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Thursday, September 30, 2010

World Space Agency Heads Speak in Prague

The Heads of Agency Plenary at the 61st International Astronautical Congress held in Prague, Czech Republic this week provides insights into the global space agency plans in the past year and in the near-term future. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden kicks-off the 1:21 video.

IAC 2010 Prague: Impact of Governments' Space Policy Changes on Industry

The second Plenary session of IAC 2010 in Prague saw agencies meeting on the impact of industry. The video runs 1:16.

IAC2010: Rosetta visits asteroid Lutetia

The European Space Agency's Gerhard Schwehm highlights the Rosetta mission's flyby of asteroid Lutetia at IAC 2010 in Prague. The video is 23 minutes.

IAC 2010 Prague: The Search for ET

Dr. Seth Shostak presents an IAC 2010 Highlight Lecture in Prague on "The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence." Vid runs 53-mins.

Lori Garver Provides Insight to NASA's Work

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver recently spoke to the TEDx Midtown New York providing an insightful view of the US federal space agency. The video runs 22-minutes.

ExoPlanet Gliese 581-G May Have Life

A team of planet hunters led by astronomers at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz and the Carnegie Institution of Washington has announced the discovery of a planet (Gliese 581-G ) orbiting a nearby star, Gliese 581, at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star's "habitable zone." This would be the most Earth-like exoplanet and the first truly habitable one yet discovered. The research was supported by grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation. "Goldilocks" refers to an exoplanet whose temperatures are "not too cold, not too hot, but just right" to maintain water and support Earth-like life. [AP Video]

More from The New York Times, The MercuryNews, The Washington Post, and NPR.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


In a recorded vote in the US House of Representatives prior to midnight, Democrats cast 185 votes and Republicans 119 for the Senate NASA Authorization Act of 2010. The House voted 304 to 118 to pass the bill and send it to the White House for signature later this week in a historic victory for commercial human and cargo space launch and new propulsion technology programs for the federal space agency.

There were 64 Democrats and 54 Republicans or 118 votes cast against the bill. A roll call of the vote is linked. More from The Wall Street Journal, The Houston Chronicle, The Huntsville Times , The Chicago Tribune, AP and Bloomberg.

Recorded Vote Demanded by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on NASA Authorization

The U. S. House of Representatives has considered S3729 - the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010. There was not a clear consent by voice vote for approval of the bill and consequently further action on the bill has been postponed with the likelihood that a requested roll call vote will be held. The recorded vote is expected prior to midnight.

The members speaking favorably to pass the bill included Bart Gordon (D-TN), Ralph Hall (R-TX), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pete Olsen (R-TX), Kendrick Meek (D-FL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Gene Green (D-TX), Steve Scalise (R-LA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), John Culberson (R-TX), Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Al Green (D-TX), Bill Posey (R-FL) - all in favor of passange of the Senate measure.

The only member leading the charge against the passage of the Senate-passed NASA Authorization bill was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ.) citing a litney of reasons to oppose the measure and calling upon Blue Dog Democrats to kill the measure.

Bolden Endorses Commercial Space Plan

The Voice of America report.

Tribute to the Last Men on the Moon in 1972

Astronauts Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt and Ronald Evans were the three brave men chosen to fly NASA's final mission to the moon. They have been written up in history books and acknowledged by the space and scientific communities, but have never received the public recognition they truly deserved. Apollo 17's voyage to the moon was the crowning glory of man's lunar exploration. The flight broke so many records in human spaceflight that stand to this day!

2010 Space Generation Congress Successful

The 9th Annual Space Generation Congress (SGC) hosted by the Space Generation Advisory Counsel (SGAC) was held in Prague, Czech Republic, from September 23 - 25, 2010. Being a complimentary event preceding the the 61st International Astronautical Congress, this congress started with a record high of 200 top and carefully chosen delegates gathered together to discuss the latest issues in the space industry. With five concurrent workshops at its core, in conjunction with talks by distinguished members of the space industry, SGC 2010 was very successful in reaching its goal of creating a forum to bring together and facilitate the voice of innovative, creative, and passionate students and young professionals on space issues, particularly at the international level. More from SpaceRef. [A special salute to Starla J. Kiser and David Brundage]

NASA authroization bill vote set late today

The U.S. House of Representatives has a full plate of measures on which to cast votes throughout the day and perhaps into the night. It is not exactly known when the NASA Authorization Act will come to a floor vote. C-SPAN provides LIVE COVERAGE of the floor action. More on this space policy matter later today.

International Astronautical Congress: Tourism Issues, Opportunities and Challenges

"Issues, Opportunities and Challenges posed by Space Tourism as an Industry" was presented by Rushi GHADAWALA, Poojan CHOKSHI, Dr. Ramnik B. SHAH, Jyaysi DESAI and Pronob ROY at International Astronautical Congress 2010 at Prague in the Czech Republic this week [11-min].

China Plans Launch of Chang'e-2 Moon Probe

China is making final preparations to launch its second lunar probe Chang'e-2 for launch from the Xichang spaceport, perhaps as early as Friday, October 1, 2010, according to Chinese media reports. The Chang'e-1 was launched in October, 2007.

Friday is China's national day, in celebration of Mao Zedong's proclamation of the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 followed by 61 years of communist party rule.

The Chang'e-2 lunar probe will conduct various tests in preparation for the expected launch in 2013 of the Chang'e-3, which aims to be China's first unmanned landing on the moon followed by a mission to bring a moon rock sample back to earth in 2017, with a manned mission foreseen between 2020-2025.

Several countries are planning robot probes to the moon in this decade.

Auorora Borealis at 100-Year Low?

The astronomical phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis is at a 100-year low and now more rare, say scientists in a study released yesterday. The northern lights follow a typical 11-year solar cycle in which the frequency of the phenomena rises to a maximum, tapers off into a minimum and then repeats the cycle. [BBC video]

Noora Partamies, a researcher, said: “Only in the past half a year have we seen more activity, but we don’t really know whether we’re coming out of this minimum.” The scientists at the Finnish Meteorological Institute indicate that the Aurora Borealis is not being stimulated and the minimum reached in 2008 appears to be "going on and on and on."

"We're waiting to see what happens, is the next maximum going to be on time, is it going to be late, is it going to be huge?" Partamies said. More from The Telegraph.

Boeing VP Talks Space Policy in Prague

At the 61st International Astronautical Congress second plenary: Impact of Governments' Space Policy Changes on Industry Boeing Vice President of Exploration Launch Systems, James Chilton answers the moderators question "In general terms describe the major impacts to your companies, resulting from recent governments policy changes and evolution?"

'Journey to the Stars' in New York City

A spectacular new space show, Journey to the Stars, narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg. For show times and tickets visit the Adler Planetarium.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Eric Cantor May Hold Keys to Space Access

GOP Whip Congressman Eric Cantor (R-Va) may hold the keys to commercial space access Wednesday in the House of Representatives in what is expected to be a close vote on the Senate NASA Authorization bill. The measure is reportedly coming to the floor Wednesday, but requires a two-thirds vote on 'supsension of the rules' for final approval and only then to the White House for presidential signature.

With party labels meaning little in this critical vote of direction for the federal space agency for the next three years, Cantor must measure the potential of Virginia's commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport to support commercial cargo space launches by Orbital Sciences Corporation and the future possible location of Bigelow Aerospace at Wallops Island to launch scientists and commercial astronauts against the interests of Republicans in other states.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R-Va) has committed to making the Virginia spaceport the best in the nation and has demonstrated his strong support for commercial space in the legislature with significant financial support. U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va) has also demonstrated his support for Virginia commercial space development on the Senate Commerce Committee.

While there is faith that Cantor will support Virginia commercial spaceport interests, Spaceport Blog readers may wish to call his office at 202.225-2815 to offer favorable support for the Senate NASA Authorization Act now! Every 'Yes' vote counts.

Griffin Makes Last Ditch No Effort

Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin says the U.S. House of Representatives should reject a compromise on NASA's future expected to come up for a vote Wednesday.

"After considerable reflection," Griffin told The Huntsville Times Tuesday, "I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that NASA and the nation's space program would be best served if the House were to vote against the Senate authorization bill in its present form."

What irks Griffin is that the Senate plan kills the troubled Constellation moon program of his tenure as the federal space agency administrator and calls on NASA to spend $11 billion over three years on a new government spacecraft capable of reaching an asteroid by the end of this decade. It also budgets about $1.6 billion during that time to help commercial companies build rockets capable of taking astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station.

The House is due to take up the Senate version of the NASA authorization bill on Wednesday. Initial signs are that the vote could be very close.

White Sands Star Party October 8-9, 2010

An incredible night of sky viewing is in store for astronomy buffs at the 11th Annual White Sands Star Party held each year on the glistening dunes of White Sands National Monument, near Alamogordo, New Mexico. White Sands Star Party XI will be held Friday, Oct. 8 and Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010. Friday is reserved for registered astronomers and their families to enjoy the night sky. Saturday, the Star Party is open to the public. Hosted by the New Mexico Museum of Space History, White Sands National Monument and the Alamogordo Astronomy Club, this star party provides ample opportunity for dark sky viewing. [Location Video]

TEDxNASA 2010: What Matters Next - Nov. 4

The NASA Langley Research Center is hosting the TEDxNASA 2010: What Matters Next - in Newport News, Va. on Thursday, November 4, 2010 - two days after election day when many Americans will then be asking "what matters next?"

Monday, September 27, 2010

NASA Administrator to talk human space flight cooperation with Chinese in October

Plans are well along for NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to make a delayed trip to Beijing, China for what may be the opening round of talks leading to closer international cooperation in human spaceflight, reports Frank Morring, Jr. at Aviation Week.

NASA officials stressed that there has been no final invitation for Bolden to visit China at a specific time. However, officials in Beijing already are preparing for the visit, amid suggestions at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) meeting today in Prague that it could come in October.

Wang Wenbao, head of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, recently told U.S. reporters China was ready to discuss interface parameters for docking the Shenzhou crew vehicle to the International Space Station.

This Blogger has advocated joint Chinese-Russian-American spaceflights to the international space station as a commercial venture as opposed to pure government-to-government. The second flight could be to the Chinese space station. Perhaps, the suggestion will be taken seriously to avoid international law (treaty) concerns and prove the worth of capitalistic cooperation and "non-traditional partners."

Bolden Takes Questions at International Astronautical Congress in Prague

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden took questions today at the 61st International Astronautical Congress (IAC) being held in Prague from 27 September to 1 October, 2010. The above video references the need to for technological advancement to support human deep space flights; in the second video Bolden describes how NASA will find new ways to gain access to low earth orbit; in the third video the NASA administrator discusses how the International Space Station partnership may increase foreign participation on-orbit (particularly China); and, in the fourth video, the former general talks of NASA commitment to environemntal issues.

Senate NewSpace Authorization Vote May Come to the House Floor Wednesday

The Space Access Society says, "Today saw one extremely promising development: Representative Bart Gordon, Chairman of the House Science Committee and leading spokesman for the HR. 5781 House version NASA Authorization, has conceded that the only practical way of '"..providing certainty, stability, and clarity to the NASA workforce and larger space community..."' is to allow the Senate NASA Authorization, S.3729, to come up for a vote in the House this week [Wednesday].

Congressman says he "anticipate(s) that the House will consider the Senate version of the NASA reauthorization on Wednesday."

But the Senate version still needs to win a 2/3rds House vote, on the near-certain assumption it will only be considered under “suspension of the rules” fast-track procedures. That 2/3rds vote is no sure thing. The Space Access Society recommends calling your member of the House of Representatives immediately to enable the vote on the Senate measure.

Chairman Gordon is conceding this battle, but not the war. The very last sentence of Gordon’s Science Committee press release is “I will continue to advocate to the Appropriators for the provisions in the Compromise language.” (By "Compromise" here he means the most recent House bill.) " [More from Alan Boyle at The Cosmic Log.]

United Nations to Appoint Alien Ambassador: Now appears to be science fiction?

UPDATE: The Guardian is reporting that the story about an alien ambassador being appointed by the United Nations is rubbish. Oh well, it did sound rather interesting. Maybe The Times of London had better check their alien sources.

Posted Saturday: The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) is expected to appoint an astrophysicist to spearhead an effort to develop protocols for "first contact" with potential alien civilizations among the hundreds of New Worlds being found around remote stars.

Mazlan Othman, 58-year-old Malaysian, plans to make UNOOSA the coordinating body for dealing with alien encounters. She has the potential to become the Earth's first theoretical 'space ambassador.' The United Nations scientific advisory committees will debate the proposal, and if approved, the United Nations will take-up the policy position. [video]

"The continued search for extraterrestrial communication sustains the hope that someday humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials," Othman said. "When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject." [video]

The Malaysian astrophysicist, is set to be tasked with co-ordinating humanity’s response if and when extraterrestrials make contact by anyone of the hundreds of exo-planets being discovered by a host of orbiting and ground-based telescopes. [video]

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Space Frontier Foundation Supports NewSpace Budget on Capitol Hill

In light of the heated discussions happening on The Hill about the 2011 NASA budget, the Space Frontier Foundation made this video to support the White House's version of the budget, which explains why the NewSpace community supports it, and why everyone else should as well.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Russia to Offer Tourist Flights After 2013

The Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos plans to send Soyuz spacecraft with two space tourists to the International Space station (ISS) after 2013, the head of Roscosmos' manned flights department, Alexei Krasnov, told RIA Novosti.

Virginia-based Space Adventures, Ltd. and the Russian Roscosmos are actively in negotiation to expand the spaceflight participants temporarily suspended due to the added demand for Soyuz seats by the United States and other international space station partners over the next two or three years.

Russia's RSC Energia corporation recently said it had the capacity to build five Soyuz spacecraft per year instead of four, meaning that at least one Soyuz spacecraft could be used for space tourism purposes in the future.

Space Adventures recently indicated that it was working with America's Boeing space division to add commercial spaceflights for would-be astronauts in 2015 to low earth orbit.

Soyuz TMA-18 Lands: Crew A-OK

The landing was delayed following the inability to undock from the ISS until a workaround was accomplished. The next Soyuz is set for launch October 8, 2010 as a part of the ISS crew rotation. [Russia Today]

Way up north, north to Alaska!

SpaceWeather offered-up this unique photo of the Aurora Borealis going north to Alaska.

61st International Astronautical Congress Opens at Prague, Czech Republic

The 61st International Astronautical Congress in 2010 at Prague, Czech Republic, is set to open Monday with hundreds of participants from around the globe including the space agency heads from each of the spacefaring nations.

Under the theme ‘Space for Human Benefit and Exploration,’ the 61st International Astronautical Congress (IAC) is being held in the Czech Republic from 27 September to 1 October, 2010. The IAC is the world's premier international space gathering, with around 3000 high-level delegates and decision-makers from space agencies, industry, and academia including 100 delegates from the Space Generation Congress. [Photos from SpaceGen 2010]

Friday, September 24, 2010

Space Generation Congress Starts in Prague

"Space Generations: From Sputnik to Today to Tomorrow" tells a brief, but concise history of space exploration in a montage of images and videos of the most significant moments of outer space exploration since 1957. It also uses graphics to expose the critical issue of the long-term, sustainable use of Earth's orbit. The movie also touches upon future, visionary space projects including mining the Moon and space-based solar power.

The short movie was done in partnership by the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) and premiered at the Space Generation Congress 2010 in Prague, Czech Republic on September 24, 2010.

The idea behind the movie belongs to Prof. Dr. Frans G. von der Dunk, Othmer Professor of Space Law at the Space and Telecommunications Law Program of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln while Art Anisimov, SGAC National Point of Contact of Belarus and space law student at UNL, and Andy Bacon, head of SGAC's Near Earth Objects (NEO) working group.

[Hat Tip to David Brundage and Starla J. Kiser, Prague SpaceGen participants.]

MILKYJ: 'Hubble Gotchu!'

More of [Hat tip to M Ruiz.]

NASA Monkey Experiments Draw Fire

Animal Defenders International, the leading animal welfare organization that works globally for the protection of animals, launched a major U.S. educational and legislative campaign to secure public and government support to prevent NASA from proceeding with irradiating squirrel monkeys to study adverse effects of space radiation.

The centerpiece of the legislative campaign is a compelling 4-minute video entitled ‘Space Experiments on Monkeys - One Giant Leap Backwards’ which recaps the prior use of animals in space research, cites reasons NASA’s irradiation experiments are flawed and premature, and presents viable alternatives to primate testing. The DVD also includes an exclusive ten-minute interview with April Evans, former NASA engineer who explains she resigned her dream job with one of the world’s top space agencies because of NASA’s radiation tests. Both videos are also being launched online as part of a major awareness drive.

Every member of Congress will receive a copy of the DVD as part of a drive to ensure the monkey experiments are stopped, the group says.

A View of the Moon, Jupiter and Satellite

Those who took the time to look to the night sky got to witness a full moon and Jupiter. If you were with a telescope, one also got to see a few moon of Jupiter in this rare observational opportunity. The observer captured the moment of the night in the nice 4-minute vid. Another interesting musical choreograph of the Jovian-Moon observation is linked.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Problems Aboard Soyuz TMA-18 Halt Landing

Problems with the undocking procedures the hatch closure of the Poisk docking module to the Soyuz TMA-18 has resulted in the Russian Mission Control in Korolyov to stand down on the deorbiting of the spacecraft from the International Space Station.

The landing was waived off while the Russians at the Korolyov Mission Control continued to work the problem delaying the landing 24-hours. A tentative undocking at 10:02 EST Friday and landing at 1:22 AM Saturday has now been set. Meanwhile, Russian flight ballistic officers are working to determine the next series of landing opportunities in the event the ISS docking port problem goes unresolved Friday and new times need to be set.

The problem appears to have been associated with the Poisk docking module hooks and latches to which the Soyuz TMA-18 is attached. One of the cosmonauts has found two gear teeth broken perhaps relating to the hatch. The extent of the problem by midnight was not fully known but replacement parts will be installed involving micro-circuits. A hot-wiring is now being studied.

American astronaut Tracy Caldwell-Dyson and Russia's Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko were due to land Friday morning local time in the central steppes of Kazakhstan. The three spaceflyers resumed their stay aboard the International Space Station following the aborted landing procedure. More from Bill Harwood.

Astronaut Talks of Soyuz Landing Tonight

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell-Dyson shares her thoughts about landing in a Soyuz spacecraft tonight in the steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia tomorrow (tonight) at about 12:55 a.m. EDT after months on the ISS. More frtom The re-entry and landing will be webcast on NASA-TV this evening.

Kuiper Belt may be seen by alien astronomers across the galaxy

Dust ground off icy bodies in the Kuiper Belt, the cold-storage zone that includes Pluto and millions of other objects, creates a faint infrared disk potentially visible to alien astronomers looking for planets around the sun. Neptune's gravitational imprint on the dust is always detectable in new simulations of how this dust moves through the solar system. By ramping up the collision rate, the simulations show how the distant view of the solar system might have changed over its history.

Neptune Discovered 164 Years Ago This Day

Neptune was discovered September 23, 1864.

Compromised Compromise Proposed in House

After the President and the Senate forged on compromise for the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 in late July and after a political firestorm through late August and September relating to the House Science Committee bill, Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN) released today what appears to be "a compromised compromise" that the commercial space industry finds unacceptable. Several space advocacy groups this afternoon went to work to kill the House bill that some expect to come to the floor Friday.

The Space Frontier Foundation notes in opposition that the new House bill: 1] Mandates 24 separate restrictions on the development of commercial crew, which is THREE TIMES more restrictions than the Senate bill; 2] Merges the budgets of Commercial Cargo with Commercial Crew, resulting in cuts of over 33% of the Senate Bill, and 51% of the President's request. And depending on the allocation of future funds, this cut may wind up being as much as 80%; 3] Tweaks the heavy lift language of the Senate bill to allow NASA to continue developing Ares I if the agency wanted to, all in a desperate ploy to continue the unsustainable Constellation program as-is; and 4] Mandates that NASA give Congress 30 days notice before terminating or allowing any Constellation contracts to lapse, and gives special dispensation to the Ares solid rocket motors.

Space advocacy groups are urging IMMEDIATE ACTION by contacting members of the US House of Representatives in opposition to the House bill and passage of the Senate version.

Space community insiders were scratching their heads because the new House bill is slightly different from the Senate version. Which means that even if it passes the House – either before Congress quits next week or during a lame duck session after Election Day -- it would require another round of negotiations followed by another round of votes in both chambers — unlikely in an election year.

Jupiter and the Moon Dominate Night Sky!

September 2010 presents the only time in your lifetime that you will be able to witness the Moon and Jupiter’s simultaneous all-night appearance on the equinox. On this the first full night of autumn, watch the Harvest Moon and Jupiter as they sail westward across the sky tonight! More from The Recorder Online.

Orion Spacecraft Readied for 2013 Flight?

A production assembly crew lowers a full-scale Orion mockup onto the crew module holding structure during an assembly pathfinding maneuver at the Operations & Checkout Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The commentator suggests that the first test flight of the Orion space capsule will occur in 2013.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

ISS Command Exchanged Today

During a special Change of Command Ceremony aboard the International Space Station, the reins of the International Space Station were passed from Expedition 24 Commander Alexander Skvortsov to Expedition 25 Commander Doug Wheelock. Expedition 24 crew members Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko will return to Earth on Sept. 24.

Soyuz TMA-01M Digital Command Upgrade

The new Russian Soyuz onboard digital command and control systems have helped increase the payload of Russia's manned Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft by 70 kg. The system will be tested on the next flight now scheduled for October 8, 2010 to the International Space Station from the Baikonur spaceport. The digital system replaces the Argon analogue system that has been used for the human-rated Soyuz for more than 30 years. The Soyuz TMA-01M will loft 3 of the 6 members of the Expedition 25 crew to the ISS.

Magnetic Fields Permeate Deep Space

Scientists from the California Institute of Technology and UCLA have discovered evidence of "universal ubiquitous magnetic fields" that have permeated deep space between galaxies since the time of the Big Bang.

Caltech physicist Shin'ichiro Ando and Alexander Kusenko, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA studied images of the most powerful objects in the universe - supermassive black holes that emit high-energy radiation as they devour stars in distant galaxies - obtained by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

Physicists have hypothesized for many years that a universal magnetic field should permeate deep space between galaxies, but there was no way to observe it or measure it until now.

Celestis Memorial Spaceflights Prices Up

Celestis Memorial Spaceflights announced today that it will soon raise prices to launch a sample of human cremated remains into space on either a suborbital, orbital, Moon or deep space flights in the next two months. The promotional e-Mail urges potential customers to lock-in prices now.

The 2011 Earth Rise Flight will be our 11th memorial spaceflight and starts at $695 with the firm launching every spring from Spaceport America, New Mexico, located about 45 miles northeast of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Families of those on board the launch tour the launch pad, participate in a non-sectarian memorial service, attend a pre-launch briefing, and enjoy a spectacular view of the launch.

Memorial Spaceflights are manifested for the Moon and Deep Space in 2012/2013. This could be one way to make a final impact in support of space commerce development beyond low earth orbit.

European Space Hotel Design Highlighted

A leading attraction during the summer of 2010 at the Innovation Design Engineering Department of the Royal College of Art in London was the "Space Module" course held by the Italian architect Daniele Bedini.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Discovery at Launch Pad for Final Flight

On September 20, Space shuttle Discovery left the Vehicle Assembly Building headed to Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. It arrived the morning of September 21, where it will stay until its scheduled launch on Nov. 1 for its STS-133 mission [video].

Terrier-Orion Tests Sensor Payload Package

NASA on Tuesday successfully launched a suborbital rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The NASA Terrier-Orion sounding rocket launch took place at 9:07 a.m. The mission included the third test of the rocket's primary payload, NASA's Autonomous Flight Safety System. The onboard system is designed to issue a destruct signal if a launch flight deviates from its path.

The rocket is also carrying two additional payloads. The first is a NASA package of seven sensors to observe the rocket's performance. The third payload is a Federal Aviation Administration payload designed to inform aircraft and air traffic control systems of the in-flight location and velocity of launch vehicles that could pose a collision hazard to aircraft.

Preliminary indications are that all payload experiment systems received good data, NASA said after the launch.

Mars Moon Phobos Subject of Study

Dr. Marco Giuranna, from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome and co-author of a new research paper on the Martian moons, suggests "re-accretion" models for the formation of Phobos are more likely, in which rocks from the surface of the Red Planet are blasted into Martian orbit to later clump and form Phobos. This theory runs counter to the notion that the moons of Mars are caputured asteroids. The research paper is available for review.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Aurora Borealis Webcam Goes LIVE

The Canadian Space Agency has brought the AuroraMAX webcam to life enabling thousands around the world who have not previously had the good fortune of bearing witness to the haunting images of the Aurora Borealis. The AuroraMAX observatory will broadcast views of the northern lights through the sun's peak activity period, called solar maximum, which is expected in 2013, [users may wish to give the webcam extra time to properly load due to demand]. More information from CBCNews and

China Gears-Up for Moon, Mars and Venus

The timetable for China's first manned moon landing, as well as the launch of a space station, lab and probes to explore Mars and Venus, was announced by scientists over the weekend reports The Global Times and PTI.

OSIRIS-REx Mission Gains Attention

The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer or OSIRIS-REx is a spacecraft is under consideration by NASA as a New Frontiers Mission to launch in 2016 and subsequently rendezvous in 2018 and orbit a primitive asteroid named 1999 RQ36. The asteroid has a 1 in 1000 chance of slamming into the Earth in 160 or so years from now, according to best estimates.

The mission is gaining attention within the asteroid research community and among those advancing the new plan to advance a human mission to the asteroids by the Obama Administration. It is one of three poetential missions now in competition for 2011 mission funds.

Asteroid 1999 RQ36 is a break away "B-class" carbonaceous asteroid made of primitive material from the Solar System's early history that has not undergone extensive heating and thus modification since it was incorporated into the original Main Belt expected to impact the earth in 2170. It is deemed a hazardous asteroid because of the proximity Earth's orbit.

Planetary scientist Clark Chapman notes that if asteroid 1999 RQ36 were to collide with Earth, “It would be an enormous impact, like hundreds of the biggest nuclear bombs ever built exploding at once, creating a crater maybe 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] across,” although the impact would not be civilization-threatening.

According to the OSIRIS-REx mission plan, after extensive measurements, the instrument package would collect a pristine sample from the asteroid’s surface for return to Earth in 2023. The returned samples would help scientists better understand and answer long-held questions about the formation of our solar system and the origin of complex molecules necessary for life. The mission would also provide better trajectory analysis as to when the asteroid may imapct Earth.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Astrium Plans 2018 South Pole Lunar Lander

Astrium, Europe's leading space company, has won a new competitive contract from the European Space Agency (ESA), as a follow-up to the Next Exploration Science and Technology (NEXT) study to develop a Lunar Lander. The Lunar Lander Phase B1 study will aim to complete the mission design for landing an automated vehicle near the south pole of the Moon in 2018, [Video].

Terrior-Improved Orion Launch Tuesday!

The Resecheduled launch is now set for Tuesday! ---- NASA plans to launch the Terrior-Improved Orion suborbital rocket from "space island," (Wallops Island,VA), Tuesday morning between the hours of 8 AM and 11 AM EST.

The mission will test new NASA Autonomous Flight Safety System designed to generate a destruct command should a rocket go off course. The safety system once it is flight certified can also be used on larger rockets such as the Minotaur I, Minotaur V and future Taurus II.

The launch also can be viewed on NASA’s website, beginning at 7 a.m. on launch day. The status of the launch also can be followed on Twitter or by calling (757)824-2050. The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops Island will open at 7 a.m. for the public to watch and hear the launch.

Does Mars Have Underground Caverns?

Planetary scientists have suggested that Mars may host underground caverns from findings three years ago (2007) leaving one to wonder if the formations may be similar to those found on Earth. A visit to the Luray Caverns in Virginia provides one possible analog, [Hat tip to Linda Kennedy].

Some researchers have suggested that Martian caverns in low-lying areas could hold reservoirs of water, which would make the existence of microbial life much more likely such as those imaged from orbit and know by planetary scientists as the "Seven Sisters" likely to be lava tubes. Detection of the caves or caverns is very difficult from orbital observation as this 2009 research paper suggests.
Blog reader thoughts? New information? Comment, please.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

NASA stalemate is a real possibility

In an effort to restore a NASA consensus and fund future human space travel, negotiators from the House and Senate have been meeting frequently in recent weeks. Participants say, however, that the sides are dug in and that stalemate is a real possibility, reports The Washington Post. This Blogger is adding to the push with an OpEd in The Richmond Times Dispatch and The Roanoke Times.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Boeing-Space Adventures Plan Flights in 2015

The Boeing Company and Virginia-based Space Adventures, Ltd. have established a memorandum of agreement regarding the marketing of anticipated transportation services to destinations in low Earth orbit (LEO) on Boeing commercial crew spacecraft.

Under this agreement, Space Adventures will market passenger seats on commercial flights aboard the Boeing Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100) spacecraft to LEO. Potential customers for excess seating capacity include private individuals, companies, non-governmental organizations, and U.S. federal agencies other than NASA. Boeing plans to use the CST-100 to provide crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS) and future commercial LEO platforms.

Boeing and Space Adventures have not yet set a price per seat for spaceflight participants, but will do so when full-scale development is under way. Boeing continues to advance its design for the CST-100 spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Space Act Agreement. The spacecraft, which can carry seven people, will be able to fly on multiple launch vehicles and is expected to be operational by 2015.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Virgin Galactic: Future Astronauts

Planet Jupiter on Close Approach

Jupiter is cozying up to Earth this month. At its closest approach, the giant planet will swing closer and shine brighter than at any time between 1963 and 2022. You can already see Jupiter twinkling low in the east after twilight, and higher in the southeast as the evening wears on. But it will be brightest in the second half of September. The gas giant’s closest approach will be at a distance of 368 million miles on Monday, September 20, 2010, [Astronomy Mag, Sky&Tel and SpaceRef].

Sputtering Sunspot 1106 Observed

Sunspot 1106 (last time it faced Earth it was named 1100) is seen here by the STEREO Ahead spacecraft at the end of August and the beginning of September 2010, when the sunspot was on the far side of the Sun. As you can see during those two days, it was one actively sputtering spot.

A very busy active region popped off about ten blasts of solar material over a two-day period (Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 2010). With this composited image and movie three instruments on the STEREO (Ahead) spacecraft, we can see the flares and coronal mass ejections occur on the Sun (in extreme UV light), then follow the clouds of particles as they expand in the lower corona (with the COR1 instrument) and further out into space (with the COR2 instrument).

Since these storms were on the far side of the Sun, they did not produce any effects on Earth. However, solar rotation will bring this active region into view of us at Earth sometime about September 10 or 11. The two sets of movies show all three instruments in one or a closer view of just Sun with the COR 1 instrument.

Four Astronauts Named to STS-135 Flight

NASA announced the four astronauts who will make up the crew of STS-335, the rescue mission that would fly only if needed to bring home the members of space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission, currently the final scheduled shuttle flight.

Chris Ferguson, a retired U.S. Navy captain and veteran of two previous shuttle missions, would command the flight. Astronaut and U.S. Marine Col. Doug Hurley would serve as pilot, and astronauts Sandy Magnus and retired U.S. Air Force Col. Rex Walheim would be the mission specialists, [NASA Press Release]. The astronauts will launch on need (LON) to the crew of STS-134. Congress will soon decide funding for an Atlantis STS-135 for a possible launch in June 2011 (if not used for a rescue mission).

Planetary Protection Coordination Office?

"Owing to a 2008 law passed by Congress, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has until 15 October 2010 to decide which agency will be responsible for protecting the planet from an asteroid strike. Members of the task force say NASA expects to be given part or all of that responsibility. To meet it, the panel discussed the creation of a Planetary Protection Coordination Office (PPCO) within NASA, with an annual budget of $250 million–$300 million. It would detect and track asteroids — and develop a capability to deflect them," writes Jousha Keating in Foreign Policy Magazine. The story was also covered by NPR.

Monday, September 13, 2010

DIRECT: Jupiter-like rocket in the running?

The Direct Team advancing the Jupiter rocket contends that it still has the best way to space for NASA under the provisions of the Senate-passed NASA Authorization Act of 2010, reports The Orlando Sentinel.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Venus-Moon Converage in Earth Sky

Around the world on Sept. 11th, sky watchers marveled as Venus and the Moon converged for a beautiful close encounter. In South Africa, it was a full-fledged occultation. "The Moon passed directly in front of Venus, completely covering the planet," reports Kerneels Mulder to SpaceWeather. "I was lucky enough to capture a series of images as Venus re-appeared from behind the Moon in broad daylight." More photos at SpaceWeather.

New Issues Emerging on Capitol Hill

Spaceflight policy could takeoff in any direction next week on Capitol Hill, reports Frank Morring, Jr., writer for Aviation Week noting that Congressional staffers worked behind the scenes last week to hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions of new legislation authorizing NASA programs for the next three years; but publicly, the two chambers remained even more divided than before the August recess.

Space Frontier Foundation co-founder Rick Tumlinson writes in the Huffington Post, "those who support what I call the Constellation Hallucination want to block President Obama's plan to re-invigorate our space program that gets NASA back to exploring by kickstarting our commercial NewSpace transportation industry."

Meanwhile, former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, an eminent scholar at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, told the Space Transportation Association in Washington Friday, "We are no longer facing a future in which the administration's proposal is one of the possible outcomes." He went on to say the that differences exist between the [Senate and Hill] "bills, but either represents a substantial practical improvement over the administration's proposal."

Writing in the National Review Online Friday, Rand Simberg suggests that the best option may be that both the Senate and House bills fail. This could be a likely result with the clock ticking on the Congressional calendar rapidly.

Mixing rocket science and political science makes one want to really look hard for the escape pod these days! The best American space program would be if both sides of the commercial and civil space policy debate could win with a government heavy-lift vehicle development for deep space operations and commercial vehicles to ferry astronauts to LEO and the moon.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

MARS: Planet of a Thousand Mysteries

David Talbott presents a segment about the planet Mars from the DVD, "The Cosmic Thunderbolt" - the electric universe model. This video includes just the first 15 minutes of a 40 minute segment on Mars.

ESA Astronauts Train for ISS Stays

Summer has been very busy for ESA astronauts with three of them training at Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas for future missions aboard the International Space Station. Even though European astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Roberto Vittori of Italian nationality and André Kuipers from the Netherlands have all already visited the ISS, extensive training is always needed when going into space. Paolo Nespoli is scheduled for six months aboard the ISS starting next December 2010. A mission of similar duration will be carried out by André Kuipers roughly a year later. Both astronauts will travel to the station in Russian Soyuz modules. Roberto Vittori will be the last non-US astronaut to be carried to the ISS by a NASA Space Shuttle on a flight opportunity of the Italian Space Agency in 2011.