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Thursday, June 30, 2011

SpaceX Tests Falcon 9 Second Stage Engine

A 60-second long test firing of the Falcon 9 Flight 3 second stage, conducted June 28, 2011 at the SpaceX Test Facility in McGregor. Texas. The Merlin Vacuum second stage engine generates 92,500 lb of force in vacuum, and operates with a vacuum specific impulse of 342 seconds -- the highest efficiency ever for an American hydrocarbon rocket engine. In flight the engine ignites about 3 minutes after launch, delivering the Dragon spacecraft to orbit about 6 minutes later.

High-Powered Rocket Science Excites Many

Students from Wise County, VA. are building a team to launch high-powered rockets learning the skills of rocket science, engineering, physics, electronics, project management, and budgets as they prepare to enter the 2012 Team America Rocket Challenge.

Austin Stidham of Appalachia, Va. and Heather Lee of Wise, Va. have attained Junior Level-1 National Association of Rocketry certification. Brittany Barnes of Norton, Va. and Hunter Page of Coeburn, Va. will seek Junior Level-1 certification in August. Together they will spearhead teams for the fall Wise County Public Schools semester reforming competitive rocket teams to break into the top 100 nationally in 2012 while gaining Level-2 certifications.

The students will gleen further insights into rocket science this summer with visits to the NASA Langely Research Center in Hampton, Va., the NASA Wallops Flight Facility and the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Accomack County.

The group recently worked with Wise County Middle School students to expand the endeavor reports The Bristol Herald Courier and WCYB-TV 5. The students have the mentoring support of the Virginia-based Valley Aerospace Team.

Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Marks-up Another Orbital Launch Success; Future Bright

A four-stage Minotaur 1 rocket carrying the ORS-1 satellite for the Department of Defense's Operationally Responsive Space Office was launched from the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport co-located upon the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on June 29, 2011. The rocket's climb to orbit was seen as far away as New York along the eastern seaboard. The next major launch from the spaceport will be the larger Taurus-2 booster test to resupply the International Space Station later this year, if all proceeds as now planned.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

States step up roles in space launch capability

Stateline staff writer Daniel C. Vock provided readers today with an outlook of commercial spaceports throughout the United States with specific reference to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island. The thrust of the article is to note the transition of the role of the federal government to the role of the states into the space launch business through spaceports.

STS-135 Cleared for July 8 Launch

Atlantis is slated to lift off at 11:26 am EDT (1526 GMT) July 8 from the Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-135. The four-person crew will fly to the International Space Station and deliver supplies and other equipment to the station on its 12-day mission. As many as one million people are expected to attend the launch, the final one in the 30-year shuttle program, [BBC].

LROC Explores Tycho Central Peak

On 10 June 2011 the LRO spacecraft slewed 65 degrees to the west, allowing the LROC NACs to capture this dramatic sunrise view of Tycho crater on the Earth's moon.

Neptune's Rotation Rate Determined

A day on Neptune lasts precisely 15 hours, 57 minutes and 59 seconds, according to the first accurate measurement of its rotational period made by University of Arizona planetary scientist Erich Karkoschka.

His result is one of the largest improvements in determining the rotational period of a gas planet in almost 350 years since Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini made the first observations of Jupiter's Red Spot.

Instead of spacecraft powered by billions of dollars, Karkoschka took advantage of what one might call the scraps of space science: publicly available images of Neptune from the Hubble Space Telescope archive. With unwavering determination and unmatched patience, he then pored over hundreds of images, recording every detail and tracking distinctive features over long periods of time.

Other scientists before him had observed Neptune and analyzed images, but nobody had sleuthed through 500 of them. "When I looked at the images, I found Neptune's rotation to be faster than what Voyager observed," Karkoschka said. "I think the accuracy of my data is about 1,000 times better than what we had based on the Voyager measurements -- a huge improvement in determining the exact rotational period of Neptune, which hasn't happened for any of the giant planets for the last three centuries."

Wallops Island Launch Go After Delay

UPDATED:  Wednesday appears to be 'GO!' If  all goes well Wednesday evening, observers throughout Virginia and much of the Mid-Atlantic region should be able to watch a big rocket launch from Virginia's Wallops Island [LIVE COVERAGE].

The Air Force will attempt to launch a battlefield imaging satellite into orbit from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. The ORS-1 satellite will ride atop a four-stage, solid-fuel Minotaur 1 rocket, the largest ever launched from the Delmarva peninsula.

Previous Minotaur launches have been seen from as far away as southern New England, eastern North Carolina and the eastern half of West Virginia. But visitors to the Maryland, Delaware and Virginia beaches will have a front-row seat.

The launch window opens at 8:28 p.m. and closes at 11:28 p.m. If the launch is scrubbed, subsequent attempts will follow nightly through July 10, except for a three-day window around the planned launch of the space shuttle Atlantis from Cape Canaveral, Fla., set for July 8. The video denotes what it should look like. More from MSNBC.

Space Frontier Foundation's Board Chairman Bob Werb on Future of Human Space Travel

Bob Werb, Chariman of the Board of The Space Frontier Foundation, is interviewed by David Packman about the future of space exploration and space travel, financing new space projects, what is on the horizon, and more.  Send your questions for Bob Werb here for the next talk show.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In Their Owns Words: STS-135 Crew

The STS-135 Atlantis crew talk of the last space shuttle flight.

Bill Nye Says "We can change the world!"

Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," talks about our place in space.

Asteroid 2011 MD's Close Call to Earth

Near-Earth asteroid 2011 MD passed only 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) above the Earth's surface on Monday June 27 at about 9:30 EDT. The asteroid was discovered by the LINEAR near-Earth object discovery team observing from Socorro, New Mexico. This small asteroid, only 5-20 meters in diameter, is in a very Earth-like orbit about the Sun, but an orbital analysis indicated there is no chance it will actually strike Earth. If a rocky asteroid the size of 2011 MD were to enter Earth's atmosphere, it would be expected to burn up high in the atmosphere and cause no damage to Earth's surface.

American Students Win Transatlantic Rocket Challenge at The 2011 Paris Air Show

Student rocketeers from France, the United Kingdom and the United States competed last Friday (June 24) in the Fourth Annual Transatlantic Rocketry Challenge held at the 2011 Paris Air Show.

The four-member team from Rockwall-Heath High School in Heath, Tex., posted the best score to win the international fly-off. Worksop College from Nottinghamshire, England placed second. College Leonard de Vinci-St Aubin from Bordeaux, France placed third.

"This has been terrific," said team president John Easum. "We knew we had a great design and had calculated the variables, but until you shoot the rocket, you really can't be sure. What a way to end our team experience with the Team America Rocketry Challenge."

The international rocketry challenge is the culmination of three separate competitions: the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC), UKAYRoC and the French Rocketry Challenge. Each contest brings together teams of middle and high school students to design, build and launch model rockets.

This year the challenge was to launch a rocket that launched to exactly 750 feet during a 40- to 45-second flight. The payload, a raw egg, had to return to the ground by parachute undamaged. As part of their score, teams also had to give an eight minute presentation on their rocket design to a panel of international judges. The winning score represented a height of 745 feet and a duration of 43 seconds. (PR Newswire)

WCYB-TV5 (NBC) provides additional video coverage of efforts underway in the mountains of Wise, Virginia now preparing for 2012.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Taurus-2 Engine Failure Could Cause Delay

Recent damage to the Aerojet AJ-26 rocket engine at the NASA Stennis test center may delay the initial launch of the Taurus-2 booster to orbit from Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia, reports SpaceNews.

Three AJ-26 engines have completed acceptance testing at Stennis and been delivered to Orbital’s Taurus 2 integration facility at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Two of those engines were intended to be used for an upcoming hold-down test of the Taurus 2’s first stage and then refurbished for the rocket’s second flight. The other engine already at Wallops was to have been paired with the now-damaged engine for the Taurus 2’s maiden launch, targeted for October.  That date is likely to slip more to the end of the year.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Animation of Surface Operations in 2012

This 11-minute animation depicts key events of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which will launch in late 2011 and land a rover, Curiosity, on Mars in August 2012. A shorter 4-minute version of this animation, with narration, is also available below.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Enceladus May Have Saltwater Ocean

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered the best evidence yet for a large-scale saltwater reservoir beneath the icy crust of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The data came from the spacecraft's direct analysis of salt-rich ice grains close to the jets ejected from the moon. But closer to the moon's surface, Cassini found that relatively large grains rich with sodium and potassium dominate the plumes. The salt-rich particles have an "ocean-like" composition and indicate that most, if not all, of the expelled ice and water vapor comes from the evaporation of liquid salt water. More from the University of Central Florida.

Astronaut Sandy Magnus Talks Space

STS-135 Atlantis Astronaut Sandy Magnus in her own words.

Sierra Nevada Honors NASA HL-20 Engineers at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia

The story began on June 3, 1982, when a camera in an Australian P-3 patrol plane captured images of a Soviet ship recovering a space craft from the Indian Ocean and continued this week when Sierra Nevada Corp. honored the employees -- many now retired -- at NASA's Langley Research Center who used those photos to carve a cherry wood model of the Soviet craft, a BOR-4, then used that model as the jumping-off point to the HL-20 (for horizontal lander) personnel space vehicle.

"After we retire the space shuttle, we will be relying on our international partners to provide this capability to and from the space station," she said. "In the not-too-distant future we believe that we will have that U.S. capability to take American astronauts to and from the space station as we envisioned more than 20 years ago," said Lori Garver, deputy NASA administrator, represented the agency and put the role of the space taxi competition into perspective.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Animation of Dawn's Visit to Vesta

This movie presents a series of animations showing NASA's Dawn spacecraft traveling to and operating at the giant asteroid Vesta from NASA JPL. Below is a video of the images obtained by the DAWN spacecraft closing on the body orbiting between Mars and Jupiter in an area known as the main asteroid belt.

NASA's briefing on the Vesta encounter set for one year.

Tom Hanks says: romance of the space endeavor hasn’t gone away

There will always be sailors (vid) who go down to the sea in ships, or throw themselves off into the unknown void," space adventure movie actor Tom Hanks said in a recent interviews with CNN and the Orlando Sentinel.

“You cannot look up at the night sky on the Planet Earth and not wonder what it’s like to be up there amongst the stars. And I always look up at the moon and see it as the single most romantic place within the cosmos. I want to see what it looks like, up close. I want to see what you can pull out of the ground, what minerals that exist there, whether or not there’s ice in those dark shadows around the southern Pole, deep in the craters.

“That is the way I was wired when I was young and growing up. Other people had their own international adventures as their goals. But the idea that I could turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper and people were going to the moon while I was alive filled me with the romance of that endeavor. It hasn’t gone away.

“If they could offer up a way to go to the moon that wouldn’t kill you, I’d sign up. First in line. Just to see what it looks like," Hanks said.

STS-135 Atlantis Crew Prepare for Final Flight

The four astronauts who'll fly shuttle Atlantis on STS-135, the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program, take questions from reporters at Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Q & A session came after completion of the crew's Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT, during which the crew and support personnel familiarized themselves with equipment and procedures leading up to and including launch.

French Guiana's new launcher family

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

ISS Progress 43 on the way to crew

Soyuz-U rocket with ISS Progress 43 atop successfully lifted off today at 18.38 MSK, from launch pad 1, Baikonur.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

SETI Talks: The Spacecraft to Comets

Dr. Michael A'Hearn, University of Maryland, discussed three recent missions to comets in a recent SETI Talk.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Iran Launches Second Orbital Satellite

The Islamic Republic of Iran successfully launched its second satellite christened Rasad (Observation) into the earth's orbit Wednesday, June 15, 2011, reports The Tehran Times.

Wednesday's launch follows the successful blastoff of Omid, Iran's first home-launched satellite, in February 2009. That mission was also propelled into orbit by a Safir rocket. The Safir stretches 72 feet long and measures about 4.1 feet in diameter, according to official Iranian news reports. The rocket is likely an upgraded Shahab missile.

Iran says it will launch a space capsule with a monkey on a suborbital flight later this year, noted The Guardian. It sent smaller animals into space on a brief rocket flight in February.

The country's leadership also unveiled plans to develop a more capable rocket, build advanced satellites and launch an astronaut into space sometime between 2020 and 2024, reports The New York Times and  Steven Clark at SpaceflightNow.

Progress 43 Readied at Baikonur for ISS

The launch campaign of the Soyuz-U rocket / ISS Progress 43 cargo spaceship continues toward a launch 10:38 a.m. EDT Monday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The cargo compartment was loaded with ODF, scientific equipment, fresh fruits and vegetables for the crew. The spacecraft will dock with the ISS at the aft port of the Zvezda service module two-days following liftoff carrying nearly three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the six-person Expedition 28 crew.

Meanwhile, the “Johannes Kepler” Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 (ATV-2), filled with trash and unneeded cargo, is scheduled to undock from the aft port of the Zvezda service module at 10:48 a.m. EDT Monday. It will be deorbited for a destructive re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere. The European Space Agency supply ship delivered seven tons of cargo when it docked on Feb. 24.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Herschel: Hot from Cold

Over 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, ESA's Herschel space telescope has been observing the Universe for the last two years, studying the infrared radiation emitted by the coldest bodies in the cosmos. See the invisible in this edition of Space from the European Space Agency (ESA).

Phobos Orbital Position Verified by Mars Express via Unique Video from Space

Earlier this month, ESA's Mars Express performed a special manoeuvre to observe an unusual alignment of Jupiter and the martian moon Phobos. The impressive images have now been processed into a movie of this rare event.

By knowing the exact moment when Jupiter passed behind Phobos, the observation will help to verify and even improve our knowledge of the orbital position of the martian moon. The data may assist with the upcoming Phobos-Grunt mission set to launch in the fall of 2011.

This Week @ NASA: June 17, 2011

In Their Own Words: Astronaut Mike Barratt

Interesting ...

ISS Engineer Ron Garan Takes Questions

Students in Otsego County, N.Y., made a special call to the International Space Station and Expedition 28 Flight Engineer Ron Garan on Friday, June 17. Fifth through eighth grade students from the Oneonta City School district will ask Garan questions about how the space station plays a pivotal role in expanding human understanding of the Earth and space.

NASA Space Launch System takes shape

Facing mounting pressure to bring industrial competition to a congressionally mandated heavy-lift rocket development program, NASA has tentatively selected a vehicle design featuring solid-fueled, side-mounted boosters that eventually could be replaced with liquid-fueled engines, according to U.S. industry and congressional sources, writes Dan Leone for SpaceNews.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has approved a design for the Space Launch System (SLS) whose core and upper stages would utilize space shuttle- and Apollo-heritage propulsion systems, respectively, these sources said. For the side-mounted boosters, NASA would continue development of shuttle-derived solid-rocket motors while initiating work on a brand new engine likely fueled by liquid kerosene, sources said.

Under the plan, awaiting approval by the White House Office of Management and Budget, initial flights of the SLS would utilize the solid-rocket motors, developed by ATK Aerospace Systems of Magna, Utah. ATK is under contract to develop an advanced version of the space shuttle solid-rocket booster under NASA’s now-defunct Constellation program.

Among the companies that have expressed interested in developing an advanced kerosene-fueled engine are Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif. This engine might eventually replace the solid-fueled motors on SLS, sources told SpaceNews more.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mercury Offers Surface Topography Surprises

Data released Thursday from NASA’s Mercury Messenger spacecraft, which enter orbit around Mercury in March, is painting a more vibrant picture of the solar system’s innermost planet, writes Kenneth Chang in The New York Times.      
Among the new findings: Some of Mercury’s topography is not seen anywhere else in the solar system — rimless pits, for instance — and its mineralogy is vastly different from the Moon’s, whose rocks have much less potassium. Scientists already knew that Mercury has a magnetic field, while the Moon does not.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chandra Sheds Light on Black Holes

A 25-minute NASA-hosted news conference in Washington highlights imagery and data captured by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory about the early universe's growth of supermassive black holes in galaxies.

The Total Lunar Eclipse Seen from Earth

Moscow Gets Ahead on Missile Defense?

The geopolitics of missile defense in Central Europe explained.

Chinese-US Space Cooperation at Standstill

Writing at The Epoch Times, Matthew Robertson provides readers with an excellent overview of the current relations between the Chinese and United States space programs, or the lack thereof. The article outlines a provision placed into the federal budget by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) prohibiting all cooperation between the two governments with regard to space.

Some months ago, this blogger recommended a space policy proposal to the northern Virginia member of the Congress suggesting a course of US-Chinese relations that would benefit all the 'envoys of mankind' in the future. There is still the opportunity to accept the idea and advance a mutually beneficial bilateral space policy in 2012.

It appears to be of growing political importance in Washington that the Chinese start a civilian and commercial space programs to interface with the United States in space. The military face of the Chinese space program and the risk of technology transfer has policy currency in the more conservative US House of Representatives, as evident in the federal budget provision.

The Chinese are expected to launch a mini-space station late this year and perform automated docking procedures followed by orbiting human space crews in 2012, among them the first Chinese female.

Space Frontier Foundation: Humanity in Space

The Space Frontier Foundation's New Space 2011 conference is coming!

Robotic Lunar Lander Project Advances

On Monday, June 13, the robotic lander mission team was poised and ready when the lander prototype in the adjacent building lifted itself off the ground and rose unrestrained higher and higher. Applause broke out in the control room when the lander gently sat back down. This marks the first free flight of this prototype for the Robotic Lunar Lander Development Project managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The robotic lander flew up to 7 feet for 27 seconds.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Robotic Refueling Mission Set for Space Station

On the very last space shuttle flight to orbit, Atlantis STS-135 will carry the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) developed by the Satellite Servicing Capabilities project at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. It plans to demonstrate the technology and tools to refuel satellites in orbit by robotic means. After the proof of concept, the long-term goal of NASA is to transfer the technology to the commercial sector.

The Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) is an external International Space Station experiment that paves the way for future robotic refueling missions by demonstrating robotic refueling tasks and servicing technologies in a zero-g environment. RRM uses the ISS's Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (also known as "Dextre"), "representative satellite fueling interfaces" and four unique RRM tools to validate the tasks, tools, and techniques needed to repair "legacy" satellites, spacecraft not designed to be refueled in orbit, (NASA).

Dr. Brian Cox: "Star Lecture" at Manchester

The hugely popular scientist Brian Cox held his second 'Star Lecture' at The University of Manchester on Wednesday 8 June 2011 in England. Brian is an academic in the School of Physics and Astronomy, The lecture goes one hour and fifteen minutes.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Republican Presidential Candidates Debate Federal Role in Human Space Flight

The Republican presidential field sent a clear message to NASA workers in America: They don’t see a federal role in funding human space flight, [video clip at 6:50 to 9:28].

Debate moderator John King of CNN asked the other six candidates in attendance whether they would continue federal funding for human space flight. Not a single candidate - Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain — raised their hand.

The unanimous verdict came during a New Hampshire presidential debate tonight and following a scathing assessment of NASA management by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says "NASA has become an absolute case study in why bureaucracy cannot innovate,” he said. “What we have is bureaucracy after bureaucracy, failure after failure.”

Gingrich went further saying  it is about how to "get into space faster, better, more effectively, more creatively if you decentralize it, get it out of Washington and cut out the bureaucracy." He added "it is about getting to a space program that works."  More from SpacePolitics.

LRO to take moon's surface temperature

'During the June 15, 2011 lunar eclipse, scientists will be able to get a unique view of the moon. While the sun is blocked by the Earth, LRO's Diviner instrument will take the temperature on the lunar surface. Since different rock sizes cool at different rates, scientists will be able to infer the size and density of rocks on the moon.'

ESA's Space Hazards Program Debris Watch

European Space Agency member states asked its space agency to embark on a new program, known as Space Situational Awareness, or SSA. to develop Europe's own scanning, detection and warning capabilities against space weather, space debris and natural near-earth objects.

Europe's Johannes Kepler ATV Job Done

After practically four months attached to the International Space Station, Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle will plunge into the atmosphere over the South Pacific on 20 June. The Johannes Kepler mission was the second flight of this space freighter resupplying and servicing the orbital complex. For ESA and its international partners all the mission objectives - and more - were fully achieved and thoughts have now immediately turned to the next ATV flight early next year.

StratoShuttle Plans 120,000 Feet Flight

"Strato-Shuttle," a balloon-borne unmanned aerial vehicle with a 5-to-6-foot wingspan. The idea is that the balloon rises up to an altitude of more than 120,000 feet, and then releases the UAV to fly back to earth under remote control. Quest for Stars organizer Bobby Russell is recruiting student interns and plans to test the system in Mojave, Calif. — the same locale where the pros are working on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo and XCOR Aerospace's Lynx.

Mysterious Feature Spotted on Vesta Asteroid

This movie shows surface details beginning to resolve as NASA's Dawn spacecraft closes in on the giant asteroid Vesta. The framing camera aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained the images used for this animation on June 1, 2011, from a distance of about 300,000 miles. A mysterious feature roughly 60 miles in diameter (moving from left to right across the field of view) was snapped by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on its approach to the massive asteroid. More from the BBC,,and USA Today.

McKinnon Talks Saturian Mimas & Enceladus

Pity poor Mimas! The "that's no moon" moon of Saturn ought to be as famous as its sibling Enceladus. All other things being equal, Mimas should be more strongly tidally heated, but this is clearly not the case. This talk will review the latest Cassini findings for both moons, including the astonishing heat flow coming from Enceladus' south pole.

It turns out that Mimas' lack of geologic activity is no surprise — the real question is how does Enceladus support its heat flow, active tectonics, and erupting plumes? Episodicity may be key, but even more radical notions have been proposed. These ideas, and perhaps new ones from the 23-24 May Enceladus Workshop at the SETI Institute, are discussed by Bill McKinnon for 1-hour.

Bob Bigelow: Cosmic Landlord of 21st Century

Forbes Magazine writer David Ewalt shared with readers a profile of space business entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, 67, of Las Vegas, Nevada with the title reference of the "Cosmic Landlord."

If all goes in accord with the Bigelow Business Plan, the first space launches with infrastruture payloads will commence in 2014 followed by private astronauts in the 2016-2017 timeframe.  Many hope the launch facilities for human occupation of the Bigelow Aerospace orbiting station(s) will be based at Wallops Island, Va.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sara Seager: The Next 40 Years of Exoplanets

The field of exoplanets is maturing but still with huge unrealized potential. At the same time, parts of the field of exoplanet research are saturating, and the holy grail to find and identify an Earth analog via a Terrestrial Planet Finder/Darwin-type mission is looking more and more distant. MIT Professor Sara Seager convened her exoplanet friends (most with assigned topics) to give short (10 mins) provocative and visionary talks (videos) on where and how the field of exoplanets should move forward.

Last Launch of the Space Shuttle July 8, 2011

The final flight of NASA's Space Transportation System is slated to take off from pad 39/A on July 8th, 2011. Above is a promotional clip Spacevidcast has created for its extended coverage of this historic event. If you can't be there to watch Atlantis lift from the pad in person, then join our friends at

Opportunity Rover Nears Endeavour Crater

NASA's Opportunity Mars rover is nearing a place called Spirit Point on the edge of the 14-mile wide Endevour Crater on the red planet. Spirit Point, named in honor of its sister rover which ceased communication and was declared lost May 24, 2011.

Opportunity has about 2-miles to traverse to the crater rim. Nonetheless, it will be in the fall of this year before it will send images from Endeavour Crater's rim. Upon arrival at the largest Mars crater Opportunity has visited, it will have rolled about 15-miles from its 2004 landing zone.

Oobservations of Endeavour's rim by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed the presence of clay minerals. This finding makes the site an even more compelling science destination. Clay minerals, which form exclusively under wet conditions, have been found extensively on Mars from orbit, but have not been examined on the surface.

Ahoy! Dawn Nears Asteroid Vesta in July

NASA's Dawn spacecraft launched in 1997 is now approaching Vesta, a small protoplanet in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter - a destination that is 143 million miles from Earth.

Dawn will arrive at Vesta in July. Beginning in September, the spacecraft will orbit Vesta some 400 miles from its surface. It will then move closer, to about 125 miles from the surface, starting in November. By January of 2012, it is expected to show high-resolution images and other data about surface composition. Dawn's cameras should be able to see individual lava flows and craters tens of feet across on Vesta's surface.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


A conversation with Daniel Whiteson and Jonathan Feng.'

Rare vid of Endeavour at space station

European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli, returning to Earth in a Soyuz TMA-20, shot this video of Space Shuttle Endeavour docked to the International Space Station on mission STS-134. This is the first time that video of a Shuttle docked to the Station has been captured from the unique vantage point of an undocked Soyuz. It will also be the last time.

Voyager Probe Encounters Magnetic Bubbles

The American Voyager spaceprobes,  traveling through space since 1977, indicate the fringe of the solar system is awash with activity of a bubbly, frothy outer layer at the edge of the area known as the heliospheric current.

Information transmitted from the the 34-year old probes has allowed scientists to construct a better picture of what it's like on the edge of the solar system that abuts the space beyond, the BBC reported.

The Voyager spacecraft have now found that when the separation of sectors becomes very small, the sectored magnetic field breaks up into a sea of nested "magnetic bubbles" in a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. The region of nested bubbles is carried by the solar wind to the north and south filling out the entire front region of the heliopause and the sector region in the heliosheath.

Friday, June 10, 2011

SpaceX Dragon to Dock at ISS at 2011 End

The new American commercial cargo spacecraft Dragon will be sent to the ISS at the end of this year (November-December), NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations William Gerstenmaier told a press conference at the Mission Control Centre at Korolyov, near Moscow Friday, June 10, 2011.

Speaking about the docking of the Dragon with the ISS, he said that the spacecraft would approach the station, hang and then it would be taken by the station manipulator and docked to the station.

Taurus-II AJ-26 Test Engine Shuts Down

An Aerojet AJ26 flight engine for Orbital Sciences Corporations' Taurus II space launch vehicle experienced a premature shutdown during a test firing on June 9. The test was conducted on the E-1 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Orbital and Aerojet are investigating the cause of the early shutdown. Stennis will perform checkouts to the facility to ensure its operational integrity.

"This is the reason we test engines here at Stennis before they are installed on launch vehicles," said David Liberto, AJ26 engine project manager at Stennis. "Engine testing is a vital component of ensuring missions are successfully launched."

The AJ26 engine test supports Orbital's development activities to provide commercial cargo resupply flights to the International Space Station in 2012. The company is scheduled to demonstrate its Taurus II rocket and its Cygnus cargo transportation system in a mission later this year under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) research and development initiative. More from Space News.

Two Launches Top This Week @NASA

Aquarius Launches from California

NASA's 'Age of Aquarius' has dawned with the successful launch of an international satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The NASA-built Aquarius instrument on board the Aquarius/Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas (SAC)-D observatory will help scientists improve climate forecasts. It will make NASA's first space observations of the concentration of dissolved salt (salinity) at the ocean surface, a key missing variable in satellite studies of Earth. The mission is a collaboration between NASA and Argentina's space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE).

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Chang'e-2 goes to outer space departs moon

China's second moon orbiter Chang'e-2 on Thursday set off from its moon orbit for outer space about 1.5 million km away from the earth, Chinese scientists told the media.

The orbiter left its moon orbit at 5:10 p.m. and it will take about 85 days for the orbiter to reach outer space, according to the State Administration of Science,Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND).

The orbiter had finished all its tasks within its designed life span of six months by April 1, 2011. Scientists decided to let it carry out additional exploratory tasks as the orbiter still had fuel in reserve, reports the Xinhua News Agency.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

ESA's Rosetta in Hibernation Mode

On 8 June, mission controllers will have the first opportunity to switch ESA's Rosetta comet-hunter into deep-space hibernation for 31 months. During this loneliest leg of its decade-long mission, Rosetta will loop ever closer toward comet 67-P, soaring to almost 1000 million km from Earth. Marking one of the most dramatic and distant stages of the probe's 10-year journey to rendezvous with Comet 67-P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ground controllers at ESOC, ESA's European Space Operations Centre, plan to issue the final command next week to switch Rosetta into hibernation mode.

Soyuz ТМА-02М Makes Orbit A-OK

NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa launched to the International Space Station at 3:12 p.m. CDT Tuesday (2:12 a.m. local time, Wednesday) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov - the Soyuz commander- are scheduled to dock their spacecraft with their new home at 4:22 p.m. Thursday, June 9. They will join Expedition 28 commander Andrey Borisenko and flight engineer Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian space agency and Ron Garan of NASA. The trio has been aboard the station since April 6.

On Thursday, coverage of the Soyuz docking will begin on NASA Television at 3:30 p.m. NASA TV coverage of the hatches opening and the welcoming ceremony aboard the orbiting laboratory will begin at 8:30 p.m.

The six-person crew will continue the uninterrupted presence of humans on the station since Nov. 2, 2000, conducting expanded scientific research and station maintenance activities. The station residents also will welcome the crew of the last space shuttle flight, Atlantis' STS-135 mission, targeted to launch July 8. The shuttle will deliver critical supplies in the Italian-built Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module and support spacewalks by Fossum and Garan to retrieve a failed cooling system pump module, which Atlantis will return to Earth for analysis.

Garan, Borisenko and Samokutyaev, who launched to the station April 4, will return to Earth in September. Before departing, Borisenko will hand over command of the station to Fossum for Expedition 29, which begins when the Soyuz TMA-21 undocks.

NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin will join Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa to complete the Expedition 29 crew in September.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Large Solar Flare Heading to Earth Today

The Sun put on yet another spectacular light show today with a massive solar flare captured in high definition by NASA’s space-based Solar Dynamics Observatory.

The solar eruption resulted in a massive plasma cloud being ejected from the Sun. Footage of the solar blast, classed an M2 Class Event, shows the eruption from sunspot 1226 blanketing almost one third of the solar disk. The flare occurred at 6.41 A.M. GMT. today, Tuesday, June 7, 2011.

The US National Weather Service (NWS) today warned that the solar flare, one of the largest to occur since December 2006, will lead to Gemagnetic Storm activity tomorrow, Wednesday, June 8, 2011.

Increasing the Awesome

Contemplating the ritual of sending Washington a check every April 15, popular Internet vlogger Hank Green of Vlogbrothers explains why he believes NASA is worth every .45 penny of your hard-earned tax dollar.

Spudis on an affordable lunar return

Dr. Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute gives a presentation at the National Space Society International Space Development Conference, May 20, 2011. Spudis was given the 2011 NSS Space Pioneer Award in the Scientific and Engineering category for his paper on "Mission and Implementation of an Affordable Lunar Return."

Monday, June 06, 2011

Armadillo Aerospace Goes Full-Throttle

A full throttle hold down test of the Armadillo Aerospace Mod rocket, nicknamed "Dalek", on 2011.05.26. This is approximately the burn time that the vehicle will have in free flight.

This represents around 180,000 lb*s of total impulse, near the upper end of what the FAA defines as a Class 3 Amateur Rocket. In the letter scale used in small rockets, it would be a 'T'.

The engine runs on liquid oxygen and denatured ethanol. This rocket will be flying payloads for the Nasa Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research program, aka CRuSR.

NextGen LOFAR Radio Telescope Expands

Dr. Heino Falcke, Professor of Astroparticle Physics and Radio Astronomy at Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherland, gives a SETI Talk discussing the first of a new generation of digital radio telescopes using phased array technology Low Frequency Array (LOFAR).

LOFAR will be the largest radio telescope ever built, using a new concept based on a vast array of omni-directional antennas. The project is based on an interferometric array of radio telescope's using 15.000 small antennas and 77 larger stations. These stations are distributed across the Netherlands, five stations in Germany, and one each in Great Britain, France and Sweden. Further stations may also be built in other European countries.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

"Macho Man" Fossum Ready, Son Says ...

American astronaut Mike Fossum's son wonders if his "Macho Man" dad will need a wheelchair upon his return from six months at the International Space Station.

James Cameron Going Around the Moon?

Blockbuster movie film director, film producer, screenwriter, editor, and inventor James Cameron has been reported by NewsCore as the most likely candidate to have purchased one of the two $150-million contract tickets to fly around the Earth's moon in 2015 from Virginia-based Space Adventures.

Cameron's wealth, earnings estimated at $257 million in 2010 alone, has the capacity and space science interest to do undertake a lunar excursion. Meanwhile, Cameron is working on a sequal to Avatar for a planned release in 2014.

Tom Shelley, the British president of Space Adventures, would not even disclose whether the buyer of the seat was male or female, saying the name must remain "top secret." He added, "Only 24 people have seen the dark side of the moon, and the sight of the Earth rising behind the moon must be one of the most amazing moments in anyone's life."

Soyuz TMA-02M Readied on Launch Pad

The Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft that'll take Mike Fossum and his two Expedition 28 crewmates to the International Space Station is mated to its rocket and rolled out to the launch pad in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Expedition 28 Crew to Launch on Soyuz

NASA Astronaut Mike Fossum and his fellow Expedition 28 flight engineers, Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa, participate in crew activities in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. They're scheduled to launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome for the International Space Station on June 7 at 4:15 p.m. Eastern. NASA-TV will provide LIVE launch feed.

In Moscow: Mars 500 Mark Year on Journey

Now sligtly over a year since six international volunteers of the Mars 500 program set off on a simulated mission to Mars - and it's been tough going. RT's Peter Oliver has more on the challenges they've faced along the way.... More from RIA Novosti.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Copenhagen Suborbitals Launch HEAT-1X

The one-manned Danish rocket named HEAT-1X blasted virtually upwards at 14:30 GMT, from a floating launch pad in the Baltic Sea. Though the rocket was not even intended to go all the way into space, this is a huge mile stone for the company which aims on sending people into space on the cheap. There will be more test launches to come before anyone goes skywards in it, and this first test was unmanned, reports Spaceosaur, WLTX, The Daily Mail, and The Copenhagen Post .

Friday, June 03, 2011

This Week NASA: June 3, 2011

Taurus II Cygnus ISS Resupply Misison Profile to be Launched from Virginia's Spaceport

The video above is a representation of a typical mission to provide commercial cargo logistics service to the International Space Station using Orbital' Science Corporation's new Taurus II rocket and Cygnus advanced maneuvering spacecraft. The spacecraft is set to be launched from the new commercial launch pad operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Wallops Island, Va.

Soyuz TMA-22 Launch Campaign to June 8

Launch campaign of the Soyuz TMA-22 crew vehicle continues at Baikonur. Roscosmos companies completed designers' review and fairing incapsulation. The Soyuz is now in the test bench, being prepared for the second crew fit check. Soyuz-FG is to launch Soyuz TMA-22 with three crew on June 8. Soyuz TMA-22 crew consists of Sergey Volkov (Roscosmos), Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA) and Michael Fossum (NASA).

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour's Final Landing

"122 million miles flown during 25 challenging space flights, your landing ends a vibrant legacy for this amazing vehicle that will long be remembered," astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore said from mission control as Endeavour rolled to a stop on the Kennedy Space Center runway. "Welcome home, Endeavour."

"Thank you, Houston," Kelly said. "You know, the space shuttle is an amazing vehicle, to fly through the atmosphere, hit it at Mach 25, steer through the atmosphere like an airplane, land on a runway, it is really, really an incredible ship."

A Settlement Strategy for NASA by Greason

Jeff Greason, President of XCOR Aerospace and member of the Augustine Committee (Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee) established by the White House in 2009. The Committee concluded that "the ultimate goal of human exploration is to chart a path for human expansion into the solar system." Greason's Keynote Address at the 2011 National Space Society International Space Development Conference is widely regarded as a major statement in the field of space policy. 42-minute video.