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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Russia May Abandon Permanent Human Crews at the Interntional Space Station

The Russian federal space agency Roscosmos could phase out its program of building orbiting stations permanently inhabited by crews in favor of unmanned stations regularly visited by crews, Roscosmos Deputy Chief Vitaly Davydov told journalists.

"Uninterrupted presence of crews in orbit might not be necessary. We are used to talking about development as if along a spiral. We do not rule out that we could return to the DOS [Durable Orbital Station] ideology, which we had before permanently inhabited orbital stations. Possibly we would have to revert to visited stations," Davydov said.

Roscosmos working groups are analyzing the future of manned space exploration, including the possibility of reverting to visited stations, he said. "This issue is open now. And the working groups we have are working on this issue among other things," Davydov said.

Asteroid Impact on Earth: Experts Review Global Response and Mitigation Steps

A workshop has brought together leading representatives from space agencies and international experts to discuss key issues related to global response and cooperation in the event of a Near Earth Object (NEO) impact threat to Earth.

The gathering of specialists took place August 25-26 in Pasadena, California hosted by NASA. The meeting was co-organized and co-sponsored by Action Team-14, part of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, Secure World Foundation (SWF), and the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) that represents over 350 individuals from 35 nations who have flown in space.

“This workshop made substantial progress toward an international interagency plan to mitigate the damaging effects of an asteroid strike against Earth. It also made headway in an effort to develop an overall international governance model for the response to a threatening Near Earth Object,” said Dr. Ray A. Williamson, Executive Director of Secure World Foundation.

The Association of Space Explorers has been promoting international efforts to plan for averting a future asteroid impact for more than five years, and last week’s Mission Planning and Operations Group meeting shows the world’s space agencies are moving closer to cooperative action, said Tom Jones, former NASA shuttle astronaut and current Chair of the ASE Committee on Near-Earth Objects.

Jones said that the “rules of the road” for the group should lead to joint technology development to deflect a rogue asteroid.

“What’s needed now is top-level agency endorsement of international planning and research, leading to a space demonstration of how we would change the course of an asteroid,” Jones said. “That’s the goal, so we can be ready for a hazardous asteroid down the road.”

Robonaut-2 to work September 2011

Robonaut-2 Twitter feed.

Chinese spacecraft goes into deep space

China's second lunar probe has reached an orbit one million miles from Earth for an additional mission of deep space exploration over the next year, [China Daily]. The  Chang'e-2 spacecraft will operate at the second Lagrange Point (L2).

Look Ahead: Lunar Excavator Mining

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) PhD student Krzysztof Skonieczny discusses his work on developing the lightweight lunar excavator robot bucket-wheel, as well as some views on the future of space exploration, [Astrobotic Technology].

Human Space Flight: A Look Ahead

A quick look set to music at current and future NASA human space flight activities, [NASA Goddard].

The video shout-out from Jay Leno was a great recognition that human space flight makes an indelible impression on people way outside the NASA fence line.

Are cosmic rays a climate change driver?

Henrik Svensmark is a physicist at the Danish National Space Center in Copenhagen who studies the effects of cosmic rays on cloud formation. His work presents hypotheses about solar activity as an indirect cause of global warming; his research has suggested a possible link through the interaction of the solar wind and cosmic rays, [video 53-minutes]. More on recent CERN research from Forbes, The Washington Times, Investor's Business Daily, Physics World, and The Observatory.

Earth and Moon as seen from 6-million miles

On its way to the biggest planet in the solar system -- Jupiter, NASA's Juno spacecraft took time to capture its home planet and its natural satellite -- the moon, from 6-million miles away.

"This is a remarkable sight people get to see all too rarely," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "This view of our planet shows how Earth looks from the outside, illustrating a special perspective of our role and place in the universe. We see a humbling yet beautiful view of ourselves."

TXA Calls on Senator Hutchison to Support Measure to Fund US Commercial Space

The Texas Space Alliance (TXA) urged Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and the rest of the Texas Congressional delegation to give their full support to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s call for transferring funding to American spacecraft companies and end plans for a giant “pork” rocket being promoted by the Senator and others. On Wednesday, 24 Aug 2011, Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) boldly called for an emergency funding transfer of NASA’s unobligated funds into their commercial crew program in response to the failure of a Russian Soyuz rocket to deliver a Progress supply freighter to the International Space Station (ISS).

“This funding transfer will rapidly accelerate the progress of American companies currently developing innovative crew and cargo transport vehicles here in the United States – all of which are based in or have significant and expanding operations in Texas,” said TXA’s Rick Tumlinson. “These companies; SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin are leading a revolution,and they need to see our legislators fighting for them – not against them.”

The TXA believes Congress should cancel plans for what many are now calling the Senate Launch System (SLS), a $38 billion dollar earmark to produce a giant government rocket not due to fly until 2021 – if ever. SLS would cannibalize funds previously intended for other projects, including many based at Johnson Space Center. It would also gut the aforementioned commercial crew programs intended to create a new US commercial space fleet to carry astronauts to the space station rather than outsourcing the job to Russian government vehicles.

Concluded Tumlinson: “Senator Hutchison, you and others can continue to force funding for dead-end white collar “jobs” programs like SLS down NASA’s throat and continue exporting US jobs to Russia or you can support space exploration and our own private companies - who will preserve American leadership on the frontier, lead to the birth of a Texas NewSpace industry and progress for the state and for the nation. The people of Texas are watching.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Griffin Slams Obama Human Space Policy

Extract from a panel discussion on 'NASA's Space Launch System - Key to Space Exploration' held 26 August 2011 at Huntsville, Alabama included remarks by former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin about the presidential policy on human space flight.

Japanese Private Moon Rover Unveiled

A Tokyo company has unveiled what it hopes will be the first privately built unmanned rover on the moon, and win it U.S. $30 million in prizes from the X Prize Foundation in the process.

The Japan-Netherlands joint venture firm White Label Space Japan, of Tokyo's Nakano Ward, told reporters at the unveiling that it hopes to launch the final version of the rover as soon as 2014, reports The Mainichi Daily News.

Monday, August 29, 2011

ISS may have to be abandoned by crews

NASA's International Space Station Program Manager, Mike Suffredini, provides the latest mission information following last week's loss of an unpiloted Progress supply ship in a briefing held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston on August 29, 2011. More from The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle, Bill Harwood at CNET, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN.

In The Space Review, Jeff Foust writes "Worring about the lack of Progress."

Vladimir Putin Orders Roskosmos Inspections

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has instructed the federal space agency Roskosmos to "radically" improve its oversight of space craft production in the wake of the loss of Progress-44 intended to ferry cargo and supplies to the International Space Station. The next human-rated Soyuz launch is now being delayed to late October, perhaps November, at best, cite Russian media sources.

Investigators have already found out that "Progress" fell because of some malfunction of the engine of the third stage of the carrier rocket. The engine was produced in the Russian city of Voronezh. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office has sent a commission of investigators to the Voronezh plant. If any of the plant's workers or bosses are found guilty, they may face imprisonment.

Meanwhile, the International Space Station crew is monitoring the situation in Moscow and Houston. The ISS crew  may be downsized to three and all six removed in November, reports varied sources. NASA is expected to speak more to the Russian investigation and ISS operational issues later today. The loss of the space freighter is also placing more intensive pressure on American commercial space firms SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation to perform flawlessly this coming winter.

Space Frontier Foundation Co-Founder Rick Tumlinson writes an Op-Ed in the Huffington Post about "NewSpace to the Rescue for the Space Station" urging Congress to allocate more funding to better enable commercial space launch firms to get Americans back into orbit.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tiangong 1 to launch in September 2011

The People's Daily Online is reporting that the Chinese unmanned space module Tiangong 1 will be launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in early September 2011 to forge the first Chinese space laboratory.

China will successively launch the Shenzhou 8, Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 spacecraft that will dock with the Tiangong 1 with the later two spacecraft carrying humans.

Wallops Island has minimal damage from storm

Assessments find minimal damage to NASA Wallops Flight Facility main base and island, reports security team saying, "We were fortunate."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Space station could be abandoned in November if Soyuz goes unresolved

Astronauts may need to temporarily withdraw from the International Space Station before the end of this year if Russia is unable to resume manned flights of its Soyuz rocket after a failed cargo launch last week, according to the NASA official in charge of the outpost, reports SpaceFlightNow.

Bloggernaut Ron Garan Video from ISS

A 52-second rough cut from Space for Fragile Oasis with photography by NASA ISS bloggernaut Ron Garan.

Virginia Spaceport Hunkered Down by Storm

Hurricane Irene's eye is approaching the NASA Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch pads where up to 2-feet of water is expected to wash over the island from the storm wind gusts of up to 75 mph, leaving severe flooding in its wake. NASA Wallops personnel and security guards will stay at the facility throughout the weekend to mitigate against any structural damage and to protect the launch facilities.  "Tweets" from "Space Island."

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell noted that Hurricane Irene could become "the storm of a lifetime" in Hampton Roads due to storm surges and massive power outages. Mandatory evacuations (map) were being enforced in Accomack County, with the assistance of the Virginia State Police.

Next week, workers will return to the island to evaluate the storm's impact and resume the final phase of  construction on a new launch pad for the Taurus-2 booster with the commercial Cygnus robotic cargo ship being built by the company Orbital Sciences Corporation. Cygnus will deliver supplies to the International Space Station beginning early next year.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Virginia spaceport gains improvement grant

The Federal Aviation Administration today awarded a $125,000 matching grant to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport to improve security and remote monitoring as announced by US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Mojave Air and Space Port in California and the New Mexico Space Port Authority’s Spaceport America gained similar federal grant awards for infrastructure. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia was the only one of the three with FAA-licensed orbital spaceflight capability.

Americans’ Ride to Space Is in Question

"Americans’ Ride to Space Is in Question" rings out the story title in today's edition of The New York Times as the Soyuz TMA-22 scheduled for launch on September 22, 2011 is now to be delayed, at least into October. The story is echoed in the BBC, and other international media.

Astronauts and cosmonauts were slated to board the Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft for a ride to orbit and subsequent docking with the International Space Station but that was prior to the loss of the unmanned Progress-44 freighter with a fiery crash in rural Siberia. The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan will now fall silent as the Soyuz boosters now under intensive scrutiny. It was the first launch failure of the Progress since first launched in 1978.

Russia's federal space agency is a sole source provider of orbital taxi spaceflights to the ISS for American astronauts at the price of $63-million per seat. NASA astronaut Dan Burbank has the next assigned seat in the now delayed Soyuz TMA-22 flight from the Kazakhstan launch pad. The launch failure will impact that launch manifest to the International Space Station.

The source of the failure of the Progress-44 vessel has been linked to the third stage of the Soyuz-U. The third stage is identical to that used in the Russian human-rated Soyuz boosters. No manned launches will be allowed until a special investigating commission completes its work, which may take a month or more, says one news report from Russia.

Additionally Russian space authorities have put off the launch of a new Soyuz-2 carrier rocket from the Plesetsk Space Center in northern Russia for the beginning of September, the commander of Russian Space Troops, Gen Oleg Ostapenko said Thursday in the wake of the loss of the Progress-44 cargo freighter spacecraft.

On the other hand, the Soyuz-2 maiden flight from Europe's space base in Kourou, French Guiana will go ahead as scheduled on Oct. 20, 2011 says Arianespace in a report.

Astronaut Ron Garan Talks Progress Crash

ISS Expedition 28's Ron Garan, Satoshi Furukawa and Mike Fossum about the impact of the crash of the Progress-44 cargo ship and the anticipated impact on the station and its crew with Managing Editor Tariq Malik.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Commercial Cargo Module Arrives at Wallops

The arrival of an Antonov cargo carrier at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia signals another milestone for NASA'S partnership with industry to re-supply the International Space Station. It brought to Wallops the Cygnus spacecraft's Pressurized Cargo Module, or PCM.

Over the next few months, the PCM will be integrated with the Cygnus service module that includes the spacecraft's avionics, propulsion and power systems. Designed by the Orbital Sciences Corporation to carry cargo and supplies to the ISS, the Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled for a demonstration flight early next year. More from ParabolicArc, SpaceflightNow and NASA Spaceflight.

GRAIL Moon Mission to Study Crust to Core

NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission is less than two weeks away from launch as scientists and engineers discuss how its two spacecraft will reveal new data about the surface and interior of the moon, from crust to core. GRAIL is set to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station the morning of Sept. 8, 2011.

GRAIL's twin spacecraft are tasked for a nine-month mission to explore Earth's nearest neighbor in unprecedented detail. They will determine the structure of the lunar interior from crust to core and advance our understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon. More from NASA.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Alaska Aerospace Ready for Minotaur-4 Boost from Kodiak Launch Complex

An Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur-IV+ launch vehicle is scheduled to boost the the Naval Tactical Satellite IV (TacSat-4) from the Alaska Aerospace Corporation’s Kodiak Launch Complex on 27th September, 2011. More from Alaska Dispatch and UPI.

Engine Anomaly Downs Spacecraft in Russia

NASA's International Space Station Program Manager, Mike Suffredini, discusses the loss of Russia's Progress 44 spacecraft less than six minutes after its Aug. 24, 2011 launch from Kazakhstan for the International Space Station. The unpiloted Progress cargo ship carrying three tons of food, fuel and other supplies for the six Expedition 28 crew members crashed in the mountainous Altai region of southwest Russia. The implications to the Soyuz-U crash are now being investigated by Russian engineers and technicans including human-rated Soyuz missions. More from The Wall Street Journal.

Progress Resupply Spacecraft Crashes in Sibera After Launch to Space Station

A Russian Progress re-supply ship carrying 2.9 tons of food, fuel and supplies for the space station failed during the the Soyuz rocket's third and final stage. The video captures the launch and first stage separation. Launched on August 24th, 2011 and crashed in Sibera. More from the BBC,, and CNN.

Robonaut-2 Goes Active at ISS

ISS astronauts Mike Fossum and Satoshi Furukawa unveiled the dexterous humanoid device called Robonaut for initial testing of its electronics. Robonaut is an endeavor between NASA and General Motors to improve robotic technology and capabilities for future space exploration platforms. Robonaut demonstrates that a dexterous robot can launch and operate in a space vehicle, manipulate mechanisms in a microgravity environment, operate for an extended duration within the space environment, assist with tasks, and, eventually, interact with the crew members.

Behind Robonaut is a team of NASA and General Motors engineers, the youngest of whom was Adam Sanders, who graduated from Wise County Public Schools in 2002 and the University of Virginia in 2006 with a B.S. in computer engineering. Sanders, who works for GM, is “the lead architect for the human-machine interface and task programming language. He is the principal engineer for the power distribution monitoring and control hardware, firmware, and software for the robot.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

ISS: uninterrupted human presence in space

The International Space Station continues an uninterrupted human presence in space as a test-bed for future exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and the only science lab in microgravity. This music video featuring the space station and its crews is set to the song "World" by recording artists Five for Fighting.

Monday, August 22, 2011

NASA: Go for Disruptive Space Technologies

NASA has selected three proposals, including one from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., as Technology Demonstration Missions to transform space communications, deep space navigation and in-space propulsion capabilities. The projects will develop and fly a space solar sail, deep space atomic clock, and space-based optical communications system. Launches are anticipated in 2015 and 2016 aboard commercial space launch boosters.

These crosscutting flight demonstrations were selected because of their potential to provide tangible, near-term products and infuse high-impact capabilities into NASA's future space operations missions. By investing in high payoff, disruptive technology that industry does not have today, NASA matures the technology required for its future missions while proving the capabilities and lowering the cost of government and commercial space activities.

"These technology demonstration missions will improve our communications, navigation and in-space propulsion capabilities, enable future missions that could not otherwise be performed, and build the technological capability of America's space industry," said NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"Optical communication will enable rapid return of the voluminous data associated with sending spacecraft and humans to new frontiers. High-performance atomic clocks enable a level of spacecraft navigation precision and autonomous operations in deep space never before achieved, and solar sails enable new space missions through highly efficient station-keeping or propellant-less main propulsion capabilities for spacecraft."

The Solar Sail demonstration mission will deploy and operate a sail area 7 times larger than ever flown in space. It is potentially applicable to a wide range of future space missions, including an advanced space weather warning system to provide more timely and accurate notice of solar flare activity. This technology also could be applied to economical orbital debris removal and propellant-less deep space exploration missions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is collaborating with NASA and L'Garde Inc. on the demonstration. More from MSNBC and NASA.

Russian Progress M-12M at Launch Pad

The launch campaign is underway for the Russian Progress M-12M cargo and resupply spacecraft bound for the International Space Station. Utilizing a Soyuz Union booster, the spacecraft will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on August 24, 2011. It will carry scientific equipment, fuel to maintenance the orbit of the space station, food stuffs, water and air for the cosmonauts, and enable removal of the spent equipment.

In parallel, TMV Soyuz TMA-22 is being readied to boost three members of the Expedition 29 crew to the International Space Station on September 21, 2011.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Russian Orbital Technologies to Orbit Commercial Space Station in 2016?

A veil of secrecy has been pulled away to lay bare plans for a space hotel 350 km above Earth to serve wealthy private travelers. The Commercial Space Station is expected to welcome its first guests in 2016. The company Russian Orbital Technologies announced plans to launch a space hotel almost a year ago, in September 2010 -- and now the price-list for the trip has finally been disclosed. A voyage to the space hotel will not be exactly a budget vacation -- a five-day stay at the hotel is expected to cost about US$ 160,000/day. The whole trip, including a two-day transfer to the CSS on the Soyuz space ship will strip your wallet of about US$ 800,000. More from CNN and WorldCrunch.

GRAIL Readied to Map the Moon's Details

The Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission will create the most accurate gravitational map of the Moon to date, improving our knowledge of near-side gravity by 100 times and of far-side gravity by 1000 times. The high-resolution gravitational field, especially when combined with a comparable-resolution topographical field, will enable scientists to deduce the Moon's interior structure and composition, and to gain insights into its thermal evolution--that is, the history of the Moon's heating and cooling, which opens the door to understanding its origin and development. Accurate knowledge of the gravity will also be an invaluable navigational aid to future lunar spacecraft. Ultimately, the information contributed by the GRAIL mission will increase our knowledge of how Earth and its rocky neighbors in the inner solar system developed into the diverse worlds we see today.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Is the Chinese Tiangong-1 Space Lab Launch Campaign Underway?

China is preparing to launch the first test flight of a future space station module as soon as this month. Named Tiangong 1, which means heavenly palace, the 19,000-pound module will be launched on a Long March 2F rocket. More from Parabolic Arc. Speculation in the popular press has been that the Tiangong-1 would launch this month. However, with a rocket failure of a Long March 2C rocket just two seconds after liftoff from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, a delay is possible.

Remind Us All of What We Used to Be!


NASA Scientists Talk Sun Spots, Solar Storms

A NASA Science Update held at the agency's Headquarters in Washington reveals new details about the structure of solar storms and the materials they produce that impact Earth. Briefing participants are: Madhulika Guhathakurta, Living With a Star Program lead scientist, NASA Headquarters; Craig DeForest, staff scientist, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.; David Webb, research physicist, Institute for Scientific Research, Boston College; and Alysha Reinard, research scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder. More details from BBC, National Geographic, C-NetMSNBC and AFP.

Solar Eruption Engulfs View of Venus

On August 16, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory captured this time-lapsed imagery of a coronal mass ejection passing in front of its view of the "Morning Star".  Venus was not harmed, [SOHO].

Mars Rover Opportunity May Look for Life?

It is being reported that "...there's a chance that Opportunity could discover signs of ancient life in this crater, which pretty much instantly makes it one of the most exciting areas of study in the history of uncrewed space exploration."

Cassini to Explore Saturn Through 2017

The Cassini spacecraft, on orbit at Saturn since late 2004, is now in a second extended mission mode called the Cassini Solstice Mission, will continue to seek out new discoveries of the planet and its moons through the fall of 2017. The probe will make closer studies of the planet and its rings near the end of the mission.

Pocket-Sats Built by Kentucky Space UnderGrads at Morehead State U

International collaboration involves undergraduate students from KentuckySpace building and launching so-called "Pocket-SATS."  More from Morehead State University and the Lexington Herald Leader.

First 3-D Video from International Space Station Provided by Astronaut Garan

Use red/blue stereo glasses to watch
Half a century after humankind entered outer space, an ESA-developed camera produced live-streaming 3D images for the first time in the history of space travel – showing the International Space Station like never before.

On 6 August, NASA astronaut Ron Garan operated the Erasmus Recording Binocular (ERB-2) camera to open a new window on the ISS through stereoscopic eyes, in high-definition quality. As Flight Engineer for Expedition 28 and a video blogger himself, Garan set up the futuristic-looking camera in Europe's Columbus laboratory. While talking about the work on board the ISS, he enhanced the sense of depth and presence by playing with an inflatable Earth globe, [MORE from ESA].

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Solar Flares Topic of Coming NASA Briefing

Increasing solar activity and the threat that coronal mass ejections (CME) pose to Earth has prompted NASA to convene a news briefing at its Headquarter building in Washington on Thursday afternoon, August 18, 2011.

Thursday’s briefing has been arranged, space agency officials say, in light of new information coming from NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), spacecraft and other NASA probes. The briefing will feature new details about the structure of solar storms and the impact they have on Earth.

The briefing panellists are Madhulika Guhathakurta, STEREO program scientist; Craig DeForest, staff scientist, Southwest Research Institute, David Webb, research physicist, Institute for Scientific Research, Boston College; and Alysha Reinard, research scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado.

The briefing will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website at 2:00 PM EDT (7:00 PM GMT).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

ESA and JAXA Prepare for 2014 BepiColombo Mission to Planet Mercury

BepiColombo is Europe's first mission to Mercury. It will set off in 2014 on a journey to the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in our Solar System. When it arrives at Mercury in November 2020, it will endure temperatures in excess of 350 °C and gather data during its 1 year nominal mission, with a possible 1-year extension. The mission comprises two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). BepiColombo is a joint mission between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), executed under ESA leadership.

Monday, August 15, 2011

SpaceX Cleared for Launch Nov. 30, 2011

NASA has given SpaceX a Nov. 30, 2011 launch date, which should be followed nine days later by an unmanned Dragon capsule berthing at the orbing International Space Station. The next mission represents a huge milestone not only for SpaceX, but also for NASA and the US space program. When the astronauts stationed on the ISS open the hatch and enter the Dragon spacecraft for the first time, it will mark the beginning of a new era in space travel. "GO ELON! GO SPACEX!"

Curiosity Readied for Launch Nov. 25, 2011

On August 12, 2011, members of the media had the opportunity to view NASA' newest Mars Rover, Curiosity, undergoing final prelaunch processing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Mars Science Laboratory, MSL, will launch on November 25, 2011 for an eight months journey to Mars.

A Shooting Star from the Space Station

American astronaut Ron Garan, an Expedition 27/28 crew member now circling the Earth aboard the International Space Station, "tweeted" the above photograph of a Perseid meteor entering the atmosphere. The meteor appears to be falling away from the space station.  Click the photograph to expand to full screen.

The U.S. Air Force Space Surveillance Radar in Texas recorded echoes of the Perseid Meteors as they passed over the monitoring facility. Includes imagery of a meteor photographed by astronaut Ron Garan aboard the International Space Station.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rick Tumlinson Makes Milestone Predictions for Next 20-Years in Space at NewSpace 2011

At the NewSpace 2011 Conference, the incomparable Rick Tumlinson gave a 27-minute talk about the job ahead in the next 20 years, the hypocrisy of politicians, the near-term battles, the definition of NewSpace, the need to set a direction for NewSpace, and made some predictions, [MoonandBack Media].

Tumlinson predicted that "Within 1 year, the first non-governmental spaceship will carry a human being to orbit [by the end of 2012]; Within 2 years, the first paying customers will begin flying to the edge of space; Within 3 years, the first commercial space facility will open it's airlock; Within 4 years, the first commercial missions will land on the Moon; Within 5 years, multiple spaceships will begin serving multiple space facilities, including hotels and laboratories in LEO; Within 7 years, the first commercial customer will orbit the Moon and return to the Earth; Within 10 years, the first commercial industrial activities will begin on the Lunar surface; Within 12 years, the first expedition to an asteroid or comet will occur; Within 15 years, the first human will return to the Moon; [and] Within 20 years, the first human being, will walk on Mars, and she will be a private citizen, who will have flown there on a private rocket." [Full Talk]

Bill Bottke Talks Late Lunar Bombardments

Dr. Bill Bottke will show that his results suggest that many "late heavy bombardment" impactors came from an unexpected source, and that they possibly continued to hit Earth, Venus, and Mars well after basin formation terminated on the Moon.

LADEE Milestone Passed for 2013 Launch from Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) has passed its most significant mission milestone to date, the Mission Critical Design Review, or MCDR. This means the LADEE observatory is cleared to go forward and complete the flight hardware fabrication necessary to meet all science and engineering requirements for its 2013 mission to explore the moon launched from the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport aboard a  new Minotaur-V booster rocket.

LADEE will gather detailed information about conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. A thorough understanding of these influences will help researchers predict how future lunar exploration may shape the moon's environment and how the environment may affect future explorers. It also will help scientists understand other planetary bodies with exospheres, or very thin atmospheres, like the moon.

Improved lunar digital elevation model.

X-Hab Competition Winner: U of Wisconsin

The eXploration Habitat (X-Hab) 2012 Academic Innovation Challenge is a university level challenge designed to engage and retain students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The competition is intended to link with senior and graduate-level design curricula that emphasize hands-on design, research, development, and manufacture of functional prototypical subsystems that enable habitation-related functionality for space exploration missions.

Michael Belfiore Talks Innovation @ DARPA

Michael Belfiore, author of "Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs," talks with Emily Chang on Bloomberg Television's "Bloomberg West" about the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and its projects including an unmanned hypersonic aircraft and self-driving car. The aircraft, made by Lockheed Martin Corp., crashed into the Pacific Ocean after reaching about 20 times the speed of sound and flying for more than nine minutes, the agency says. (Source: Bloomberg)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Russia Prepares Fobos-Grunt for Launch

Fobos-Grunt is an unmanned lander that will study Phobos and then return a soil sample to Earth. It will also study Mars from orbit, including its atmosphere and dust storms, plasma and radiation. It is currently scheduled to be launched in November 2011on a Zenit rocket launcher with a Fregat upper stage. The return vehicle is scheduled back to Earth on August 2014. TVRoscosmos in Russian.

NOW WHAT? Time to increase the awesome

Decreasing the suck. Increasing the awesome.

China and Pakistan Expand Space Cooperation

China and Pakistan's collaboration in space technology dates back to the 1990's. Over the years, China has successfully delivered orbital service, personnel training and infrastructure development to Pakistan and other developing countries. CCTV News reporter Shen Le finds outlines how China is helping developing countries benefit from the advances of space science and technology.

Moon Express Shooting for 2014

Naveen Jain, chairman and chief executive officer of Moon Express Inc., talks about his company's competition for the Google Lunar X Prize with Lisa Murphy on Bloomberg Television's "In Business With Margaret Brennan." The team that is first to put a lander on the moon will be awarded $30 million. Twnety-nine teams are now in the competition. (Source: Bloomberg)

The growing question is will the firm use a SpaceX Falcon booster from Cape Canaveral or an Orbital Sciences Corporation Taurus-2 booster from Wallops Island, Va. as the launch widow draws near.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: We stopped dreaming!

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson makes the case for science and NASA's James Webb Telescope on Real Time With Bill Maher this past week. It was announced on 5 August 2011 that Tyson will be hosting a new sequel to Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage TV series.

ISS Flyover Announced by Meteor Fireball

Jesper Grønne in Denmark captured this remarkable meteor photo.
AN unusually large fireball lunged across the night sky in Wise, Va. heralding the bright -4 magnitude passing orbit of the International Space Station and her crew to the delight of observers at a minute or so past 10 PM EDT, Friday, August 12, 2011.  The double sighting event was unique. The Perseid Meteor Shower is reaching maximum this weekend for the year.

Former astronaut Frank Culbertson says that meteor showers from the orbiting International Space Station looked "like UFOs approaching the earth flying in formation, three or four at a time. There were hundreds per minute going beneath us, really spectacular!"

Thursday, August 11, 2011


DARPA's Falcon HTV-2 Lost In-Flight

An unmanned experimental aircraft designed to glide down from the upper atmosphere at 20 times the speed of sound lost contact with ground control on its second test flight on Thursday, August 11, 2011 after being sent to space by a Minotaur IV rocket and 9-minutes into the flight, said the US Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Regina Dugan, the director of DARPA, vowed to try again. “Prior to flight, the technical team completed the most sophisticated simulations and extensive wind tunnel tests possible,” she said in a statement.” But these ground tests have not yielded the necessary knowledge. Filling the gaps in our understanding of hypersonic flight in this demanding regime requires that we be willing to fly,” reported The Wall Street Journal.

2011 Multinational Push to Mars Set to Begin

This animation shows key events of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission Curiosity rover, which will launch on 25 November 2011 from Cape Canaveral and land at Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012.

The Fobos-Grunt mission, a Russian spacecraft, will launch in November 2011 with plans to land on the Mars moon Phobos and subsequently return a soil spample to Earth in 2014. The Fobos-Grunt will, in addition, place a Chinese made spacecraft, Yinghuo-1, in orbit around Mars.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Falcon HTV-2 to Launch and Push Mach 20

The unmanned aircraft, dubbed Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, has been re-scheduled for launch Wednesday August 11, 2011 between 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. PDT aboard a Minotaur IV rocket, made by Orbital Sciences Corp. based in Dulles, Va.

The arrowhead-shaped Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., is testing new technology that promises to deliver a military vehicle that can deliver a strike anywhere in the world in less than an hour -- part of its “prompt global strike” concept with a capability of reaching speeds of Mach 20. The program is being funded by U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Opportunity Rover Begins New Mission

NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity has reached its next destination. Three years after climbing out of Victoria crater, Opportunity has completed an eleven-mile trek to the rim of Endeavour crater at a spot informally named "Spirit Point" after the rover's decommissioned twin.

At 14 miles in diameter, Endeavour is an inviting work site for Opportunity. Orbital observations indicate that the ridges along its western rim expose rock outcrops older than any Opportunity has seen so far.  The Road to Endeavour blog provides wonderful details.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

NASA Hires 7 New Space Firms for SubOrbital

NASA has selected seven companies to integrate and fly technology payloads on commercial suborbital reusable platforms that carry payloads near the boundary of space.

As part of NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, each successful vendor will receive an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract. These two-year contracts, worth a combined total of $10 million, will allow NASA to draw from a pool of commercial space companies to deliver payload integration and flight services. The flights will carry a variety of payloads to help meet the agency's research and technology needs.

"Through this catalog approach, NASA is moving toward the goal of making frequent, low-cost access to near-space available to a wide range of engineers, scientists and technologists," said NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The government's ability to open the suborbital research frontier to a broad community of innovators will enable maturation of the new technologies and capabilities needed for NASA's future missions in space."

The selected companies are: Armadillo Aerospace, Heath, Texas; Near Space Corp., Tillamook, Ore.; Masten Space Systems, Mojave, Calif.; Up Aerospace Inc., Highlands Ranch, Colo.; Virgin Galactic, Mojave, Calif.; Whittinghill Aerospace LLC, Camarillo, Calif.; and, XCOR, Mojave, Calif.

Massive X6.9 Solar Flare Erupts on Sun

The largest solar flare of Cycle 24 just took place at 08:05 UTC and it registered X6.9. The source was Sunspot 1263 which is nearing the Western Limb. Because of its location, any large explosions may not be fully earth directed thereby limiting the impact on communications and electric grids. Readers may learn more on the major solar flare at SpaceWeather.

There are three categories of solar flares: x-class flares are big and can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms, says NASA. M-class flares are medium-sized and can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth's polar regions. C-class flares are small and have few noticeable consequences for planet Earth.

Delta-IV Heavy May Boost Orion in 2013

NASA managers continue to review the utlilzation of a ULA Delta-IV Heavy to boost the first Orion, Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), from Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) to low earth orbit in 2013, as now being planned. The test flights will be unmanned since the Delta-IV Heavy is not human-rated by NASA, reports Chris Bergin at NASA The Delta-IV Heavy option may produce a ‘Flight-Capable’ versus ‘Human-Capable’ option.

James Lovell Talks of the Days of Apollo

James Lovell, the commander of the Apollo 13 mission which failed to land on the moon because of an explosion, shared his recollections with RT and explained why faith matters on a space mission.

Monday, August 08, 2011

This Week @ NASA: Jupiter, Mars, Vesta ...

Senator Bill Nelson Talks Space on Fox

US Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, discusses the immediate future of 2011 - a launch to the moon, Mars and a private cargo spacecraft to the ISS.

Meteor Shower August 11, 12, 13, 2011

IF you're camping out and can't sleep, maybe your slumber is being interrupted by the flash of meteors. The summer Perseid meteor shower is getting underway as Earth enters the debris stream from comet Swift-Tuttle. The highlight is expected to begin Thurdsay, August 11 through Saturday, August 13, 2011.

DNA Building Blocks Made in Space

NASA-funded researchers have evidence that some building blocks of DNA, the molecule that carries the genetic instructions for life, found in meteorites were likely created in space. The research gives support to the theory that a "kit" of ready-made parts created in space and delivered to Earth by meteorite and comet impacts assisted the origin of life and the foundation of our astrobiology, [Science Daily, The Washington Post, France24, International Business Times and PNAS paper].

Rover Opportunity Nears 'Spirit Point'

An image near Botany Bay of Mars in the approach to Spirit Point on the rim of Endeavour crater. The Opportunity rover should be at the crater's edge Tuesday.
The Mars Exploration Rover Vehicle 'Opportunity' will enter 'Spirit Point' - named after its now defunct sister rover - near the edge of the 14-mile wide Endeavour Crater on the surface of Mars.

The planetary sciences teams are giddy as to the martian geology prospects ahead as the landscape raw images data flows back to Earth enabling scientists to undertsand the location on the road to Endeavour.

Opportunity, which logged about 21 miles since landing in 2004, will spend several months imaging the rim and interior of the 1000 feet deep Endevour crater, which has been partially filled in by rocks and sediments.

While Endeavour crater is arguably the most important science target since landing, there are now no plans to enter the steep surface depression for fear of getting stuck. Instead, Opportunity will traverse south along the rim in search of clay minerals thought to form under wet conditions. More on Endeavour crater.

Dr. Kevin Zahnle on Methane on Mars

Dr. Kevin Zahnle, the guest of the weekly SETI Lecture series from NASA Ames, where he discusses planetary science, particularly about the potential of methane in the atmosphere of the planet Mars. Methane has been reported by several observers as a short-lived trace gas in the martian atmosphere. If verified, this would be an extraordinary result. Is the evidence for methane extraordinary? In this talk, Dr. Kevin Zahnle will discuss why one should remain skeptical of Methane on Mars.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Antimatter belt around Earth discovered

A thin band of antimatter particles called antiprotons enveloping the Earth has been spotted for the first time, reports the BBC, following publication of the findings in the Astrophyiscal Journal Letters, [complete paper].

The team's findings point to antiprotons between the Van Allen belts of trapped "normal" matter, confirming theoretical work that predicted the Earth's magnetic field could trap antimatter.

The antiprotons were spotted by the Pamela satellite (an acronym for Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics) - launched in 2006 to study the nature of high-energy particles from the Sun and from beyond our Solar System - so-called cosmic rays.

The the particles could also prove to be a novel fuel source for future spacecraft - an idea explored in a report for NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts.  More from the Daily Tech.

Europe's Ariane 5 Boosts Again to Space

Early on morning of August 7, 2011, an Ariane 5 launcher lifted off from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana on its mission to place two telecommunications satellites, Astra-1N and BSAT-3c/JCSAT-110R, into their planned transfer orbits.

Beijing to Host the Triennial International Astronomical Union Congress in August 2012

The 28th congress of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) will be hosted in Beijing, China from August 20 to 31, 2012 after winning the bid to host the global gathering in Prague four years ago. An estimated 3,000 astronomers are expected to participate.

The triennial gathering of the world's professional astronomers will discuss and debate the most recent discoveries about the universe during the 12-day Beijing congress which will include eight large academic seminars, 25 small-scale symposiums, four lectures, as well as elections for the new IAU leadership. The gathering is also expected to provide an official name for the recently discovered fourth moon of the dwarf planet Pluto.

Founded in 1919, the IAU promotes astronomy research and best practices through international cooperation among its 10,000+ individual members in 90 countries spread over Earth.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

China Prepares Long March 2F for Tiangong 1 Station Boost to Low Earth Orbit Soon

[UPDATE] While the rest of the spacefaring nations are participating in the International Space Station project, the Chinese are preparing their own place on orbit. The Long March 2F rocket will loft the 8.5 ton Tiangong 1 docking target to low earth orbit perhaps later this summer.

Tiangong 1 will not carry crew during launch, however, nor even when it serves as a target for the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft, which also will be unmanned. It will be the first Chinese space docking attempt to perfect the important spacefaring technology, [photos].

If the two spacecraft successfully demonstrate China’s docking technology capability, then the next mission, Shenzhou 9, will have three taikonauts (astronauts) aboard in 2012. The Shenzhou 10 taikonauts, with an additional crew of three and will join the vehicles already for an on-orbit station crew exchange.  Among the six taikonauts expected to be on orbit, one is expected to be the first Chinese female.

After the separation of Shenzhou 9 carrying the crew back to Earth, the Shenzhou 8-Shenzhou 10 complex will remain in orbit, awaiting the docking of the following Shenzhou 11 crew.

China has not be invited to participate in the International Space Station despite the willingness of the European and the Russian willingness to proceed with Chinese membership. Nonetheless, if agreement were to be reached, technical hurdles remain, for example the Chinese Shenzhou spacreaft standards and the ISS docking standards do not agree.
See how China's first space station, called Tiangong (
Source All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

Congressional Heavy-Lift Rocket $38 Billion?

The rocket and capsule that NASA is proposing to return astronauts to the moon would fly just twice in the next 10 years and cost as much as $38 billion, according to internal NASA documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, writes Mark Matthews.

The money would pay for a new heavy-lift rocket and Apollo-like crew capsule that eventually could take astronauts to the moon and beyond. But it would not be enough to pay for a lunar landing — or for more than one manned test flight, in 2021.

That timeline and price tag could pose serious problems for supporters of the new spacecraft, which is being built from recycled parts of the shuttle and the now-defunct Constellation moon program. It effectively means that it will take the U.S. manned-space program more than 50 years — if ever — to duplicate its 1969 landing on the moon.

That is certain to infuriate NASA supporters in Congress, who last year ordered NASA to build a new heavy-lift rocket by December 2016 — a deadline the agency says it can't meet. And it may well convince others there's no good reason not to slash NASA's budget as part of a recent deal to cut federal spending by at least $2.1 trillion over 10 years. The Orlando Sentinel provides MORE.

Friday, August 05, 2011

JUNO Jupiter Bound on 5-Year Journey

NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:25 p.m. EDT Friday, August 5, 2011 to begin a five-year journey to Jupiter.

50 Years Ago: Titov Becomes 2nd to Orbit

Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov was the second human being to orbit the Earth on August 6 and 7, 1961 aboard the Vostok 2 - fifty years ago today (news reel). At age 25, Titov's spaceflight lasted for 25.3 hours performing 17-orbits of the earth. To this very day, Titov remains the youngest person to fly in space.

Titov was the first person to suffer from "space sickness" (motion sickness in space) and was also the first person to sleep in space. He slept for roughly one orbit and was surprised to wake with his arms floating in the air due to the absence of normal gravity. He returned to sleep after putting his arms under a security belt, then slept 30 minutes more than predicted by the flight plan. He stated that "Once you have your arms and legs arranged properly, space sleep is fine ... I slept like a baby".

This linked audio provides insight as to the relationship between cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov - the first and second humans to enter space - four months apart.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

NASA Scientists Say Water Flows on Mars

NASA Mars News Briefing, [30-minutes]

Observations from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars.

"NASA's Mars Exploration Program keeps bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, "and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration."

Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere.

"The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and lead author of a report about the recurring flows published in Thursday's edition of the journal Science.

Some aspects of the observations still puzzle researchers, but flows of liquid brine fit the features' characteristics better than alternate hypotheses. Saltiness lowers the freezing temperature of water. Sites with active flows get warm enough, even in the shallow subsurface, to sustain liquid water that is about as salty as Earth's oceans, while pure water would freeze at the observed temperatures.

"These dark lineations are different from other types of features on Martian slopes," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist Richard Zurek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Repeated observations show they extend ever farther downhill with time during the warm season."

The features imaged are only about 0.5 to 5 yards or meters wide, with lengths up to hundreds of yards. The width is much narrower than previously reported gullies on Martian slopes. However, some of those locations display more than 1,000 individual flows. Also, while gullies are abundant on cold, pole-facing slopes, these dark flows are on warmer, equator-facing slopes.

The images show flows lengthen and darken on rocky equator-facing slopes from late spring to early fall. The seasonality, latitude distribution and brightness changes suggest a volatile material is involved, but there is no direct detection of one. The settings are too warm for carbon-dioxide frost and, at some sites, too cold for pure water. This suggests the action of brines, which have lower freezing points. Salt deposits over much of Mars indicate brines were abundant in Mars' past. These recent observations suggest brines still may form near the surface today in limited times and places.

When researchers checked flow-marked slopes with the orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), no sign of water appeared. The features may quickly dry on the surface or could be shallow subsurface flows.

"The flows are not dark because of being wet," McEwen said. "They are dark for some other reason."

A flow initiated by briny water could rearrange grains or change surface roughness in a way that darkens the appearance. How the features brighten again when temperatures drop is harder to explain.

"It's a mystery now, but I think it's a solvable mystery with further observations and laboratory experiments," McEwen said.

These results are the closest scientists have come to finding evidence of liquid water on the planet's surface today. Frozen water, however has been detected near the surface in many middle to high-latitude regions. Fresh-looking gullies suggest slope movements in geologically recent times, perhaps aided by water. Purported droplets of brine also appeared on struts of the Phoenix Mars Lander. If further study of the recurring dark flows supports evidence of brines, these could be the first known Martian locations with liquid water.

Buzz Aldrin Wants Commercial Space Access

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon during Apollo 11, says that it was the right time to end NASA's shuttle mission. He also hopes to see human space flight turned over to the private sector, [USA Today].