seem devastating to the Lunar Science community at first. But there may be a way for those of us who support Lunar exploration and development to leverage off of the new plans - perhaps actually getting more science fast and cheaper and building the elements needed for a human return that may happen sooner than the fanciful dates put forward by Constellation propagandists, and lead to a sustainable presence.

For this discussion though I will focus only on the near term Lunar science aspects of what is possible.

Instead of fighting or complaining about the new direction, perhaps this group and other Pro-Moon orgs. etc. should try a little jiu-jitsu move and be pushing now for USG financial support for private sector lunar missions to carry NASA and university payloads.

"Politically" speaking (wink - I mean non-partisan-internal maneuvering type politics) I think it would be a great way to leverage off of the new policies - if the White House/NASA leadership can be convinced that rather than waste existing work in Lunar sciences predicated on the dead end Constellation program funds and support be provided to these good works to help them obtain rides on new US private missions.

For example, David Gump and Red Whittaker of Carnagie Mellon have a good plan for such missions and sent an RFP out to this list. Bob Richards and his team, [Odyssey Moon], have a good plan, as do others - some of which have Nothing to do with the Google Lunar XPrize. I have been approached by three private teams to join them in developing missions to the Lunar surface (each completely different and all very innovative). One I know of comes in under $10 million to the surface (although it has very limited capability and is more of Lunar Sputnik proof of concept mission.)

An argument for this could be the same used for the rather odd Orion "emergency escape capsule" concession recently granted. (It was clearly not needed given Boeing/Bigelow are developing capsules, SpaceX has a capsule etc. and was designed purely to slice off and neutralize a potential jobs/money constituency). By offering a fund for such missions and science programs on the Moon (heck, maybe throw in NEOs and widen your support base) proponenets on the inside could argue elements of constituencies like JSC can be partially pacified...

An amount of funding that would be trivial compared to old style all government missions would yield an ongoing series of Lunar missions based on commercial flights to LEO/GEO, and NASA/commercial LEO/GEO to LS technologies. I understand that one of the commercial plans is offering lunar surface access of 100kg or more per mission at a price of roughly $15 million. That means for the cost of one LRO (around $150m+) Lunar scientists could get TEN missions on the surface! Even if you cut that in half it is a lot of missions. And they are repeatable and some can include rovers etc.

Another argument to the powers that be for this approach is that if they are trying to catalyze a commercial space industry in the Near Frontier (my term for the sphere around the Earth so far visited by humans/government explorers) these missions will provide additional markets.

Thus the science community gets access to the Moon, and private groups get funding to create/catalyze commercial transport systems to the Lunar surface (I use "private" on purpose as opposed to commercial, as some of these are university/commercial partnerships). I haven't even mentioned orbital opportunities, but you can project from the surface numbers that they could be many and relatively (in Marshall-speak terms) CHeap.

If even a subset of this group could coalesce around advocacy of this approach rather than being upset about the changes, be proactive rather than whining and trying to fight the future...a lot of good science could be done in the coming years - perhaps much more than would have happened as Constellation ate more and more of your budgets before collapsing.

There will need to be white papers, numbers etc. presented to get this done, and it needs to happen fast. As I am not at the level of credentials as many on this list regarding White Papers etc., I am going to do and OpEd on this idea as my contribution... (and others can join in...)

As the esteemed late Dr. Tom Rogers said to me regarding what became ISS (after the Space Frontier Foundation and our allies lost a bid to kill it by one vote in the [House] - we thought it might be going over budget and a potential dead led to a concept of using the government's funding power to drive a new LEO based space industry called Alpha Town I presented in testimony to the House Space Sub-Committee in 1995: 'Let me skip the first fifty thousand words and tell you this Rick, if you think the space station is a lemon, and we're stuck with it, go figure out how to make some lemonade!'"

US Export Controls to be Revised

Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week talked about President Obama’s proposal to reform the U.S. export control system. He said the U.S. will soon begin updating the system to better keep sensitive technology out of the hands of terrorists and other adversaries. Following his prepared remarks, he responded to questions from audience members. [37min C-SPAN video on export control]

ITAR controls
have been repeatedly identified as hindering the expansion of American commercial space launch capacity and satellite production in the past decade. Perhaps, the reforms sought by the Obama Administration this year will enhance US economic and national security.

The Striking Mars Aurorae

The unique animation denotes the location of nightside aurorae on Mars. These aurorae, observed to date only by SPICAM on Mars Express, occur over areas on Mars characterised by a strong crustal magnetic field first discovered five years ago and subsequently mapped. The aurorae are illustrated in blue, and the magnetic field strength is illustrated by the height of the blue features. The video is referenced by Jean Tate.

Obsevations of Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn aurorae have been made.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Growing Interest in Phobos Monolith?

Dr. Buzz Aldrin, the second human to walk on the moon and space advocate, has over the past few months spoken out about a Monolith on the moon Phobos of Mars. The former Apollo 11 astronaut has spoken with President Barack Obama about Phobos tweaking greater attention by NASA planners to look to the future and how to get there.

The interest in the small moon of Mars has attracted science investment from the Europeans and Russians space mission planners and scientists. Answers and more questions are expected as a Russian space probe Phobos-Grunt lands on Phobos in 2012 and a Chinese spacecraft is inserted into the orbit of The Red Planet at the same time.

Aldrin's continued advocacy of the moon Phobos is becoming more interesting as he shares a model of the smallest Mars moon with the President, space scientists, commercial space launch executives, and the popular media - all who tend to draw comparison to the mystery monoliths of the movies 2001 and 2010. Soviet space history gives rise to many Phobos mysteries too.

Obama Space Policy Reviewed by Aldrin

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Is a Space Station SpacePlane in the Future?

The X-38 project was designed to ferry crews from the International Space Station to the ground should the need arise. But with the X-37B demonstration now in orbit, and the need for a commercial crew vehicle, is a X-38-type shuttlecraft on track to soon become commercially operational?

Celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope!

One of the best Big Science instruments ever built.

The Science Guy Speaks on Obama Policy

Japan May Withdraw from Space Station

The Japanese government may consider withdrawal from the International Space Station, according to a post on SpacePolicyOnline today. A Japanese panel of experts has recommended that the Japanese government reexamine the benefits from the space program and "did not rule out that Japan might withdraw from the ISS program in the future." The space shuttle retirement leaves Japan without capability to ferry JAXA astornauts to-and-from-orbit.

China and India have expressed interest in joining the International Space Station partnership in the future. How a Japanese withdrawal from the station partnership would impact the resupply capability offered by the HT are not immediately known. NASA has considered the JAXA re-supply and cargo vehicle an option following the first successful flight.

Reflect on the Space Adventure Hubble!

The most prolific space observatory will zoom past its 20-year milestone this weekend. On 24 April 1990, the Space Shuttle and its crew released the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope into Earth orbit. What followed is one of the most remarkable sagas of the space age. The space science journey continues. The Orion Nebula imaged above by HST.

Barack Obama: Ronnie RayGun 3.0? Maybe.

UPDATE FROM Times of London: The militarization of space on the High Frontier has been a part of the American space policy debate for years. The launches of the past Thursday in Florida and California certainly will raise heads around the globe as NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden commences diplomatic space talks with China. A CNN Video news clip provides more popular media explaination.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Atlantis on Last Launch Pad Campaign

The Space Shuttle Atlantis advanced to the launch pad [39A] in what will be the last launch of the spacecraft on the STS-132 mission now set for launch on Friday, May 14, 2010 at 2:19 PM from Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The launch campaign appears to be advancing smoothly [VIDEO].

China Warms to Joint Human Spaceflights

Wang Wenbao, head of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, says his agency is prepared to cooperate across the board on human spaceflight with NASA and other agencies, including joint human missions and unpiloted logistics with the 5.5-ton-payload-capacity cargo vehicle it plans to test, reports Aviation Week.

That would require detailed discussions on a uniform standard for docking and other interfaces, Wang said here in his first interview with Western reporters. He hopes the issue will be addressed during NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s delayed visit to Beijing.

“We think that a joint spaceflight mission, joint development of space equipment and also joint utilization of space platforms are the most possible field to carry out discussion at the moment,” Wang says [More].

Upon a return from China last year, this Blogger advocated a joint mission among the Chinese, Russians and Americans using Russian and Chinese spacecraft as early as 2012-2013 including a commercial space flight participant-diplomat from the American side with a second flight to the Chinese mini-station by a NASA astronaut. It is still a good concept to pursue.

Mikulski's Role in Commercial Space Plan: "Critical" to the Delmarva Peninsula

How Does Wallops Island Figure Into Mikulski’s Decision on NASA’s Commercial Space Plan? is the question posed by space blogger Doug Messier on Parabolic Arc today.

Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski will play a significant role in the future of the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, the commercial Mid-Atlantic Commercial Spaceport, the commercial future of Virginia's 'space island' and the future budget of the space agency more generally as chair of the powerful subcommittee of the US Senate appropriations committee yet to approve the Obama space budget.

The future economic growth of the Delmarva Peninsula is dependent upon her in the instant case. The Maryland Senator does have a keen interest in the future development of the spaceport as hundreds of space workers reside in her state and traverse Highway 13 every work day to the NASA Wallops Flight Facility just, 10-miles across the stateline into sister state Virginia. Mikulski's role will be "critical." Jeff Foust at SpacePolitics provides more on the recent Senate subcommittee hearing.

Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 Launched

UNITED STATES LAUNCHES TWO NEW HYPERSONIC SPACE PLANES IN A SINGLE DAY: --- Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. launched the first Minotaur IV Lite launch vehicle at 4 p.m. April 22, 2010 from Space Launch Complex-8 with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2.

The Falcon is a suborbital vehicle launched on a solid-fuel rocket booster made from a decommissioned ballistic missile. Just outside the atmosphere, the plane separates from the rocket and glides back to Earth at more than 13,000 mph - more than 20 times the speed of sound, reports The Washington Times. For this maiden lift-off, the rocket was in a "lite" configuration consisting of only the first three stages and no fourth stage due to mission requirements [UPDATE].

DARPA's $308 million research program is building two Falcon vehicles, the second of which is scheduled for launch early next year. Defense analysts say the Falcon is part of the Pentagon's effort to develop the capability to strike anywhere in the world with a conventional warhead in less than an hour - known as Conventional Prompt Global Strike, or CPGS. [Scenario Animation Video]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Military Mini-Shuttle Takes to Orbit

The view from Cape Canaveral appears to be a successful launch of the first X-37B from Air Force Station. The secret military mission of the test vehicle will certainly turn heads around the world tonight and in the days and months ahead. More from The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angles Times, the Associated Press, and Popular Mechanics.

Meanwhile, a second hypersonic space vehicle - the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 - launched from the Vandenberg US Air Force Base in California, on a Mach 20 flight out and over the Pacific Ocean, boosted by a new Minotaur IV Lite rocket. Both spaceplanes took to the sky on the same day and minutes apart.

"Glitz and the glory" for Private Rocketeers?

It's "all part of the glitz and the glory" of the Obama administration's focus on using commercially developed and operated spacecraft to get crews into orbit, influential Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said in joining Republican members of the Senate appropriations subcommittee in challenging the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's proposals as risky and lacking sound technical support.

"I have 13 pages of questions," Mikulski, the subcommittee chair, told Bolden. "Where are we going, when will we get there, and what will it take?" [Video of the subcommittee hearing April 22, 2010]

Taurus-2 Set Back to May or June 2011

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Scinces Corp. says a series of minor delays in development of the company’s new Taurus 2 rocket and its Cygnus space station cargo transporter will push the inaugural Taurus 2/Cygnus launch from hte Wallops Island, Va. Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport into May or June 2011 instead of the spring date earlier targeted, reports SpaceNews.

Orbital Chief Executive David W. Thompson said that Taurus 2 and Cygnus, which are the company’s two biggest development programs, nonetheless are moving forward without major roadblocks. But the schedules of both programs are now so tight that any further hiccups likely would delay the launch still further.

Earlier this month Orbital told reports that NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program is slated to conduct a single demonstration flight of its Taurus 2 rocket and Cygnus cargo capsule in about a year. The company would then fly eight cargo-delivery missions to the space station through 2015 under a separate $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract.

Thompson expects Taurus 2 to begin launching for other customers, including NASA’s Earth science program and the national security community, in 2013, possibly sooner.

Orbital has room on its Taurus 2 manifest to add two to three flights a year in addition to the space station resupply missions, said Ronald Grabe, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s Launch Systems Group.

The Taurus 2 includes a first-stage core design by Ukrainian rocket builders Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash, a first-stage engine built in Russia but modified by Aerojet of Sacramento, and a stage-two motor built by Alliant Techsystems of Minneapolis.

Orbital could develop a Cygnus variant capable of returning space station cargo safely to Earth within two years if asked to do so by NASA. The vehicle would have to be equipped with heat shielding and parachutes, and that the extra weight of those items would reduce by half the amount of cargo it could deliver to the space station.

2011 Year of the Ukrainian Rocket Engineer

THE YEAR 2011 has been declared the “Year of the Cosmonaut” by the Russian government, which includes the 50th anniversary of the orbital flight of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in April. But 2011 also will be recognized as the “Year of the Ukrainian Rocket Engineer” — at least on Wallops Island.

Several Ukrainian national rocket engineers will be working here to help build the first stage of the new Taurus-2 booster rocket, which is set to take flight from Wallops Island next April. The internationally made Taurus-2 with the Cygnus spacecraft will transport cargo to the orbiting International Space Station. It should be the first of many launches.

Orbiting commercial payloads will become a feat of international cooperation and global business acumen. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles has built an international team of suppliers being integrated into one of the more capable mid-sized booster rocket producers in the world today. The team consists of Americans, Ukrainians, Russians, Italians, Canadians, Spaniards, French, The Dutch, Germans and Japanese.

The surrealism associated with Ukrainian rocket engineers working in cooperation with U.S. space technology integrators must give pause to some seasoned Eastern Shore space-launch observers. Orbit-bound rockets launching from Virginia; numerous foreign nationals on a NASA space launch facility; and operations that continue for years are unexpected to most Virginians and all Americans.

It’s fitting that an international launch team is sending cargo to the International Space Station from Virginia. The effort is under way at one of the first commercial licensed orbital spaceports within the United States. Governors of Virginia have had the vision to seek to increase commercial space launch activity for strong economic benefits.

Hundreds of jobs have and are being created by the $1.9 billion commercial space launch project, and many of those are within Virginia. It is a unique beginning expected to yield more direct and indirect benefit to citizens of the region, to Virginia and Maryland, and to the nation as a whole.

The business operations being undertaken at Wallops Island are symbolic of the new commercial space age of the 21st century. We are rapidly becoming a world without borders in the international quest to place and support humans in orbit.

The multicultural launch team taking root at Wallops Island is space technology’s future, both on the ground and in orbit. The men and women working the Taurus-2 launch campaign are setting a new precedent.

“Space Island” is the NewSpace moniker for the pads at Wallops. It will launch cargo, and one day people, to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and spacecraft and cargo to the moon and beyond. It is largely the vision and determination of Billie Reed, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, and his associates.

The United States has suffered the loss of a significant measure of the global market for commercial space launch payloads. The effort now under way at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport will be a step toward the recovery of American space market share. Because of cumbersome export controls and foreign xenophobia associated with potential technology transfer, the Wallops Island effort is significant in the annals of space hardware development.

The success of Orbital Sciences Corp. in making the sum of the international parts greater than the Taurus-2 rocket will certainly lead to an even grander set of opportunities ahead for space commerce entrepreneurs and space exploration enthusiasts alike.

Do Private Space Taxis Have the Right Stuff?

Space analyst James Oberg poses the question: "Will private spaceships have the right stuff" in a post on MSNBC News late yesterday. The Oberg piece is worthy of a read as consideration is given to the new Orion Lite spacecraft expected to be boosted to space on an Atlas-V.

Mexico to Start Commercial Space Program

Mexico will create its own space center launch facilities on the Yucatan Peninsula to be built near the city of Chetumal on about 30 hectares of land coming upon the approval of Mexico’s lower-chamber of Congress, la Camara de Diputados. The new agency operations will be housed in the state of Hidalgo. The proposal now goes to President Felipe Calderon for final approval.

In 2008, the Mexican parliament approved the creation of a Mexican space agency (Agencia Espacial Mexicana - AEXA). The initiative was put forward in 2007 by NASA's Hernandez, whose father emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. The structure of Mexico's space agency will be similar to that of NASA. The initial cost of the project is estimated at $80 million.

El astronauta José Hernández has volunteered to help start Mexico's space agency. He is the U.S.-born son of Mexican migrant farm workers.

Russia and Mexico signed an agreement on cooperation in space research and exploration for peaceful purposes in 1996. In March 2009, a delegation of experts from Russian space agency Roscosmos visited with Russian space experts syaing they were ready to help Mexico develop its national space program on a commercial basis.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

'Baby Space Shuttle' Described by Manber

A secret space plane that has been years in the making is now set to launch into the final frontier. The United States Air Force plans to launch the X-37B orbital test vehicle tomorrow, to perform a series of tests. Is this the beginning of the United States going above and beyond in space exploration or the beginning of the militarization of space? The 'Baby Space Shuttle' will be launched from Cape Canaveral atop of an Atlas-V now set for Thursday.

Manber notes that China is also watching this launch carefully as the Asian nation appears on the rise in space technologies. Meanwhile, the USAF is planning a second launch depending upon the level of success with the first flight of the X-37B, reports MSNBC.

McDonnell Backs Virginia Spaceport Today

"Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell has been consistent in his vision to make Virginia's commercial spaceport the best in the nation most notably with his recent budget amendment to increase the operations budget for the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority; he is to be commended," says a Guest Columnist Jack Kennedy in The Richmond Times Dispatch today.

The 2010 Virginia General Assembly reconvenes today in the Virginia capitol city to consider a $700,000 boost to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority above what the legislators agreed to last month.

"The policies adopted in the next year may well determine the next fifty years of space commerce, space exploration, and space development. There is no more fitting place to wage the space policy debate than from Virginia - where the first American astronauts of yesteryear trained for the first human spaceflights, and where New World Virginia can now be in direct contact with the New Frontier of commercial spaceflight," the published commentary notes.

New Mexico Readies Launch and Spaceport

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mini-Shuttle to Launch Thur, April 22, 2010

UPDATE: Blastoff of the unmanned X-37B space plane from Kennedy Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Space Center was delayed until Thursday, April 22, 2010 due to the space shuttle Discovery's late return to earth at the nearby Kennedy Space Center. The launch time for the X-37B is set for blast off Thursday evening between 7:52 p.m. and 8:01 p.m. EDT, according to the USAF.

The reusable X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is now expected to be lofted into space aboard at Atlas-V booster rocket on Thursday, April 22, 2010 from the Cape Canaveral launch pad then reenter for an auto-pilot landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, at some undisclosed time following several orbits of the Earth.

Space journalist Leonard David shares with his readers important points made by Roger Handberg, Professor and Chair in the Department of Political Science at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. In addition, Fox News recently reported on the potential military apps for the new space vehicle. A second spaceflight test of the X-37B is planned next year.

Soyuz ST to Launch from Kourou This Year

Russia has confirmed plans to launch a modernized Soyuz rocket from France's Kourou space launch center in French Guiana later this year. The launch, which has been repeatedly postponed, would be the first of 10 contracted in 2008 between the Russian space agency and the French satellite launch firm Arianespace. Parts of two Soyuz-ST rockets, modernized versions of the Soyuz-2 rocket developed specifically for launches from the Kourou space center in South America, were delivered to French Guiana last year.

STS-131 Crew Remarks on Discovery Flight

Space shuttle Discovery's seven astronauts took a walk around the spacecraft that carried them more than 6 million miles. They each paused to express their thoughts about the mission and their gratitude to those on the ground who helped make the mission safe and successful after being greeted by NASA Deputy Administrator Laurie Garver.

Next on the Pad: Atlantis on her last flight

With Discovery and its crew safely home, the stage is set for launch of shuttle Atlantis on its STS-132 mission, targeted to lift off May 14. Atlantis' 12-day flight will deliver the Russian-built Mini Research Module to the station along with six new batteries to store power gathered by the Port 6 solar arrays. Shuttle mission STS-132 is the final scheduled flight of Atlantis. Following STS-132, two more shuttle flights are scheduled before the fleet is retired and the space shuttle program becomes a significant chapter of human space history.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Shuttle Ground Track May Enable Sighting

The Space Shuttle Discovery [STS-131] is slated to reenter Earth's atmosphere over the continental United States, and many sky watchers--especially in the northwestern USA and neighboring Canada--could witness a beautiful pre-dawn reentry on Orbit 237. The exact ground track depends on weather and whether mission controllers decide to send Discovery to land in Florida or California. Nominally, Discovery would pass diagonally across the country, passing over, e.g., Minneapolis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, then Jacksonville en route to a 7:34 am EDT landing at the Kennedy Space Center. On the other hand, a redirect to Edwards Air Force Base would strongly favor observers in California. There will be a chance to hear the DOUBLE SONIC BOOM-BOOM! Check SpaceWeather for details.

Szoka Speaks on New Space Policy Plan

Elon Musk Makes the Case for Change at NASA

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Time to seize the commercial space moment

"Why should a billionaire from Las Vegas [Robert Bigelow] want to consider Virginia's fledgling orbital commercial spaceport? Why shouldn't he?" [The Daily Press, Hampton, Va.]

Virginia's commercial spaceport has the "right stuff" navigational particulars for space station operations; the business climate is good with a ZeroGravity, ZeroTax income tax policy of 2008; the Spaceflight Liability & Immunity Act first enacted by Virginia in 2007, and now emulated in Florida, Texas and New Mexico; strong bipartisan support for the spaceport in the state legislature; the Virginia congressional delegation is being awakened to the newfound opportunities being afforded NASA Wallops and NASA Langley with the presidential space policy and budget opportunities; and, successful orbital launches have been demonstrated three times in just the past three years, with many more to come starting next year --- > MORE.

Aldrin Touts Mars Moon Phobos to President

Dr. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk the surface of the Earth's Moon, is touting one of the two small moons of Mars named Phobos as the key to solar system exploration to President Obama during the presidential space conference held last Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center.

Aldrin said he wanted to see "permanence on Mars within 15 years," and that Mars' moon Phobos may be the best spot for a permanent settlement. "This moon is the key to permanence of human beings from Earth on another planet in the solar system," said the globally well-known former Apollo 11 astronaut.

The Russian space agency is finalizing a revised launch campaign to the Martian moon Phobos for next year (Russian video) known as Phobos-Grunt. The mission is designed to soft land a probe to gather soil from the moon's surface and subsequently return the sample to Earth scientists.

Obama Space Conference Breakout Sessions

Last Thursday (April 15, 2010) the presidential space conference held at the Kennedy Space Center included included four breakout sessions on: 1] Jumpstarting the New Technologies to Take Us Beyond; 2] International Space Station Access, Utilization; 3] Expanding Our Reach Into the Solar System; and, 4] Harnessing Space to Expand Economic Opportunity. Each session runs about 1-hr. with a 30-minute closing general session.

Lunar South Pole Craters Electric Charged?

William Farrell, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center lead researcher of a team studying the Moon, suggests that that the lunar polar craters, which are said to contain water ice, may be electrified by the solar wind flows over natural obstructions on the moon, it may charge polar lunar craters to hundreds of volts, [audio video] and [animation].

The moon's orientation to the sun keeps the bottoms of the craters in permanent shadow allowing temperatures there to plunge below minus 400 degrees F, cold enough to store volatile material for billions of years, according to NASA.

"However, our research suggests that, in addition to the wicked cold, explorers and robots at the bottoms of polar lunar craters may have to contend with a complex electrical environment as well, which can affect surface chemistry, static discharge, and dust cling," Farrell said in a report from The Economic Times of India.

"We want to develop a fully three-dimensional model to examine the effects of solar wind expansion around the edges of a mountain. We now examine the vertical expansion, but we want to also know what happens horizontally," said Farrell.

As early as 2013, NASA will launch the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission that will orbit the Moon and could look for the dust flows predicted by the team’s research. The LADEE mission will launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island aboard a Minotaur V next October 2012.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

'Space Island' in Virginia?

With the growing focus on the future of commercial space launch from Wallops Island and Cape Canaveral, there are ways for Virginia to capitalize on the millions of 'space tourist' dollars that may flow to what is viewed as the underdog spaceport to Canaveral described in this piece from The Eastern Shore News. The 'Space Island' moniker is an idea shared by Rick Tumlinson with Virginia Space Advocates. Perhaps, the idea of 'Space Island' and 'The Highway to Space' will gain more political traction in Virginia over the months ahead.

SpaceX Favored Over Orbital by Readers

"Which commercial space launch firm will successfully deliver cargo to the International Space Station first?" was the question posed the past month or so.

Spaceport readers give Hathorne, Calif-based SpaceX a nearly 50-50 chance of being the first commercial space launch transport to deliver cargo to the orbiting space station; while Dulles, Va-based Orbital Sciences Corporation gained a 2 in 5 chance of being the first. Slightly more than 1 in 10 said another commercial space launch carrier would be first. President Obama seems to be betting on SpaceX too - until at least - he visits Wallops Island, Va. Credit Photo: AP and more from Elon Musk in video.

In His Words: Obama Space Policy

NPR Radio's Ira Flatow interviews guests about the Obama space policy. Dr. Buzz Aldrin, former Apollo 11 lunar astronaut, endorses Obama plan for space on CBS.

This Blogger was honored to among those in the crowd of 200 at the Kennedy Space Center to hear the President's words of a bold commercial and civil space policy for the coming decade that will take commercial astronauts to LEO and the Moon; NASA astronauts to asteroids, the moons of Mars and down to the Martian surface, each in innovative system-driven-steps.

Dr. Buzz Aldrin Talks-Up Obama Space on Fox

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Calls for Head-of-State International Space Summit

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Monday called for a global space summit in an internationally televised two way, point-to-point video appearance with the orbiting cosmonauts and astronauts aboard the international space station on Cosmonauts Day 2010.

The Russian president's call for global space summit comes at a time when American President Barrack Obama meets with 200 US leaders of space technology and policy at the Kennedy Space Center this week as to the future of human spaceflight and the aspiration of the nation to move from low-earth-orbit to placing humans in deep space outside of Earth orbit.

"No country can develop space alone, we need to combine our efforts and we need to talk about it more often," Medvedev stated. "So maybe we could have some sort of international meeting, maybe at the heads of governments level. Because we talk about various issues, such as tackling all kinds of challenges, dangers and hazards that humanity is facing these days, various disarmament programs, etc., but there is a very important and positive factor that unites us all. So maybe it would be good to have a summit, maybe at the heads of governments level, for the countries that are working in space. So see, I have a very good idea on this holiday. What do you think?"

"Space is our highest priority, regardless of how hard the economic situation is in the country. Space will always remain our priority. This is not just somebody's interpretation, it's our official state position. I am here in my presidential office and when addressing you, I can confirm again the significance of space for the government," Medvedev said in a call to the crew of the International Space Station on the 49th anniversary of the launch of Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who became the first human to fly into outer space in 1961.

Russian space officials have recently indicated plans for a new nuclear propulsion systems and many other space system improvements in declaring 2011 The Year of the Cosmonaut in the coming 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first human spaceflight.

Whether or not President Obama would enter into an international space summit is yet to be seen. Chinese space diplomats would be required to be involved in any global confab as only the third nation to place humans in orbit. Never has there been a global space summit by heads of state resulting in a significant diplomatic communique - perhaps the time is coming. But any development taken to head-of-state level would require extensive preparation and pre-summit negotiation on the course of the agenda.

Diplomats of China and Russia have previously requested the United States to enter into a treaty to ban space weapons to which America has demurred. Yet the possibility of an expansion of the International Space Station to include both India and China participation is growing more ripe on US domestic policy decision agenda. Chinese human spaceflight is maturing with orbital three member space crews even conducting a spacewalk. China will also launch a space mini-lab next year. Meanwhile, India plans human spaceflights beginning in 2014.

NASTAR® Center Awarded FAA Approval

The FAA has given approval April 7, 2010 to allow thes NASTAR Center to offer prospective space launch operators seeking a launch license, its pre-approved, NASTAR Space Training Programs using the Space Training Simulator (STS-400) to satisfy the Crew Qualification and Training Requirements outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (14 C.F.R. § 460.5). These regulations require crew members to complete training on how to carry out his or her role on board or on the ground and to demonstrate the ability to withstand the stresses of space flight, which may include high acceleration or deceleration, microgravity, and vibration.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Cosmonauts Day 2010

Today is Cosmonauts Day in celebration of a human's first flight to outer space on April 12, 1961 -forty nine years ago. The mission was lead by the heroic cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

40 Years Ago: Apollo 13 Struggled

The Apollo 13 moon landing mission was underway 40 years ago today with the April 11, 1970, 13:13 Central Time launch from the Kennedy Space Center. Two days later, en route to the Moon, April 13, 1970, the Apollo 13 astronauts were at risk of never coming home again as the world watched a prayed for the safety of the three would-be lunar astronauts. Fortunately for the crew of Apollo 13: "Failure Is Not at Option" as mission controllers work night and day to provide a lunar flyby trajectory back to Earth safely using the Moon landing module as a safe place until atmospheric re-entry. Those are days to be remembered in space history.

29 Years Ago: STS-1 Launched for First Time

Twenty-nine years ago today, STS-1 Columbia roared to life with astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen taking the brand new spacecraft skyward to orbit for the very first time. This Blogger was honored to be at the Kennedy Space Center on this historic day.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Week in Space with Miles O'Brien

The Week in Space with Miles O'Brien [April 10, 2010]

Laser Powered Point-to-Point Transport?

Aurora Spacelines Laser Powered business-trips from niklas palm on Vimeo.

The 2010 Space Access conference in Arizona this weekend has several new technology presentations being positioned for market entry. One presentation of interest included Leik Myrabo of the RPI Laser Propulsion Laboratory/International Collaboration On Hypersonic BEP With Brazil/LTI Work With Umea Institute of Design On 2-5 Passenger Lightcraft Design using laser power for point-to-point flights. More about the project presentation and other presentations at 2010 Space Access from Henry Cate.

Dawn of the commercial space age

"On Thursday, President Barack Obama will articulate a new national space policy in what may be, in many ways, as bold as that cast by the late President John F. Kennedy in September 1962 at Rice University. The president will chart a new course for the federal space agency at the Kennedy Space Center, impacting not only the jobs of thousands of space workers in Florida, Alabama, Texas and Utah, but the destiny of this nation and other nations of Earth that look to the United States for leadership in space." - Jack Kennedy says in an OpEd for The Roanoke Times Sunday, April 11, 2010 [photo NASA Wallops] .

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bigelow Aerospace Looks to Wallops Island

One of America's leading commercial space firms, Bigelow Aerospace, is now looking to Wallops Island, Va. specifically to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, for potential commercial space launch services according to the firm's attorney who recently visited Virginia's Eastern Shore space facilities. It would be a major commercial space coup if Bigelow launches were to be based in Virginia.

Michael Gold, an attorney who represents Bigelow Aerospace, said the Nevada-based company will work at Wallops Island provided the nation commits to the commercial spaceflight agenda outlined by President Barack Obama, reports The Daily Press in Hampton, Va. Obama is slated to announce a major space policy in the coming week.

The space applications firm is looking for a commercial space launch firms and commercial space launch facilities to launch humans to the firm's privately owned human habitant space stations now planned to in this decade. The firm is now looking at the Atlas V commercial space launch booster. The Wallops Island site may be a perfect opportunity.

Some of the Bigelow Aerospace operations, such as Atlas V, could shift to Wallops Island, Gold said. Such a move could create hundreds of high-paying jobs on the Eastern Shore. "The economic impact of human spaceflight cannot be underestimated," Gold said.