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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Danish Rocketeers Seek to Fly 2 June 2011

International media is reporting that Copenhagen Suborbitals has set a launch window of June 1-5,2011 with a target launch time set for June 2, 2011 of their spacecraft delayed last year. More from Parabolic Arc,Popular Science and Geekosystem. Spaceports Blog noted the September 2010 launch abort.

Atlantis on Roll to Launch Pad Tonight

STS-135 Atlantis Moves To Launch Pad May 31 For Final Shuttle Launch

Endeavour on Last Orbits of Earth Tonight

STS-134 Commander Tribute to Endeavour

STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly pays tribute to space shuttle Endeavour and the spacecraft's contribution to human spaceflight. Mission specialists Andrew Feustel, Mike Fincke, Roberto Vittori, Greg Chamitoff and Pilot Greg Johnson also share their thoughts and impressions of Endeavour.

Original Song Awakens Endeavour Crew

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cosmonauts turn Diplomats in China

Russian Cosmonauts Jury Lonchakov and Maxim Suraev recently turned diplomats in China and were greeted as space heros with flowers and smiles in China.

Relativistic Phase Displacement Space Drive - Warping Space Time: Phased Standing Waves

A video by Moacir L. Ferreira Jr. providing an explanation about a relativistic space propulsion system which uses a lattice/matrix of Phase Displacement Space Drives, producing crisscrossing pattern of Phased Standing Waves, to generate a sequence of spinning waves for causing a FTL moving force, in order to warp spacetime, enabling fast interstellar travel in an energy-efficient way.

X-Prize: audacity and competition meet

Endeavour and Space Station Fly In Tandem

The space shuttle Endeavour and the international space station soared through the night sky side-by-side last night following the undocking at 11:55 p.m. EDT Sunday evening, May 29, 2011, ending a stay of 11 days, 17 hours and 41 minutes at the orbiting laboratory. The undocking providing eraly morning Earthly viewers a unique and rare double-flyby scene.

The space shuttle Endeavour is on its last voyage to space. The next to last space shuttle flight is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center at 1:35 a.m. EDT on Wednesday morning June 1, 2011.

Blog Readers Prefer Mawrth Vallis for Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Landing Site

The Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity" is nearing a launch date and with it scientists are deciciding which our four candidate landing sites the mission will focus. Some 52% of the Spaceports readers selected Mawrth Vallis. A public announcement on the final landing site decision is expected soon.

Mawrth Vallis is a valley on Mars with an ancient water outflow channel with light-colored clay-rich rocks. It was formed in and subsequently covered by layered rocks, from beneath which it is now being exhumed.

The Mawrth Vallis region holds special interest because of the presence of phyllosilicate (clay) minerals which form only if water is available, first identified in data from the OMEGA spectrometer on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars has identified aluminium-rich and iron-rich clays, each with a unique distribution. Some of the clays recently discovered by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are montmorillonite and kaolinite, and nontronite.

Clays minerals easily preserve microscopic life on Earth, so perhaps traces of ancient life may be found at Mawrth.

Overview of James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope is the next in the line of NASA's Great Observatories, a scientific successor to both the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes. This space observatory will see the first galaxies to form in the universe, and explore how stars are born and give rise to planetary systems. It will study exoplanets, investigating their potential for life.

JWST is optimized to detect infrared light, using a segmeted mirror more than 6 m in diameter and operating a million miles away in the cold, dark environment of Earth's Lagrange 2 point. It will carry four science instruments covering wavelengths from 0.6 to 28 microns.

In the video talk linked above, Dr. Heidi B. Hammel (JWST Interdisciplinary Scientist) reviewed JWST's scientific objectives, its hardware and technology development, and the predicted system performance. She also provided an overview of the review of JWST that was commissioned by Congress, and discuss the current status of the project.

STS-134 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 14

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Atlantis to Roll to Launch Pad Tue., May 31

The four astronauts for the final space shuttle mission, STS-135, will answer reporters' questions at 8:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, May 31, as shuttle Atlantis is moved to its launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The question-and-answer session will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website.

STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim will take questions outside Kennedy's news center while Atlantis moves in the background from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to Launch Pad 39A.

Atlantis' first motion out of the VAB is scheduled for 8 p.m. NASA TV will provide live video of the start of the move, known as rollout, and then switch to the crew media event.

Kepler Telescope Data Details Galaxy

NASA's Kepler mission has discovered its first Earth-size planet candidates and its first candidates in the habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface. Five of the potential planets are near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of smaller, cooler stars than our sun.

Shuttle Crew Says Farewell, Closes Hatches

At 7:23 a.m. Sunday, hatches were closed between Endeavour and the station 12 days, 22 hours and 27 minutes into the mission. The hatches between the two spacecraft were opened at 7:38 a.m. on May 18 and were open for joint crew operations for a total of 10 days, 23 hours, and 45 minutes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

EVA4 Caps Flight Day 12 Highlights

The last spacewalk of the space shuttle program was conducted today at the International Space Station.

Launch Training Underway at Baikonur

Spyuz TMA-02M flight crew readied for ride to orbit.

Paolo Nespoli Talks Soyuz Re-Entry

After more than 5 months in space, Paolo Nespoli talks about with the media in a joint ESA/ASI press conference about the Soyuz capsule re-entry experience, from Houston, Texas. Nespoli also discussed about his space station experience.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Moon's interior water casts doubt on formation theory, notes new study in Nature

An analysis of sediments brought back by the Apollo 17 mission has shown that the Moon's interior holds far more water than previously thought, reports Jason Palmer for the BBC News.

The study found 100 times more water in the beads than has been measured before, and suggests that the Moon once held a Caribbean Sea-sized volume of water while casting doubt on aspects of theories of how the Moon first formed.

It is widely thought that a Mars-sized object slammed into the Earth just as it was forming, throwing out a disc of fragmented, molten material that eventually coalesced into the Moon. Nonetheless, the new study is beginning to shedding light on how much water is contained in the Moon's interior, which in turn gives hints as to how - and from what - it formed.

“Opportunity at Work” Building a Spaceport

Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell conducted a ceremonial signing into a law a state tax measure to redirect tax revenue generated from human spaceflights sold by Vienna, Va.-based Space Adventures Wednesday, May 25, 2011. The measure is designed to help build commercial space launch infrastuture and support human spaceflights from the Virginia-based commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

Designated a part of the Administration's “Opportunity at Work” legislation, SB1447 offered by State Senator William C. Wampler, Jr. (R-Bristol), directs revenues to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority to support the expansion of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and to support human spaceflight in this decade. Wampler, a leading legislator in support of the spaceport, successfully obtained passage of Virginia's Zero-Gravity, Zero-Tax measure in 2008.

Gov. McDonnell noted that the space flight measure "will go far to encourage job creators to choose Virginia and invest in this state." Commercial space launch firms from around the nation are now taking a serious look-see at the space launch facilities at Wallops Island as a result of Virginia space law adopted over the past five years.

Spirit's Triumphs on Mars Recalled

STS-134 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 11

JFK Library Releases Audio of President Kennedy and NASA Administrator Jim Webb Discussing the Race to Moon in 1963

On what marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's first challenge to the country to commit to sending a man to the moon before the end of the 1960s, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum today announced that it has declassified and made available for research a presidential recording of President Kennedy and NASA Administrator James Webb discussing the future of the US space program. The meeting was held in the White House on September 18, 1963 and reveals President Kennedy's private concerns over waning public support for space exploration.

Over two years later, President Kennedy is confronted with the financial burden that he predicted in 1961 and, in the conversation with Webb, expresses concern over what Congress and the public would see as the high cost of the space program. The President also discusses the challenges he foresees in trying to maintain the American public's interest in space exploration when, in fact, there would not be a moon landing during his presidency. He says, "I mean if the Russians do some tremendous feat, then it would stimulate interest again, but right now space has lost a lot of its glamour."

"President Kennedy was both a visionary and a realist," said Kennedy Library Archivist Maura Porter. "He understood the necessity of having both public and Congressional support if his vision of landing a man on the moon was to become a reality before the end of the 1960's."

Buzz Aldrin Reflects on JFK Moon Challenge

On May 25, 1961, during a joint session of the United States Congress, President John F Kennedy challenged America to land the first men on the moon and return them safely back to earth. A challenge that would change history for the world as we knew it. Buzz Aldrin highlights the successes of the Apollo mission and makes a point to not repeat inefficient strategies in the future of space exploration.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NASA Selects OSIRIS-REx for 2016 Launch

NASA has selected the University of Arizona to lead a sample-return mission to an asteroid. The team is led by Michael Drake, director of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. will manage the mission for NASA. Lockheed Martin will build the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer. More from AFP and The Arizona Daily Star.

Expedition 28 Depart Star City, Russia for Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan

Expedition 28 crew members Sergei Volkov, Mike Fossum and Satoshi Furukawa leave for the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, from where they're scheduled to launch aboard a Soyuz TMA-02M capsule for the International Space Station on June 7, 2011.

STS-134 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 10

NASA Ends "Spirit' Mars Rover Efforts

NASA has ended operational planning activities for the Mars rover Spirit and transitioned the Mars Exploration Rover Project to a single-rover operation focused on Spirit's still-active twin, Opportunity. This marks the completion of one of the most successful missions of interplanetary exploration ever launched.

Spirit last communicated on March 22, 2010, as Martian winter approached and the rover's solar-energy supply declined. The rover operated for more than six years after landing in January 2004 for what was planned as a three-month mission. NASA checked frequently in recent months for possible reawakening of Spirit as solar energy available to the rover increased during Martian spring. A series of additional re-contact attempts ended today, designed for various possible combinations of recoverable conditions, NASA noted in the announement.

Ancient Pyramids Discovered with Satellites

Dr. Sarah Parcak, archaeologist, satellite imagery specialist, space archaeologist and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama, has used a combination of satellite imaging analysis and surface surveys in the detection of thousands of new archaeological sites in Egypt, including some dating back to 3,000 B.C. reports the BBC, South Wales and Talking Pyramids.

Seventeen lost pyramids are among the buildings identified in a new satellite survey of Egypt. More than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements were also revealed by looking at infra-red images which show up underground buildings. Initial excavations have already confirmed some of the findings including two suspected pyramids, notes BBC reporter Frances Cronin.

The clock was started fifty years ago today!

In a speech to Congress 50 years ago today, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to send a man to the moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of that decade. This video includes historical footage of the launches of Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard, whose flights helped prompt Kennedy's speech, plus comments from Mercury astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, and Mercury Flight Director, Chris Kraft.

Kennedy Reaches for Moon 50-Years Ago

EXTRAORDINARY TIMES: On May 25, 1961, United States President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. The speech came only days following the first suborbital flight of astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. Kennedy also noted in this speech the need to develop a rover nuclear propulsion for exploration beyond the moon and the far reaches of the solar system.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Virginia Spaceport Prepares for Launch


STS-134 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 9

Welcome Back to Earth for Expedition 27

Kelly, Fincke and Chamitoff Chat from Space

Commander Mark Kelly and his STS-134 crewmates, Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff, talk with reporters from Pittsburgh and Houston about their mission as space shuttle Endeavour remains docked to the International Space Station.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Soyuz Lands with Expedition 27 Crew

Expedition 27 crew members Dimitry Kondratyev, Paolo Nespoli and Cady Coleman enjoy the sunshine and 70-degree temperatures on the steppe of Kazakhstan after being extracted from their Soyuz capsule following their picture-perfect landing following 159 days in space.

Soyuz Readied to Return to Earth from ISS

The Soyuz TMA-20 crew prepare for space station flyaround prior to deorbit and return to Earth later today.

STS-134 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 8

Highlights from the international space station today.

A Tour of Space Launch Complex 40

SpaceVidCast provides a review of SpaceX Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canveral, Florida. The entire video may be viewed on-line by renting it for $1.99.Go SpaceX.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

STS-134 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 7

Le Voyage Dans La Lune - Redux

French filmmaker Georges Méliès, a pioneer of early cinema and special effects, transported audiences across the void of space to the moon in 1902. His 14-minute silent film, "A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage Dans La Lune), writes Leonard Davis for MSNBC and, has been painsakingly restored..

Le Voyage Dans La Lune has now rocketed ahead 109 years to the 2011 Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera with a new color digital enhancement. The French band Air has even composed an original 21st century soundtrack to accompany the restored silent film. Le Voyage Dans La Lune was the first science fiction film.

A Space Art Trip to the Moon

Change in Command at the Space Station

At 11:41 a.m. EDT Sunday, May 22, 2011, Dmitry Kondratyev, who has been the commander of Expedition 27 aboard the International Space Station, conducted a ceremonial change of command with Andrey Borisenko, who now commands Expedition 27 and will command Expedition 28. Kondratyev, NASA Flight Engineer Cady Coleman and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli will return to Earth Monday night inside their Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft that launched to the station Dec. 15. Expedition 28 will begin officially at the moment of Soyuz undocking.

Schweickart Advances Asteroid Advocacy

Former Apollo 9 astronaut Russell L. (Rusty) Schweickart is Chairman of the Board of the B612 Foundation, a non-profit private that champions the development and testing of a spaceflight concept to protect the Earth from future asteroid impacts and advocates an international treaty for planetary defense asteroid protocol. The video is a 1-hour lecture. See A.C. Charania's Planetary Defense blog for more details.

NASA to Decide Venus, Asteroid or Moon?

NASA is set to publicly decide next month (June 2011) one of three proposals as candidates for the agency's next space robot venture to another celestial body in our solar system. The proposed missions would probe the atmosphere and crust of Venus [SAGE]; return a piece of a near-Earth asteroid for analysis [OSIRIS-REx]; or drop a robotic lander into a basin at the moon's south pole to return lunar rocks back to Earth for study [Moonrise]. Only one will get the 'GO' for a multi-million dollar mission with an anticipated 2016-2018 launch date.

The final selection will become the third mission of NASA's New Frontiers program, which was created to further explore our solar system with medium-class spacecraft missions. Below are details about each proposed mission.

The Surface and Atmosphere Geochemical Explorer (SAGE) - This mission to Venus would release a probe to descend through the planet's atmosphere. During descent, instruments would conduct extensive measurements of the atmosphere's composition and obtain meteorological data. The probe then would land on the surface of Venus, where its abrading tool would expose both a weathered and a pristine surface area to measure its composition and mineralogy. Scientists hope to understand the origin of Venus and why it is so different from Earth.

The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer spacecraft (OSIRIS-REx) - This mission would rendezvous and orbit a primitive asteroid. After extensive measurements, instruments would collect material from the asteroid's surface for return to Earth. 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.

MoonRise: Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return Mission - This mission would place a lander in the South Pole-Aitken basin near the Moon's south pole and return lunar rocks and soils for study. This region of the lunar surface is believed to harbor rocks excavated from the Moon's mantle. The samples would provide new insight into the early history of the Earth-Moon system.

New Pathways for Human Spaceflight Coming

NASA HQ's John Olson leads a 42-minute power point presentation on the way forward with new pathways for human spaceflight in a recent gathering. Olson talks of the multi-destination opportunities for human deep space exploration including the moon, asteroids, the moons of Mars, and Mars. Olson looks at an incremental approach to human deep space exploration.

Heavy-Lift Vehicle Design from Garry Lyles

Garry Lyles brings thirty-five years' experience in design analysis, system engineering, and program management to his position as associate director for technical management in the Engineering Directorate of the Marshall Space Flight Center. Lyles' 39-minute power point supported lecture reviews the future of the proposed NASA heavy launch vehicle (HLV)required by the Congress.

Maria Collura's Overview of CCDEV Program

NASA's Maria Collura provides an overview of the commercial space effort in the above 29-minute power point presentation. CCDEV-3 will begin to fashion an intergration plan between the spacecraft and possible boosters.

Endeavour Flight Day 6 Recap

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sci-Fi Film Apollo 18 Opens August 26, 2011

The release date for sci-fi film "Apollo 18" has re-set. Previously scheduled to grace theaters across the nation on January 6, 2012, the film by The Weinstein Company will arrive in theaters on Friday, August 26, 2011. The film will depict an Apollo 18 flight to the surface of the moon that finds ... aliens. Keep in mind, "it is only a movie, only a move."

James Webb Telescope Launch Date Slips?

The James Webb Space Telescope will revolutionize space-based observation, if ever it gets off the ground. Keith Cowing is reports that the planned 2017-2018 launch date may slip to 2024. The "Big Science" endeavor cost has grown from an initial $1 billion estimate to $2 billion - then to $4 billion - and is now estimated to be $7 billion.

Bobby Russell Pushes Quest for the Stars

Ariane 5 Rumbes from French Spaceport

The Ariane 5 - V-202 rumbled to orbit from the European spaceport in French Guiana Friday, May 20, 2011 carring satellites. The rumble really startes post-one minute.

The official close-up of the launch.

Is Martian moon Deimos a good future target?

Lockheed Martin's John Karas speaks to Miles O'Brien and Leroy Chiao on the future of the human exploration of space. Why is the Martian moon Deimos such a great stepping stone for the Red Planet? The so-called "Red Rocks mission" is in planning.

Soyuz Undock with Imagery of ISS Set

The space station and space shuttle teams agree that Soyuz will undock, take some pictures of the two larger craft, then continue backing away for its descent back to Earth on Monday, May 23. Mission managers are calling the maneuver "Soyuz undock with imagery." Details below.

The Pope Communicates with Space Station

In a special link-up from The Vatican to the International Space Station, Pope Benedict XVI speaks with the twelve members of the Expedition 27 and STS-134 crews. The Pope spoke more extensively with the two European Space Agency astronauts from Italy, Paolo Nespoli of Expedition 27, and Roberto Vittori of the space shuttle Endeavour crew. Vittori brought with him on his mission a silver medal donated by the pope.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Strange Planets Roam Universe w/o Star

Free-floating Jupiter size planets are fairly common. Astronomers use a neat trick of Einstein's math to find them. And, no, there aren't any free-range monster-worlds lurking nearby. Credit: Atom Strange

Endeavor Flight Day 5: First Spacewalk

Flight Day 5 of STS-134 featured the work of mission specialists Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff on the mission's first of four spacewalks. A sesnor failure in one of the spacesuits resulted in a the initial spacewalk being cut slightly short.

The European 'Space Truck' Reviewed

The European cargo spacecraft ATV is the most complex vehicle ever built to re-supply an International Space Station. It can take nearly eight tonnes of cargo and uses artificial intelligence to accomplish some of its more complicated manoeuvres. The Space Truck and its possible developments are the theme of this episode of 'Space'.

Expedition 27 to Land in Soyuz TMA-20

Expedition 27 crew members Dmitry Kondratyev, Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli train inside the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft. They are preparing for their undocking and landing in Kazakhstan planned for Monday, May 23, 2011.

This Week @ NASA: May 20, 2011

ORS-1 Readied for Wallops Spaceport Launch

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is preparing for another Minotaur rocket launch down on Wallops Island, Va., the fourth since 2006.

The 70-foot rocket will carry an ORS-1 satellite for the Pentagon. It’s designed to provide “multi-spectral” imaging for combatants on the ground. The Space Development and Test Directorate, in concert with the Operationally Responsive Space Office, is marking a major milestone May 20, 2011 as the ORS-1 space vehicle is approved to ship to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., for integration with a Minotaur I launch vehicle from El Segundo, Calif.

ORS-1 is the first satellite in the DoD’s ORS program designed to support Combatant Command operations as an operational prototype. The payload leverages a SYERS-2 sensor, the primary imaging sensor on the U-2 reconnaissance plane. The ORS-1 payload was built by The Goodrich Corporation, who also served as prime contractor, while the spacecraft bus was built by ATK Spacecraft Systems & Services, Beltsville, Md. It includes an integrated propulsion system as well as other critical subsystems for communications, attitude control, thermal control and command and data handling. ORS-1 will provide crucial battlespace awareness supporting U.S. Central Command.

The launch date remains uncertain, but liftoff should occur sometime this summer.

Coalition for Space Exploration Releases PSA

The Coalition for Space Exploration has released a new public service announcement entitled "Closer and Safer." The 60-second piece depicts an astronaut appearing in unexpected places on Earth: in an oceanfront community during a hurricane, beside firefighters in a sweltering blaze and alongside surgeons performing an operation; demonstrating the positive outcome of space technology in our everyday lives.

Soyuz TMA-02M to Launch June 8, 2011

Soyuz TMA-02M prelaunch processing continues at the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. Soyuz-FG is to launch Soyuz TMA-02M with three crew on June 8, 2011. The crew include Russian Cosmonaut Sergey Volkov (FSA), Japanese Cosmonaut Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA), and American Astronaut Michael Fossum (NASA) to the International Space Station.

VSS Enterprise conducts "feather" flights

Early on May 4, 2011 in the skies above Mojave Air and Spaceport Calif., SpaceShipTwo, the world's first commercial spaceship, demonstrated its unique reentry "feather" configuration for the first time. SpaceShipTwo, named VSS Enterprise, has now flown solo seven times since its public roll-out in December 2009 and since the completion of its ground and captive -carry test program.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Flight Day 4 Holds Many STS-134 Highlights

The installation of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and the preparations taken for EVA #1 are among the mission milestones spotlighted on FD4.

'Most Earthlike' Planet Yet Discovered

Where to land the Mars rover 'Curiosity?'

Scientists get closer to selecting a landing site for the Curiosity rover. Cast your preference vote in the poll to the right side of this page during the time remaining.

Miles O'Brien Interviews Astronauts on ISS

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer Attached to ISS

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics detector that could unlock mysteries about dark matter and other cosmic radiation, is installed outside the International Space Station.

Proton Readied for Baikonur Launch May 20

Proton-M/Breeze-M/ Telstar 14R launch campaign goes on at Baikonur. After the roll-out to launch pad 200 on May 17, experts of the industry began L-3 operations which included mating of the ground communication links and autonomous tests of the rocket and the Breeze-M upper stage. Yesterday's work at the launch pad implied simulation of the tanking operation. The launch is scheduled for May 20, at 23:15 MSK.

Telstar 14R is to provide telecommunication services for North and South Americas. The launch contracted by International Launch Services is to be the 65th commercial one for Proton. Roscosmos' Khrunichev Space Center holds majority in ILS.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Endeavour Crew Welcomed Aboard ISS

The six-member STS-134 crew commanded by Mark Kelly is greeted by the six residents of the International Space Station. Space shuttle Endeavour brings a payload to the ISS that includes the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics detector designed to find unusual forms of cosmic radiation.

Honoring Men and Women of the Space Age

Then there was one: STS-135 Atlantis!

The crew of STS-135, from right, Sandy Magnus, Doug Hurley, Chris Ferguson and Rex Walheim look-on as Atlantis, the last flight of the space shuttle program, is moved to the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building for a tentatively planned Tuesday, July 12, 2011 liftoff, [Houston Chronicle]. WESH-TV has a video news report. Jesus Diaz writes about the event at GIZMODO.

China Seeks Space Cooperation in Goals

China has announced plans to put its own space station in orbit by 2020. The 60-tonne construction will be one-seventh the weight of the ISS and will focus on scientific experiments. However, military involvement with the project is causing concern. Beijing's Space City research center is opening its doors to the media, as China has announced its intention to build a rival to the International Space Station. While some see Chinese advances in space travel as a potential threat, the country's officials are keen to stress the spirit of co-operation, which they say is behind China's space program.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Virginia Spaceport Seeks Commercial Launches in the Post-Space Shuttle Era

The commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority under a NASA Space Act Agreement, is seeking to expand commercial space launch opportunities as the space shuttle program begins to end this year.

The first tests of the Taurus-2 booster is slated to launch to orbit later this year followed by cargo launched to the space station every six months through 2015 by Orbital Sciences Corporation. The spaceport is also in talks with Bigelow Aerospace about possible future human space flights starting from Wallops Island, Va.

Flight Day 2: Endeavour and Crew A-OK

Bolden: Americans Will 'Go To Deep Space'

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in an ABC News interview, discussed the future prospects of working with commercial space launch firms to achieve humans to low earth orbit and the longer-term goals of getting NASA astronauts into deep space and beyond the moon.

"What will be significantly different from the way we've always done it before is that NASA will no longer procure vehicles and operate them for Low Earth Orbit activities. We are going to completely rely on our partners to do that work," Bolden told ABC News reporter Matthew Mosk.

"We'll still have oversight in terms of safety and engineering and the like, but we are not going to over-prescribe what they do and how they do it. They know that we want them to be able to carry humans and cargo to the International Space Station and other places, and we're just going to sit back and let them tell us when they need our help in determining how you do that," the NASA Administrator noted.

"We in turn are going to work with them hand-in-glove in the traditional sense in developing the exploration vehicles, so you will see that the way we operate our exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit will be more in line with the way that we have done Shuttle over the last 20 years and the way that we did the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, where NASA and the industry team work hand in hand. Industry really built the vehicles, but NASA played a significant role in the design" [of them].

Speaking to the goals of the Obama Administration Bolden said "This President has said he wants us to go to asteroids, eventually to Mars, even back to the Moon as necessary to enable us to get to these distant destinations."

"Humans have not ventured beyond the Moon yet, and it's only been one nation that's ever gone there. If you go back and read Jules Verne or you go back and read people who wrote and dreamed, even before we had the first airplane, people have always wanted to go to deep space, and that's what we're trying to do. That's what President Obama has asked us to do."

Bruce Pittman On Space Entrepreneurship

Can Commercial Space Launch Close 'Gap?'

As the second to last space shuttle cleared the launch tower at Kennedy Space Center, more are discussing closing the multi-year "gap" in human spaceflight with the American private sector.

Beyond the taxi rides offered NASA astronauts by the Russian space agency at nearly $60-million each, new opportunities for private citizens and NASA astronauts are emerging in the commercial space launch industry. While many see the space "gap" lasting up to five years, Elon Musk believes he can close it within about 36-to-42 months, if authorized by NASA and the FAA to do so.

Dennis Tito, first private cosmonaut, discussed the prospects of a profitable business in commercial space launch with a Bloomberg TV reporter, noting that Richard Branson and Elon Musk are space business standouts to build new American-made space vehicles, [embedded video hotlinks].

This Week @ NASA: May 16, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

Endeavour Makes Orbit for Last Time

The STS-134 Endeavour space shuttle launched from the Kennedy Space Center on-time starting the 16-day flight and payload delivery at the International Space Station. Video from the VIP Banana Creek site shows the intensity of the cloud cover imparing visability.

Endeavour Fueled, Countdown Continues

The Endeavour space shuttle is fueled, the astronauts onboard and mission launch team controllers ready for an 8:56 AM lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center this morning, if all continues to go as planned. It is the last flight for Endeavour to orbit. Over half-million people are gathering around the lauch site to see the spacecraft's boost to space. Click this hot link to NASA-TV LIVE coverage now underway.

Mars Landing Sites Reviewed by Scientists

Officially down to four potential landing sites on the surface of Mars, a small group of scientists are gathering this week to make their best case for the location to land the $2.5 billion red planet rover "Curiosity" in early August 2012.

Planned for a November 28, 2011 launch aboard an Atlas-V 541 booster rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Curiosity rover will perform the first-ever precision landing on Mars. The Curiosity rover will help assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet's habitability.

Location is everything when it comes to studying whether Mars ever had conditions that could have been favorable for microbial life. Planetary scientists are down to the final four in seeking to identify the scientific merits of the locations and trying to convince the rest of why the exploration vehicle should land at their preferred spot.

A landing site decision is expected to be finalized in late June or early July 2011 from among:

• Eberswalde crater in the southern hemisphere contains remnants of a river delta;

• Holden crater, close to Eberswalde, is the site of water-carved gullies and sediment deposits;

• Mawrth Vallis is an ancient flood channel in the Martian northern highlands that is rich in clay minerals; and,

• Gale crater located near the Martian equator possesses a 3-mile-high mound of layered mineral deposits.

Readers may vote a preference on the top right of the Spaceports Blog over the next week or so.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Meteroid Threats to Spacecraft Discussed

Whether residing in low-earth orbit or traveling through interplanetary space, spacecraft must shield against environmental threats that could result in minor to catastrophic failure. One such threat is an impact by a meteoroid, which is a natural object ranging from 62 microns to meters in diameter that could cause either mechanical or electrical damage. In this presentation, Dr. Sigrid Close discusses current research into meteoroid and meteoroid plasma physics and how these tiny particles may offer insight into the formation of life on Earth.

Buzz Aldrin Talks Future Space Goals

Dr. Buzz Aldrin talks of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's speech to the Congress May 25, 1961 as a political launch pad to advance space politics to lead to a permanent settlement on Mars by 2035.

Aldrin notes that the American private sector will take over where the American government has left off in space exploration. He notes that the separation of crew from cargo is an important element.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Most Powerful Gamma Rays Ever Seen

The famous Crab Nebula supernova remnant has erupted in an enormous flare five times more powerful than any previously seen from the object. The outburst was first detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope on April 12 and lasted six days.

The nebula, which is the wreckage of an exploded star whose light reached Earth in 1054, is one of the most studied objects in the sky. At the heart of an expanding gas cloud lies what's left of the original star's core, a superdense neutron star that spins 30 times a second. With each rotation, the star swings intense beams of radiation toward Earth, creating the pulsed emission characteristic of spinning neutron stars (also known as pulsars).

West Virginia Telescope ExoPlanet Listening

Now that NASA’s Kepler space telescope has identified 1,235 possible planets around stars in our galaxy, astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley, are aiming a West Virginia radio telescope at the most Earth-like of these worlds to see if they can detect signals from an advanced civilization.

The search began on Saturday, May 8, 2011 when the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope – the largest steerable radio telescope in the world – dedicated an hour to eight stars with possible planets. Once UC Berkeley astronomers acquire 24 hours of data on a total of 86 Earth-like planets, they’ll initiate a coarse analysis and then, in about two months, ask an estimated 1 million SETI@home users to conduct a more detailed analysis on their home computers, writes Robert Sanders of UC Berekley with greater details.

Ray Villard, writing at Discovery News, has an interesting take on the Kepler spacecraft data collection as a means to detect alien life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Endeavour Countdown Underway for Launch

Teams at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida continue to prepare space shuttle Endeavour for a liftoff on Monday at 8:56 a.m. EDT. Everything is going on schedule.

NASA Says Commercial Crew Costs Could Exceed Those Paid the Russians for Soyuz

Private space companies probably can expect at least 44 paying passengers for trips to orbit in the next 10 years, NASA has told Congress, but the price per seat could be higher than the U.S. government already is paying for rides on Russia’s Soyuz capsule.

The agency’s congressionally mandated assessment of the market for the commercial cargo and crew transport to low Earth orbit (LEO) — the centerpiece of U.S. space policy for the post-shuttle era — carries no cost estimates, and is based largely on extrapolated historical data and projections by two firms that aren’t directly involved in building the commercial systems NASA needs to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station, writes Frank Morring, Jr. for Aviation Week.

The bottom-line assessment presented to Congress, as required by the three-year NASA authorization act adopted late last year, is a “lower end” of 44 individual human flights over the report’s 10-year span, and an “upper end” of 329-259 seats to orbit, not counting the eight seats and 26,400 lb. of cargo a year NASA plans to buy to get its astronauts and those of its non-Russian partners to the space station and keep them supplied.

This Week @ NASA: May 13, 2011

Jupiter moon Io with molten subsurface?

New data analysis from NASA's Galileo spacecraft reveals a subsurface ocean of molten or partially molten magma beneath the surface of Jupiter's volcanic moon Io.

The finding heralds the first direct confirmation of this kind of magma layer at Io and explains why the moon is the most volcanic object known in the solar system. The research was conducted by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Santa Cruz;, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The study is published this week in the journal Science.

"Scientists are excited we finally understand where Io's magma is coming from and have an explanation for some of the mysterious signatures we saw in some of the Galileo's magnetic field data," said Krishan Khurana, lead author of the study and former co-investigator on Galileo's magnetometer team at UCLA. "It turns out Io was continually giving off a 'sounding signal' in Jupiter's rotating magnetic field that matched what would be expected from molten or partially molten rocks deep beneath the surface."

Io produces about 100 times more lava each year than all the volcanoes on Earth. While Earth's volcanoes occur in localized hotspots like the "Ring of Fire" around the Pacific Ocean, Io's volcanoes are distributed all over its surface. A global magma ocean about 30 to 50 kilometers (20 to 30 miles) beneath Io's crust helps explain the moon's activity, states a NASA press release.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Virginia's Hampton Roads Shook by Meteor

Spaceport America Open for Tours May 13

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority announced tours of Spaceport America will be open to the public starting Friday, May 13, 2011. The facility, the world's first dedicated spaceport, is famously being rented by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, who plans to take tourists into space.

Albuquerque-based company, Follow the Sun, will lead tours through the Las Cruces facility to give a behind-the-scenes look into space travel, a press release from Spaceport America said.

The spaceport is expected to be open later this year but the first tour starts on Friday, May 13th, and will be held each weekend (including Fridays) in continuum. A three-hour tour will cost $59 for adults and $29 for children under the age of 12.

Meanwhile, The Albuquerque Journal reports that the >"Spaceport Project Hits Bumps."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dawn Spacecraft Imaging Asteroid Vesta

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has obtained its first image of the giant asteroid Vesta, which will help fine-tune navigation during its approach. Dawn is expected to achieve orbit around Vesta on July 16, 2011 when the asteroid is about 188 million kilometers (117 million miles) from Earth.

The image from Dawn's framing cameras was taken on May 3, 2011 when the spacecraft began its approach and was approximately 1.21 million kilometers (752,000 miles) from Vesta. The asteroid appears as a small, bright pearl against a background of stars. Vesta is also known as a protoplanet, because it is a large body that almost formed into a planet.

Vesta is 530 kilometers (330 miles) in diameter and the second most massive object in the asteroid belt. Ground- and space-based telescopes obtained images of the bright orb for about two centuries, but with little surface detail.

Mission managers expect Vesta's gravity to capture Dawn in orbit on July 16, 2011. To enter orbit, Dawn must match the asteroid's path around the sun, which requires very precise knowledge of the body's location and speed. By analyzing where Vesta appears relative to stars in framing camera images, navigators will pin down its location and enable engineers to refine the spacecraft's trajectory.

Dawn will start collecting science data in early August at an altitude of approximately 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) above the asteroid's surface. As the spacecraft gets closer, it will snap multi-angle images, allowing scientists to produce topographic maps. Dawn will later orbit at approximately 200 kilometers (120 miles) to perform other measurements and obtain closer shots of parts of the surface. Dawn will remain in orbit around Vesta for one year. After another long cruise phase, Dawn will arrive in 2015 at its second destination, Ceres, an even more massive body in the asteroid belt, advises NASA.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Endeavour Launch Set May 16 @ 8:56 AM

The launch of space shuttle Endeavour on STS-134 is now scheduled for Monday, May 16, at 8:56 a.m. Eastern. The announcement came from shuttle program managers during a status briefing held at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Aquarius Mission Set for June 2011

First of a series leading up to the launch of the NASA Aquarius mission to study ocean surface, which plays a key role in climate change.

Aquarius is a focused satellite mission to measure global Sea Surface Salinity. After its 09-Jun-11 launch, it will provide the global view of salinity variability needed for climate studies. The Aquarius / SAC-D mission is being developed by NASA and the Space Agency of Argentina (Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales, CONAE).

STORRM to be Tested on STS-134 Flight

A state-of-the-art relative navigation system will be demonstrated on the STS-134 mission to the International Space Station called the Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation or STORRM.

The goal of STORRM is to validate a new relative navigation sensor based on advanced laser and detector technology that will make docking and undocking to the International Space Station and other spacecraft easier and safer. The demonstration is a test-run of the technology, and the STS-134 crew and engineers in mission control will monitor the flight data throughout the mission with specialized STORRM software.

China's Tiangong Heavenly Palace Reviewed

Michael Clark's video reviews the upcoming fall 2011 launch of the Chinese Tiangong or the "Heavenly Palace" mini-space station. The space platform is not expected to be crewed by humans until 2012.

While the Chinese are inviting participation with the space station project, there is no expectation for a government-to-government effort.

President Obama views China as a potential partner for an eventual human mission to Mars that would be difficult for any single nation to undertake, a senior White House official told lawmakers. Testifying before Congress, White House science adviser John Holdren said near-term engagement with China in civil space will help lay the groundwork for any such future endeavor, noted SpaceNews recently.

Fully-integrated Soyuz on launch pad

A simulated launch campaign took place at Europe's Spaceport, French Guiana, on 29 April-5 May 2011.

This dry run ensured that the Soyuz and the new facilities work together perfectly, while allowing the teams to train under realistic launch conditions. It also validated all the procedures during the final phase before launch, except the fuelling of the vehicle.

The vehicle was transferred from the preparation building to the launch zone and erected into the vertical position. The mobile gantry was then rolled out to the pad and the vehicle's upper composite, comprising the Fregat upper stage and payload fairing, was hoisted on top of the launcher. The campaign ended with a simulated liftoff and flight downrange.

Asteroid to Narrowly Miss Earth Nov. 8

The space rock, called YU55, will hurtle past our planet at a distance of just 201,700 miles during its closest approach on November 8, 2011, reported The Daily Mail recently.

There's no danger of an impact when the asteroid 2005 YU55 makes its close flyby Nov. 8, coming within 201,700 miles (325,000 kilometers) of Earth, scientists told FoxNews.

Virginia spaceport poised to grow in the post-shuttle era of spaceflight

When the 30-year space shuttle program ends this summer, NASA will turn to the shores of Virginia and MARS to help fulfill the critical mission of transporting supplies to the International Space Station.

And, of course, taking out the station's trash, too.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport — or MARS — at NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore is scheduled to be the launch site for nine unmanned missions related to resupplying the space station through 2015, reports The Richmond Times Dispatch with more from Virginia's capitol city.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Space Adventures Looking for the $150-Million Lunar Cosmonaut to Complete Crew

Space Adventures, LLC, the only company that has provided human space missions to the global marketplace, outlined its forecast for commercial orbital spaceflight and announced details of how additional living space would be made available during the company's planned circumlunar mission now planned for 2015, RIA Novosti.

As part of a market sizing exercise for NASA's Commercial Crew Development bid, submitted on behalf of the Boeing Company, Space Adventures estimated that by 2020 approximately 140 more private individuals will have launched to orbital space, with participants that would include private individuals, corporate, university and non-profit researchers, lottery winners and journalists. Destinations would include the ISS (International Space Station), commercial space stations and orbital free-flys.

Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, noted last week that his firm has been working with Rocket Space Corporation Energia to enhance the Soyuz TMA configuration. Anderson said the most important of the enhancement modifications is the addition of a second habitation module to the Soyuz TMA lunar complex. The additional module would launch with the Block DM propulsion module and rendezvous with the Soyuz spacecraft in low-Earth orbit.

"Space Adventures will once again grace the pages of aerospace history, when the first private circumlunar mission launches. We have sold one of the two seats for this flight and anticipate that the launch will occur in 2015," said Richard Garriott, vice-chairman of Virginia-based Space Adventures. "Having flown on the Soyuz, I can attest to how comfortable the spacecraft is, but the addition of the second habitation module will only make the flight that more enjoyable," Garriott told those listening to a recent teleconference event.

SETI TALKS: Catching a Comet in Rings

Dr. Mark Showalter is a member of the Cassini Imaging Team and head of the PDS Rings node, which is housed at the SETI Institute. In this talk, Dr. Showalter will discuss the findings reported in his recent article in the journal Science.

Jupiter's ring shows vertical corrugations reminiscent of those recently detected in the rings of Saturn. The Galileo spacecraft imaged a pair of superimposed ripple patterns in 1996 and again in 2000. These patterns behave as two independent spirals, each winding up at a rate defined by Jupiter's gravity field. The dominant pattern originated between July and October 1994, when the entire ring was tilted by ~2 km.

Dr. Showalter will talk about how he and his colleagues found that the pattern is associated with the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts of July 1994. New Horizons images still show this pattern 13 years later and suggest that subsequent events may also have tilted the ring. Dr. Showalter will show that impacts by comets or their dust streams are regular occurrences in planetary rings, altering them in ways that remain detectable decades later.

Will Humanoids Take Over the American Space Program for Deep Space Missions?

They require no food, can last for decades, willingly perform mundane tasks, and can walk in space without a spacesuit. And they’re mostly expendable -- if you overlook the cost.

Humanoid robots could make deep space exploration more feasible. As NASA prepares for Endeavour's last mission, and the final shuttle flight ever by Atlantis in June, space experts are starting to wonder if NASA should rethink its mission. Should future crafts be flown by autonomous bots we control from Earth?

The most advanced humanoid ever created is already in space aboard the International Space Station, after all -- just waiting for instructions and the green "go" light from NASA, reports FoxNews.

Launched on the Discovery space shuttle in February, Robonaut 2 (or R2) is still in parts; only his torso is in space, explained Marty Linn, the GM project manager for R2. (A future mission will bring the rest of his body.)

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Atlas-V Boosts Military Payload to Orbit

The U.S. Air Force's 45th Space Wing successfully launched a United Launch Alliance-built Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle at 2:10 p.m. Saturday, May 7, 2011 from Space Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The Atlas V rocket carried into orbit the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO-1 satellite. This SBIRS GEO launch begins the replacement of the Defense Support Program (DSP) constellation, which has been in operations since 1960.

SBIRS will provide critical functions for protecting the United States and its allies by supporting four mission areas: Missile Warning (MW), Missile Defense (MD), Battlespace Awareness (BA), and Technical Intelligence (TI).

Bobko, Helms Inducted to Astro Hall of Fame

Two former space shuttle astronauts, Karol J. "Bo" Bobko and Susan J. Helms, are inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame near NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida during this special ceremony held on May 7. Bobko and Helms join the ranks of 77 other space explorers so honored. Bobko, a veteran of three shuttle flights, has logged a total of 386 hours in space. Helms flew on four shuttle missions and lived aboard the International Space Station as a member of the Expedition 2 crew.

Friday, May 06, 2011

STS-134 Gets New Launch Date @ NASA

The launch of space shuttle Endeavour on STS-134 has been rescheduled for no sooner than May 16th. The delay is due to the replacement of the shuttle's APU Heater power box and any faulty associated hardware before Endeavour's next launch attempt is scheduled. Also, NASA's Gravity Probe B mission confirms two aspects of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. Plus, two Mercury explorers honored; Young innovators recognized; ISS honored; NextGen Day; rotocraft research; FIRST finals; and HQ Cyber Café.

50 Years Ago Kennedy Honors Shepard

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy congratulates astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr., on the success of America's first human spaceflight. The ceremony took place on May 6, 1961 on the White House lawn with the original American astronauts, Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and NASA Administrator James Webb.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

1st American to Space 50 Years Ago Today

Fifty years ago today, (May 5, 1961), Mercury 3 or Freedom 7 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American astronaut to journey to space in a sub-orbital flight to height 117-miles and down range of 300-miles in the Atlantic ocean. His flight took 15 minutes of which was 5 minutes of weightlessness to set America into space following the 12 April, 1961 launch of Russian Yuri Gagarin to orbit.

NASA Astronaut Shepard later flew to space again as the commander of Apollo 14 landing on the Moon at Fra Maru 5 February 1971 to become the fifth human to walk the lunar surface.

Alan B. Shepard, Jr. Honored at 50th Anniversary Celebration of Freedom 7 Flight

The Golden Anniversary of the flight of the first American in space was commemorated with a special ceremony at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Complex 5/6 blockhouse near NASA's Kennedy Space Center. That's where, on May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr., began his historic, 15-minute mission aboard his Freedom 7 capsule.

Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter and members of the Shepard family were joined by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, former astronaut Bob Cabana and more than 200 workers from the original Mercury program in celebrating the historic anniversary. The event included a re-creation of Shepard's flight and recovery, as well as a tribute to his contributions as a moonwalker on the Apollo 14 lunar mission.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

US Stamp Released to Honor Alan Shepard

Two new stamps honoring NASA achievements were unveiled by the U.S. Postal Service at the Rocket Garden of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. One stamp commemorates NASA's Project Mercury and Alan Shepard's historic launch on May 5, 1961 aboard the spacecraft Freedom 7. The second stamp honors NASA's MESSENGER, which reached Mercury in March to become the first spacecraft to orbit the planet. The two missions frame a remarkable 50-year period in which America advanced space exploration through more than 1,500 manned and unmanned flights.

ELON MUSK: "superpower of innovation"

MESSAGE FROM ELON MUSK: "Whenever someone proposes to do something that has never been done before, there will always be skeptics.

So when I started SpaceX, it was not surprising when people said we wouldn’t succeed. But now that we’ve successfully proven Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon, there’s been a steady stream of misinformation and doubt expressed about SpaceX’s actual launch costs and prices.

As noted last month by a Chinese government official, SpaceX currently has the best launch prices in the world and they don’t believe they can beat them. This is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates.

I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record, and they exemplify the potential of America’s commercial space industry.

Here are the facts:

The price of a standard flight on a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million. We are the only launch company that publicly posts this information on our website ( We have signed many legally binding contracts with both government and commercial customers for this price (or less). Because SpaceX is so vertically integrated, we know and can control the overwhelming majority of our costs. This is why I am so confident that our performance will increase and our prices will decline over time, as is the case with every other technology.

The average price of a full-up NASA Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station is $133 million including inflation, or roughly $115m in today's dollars, and we have a firm, fixed price contract with NASA for 12 missions. This price includes the costs of the Falcon 9 launch, the Dragon spacecraft, all operations, maintenance and overhead, and all of the work required to integrate with the Space Station. If there are cost overruns, SpaceX will cover the difference. (This concept may be foreign to some traditional government space contractors that seem to believe that cost overruns should be the responsibility of the taxpayer.)

The total company expenditures since being founded in 2002 through the 2010 fiscal year were less than $800 million, which includes all the development costs for the Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon. Included in this $800 million are the costs of building launch sites at Vandenberg, Cape Canaveral and Kwajalein, as well as the corporate manufacturing facility that can support up to 12 Falcon 9 and Dragon missions per year. This total also includes the cost of five flights of Falcon 1, two flights of Falcon 9, and one up and back flight of Dragon.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle was developed from a blank sheet to first launch in four and half years for just over $300 million. The Falcon 9 is an EELV class vehicle that generates roughly one million pounds of thrust (four times the maximum thrust of a Boeing 747) and carries more payload to orbit than a Delta IV Medium.

The Dragon spacecraft was developed from a blank sheet to the first demonstration flight in just over four years for about $300 million. Last year, SpaceX became the first private company, in partnership with NASA, to successfully orbit and recover a spacecraft. The spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket that carried it were designed, manufactured and launched by American workers for an American company. The Falcon 9/Dragon system, with the addition of a launch escape system, seats and upgraded life support, can carry seven astronauts to orbit, more than double the capacity of the Russian Soyuz, but at less than a third of the price per seat.

SpaceX has been profitable every year since 2007, despite dramatic employee growth and major infrastructure and operations investments. We have over 40 flights on manifest representing over $3 billion in revenues.

These are the objective facts, confirmed by external auditors. Moreover, SpaceX intends to make far more dramatic reductions in price in the long term when full launch vehicle reusability is achieved. We will not be satisfied with our progress until we have achieved this long sought goal of the space industry.

For the first time in more than three decades, America last year began taking back international market-share in commercial satellite launch. This remarkable turn-around was sparked by a small investment NASA made in SpaceX in 2006 as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. A unique public-private partnership, COTS has proven that under the right conditions, a properly incentivized contractor—even an all-American one—can develop extremely complex systems on rapid timelines and a fixed-price basis, significantly beating historical industry-standard costs.

China has the fastest growing economy in the world. But the American free enterprise system, which allows anyone with a better mouse-trap to compete, is what will ensure that the United States remains the world’s greatest superpower of innovation."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Spacecraft Closes on Asteroid Vesta

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has reached its official approach phase to the asteroid Vesta and will begin using cameras for the first time to aid navigation for an expected July 16 orbital encounter. The large asteroid is known as a protoplanet -- a celestial body that almost formed into a planet.

At the start of this three-month final approach to this massive body in the asteroid belt, Dawn is 1.21 million kilometers (752,000 miles) from Vesta, or about three times the distance between Earth and the moon. During the approach phase, the spacecraft's main activity will be thrusting with a special, hyper-efficient ion engine that uses electricity to ionize and accelerate xenon. The 12-inch-wide ion thrusters provide less thrust than conventional engines, but will provide propulsion for years during the mission and provide far greater capability to change velocity.

"We feel a little like Columbus approaching the shores of the New World," said Christopher Russell, Dawn principal investigator, based at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). "The Dawn team can't wait to start mapping this Terra Incognita," NASA quoted the scientist in a press release.

Asteroid Vesta is the second largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The largest, Ceres, is four times larger than Vesta. At this time it is not considered a dwarf planet, but the classification will be re-evaluated when NASA’s Dawn spacecraft orbits the asteroid in the summer of 2011. Vesta is the first stop for the Dawn on what will be a historic mission to orbit two planetary bodies in one mission.

Orbital Sciences Corp. COO Resigns to Focus on the Development of the Taurus-II Booster

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp. says President and Chief Operating Officer James Thompson Jr. will resign from those positions, though he will remain on the company’s board and serve as a senior executive adviser, reports The Washington Business Journal.

Thompson, who joined Orbital Sciences in 1991, will devote his time to overseeing the final development and testing phase of the Taurus II launch vehicle program, Orbital said in a regulatory filing.

Chairman and Chief Executive David Thompson will assume the role of president. The company did not immediately say if or when it would fill the chief operating officer position.

The Taurus II will have its first launch in the fall of this year from the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority at NASA’s new Wallops Island facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Orbital is under contract with NASA for supply missions to the International Space Station.

Is There Room For God on a Space Mission?

Writing for Discovery News, Robert Lamb poses the question: "Is There Room For God on a Space Mission?"

Science continues to alter the shape of religious belief, so how does devotion to a god change in orbit? Would long-distance space travel require the use of on-ship burial plots for Jewish or Muslim astronauts? And what happens if the Christian rapture or some comparable end-of-days event were to occur while you're in space? Click to read.

Astrosociology is a relatively new field defined as the study of astrosocial phenomena (i.e., the social, cultural, and behavioral patterns related to outer space). The field originally began as a sociological perspective almost exclusively for a very short time. Almost immediately, however, it became clear that contributions were required from the other social and behavioral sciences, the humanities, and the arts (hereafter referred to as the "social sciences" for brevity).

Thus, from almost the very beginning, astrosociology was intended as both (1) a subdiscipline of sociology and (2) a multidisciplinary field that includes, but is by no means limited to disciplines/fields such as psychology, anthropology, economics, social psychology, political science, space history, space law, space policy, philosophy, as well as the arts. Thus, astrosociology is more inclusive than merely a sociological approach, according to Dr. Jim Pass.