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Friday, September 30, 2011

This Week @NASA Sept. 30, 2011

Mercury's Shield No Match For Solar Wind

The planet closest to the Sun, Mercury has a magnetosphere like the Earth, but at its poles, the Sun's powerful force takes it toll by super charging sodium and oxygen particles and blasting them into space. NASA's MESSENGER probe weathers the storm. Credit: / NASA / University of Michigan / Music: Atom Strange and John Serrie. More from Universe Today.

Mercury's surface has been found to have unusual surface features unlike any other found in the solar system, reports National Geographic. Ancient river-like volcanoes formed Mercury's surface plains a new study has also revealed, according to AFP with more from TIME.

WISE Finds Fewer Asteroids near Earth

New observations by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, show there are significantly fewer near-Earth asteroids in the mid-size range than previously thought.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Elon Musk and 'The Grasshopper'

SpaceX, the upstart start-up rocket company founded by famous techwealth kingpin Elon Musk, is to build and test-fly a "Grasshopper" hover rocket based on the massive first-stage fuel tank of the company's Falcon 9 vehicle, capable of carrying ten tonnes of cargo or seven people into orbit. C-SPAN has the full Elon Musk National Press Club presentation.

Musk told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington that such a system based on Space X's existing Falcon 9 rockets would reduce launch costs by '100-fold' and make possible longer distance missions, such as to Mars.   'The pivotal breakthrough that is necessary ... to make life multiplanetary is a fully and rapidly reusable orbit-class rocket,' Musk said.

'It's a very tough engineering problem. I wasn't sure it could be solved, and then just relatively recently, in the last 12 months or so, I came to the conclusion that it can be solved, and Space X is going to try to do it.'   More from CBSNews and France24.


China's CCTV/CNTV is providing LIVE launch coverage this morning for those who desire to watch the launch of the Tiangong-1 from the Gobi desert. The launch boost phase to orbit appears to have been successful for spacrecraft operations to commence.

Perhaps it is a good time to suggest a multinational plan again and a growing need for diplomacy. More from the Xinhua News Agency of the launch of the Chinese space lab.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

TacSat-4 Departs Alaska on Minotaur Rocket

A Minotaur rocket derived from decommissioned nuclear missile parts blasted off at 1549 GMT (11:49 a.m. EDT; 7:49 a.m. Alaska time) Tuesday, from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. The launch is carrying a U.S. Navy communications satellite

Expedition 29/30 Mission Overview

The Expedition 29/30 Mission Overview looks at the crew members and their activities while they live and work aboard the International Space Station.

China to take next step in space very soon

China plans to launch Tiangong-1, its first space lab module, on September 29 or 30, 2011 reports Xinhua news service. It's an event which will be watched closely by American space policymakers in NASA and Congress. A few weeks ago, NASA Administrator Bolden said he was “rooting” for China as it might motivate people in the U.S., writes Doug Mohney.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sea Launch: Zenit Resumes Orbital Payload Biz

The ATLANTIC BIRD(TM) 7 satellite of Eutelsat Communications has been successfully delivered into orbit by a Zenit-3SL rocket operated by Sea Launch AG from the ocean-based Odyssey Launch Platform in international waters of the Pacific Ocean following a 1-hour 7-minute flight (video). The BBC has reported on the commercial space launch firm's efforts to emerge from backruptcy.

Soyuz to Launch Oct. 20 from French Guiana

The launch campiagn is fully underway for the first Soyuz flight from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. The rocket, which will carry the first two satellites of Europe’s Galileo navigation system into orbit, is being prepared for launch on Thursday, October 20, 2011 marking an expansion of the international spaceport operations. More from ESA.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Florida snipes at Virginia's HSF efforts

"Florida's Congressional delegation, especially its senior Senator [Nelson], fought hard to make the [civil NASA Space Launch System] SLS, not the commercial spaceflight program, the top priority for NASA. So Florida should be happy with the SLS and its flight rate of one launch every couple of years, starting 7 or 8 years from now, and let Virginia, which has been far more supportive of commercial spaceflight, pursue that activity in peace," says Hobby Space in reaction to Florida Today story, "Virginia rocket-launch site suggestion a KSC 'betrayal'" published this morning and spreading to the members of the Virginia Congressional delegation and their staff members. The Orlando Sentinel reported a similar story earlier in the week.

Physicist: Neutrino Faster Than Speed of Light

Researchers at the CERN nuclear research centre in Switzerland discover sub-atomic particles that travel quicker than the speed of light. Neutrino jokes hit Twittersphere faster than the speed of light, reports The Los Angeles Times.

This Week @NASA: 23 September 2011

NASA's Heavy-Lift Vehicle with Orion Visioned

The Spaceship Company in production!

The Spaceship Company's amazing growth in Majove, California is documented in the recently created video. The grand opening of the new hangar FAITH for spaceship manufacturing include remarks from Sir Richard Branson, George Whitesides, and Enrico Palermo.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wallops 'Tweet-Up' Sign-Up Opens Today

NASA invites you to register for a behind-the-scenes tour of its Wallops Flight Facility. NASA will host a total of 50 social media guests from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. EDT on Friday, Oct. 21 in Wallops Island, Virginia. Participants will interact with NASA experts and tour the sounding rocket manufacturing facility, range control center, balloon research laboratory, aircraft hangar, and island launch facilities.

Registration for this event will open at 9 a.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 23 and close at noon on Monday, Sept. 26. Those who sign up may register to bring a guest. NASA will randomly select a total of 50 participants. Because Wallops is a government facility with restricted access, the event is open only to U.S. citizens.

NASA's Wallops Flight Facility is home to NASA’s suborbital and special orbital missions. Wallops also is home to NASA's only owned and operated launch range, as well as a research airport. Orbital Sciences Corporation will be launching its Taurus II launch vehicle from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Flight Facility beginning in 2012 as part of the commercial re-supply of the International Space Station. WAMU NPR affiliate notes that "Space Industry Growing in Virginia."

Holy neutrino! Faster than the speed of light?

The science world has been left in shock after it was announced that CERN scientists had recorded subatomic particles travelling faster than the speed of light in a finding that could overturn fundamental law of physics.

The Wall Street Journal (AP), The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Wired, Cosmos, and BBC tell the unfolding story of how scientists believe that the speed of light has been broken, in theory. CERN has been working in this area of physics for some time.

Rohrabacher Advances Commercial Space

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) presents Students for Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) letter from over 300 students to the House Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Technology followed by the Congressman's remarks on commercial space launch.

ISS Expedition 30 Crew Readied for December 26, 2011 Soyuz Launch to Orbit

Expedition 30 crew members, including NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers, take questions from the media at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

GRAIL to Test Two Moon Theory

Did our planet once have two moons? Some researchers say so. Moreover, the missing satellite might still be up there--splattered across the far side of the Moon. NASA's GRAIL mission could help confirm or refute the "two moon" hypothesis.

Armstrong Takes Questions at Hearing

Congressman Michael McCaul, Neil Armstrong, and Captain Eugene Cernan, discuss the importance of human space flight and innovation in light of program cuts to NASA by the Obama Administration, and the importance of continued support of civil human space flight and space exploration. ENTIRE HEARING HERE.

Last Man on Moon Wants Shuttle Back

Retired Captain Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, upset with the United States' current inability to ferry astronauts to Low Earth Orbit, wants the space shuttle program to be reinstated until a suitable replacement is put in place in Congressional testimony this week. ENTIRE HEARING HERE.

Fostering, rather than stifling, China in space

Enhancing US-China Relations in Space: John M. Logsdon, Professor Emeritus at the Space Policy Institute, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, and Alanna Krolikowski, a Visiting Scholar and Fulbright doctoral grantee at the Space Policy Institute and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, together have penned an Opinion Editorial for the China-US Exchange Foundation suggesting "Facilitating China’s integration to this group means fostering, rather than stifling, China’s civil space activities and its commercial exploitation of space."

Chinese-American civil and commercial space cooperation has been referenced on this Blog numerous times whether it be former NASA astronauts, diplomats, think tanks, OpEds, and just another bold idea. The time has come for the United States to get serious about the relationship with China in space. The Chinese are there and they intend to stay.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Florida Space Picking Fight with Virginia?

Florida space leaders are sending letters to Washington in opposition to a proposed expansion at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch pads in Virginia. It is an unfortuate move by Florida business people not going unnoticed by space advocates in Virginia.

The Orlando Sentinel ran a story Tuesday quoting Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast as writing, “The most pressing issue for the Florida workforce is the sense of betrayal that their tax dollars might be used in establishing a competing orbital human spaceflight launch capability in another state when they have so well and ably done the job here in Florida.”  Added Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, suggesting the work could be “duplicative” and raised the possibility of holding a public meeting down in Florida.

The unkind remarks have not gone without notice in Virginia. Members of the Congressional delegation are being alerted, including the Chairman of the House Appropiations Subcommittee on Space and the House Republican Majority Leader. Virginians will react with OpEds on the Florida tactic in nearly every daily newspaper across the Commonwealth. Virginians will make certain that every state legislator and every member of the Virginia Congressional delegation is aware of the negative effort by Space Florida to ground the Virginia spaceport.

"The Florida space community should realize that the Chinese and the Russians will soon have two human-rated orbital spaceports. Just like we would should have had more than one option for human space access beyond the shuttle, commercial space launch should provide the American nation more than one low earth orbit space vehicle and the capacity to launch human-rated spacecraft from more than one location," said Jack Kennedy, a Virginia space advocate. "I find the anti-Virginia comments misguided, unfortunate and disappointingly, monopolistic!"

Track Falling, 6.5-Ton Satellite in Real-Time

Track NASA's Falling, 6.5-Ton Satellite in Real-Time

Ariane 5 Boosts Satellites to Orbit

Arabsat-5C/SES-2 satellites launch by Ariane 5 ECA launcher - flight VA204 from the Guiana Space Center, Kourou, French Guiana. The video of the launch is exceptional in following the booster and flaring seperation on the boost phase by the by Ariane 5.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Just Declassified: Spy Satellite KH-9 Hexagon

The National Reconnaissance Office just released video from codename Hexagon, a Cold War era spy-sat photo program. Twenty KeyHole "Big Birds" were launched from 1971 to 1986. Their resemblance to Hubble Space Telescope is not merely coincidental.

James Webb Telescope Funded - For Now

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope project is still holding on, but at what cost? The telescope has been dubbed Hubble's successor, but its funding was threatened back in July by a House budget bill. Now the Senate has thrown the project a bone.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kepler, Expolanets and SETI

Dr. Geoff Marcy, UCLA Berkeley, explains the success of the Kepler spacecraft and the location of many new exoplanets. This 90-minute lecture provides wonderful insight on the efforts to locate alien plants throughout the Milky Way. Marcy explains why he believes we live today in a golden age in science. The lecture is worth the time investment.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Russians Nix SpaceX ISS Docking Attempt

The commercial SpaceX Dragon capsule will conduct a flight near the International Space Station (ISS), but docking between them is not planned. This comes from a statement issued by Vladimir Solovyov, head of the Russian segment of the ISS mission control center on Friday and posted on the Russian news site RIA Novosti in an echo of a position of 5-months ago.

Moreover both NASA and SpaceX stated that while a final determination has yet to be made – the private space firm has not been denied the opportunity to dock with the International Space Station. Thus leaving the flight’s status in a sort of limbo. This situation also highlights that the assorted international members involved on ISS – don’t always agree. There may be some competitive friction.

SpaceX, has earlier announced plans to launch its Dragon capsule toward the orbiting lab on November 30, 2011 with a historic docking slated for nine days later. The scheduled flight launch has too been placed in limbo by the delay of astronauts and cosmonauts being placed into orbit aboard Soyuz spacecraft.

Meanwhile, the Cygnus cargo spacecraft to launched from Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport atop of a new Taurus-2 booster is expected to dock with the ISS early next year. The NASA consolidated launch schedule sets forth launch dates.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Battle of the Rockets Set for April 28, 2012

The Battle of the Rockets is coming to central Virginia requiring design a rocket and a rover to launch to at least 1000 feet and deploy a robotic rover on the surface in a competitive event open to high school and university students from across the nation in the spring of 2012. The competitive event is being hosted by the Federation of Galaxy Explorers and Tripoli Central Virginia #25 in Culpeper, Virginia and sponsored by AIAA and Praxis Inc. The event will be held on April 28, 2012.

The robotic rover must be fully contained in the rocket before being deployed. Once deployed, the rover must return to the ground safely. Once landed, the rover shall release a bright colored marker that can be easily found. The marker must be placed at the point of landing. It cannot be tossed, shot, or projected beyond its landing location. Once released, the rover must then travel 10 feet and release a second marker. The rover then must turn 90 degrees in either direction and travel 10 feet. Travel must be completed within 10-minutes. Time starts at the time of landing. Method of travel is up to the team. More information HERE.

Friday, September 16, 2011

New Images of Asteroid Vesta

New views of the second most massive object in the asteroid belt. Asteroid Vesta is being explored by the NASA spacecraft DAWN.

ISS Expedition 28 Crew Welcomed Back to Earth in Kazakhstan and Russia

Expedition 28 Soyuz Commander Andrey Borisenko, NASA Flight Engineer Ron Garan and Russian Flight Engineer Alexander Samokutyaev were greeted in a traditional ceremony at the airport in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, on Sept. 16, 2011, hours after landing in their Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft on the steppe of Kazakhstan. After the ceremony, the crew split up, with Borisenko and Samokutyaev returning to their training base in Star City, Russia, while Garan boarded a NASA plane in Karaganda to return to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The trio completed almost six months aboard the International Space Station following launch in December. The footage includes an interview conducted with Garan in Karaganda before beginning the trip home to Houston, Texas.

Aurora Australis Viewed from the ISS!

This video of the Aurora Australis was created from a sequence of still shots taken by astronauts on board the International Space Station. The images were acquired on September 11, 2011 as the ISS orbit pass descended over eastern Australia.

Virginia's Space Coast Takes Off to New Era

The end of the space shuttle era has ushered in a new age of commercial space flight. Work is underway on new unmanned rockets to haul supplies to the International Space Station and a once quiet spaceport on Virginia's eastern shore is reinventing itself - and gearing up for the grand show (video), reports Sally Kidd of the Hearst Broadcasting Corp. Communities along Virginia's eastern shore are hoping to become America's new space coast and get an economic boost along with it (video). 

Senate Committee Boosts Commercial Crew Program Funding to $500 Million in FY 2012

The United States Senate Committee on Appropriations approval of $500 million in NASA funding next year will assist in the development of commercial crew taxis for trips to the International Space Station as a part of a proposed $17.9 billion NASA 2012 annual budget.

The Senate Committee proposal is significantly more than the flat funding of $312 million offered by the House of Representatives, but well below the roughly $800 million President Obama proposed for the 2012 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2011 for the NASA Commercial Crew Program. The two funding bills must now be reconciled later this year (SpacePolitics).

NASA hopes to have more than one vehicle ready to fly crews by 2015 or 2016. Until then, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft offer astronauts' only access to the station. SpaceX, Blue Origin, The Boeing Co. and Sierra Nevada Space Systems, each of which are developing a capsule or space plane intended to launch with astronauts atop an expendable rocket such as an Atlas-V, Falcon-9, Delta IV or the ATK Liberty.

"NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program is the most fiscally responsible means to rapidly advance human spaceflight. It has protected taxpayer dollars with fixed-price, pay-for-performance contracts. It fosters competition that forces companies to compete on reliability, capability and cost. And it leverages private investment -making taxpayer dollars go further," noted SpaceX founder Elon Musk in a statement on the action.

Soyuz Crew Lands in Kazakhstan

American astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev, who had manned the international space station since April to Spetmeber, 2011 appeared in good health after landing on the Kazakh steppe following what was called a a "bullseye landing."

The returning Expedition 28 crew had spent 164 days in space, NASA said. Their replacements -- NASA flight engineer Dan Burbank and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin -- is now scheduled to depart for the International Space Station on November 14, 2011.

Station commander and NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, Japanese flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov remain aboard the ISS until November 22, 2011 and will be replaced by another group of three in late December 2011.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

ISS Expedition 28 Departs on Soyuz TMA-21

The hatches between the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft and the International Space Station were closed at 5:30 p.m. EDT Thursday, Sept. 15,2011 wrapping up 162 days aboard the orbiting outpost for Expedition 28 Commander Andrey Borisenko and Flight Engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Ron Garan. The ISS will remained crewed by three astronauts and cosmonauts until nearly the end of the year.

Real-life 'Star Wars' planet Kepler-16 seen

Alan Boyle at Cosmic Log provides more information from the Kepler data. At The Wall Street Journal, Robert Lee Holtz reports more on the find.

Sky-Tech Aerospace & Rocketry Mentors Gain NAR Level-2 Status and Push Local TARC Team

NASA DEVELOP mentors Giovanni Colberg and Yanina Colon became National Association of Rocketry Level-2 certified in high-powered rocketry.  The two have successfully mentored five high school students - Austin Stidham of Appalachia, Va., Brittnay Barns of Norton, Va., Heather Lee of Wise, Va., Hunter Page of Coeburn, Va. and Zachary Tate of Big Stone Gap, Va. to NAR Level-1 certification along with the creation of the Sky-Tech Aerospace & Rocketry Team.

The Sky-Tech Aerospace & Rocketry Team is preparing an extensive launch campaign in preparation for the 2012 Team America Rocket Challenge. The team is also working to co-host an In-Flight Downlink from the International Space Station for students in the Central Appalachian Mountains next year.

Senators Tout Senate Launch System

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FLA) discusses the new Space Launch System.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) talks SLS on Senate floor.

NASA management discusses new Space Launch System.

Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log posts "Big questions about big rockets" while Rick Tumlinson posts in The HuffPost "The Senate Launch System - Destiny, Decision, and Disaster."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Space Launch System Design Released by NASA

The Space Launch System, or SLS, will be designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments to Earth's orbit and destinations beyond. Additionally, the SLS will serve as a back up for commercial and international partner transportation services to the International Space Station.

The SLS rocket will incorporate technological investments from the Space Shuttle program and the Constellation program in order to take advantage of proven hardware and cutting-edge tooling and manufacturing technology that will significantly reduce development and operations costs. It will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, which will include the RS-25D/E from the Space Shuttle program for the core stage and the J-2X engine for the upper stage. SLS will also use solid rocket boosters for the initial development flights, while follow-on boosters will be competed based on performance requirements and affordability considerations. The SLS will have an initial lift capacity of 70 metric tons (mT) and will be evolvable to 130 mT. The first developmental flight, or mission, is targeted for the end of 2017.

The Space Launch System will be NASA's first exploration-class vehicle since the Saturn V took American astronauts to the moon over 40 years ago. With its superior lift capability, the SLS will expand our reach in the solar system and allow us to explore cis-lunar space, near-Earth asteroids, Mars and its moons and beyond. We will learn more about how the solar system formed, where Earth' water and organics originated and how life might be sustained in places far from our Earth's atmosphere and expand the boundaries of human exploration. These discoveries will change the way we understand ourselves, our planet, and its place in the universe.
This new heavy-lift rocket will be America's most powerful since the Saturn V rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon and will launch humans to places no one has gone before, such as asteroids, Mars and other deep space destinations.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ATK and Astrium’s Liberty Launcher Added to NASA’s Commercial Crewed Roster

Alliant TechSystems in Utah is forging ahead with their Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV) booster based on the cancelled, Shuttle-derived Ares rocket. ATK VP (and former space shuttle commander) Charlie Precourt explains why in the above video.

NASA and Alliant Techsystems of Minnesota agreed today (Spetember 13, 2011) to share data as ATK attempts to build a rocket that could launch astronauts as early as 2015. Payload flights on the new Liberty rocket are expected to be $180 million as compared to $206 on an Atlas-V, says USA Today.

No money will exchange hands, but NASA will provide technical support to ATK as it develops its so-called Liberty rocket. The two-stage vehicle will combine a solid rocket booster built by ATK with a second-stage derived from the European Ariane 5 rocket.

The Liberty rocket would compete with another rockets being designed by United Launch Alliance and SpaceX to carry commercial crew capsules designed by other companies. More from WESH-TV (video), FlightGlobal,  MSNBC's Alan Boyle, and Universe Today.

Soyuz-U Flight Re-set to October 30,2011

The next Soyuz-U Progress space freighter will be launched on Sunday, October 30, 2011, the Russian Federal Space Agency said today (Sept. 13, 2011). The previous target had been mid-October.

“It is planned to launch Progress cargo spaceships on October 30, 2011, and on January 26, 2012. Manned Soyuz-FG spaceships will be launched on November 12 and December 20, 2011,” the agency said.

Meanwhile, two Soyuz ST space vehicles prepared for the launch from Kourou spaceport (French Guiana) need changing of their third stages, a source of the Arianespace launch service corporation told Russian news service Itar-Tass.

The third stages of two rockets will be returned to Russia, and new stages will be delivered to Kourou to replace them, Arianespace spokesman Mario de Lepine said. The replacement of the rocket parts will have no effect on the timetable for Soyuz launches from Kourou. The first is planned for October 20, and the second for December 2011.

Russians Set Human Launch Dates on Soyuz

The Russian space agency says it will launch of the next manned Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station on Saturday, November 12, 2011 just days before the remaining three cosmonauts and astronauts on the orbiting laboratory are due to return to earth.

A second Soyuz with 3 additional cosmonauts and astronauts is being scheduled to launch on Tuesday, Decmebr 20, 2011 to bring the crew back to a full compliment of six. The station will have a crew of three for about three months this fall and winter.

The launch schedule for manned Russian missions has been thrown into disarray by the Aug. 24, 2011 crash of an unmanned Soyuz supply craft. Since the phasing out of the shuttle, NASA has come to rely entirely on Russia to get its crew to the international space station. More from The New York Times. Related post below.

Cosmonauts/Astronaut to Land Friday from ISS

Without replacement cosmonauts and astronauts ready to go, NASA astronaut Ron Garan (left), Expedition 27 flight engineer; along with Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev (center), Soyuz commander; and Andrey Borisenko, flight engineer will deorbit the Soyuz TMA-21 space capsule to land in the steppes of the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. Their return will leave the ISS with a skeleton crew of three with no firm idea of when it will be restored to six due to the suspension of Russian Soyuz booster flights last month.

Fifty New Alien ExoPlanets Confirmed

Astronomers using ESO's world-leading exoplanet hunter HARPS have this week announced a rich haul of more than 50 new exoplanets, including 16 super-Earths, one of which orbits at the edge of the habitable zone of its star. By studying the properties of all the HARPS planets found so far, the team has found that about 40% of stars similar to the Sun have at least one planet lighter than Saturn.

In the eight years since it started surveying stars like the Sun using the radial velocity technique HARPS has been used to discover more than 150 new planets. About two thirds of all the known exoplanets with masses less than that of Neptune were discovered by HARPS. These exceptional results are the fruit of several hundred nights of HARPS observations. More from ESO.

What if the Earth had two moons?

A dramatic collision of two moons may explain why our Moon is very much two-sided. Professor Mike Merrifield briefly discusses a recent paper in Nature.

Gold falling from the sky?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cassini: on a 20 year mission at Saturn

Filmmaker Chris Abbas edited this gorgeous collection of Cassini Solstice Mission images. Launched in 1997, Cassini is on a 20 year mission to study the Saturn system. Includes various close-ups of Saturn's rings and moons. Courtesy of Chris Abbas / Imagery from NASA's Cassini Solstice Mission / Music: Nine Inch Nails.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

HEADS-UP: Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite Set to Re-Enter Earth's Atmpshere

NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, will have an "uncontrolled reentry" into the Earth's atmosphere in late September or early October 2011, almost six years after the end of a productive scientific life. Although the 6.5 ton spacecraft (as big as a school bus) will break into pieces during re-entry, not all of it will burn up in the atmosphere, some pieces are expected to make it intact to the ground. More from NASA.

The now known land zone swath that covers most of the inhabited areas of the planet,from roughly Alaska and Denmark in the north to the tip of South America in the south. Readers who wish to track the UARS sateliite in its final days of orbit for observation or re-entry are encouraged to utilize Real Time Satellite Tracking. NASA will be providing debris zone updates in the final hours prior to the UARS entry into the atmosphere for possibe re-entry sightings.

The $750-million satellite orbits the Earth every 96-minutes. It was launched in 1991 aboard space shuttle Discovery (STS-48).

Investigators Look at Roskosmos Finances

The Russian Accounts Chamber says it's identified a possible reason for the spate of costly failures of Russia's space program involving misuse and irregularities of project funds. The initial findings come from an investigation of the spate of spacecraft losses by Roskosmos. Just last month, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered a complete investigation. Exactly when the Soyuz will be placed back into service remains to be officially announced leading to the possibility of humans abandoning the International Space Station.

Report: Space is Dangerously Polluted

There's too much junk in space. That's the major finding of a new report by the National Research Council. The head author is retired NASA scientist Donald Kessler. ABC Australia reports -- Kessler has been warning about the dangers of space debris since 1978.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11: an astronaut's perspective

Astronomy Photos of the Year 2011

Take a look at some of the winning photos with two of the judges from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, public astronomer Marek Kukula and astronomy programs manager Olivia Johnson. The judges' choice of the best images can be seen in a free exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, London, until February 2012. If you are in or near London, the photographs would be worthy to see.

Bolden Takes Q&A about ISS and SLS

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden engages the news media at the Atlas 5 Spaceflight Operations Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on September 7, 2011. The NASA Administrator answered questions regarding the Soyuz and de-manning the International Space Station (ISS) as well as the progress of the Space Launch System (SLS).

GRAIL Launched: Moon-bound now

NASA's Twin GRAIL spacecraft launhed from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 9:08 a.m. EDT on Saturday, September 10, 2011, on a mission to explore the moon in unprecedented detail after having been twice delayed the past week. The GRAIL spacecraft will map the moon's gravity and provide more data to scientists.  The ULA Delta-II Heavy boosted the moon probes as planned. More from NASA.

The Europeans, Japanese, Indians, Chinese and Americans have launched several lunar remote sensing probes the past few years. The Russians are also planning a luanr lander with India while America plans to launch the NASA LADEE mission from Wallops Island, Va. in 2013 to continue the study of the lunar assets.

ATK Moves HQ to Virginia; To Announce New Commercial Crew Agreement with NASA

As Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) annoucned its corporate headquaters move from Minnesota to Arlington County, Virginia, the firm is set to announce a new Space Act Agreement with NASA Tuesday, Spetmber 13, 2011.

NASA and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) managers will announce an agreement that could accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities at 3 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. The announcement will occur at the Press Site auditorium at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The event will not be carried live on NASA Television.

Saturday GRAIL Launch is 60% GO on Weather

The twice delayed twin Grail spacecraft are expected to launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today (Sept. 10, 2011) at 8:29 a.m. EDT (1229 GMT), with a second opportunity available at 9:08 a.m. EDT (1308 GMT), if needed, NASA officials said. NASA-TV is providing live coverage along with SpaceflightNow.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Russian Progress Cargo Spacecraft Readied for Launch on Soyuz-U in mid-October

Prelaunch processing of transport cargo vehicle ISS Progress 45 or Progress M-13M, under the International Space Station Program, is underway. Space vehicle ISS Progress 45 loaded with propellant and compressed gases has been delivered to SC ATF for the performance of final processing operations. I has been scheduled for launch in mid-October 2011 on a Soyuz-U booster rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The launch may pave the way for human Soyuz transports to resume in November, 2011, notes The Wall Street Journal.

Andre Kuipers trains at Star City for Soyuz

ESA's next space-bound astronaut, André Kuipers, has spent most of the summer intensively training for his upcoming mission to the International Space Station with his crewmates Oleg Kononenko and Don Pettit. In the ISS the Dutch Astronaut will take part in ESA's fourth long duration mission.

Kuipers has passed the cosmonaut exams. While the Soyuz has been grounded by a recent launch failure of the Soyuz-U, it is anticipated that his human-rated Soyuz will launch sometime in November with three European, American and Russian astronauts/cosmonaut aboard.

Astronaut Ron Garan and Cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev Discuss Life on ISS

A little more than a week before they head back to Earth after nearly six months on the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev (Sasha) talk about how their perspective in space can inspire people to make a difference on Earth.

Soyuz one-off production fault, says Russia

A special commission investigating the causes of the August 24, 2011 failed launch of Russia's Soyuz-U Progress-44 cargo rocket has recommended enhancing the control of the production of engines for Soyuz rockets, Russian space agency Roscosmos said.

The Russian investigation commission today blamed a one-off production fault in a rocket engine for the crash of an unmanned spaceship last month but nevertheless ordered checks of all similar rocket motors. A blocked duct cut the fuel supply to the Soyuz-U's third-stage, causing its engine to shut down prematurely, Roskosmos said in a statement.

If the Soyuz booster recertification is delayed beyond November, the International Space Station will be required to be abandoned by all human crew.  With the commission findings now made, it will be up to NASA and American engineers to give the go ahead for launch of a NASA astronaut aboard the crewed Soyuz booster. The consultations are expected to continue over several weeks between the two space agencies.

After the retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet earlier this summer, Russian Soyuz spacecraft became the only way for astronauts to reach the ISS until at least the middle of the decade. NASA is paying its Russian counterpart Roscosmos more than $1 billion for crew transport services over the next four years.

"Let's change the world." - Bill Nye

Bill Nye, Executive Director of the Planetary Society delivers 20,000+ petitions to Congress and President Obama in support of space exploration. Congress is developing the budget for the next federal fiscal year. Science and space exploration face horrific cuts ranging from Commercial Crew Development to the James Webb Space Telescope. You can help to "change the world" by communicating with your members of Congress - in-person, by telephone, e-Mail, and 'snail' mail. It will make a difference.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

NASA Looks at Lunar Property Rights

NASA managers are working on internal plans to protect the Apollo lunar landing “heritage sites” from potential damage from future visiting spacecraft – such as the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) vehicles – listing a long set of recommendations on keep-out zones, reports NASA Spaceflight.

If NASA proceeds to develop "keep-out zones" or "exclusion zones", no-fly zones for descent/landing vehicles, etc. around a number of sites, including Apollo landing sites, Surveyor sites, and S-IV B impact sites, on the surface of the moon for future explorers, it appears the space agency is seeking to create a surface property right on the moon.

The possibility of a NASA "keep-out zones" raises the specter of possible government action to claim a property right, perhaps creating a conundrum in international law, e.g. the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Three years ago, Popular Mechanics looked at the unusual legal problem.  

Cape Launch Range Goes RED for Moon

As expected, the Cape Canaveral, Flordia range weather was unacceptable for the launch of the Delta rocket carring the twin GRAIL lunar satellite launch. Mission control is seeking a 24-hour countdown recycle.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

United States: Running out of astronauts?

NASA needs to keep the training pipeline for its astronaut corps intact to stabilize the ranks of U.S. agency astronauts, a report by an expert panel of the National Research Council says.

The number of astronauts has been substantially reduced in recent years -- from 150 in 2000 to 61 astronauts in 2011, the council experts said. Much of the decrease was due to the planned retirement of the space shuttle and the transition from building to operating the International Space Station, USA Today reported Wednesday. More from The Washington Post.

Space Junk: What to do?

GRAIL Launch Campaign Enters Final Phase

The moon has captivated humanity's collective imagination for hundreds of years, but despite study with telescopes, astronauts and robotic probes, our nearest neighbor remains a mystery. NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission (GRAIL) features twin spacecraft setting off on a challenging mission to map the moon's gravity. What they learn could teach us more about the moon's past -- and how the inner solar system's rocky planets developed.

Technicians will begin arriving around 8 p.m. EDT tonight for final engineering walkdown inspections of the vehicle and work to ready the tower-on-wheels for retraction to reveal the 12-story rocket. The actual moving of the gantry is expected to occur sometime between 10:30 p.m. and midnight EDT, weather permitting. Meteorologists still predicting a 40 percent chance of acceptable conditions for liftoff to occur on schedule. Thursday's launch, liftoff is planned for 8:37:06 a.m. EDT.

American Astronauts Talk to Press from ISS

ISS astronauts, who planned to temporarily abandon the space station, told the Associated Press that ground controllers are figuring out how best to leave the complex. Due to the Russian Soyuz rocket that crashed late last month in Sibera is the same type of rocket used to launch people to the station, the launch schedule has been delayed. There are two months before a decision on removing humans from the space station.

A Russian rocket could be ready to launch a new crew to the International Space Station by early November, preventing the outpost from being left unmanned indefinitely, reports The Flame Trench at Florida Today.

NASA's technology base is "largely depleted"

In a preliminary report released last week, the National Research Council concluded that NASA's technology base is "largely depleted" and the NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun resigning in the wake of his commissioned report. Uncertainty over the agency's goals have undermined efforts to develop new technology, the report found.

“In the modern era, in which the goals of space exploration have expanded beyond a single target, the necessary technological developments have become less clear and more effort is required to evaluate the best path for a forward-looking technology development program,” according to the interim report, commissioned on behalf of NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist as part of an ongoing review of technology development at the space agency.

“NASA has now entered a transitional stage, moving from the past era in which desirable technological goals were evident to all, to one in which careful choices among many conflicting alternatives must be made,” the research council said.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Symphony of Science - the Quantum World!

A musical investigation into the nature of atoms and subatomic particles, the jiggly things that make up everything we see. Featuring Morgan Freeman, Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, Brian Cox, Richard Feynman, and Frank Close.

GRAIL Moon Launch Set for Sept. 8, 2011

With the launch of the GRAIL lunar spacecraft mission less than two days away, Thursday, September 8, 2011, project scientists and engineers hold a pre-launch news conference at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. However, Flordia launch site weather may delay the GRAIL mission launch for a few days.

LRO Revisits Apollo Landing Sites

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, LRO, has captured the sharpest images ever taken from space of where three Apollo missions were conducted on the moon's surface. The pictures of the Apollo 17, Apollo 14, and Apollo 12 landing sites were taken while LRO was in what's referred to as a "dipping orbit," where the spacecraft was roughly 15 miles above the surface. They reveal the twists and turns of the paths made when the missions' six astronauts explored these areas, providing a new challenge for Moon-landing hoax believers. More from MSNBC.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Russians Go for Bigelow Business Model

A Russian space firm is seeking to provide a commercial 'space hotel' in 2017 for seven guests, seemingly taking a page (if not the book) from Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace business plan.

A guided tour of the Plesetsk Spaceport

The Plesetsk space center is Russia's only launch facility. The Russian Defense Ministry, which says most spacecraft will be launched from Plesetsk in the foreseeable future, also uses the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan today. A new Russian spaceport is being built in Siberia.

Spaceport in Kourou Entering New Era

Since its creation, the Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana has been synonymous with the Ariane rockets. Over the last thirty-two years, these launchers, in several versions, have orbited hundreds of spacecraft of all kinds: communication satellites, Earth observation and science exploration missions. This year, the Centre Spatial Guyanais steps into a new era. Activity has never been so intense with the arrival of two different launchers, Soyuz and VEGA, whose maiden flights are scheduled for the coming months.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

In the light you will find the road ...

Labor Day Thought: "A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving." ~ Albert Einstein

The Path Ahead: Asteroid Next or Moon Next?

Senior space agency representatives of Canada, Europe, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States recently met in Kyoto, Japan to advance the Global Exploration Roadmap for the next 25-years of human space exploration.

The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) developed a long-range human exploration strategy beginning with the International Space Station and expanding human presence into the solar system, leading ultimately to human missions to explore the surface of Mars.

Two potential pathways are ahead: "Asteroid Next" and "Moon Next." Both paths provide logical sequence of robotic and human missions providing practical approaches addressing common high-level exploration goals developed by the participating agencies, recognizing that individual preferences among participating space agencies may vary regarding these pathways.

To be released in the next few weeks, the first iteration of the roadmap will inform and focus the planning currently underway in each of the partner agencies in the areas of planetary robotic exploration, advanced technology development and use of the space station in preparation for exploration.

AstroRobonaut: Can R-2 assume ISS command?

The humanoid Robonaut-2 (R-2) was powered-up by inside the International Space Station (ISS) on Sept. 1, 2011 but the astronauts and NASA’s Mission Control team noted the need to make sensor adjustments prior to "first motion" by mid-month.

Aviation Week notes, "Project engineers plan a continuing series of workouts that in the near term place R2 before a task board in Destiny to assess the machine’s effectiveness with a collection of tools. Next, he may take on maintenance duties in the lab, cleaning air flow filters and sanitizing handrails."

The 330-pound humanoid robot is set to begin its life as an astronaut's assistant or, come November is it to become the acting-commander aboard the International Space Station if each of the six humans depart due to lack of human space transports?

R-2 ground controllers say the robot may be able to take on a few mundane chores — like taking air velocity measurements inside the space station — early next year. Plans now call for R-2 to gain space legs in 2013 for subsequent ISS spacewalks.

But can Robonaut-2 deal with a rapid promotion from astronaut-assistant to ISS command? Can NASA programmers speed the development to tend the space station should humans be required to depart in November? Exactly what R-2 is possibily capable to do if there are no humans around? Are NASA and GM considering such a plan? Where are the "failure is not an option" robot engineers?

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Climate change studies continue ...

The NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) represents a critical first step in building the next-generation weather satellite system. Goddard Space Flight Center is leading NASA's effort to launch a satellite that will carry the first of the new sensors developed for this next-generation system, previously called the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and now the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

NPP is carrying five instruments on board. The biggest and most important instrument is The Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite or VIIRS. This video focuses on VIIRS and why it is so important to Earth's science.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Blue Origin Test Spacecraft Crashes in Texas

Blue Origin's experimental rocket crashed in West Texas last week potentially setting back efforts to expand America's commercial space launch sector. The loss of the unmanned spacecraft first came to light an online report by The Wall Street Journal, and was confirmed by a posting to Blue Origin's website.

"The spacecraft, developed by closely held Blue Origin LLC, was on a suborbital flight from the company's West Texas spaceport last week when ground personnel lost normal contact with the vehicle. Investigators are looking at remnants of the craft recovered on the ground to determine the cause," the report said today.

“Three months ago, we successfully flew our second test vehicle in a short hop mission, and then last week we lost the vehicle during a developmental test at Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 45,000 feet,” said Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos.  “A flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered our range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle. Not the outcome any of us wanted, but we’re signed up for this to be hard, and the Blue Origin team is doing an outstanding job. We’re already working on our next development vehicle.”

MSNBC's Alan Boyle,  Forbes Magazine's Clare O'Connor, and FoxNews provide more details to this developing NewSpace story.

Human Spaceflight: Carney in Coal Mine?

Eric Sterner, a fellow at the George C. Marshall Institute, discusses the importance of prestige in space exploration policy.

Another milestone for China's Chang´e 2

Headed to the Lonely World of Pluto

Dwarf planet Pluto is a world of mystery waiting to be visited for the first time. NASA's New Horizons probe is racing across the solar system for a ground breaking close encounter that could dramatically alter what researchers "know" about Pluto and other small worlds. The spacecraft will arrive at Pluto in July 2015.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Cosmonauts prepare despite safety concern

A team of cosmonauts and astronauts has begun training for the next mission to the International Space Station against a backdrop of concern over the crash of the Progress and its implications for the safety of future manned missions.  The next team of three are taking final examinations at Moscow Star City this week. Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin and Daniel Burbank do not know when they will launched to the ISS, but they show no signs of either disappointment or apprehension following recent launch problems, RT’s Peter Oliver reports.

Astronaut Leroy Chiao Says Work with China

In a special commentary to CNN, former astronaut Leroy Chiao who served as a NASA astronaut from 1990 to 2005 and flew four missions into space, including flights aboard the space shuttles Columbia, Endeavour and Discovery, said "Bring China into the International Space Station program. China is the only other entity besides the U.S. and Russia with a human spaceflight capability. In fact China is, at the moment, the only entity that can launch astronauts into low earth orbit."

"Here's how it might work. NASA would follow the model used to begin work with the Russians in the early 1990s. Technical exchanges of specialists and astronauts would pave the way for developing plans, processes and procedures to allow modification of the Shenzhou spacecraft to rendezvous and dock with the ISS, with joint Chinese, U.S. and Russian crews. The United States would lead these efforts," Chiao suggests.

Chiao is executive vice-president of Excalibur Almaz Limited, a commercial spaceflight company headquartered in Isle of Man, British Isles. EA and its support contractors are located in Moscow, Tokyo, Houston and Los Angeles.

Commercial Suborbital Workshop Sept. 7th

The Innovative Partnership Program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. is hosting a an Emerging Commercial Suborbital Capabilities Vehicles Workshop at Goddard on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The workshop will give an opportunity for commercial companies who provide sub-orbital services to brief Goddard Earth and space science researchers and scientists about the new vehicles being developed and their potential capabilities. The workshop will also allow both groups to discuss science topics that might be conducted from these platforms. These emerging capabilities are seen as complementary to existing NASA suborbital platforms and personnel from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility will be participating to discuss current capabilities that exist within the agency.

This workshop will allow for an open discussion of issues such as platform capabilities and measurement needs. By talking now, any potential payload accommodation requests will be understood and more easily managed.

Suborbital reusable launch vehicles enable researchers to directly access regions of Earth’s atmosphere that are too high for balloons and too low for satellites to operate. There are numerous unresolved scientific issues related to that atmospheric region that science cannot currently address because of inadequate observational sampling.

Pizza on the Moon? Extra Cheese Please!

A pizza joint on the moon would cost 1.67 trillion yen ($22 billion), according to an estimate produced for Domino’s Pizza Japan Inc.

The hypothetical moon branch, which the chain has no obvious intention of actually building, would be built of 4,850 tons of concrete made on the moon, according to a “plan” compiled by Maeda Corp.’s Fantasy Marketing Department for the pizza company. Cheese, presumably, would also be in plentiful supply.

Steel plates, concrete-making machinery and other construction equipment would have to be transported from the Earth in about 15 rocket missions. The transportation cost for the 70 tons of materials was estimated at 560 billion yen, and the cost of making the concrete on the moon was estimated at 194 billion yen.

The marketing stunt is the latest development in a pizza space race in which Domino’s rival Pizza Hut took a decisive lead in 2001, delivering a pizza to cosmonauts on the International Space Station.
More from AdWeek, Pizza News, The Daily Telegraph, and FoxNews.

This Week @NASA: ISS Crew Return Set

September 16 is the new date for three members of the Expedition 28 crew to return home from the International Space Station. The journey back to Earth for Andrey Borisenko, Ron Garan, and Alexander Samokutyaev, will conclude on September 16 with a landing of their Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan at 12:01 a.m. Eastern. Originally scheduled for September 8, their return had been postponed indefinitely after the station-bound Progress 44 spacecraft failed to reach orbit after its August 24 launch.

The video also provides information on the Taurus-2 set to launch early next yeat from Wallops Island, Va., the GRAIL spacecraft to the Moon, remote weather sensing from space and other items.

What's Up Sept: The moon and GRAIL launch

Enjoy a tour of lunar landing sites as the NASA's Grail Mission launches to the moon this month (set for Thursday, September 8, 2011).