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Saturday, December 31, 2011

NASA GRAIL-A Goes into Moon Orbit

The first of two gravity-mapping NASA spacecraft, GRAIL-A, entered into orbit around the moon December 31st with a second, GRAIL-B, coming into a similar orbit on New Year's Day 2012 to begin an extensive mapping of the Moon's gravity field with extensive detail.

The data from the mission will help scientists better understand the formation of the Moon, theorized to have occured from a crash of a Mars-like planet into Earth 4.5 billion years ago.

More than 100 scientific missions have targeted the moon since 1959.

India's New Space Shuttle Testing Underway: Chandrayaan-2 Moon Rover Planned for 2013

India is working towards realising its dream - to create a re-usable satellite launch vehicle. An engineering model of what scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) call the re-usable launch vehicle, is currently housed at a secure and secret facility in Kerala, India. More tests will occur in 2012.

In parallel, India has more realistic and currently working a program for human spaceflights in 2016 with non-reusable conventional spacecraft orbital vehicle launched by non-reusable launcher GSLV. An astronaut training facility is begin created in Bangalore. The initial two-member "Gaganaut" space crew will spend a week in space, if all goes as now planned.

India's space agency is planning to launch its first robotic mission to land on the Moon in 2013. Chandrayaan-2, which literally means the second moon vehicle in the Sanskrit language, will be a collaboration with Russia. Scientists will utilize the rover to assess the presence of water, oxygen and salt - all necessary of humans are to eventually build longer-term presence on the Moon.

The Satish Dhawan Space Center on the island north of Chennai, India will serve as the launch facility for the Chandrayaan-2 Moon mission as well as the planned 2016 human orbital mission launch site. But according to a post at Parabolic Arc, the human space effort by India may be delayed.

SpaceX Preparing for February 7, 2012 Mission

NASA recently announced February 7, 2012, as the new target launch date for the upcoming mission to visit the International Space Station (ISS). In addition, NASA officially confirmed that SpaceX will be allowed to complete the objectives of COTS 2 and COTS 3 in a single mission.

The COTS 2 and COTS 3 objectives of the flight include approach, berthing with the ISS, astronauts opening Dragon and unloading cargo, and finally astronauts closing the spacecraft and sending it back to Earth for recovery from the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

The SpaceX Falcon-9 Dragon mission marks a major milestone in American spaceflight. While the first missions to the ISS will be to transport cargo, both Falcon 9 and Dragon were designed to ultimately transport astronauts - expected by mid-decade.

The Year in Space for Russia: mixed, at best

The Year of Space, as the Russian government hailed the coming of 2011, ended up to be the most disastrous 12 months for the Russian space industry in the post-Soviet era.

A total of four missions which left their launch pads during 2011 either never made it into space (Progress M-12M, Meridian No. 5) or ended up in wrong orbits (Geo-IK-2, Ekspress-AM4). To top it off, Russia's loudly advertised return to planetary exploration after a 15-year hiatus ended in a high-profile fiasco, when the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft got stranded in low Earth orbit almost immediately after its launch on November 9, 2011.

However, all these failures coincided with an extremely hectic launch rate, almost matching that of two other leading space nations -- US and China -- combined! Despite setbacks, Russia has succeeded in bolstering or reviving space capabilities that the nation had lacked for many years, including the launch of a major astrophysics observatory -- Spektr-R; the return to geostationary orbit with a weather satellite Elektro-L; the re-introduction of a data-relay network with Luch-5A and the beginning of flight testing of an upgraded navigation satellite -- GLONASS-K.

Last but not least, the Soyuz rocket received a brand-new launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, which increased the capabilities of the veteran launch vehicle family in delivering commercial payloads into space.

Voyager-1 on an interstellar star trek in 2012

This year, 2011, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space. Data obtained from Voyager over the last year reveal this new region to be a kind of cosmic purgatory. In it, the wind of charged particles streaming out from our sun has calmed, our solar system's magnetic field is piled up, and higher-energy particles from inside our solar system appear to be leaking out into interstellar space.

Although Voyager 1 is about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun, it is not yet in interstellar space. In the latest data, the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed, indicating Voyager is still within the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself. The data do not reveal exactly when Voyager 1 will make it past the edge of the solar atmosphere into interstellar space, but suggest it will be in a few months to a few years, perhaps 2012.

Both the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft have adequate electrical power and attitude control propellant to continue operating until around 2025, after which there may not be available electrical power to support science instrument operation. At that time, science data return and spacecraft operations will cease. More from VOA.

What's up for January 2011: Four Planets

Check out a pretty parade of planets this month. Venus at dusk, Jupiter overhead, Mars before midnight, Saturn near sunrise.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Space Shuttle Program: A final tribute

The United States retired the space shuttle fleet in 2011. The orbiters Atlantis, Discovery, Endeavour, Enterprise, soon to be making apperances in museums around the nation in 2012. Challenger and Columbia will continue to fly in our memories. The spacecraft and their astronauts  made human history for thirty years, [Video best viewed full screen]. In many ways, Americans will miss the thunderous roar of the main engine start sequence and the thunderous roar as the soared from the Kennedy Space Center launch pads. Yet it is time to turn the page and go beyond low earth orbit to be the grown-up "Children of Apollo."

Explore Space 2011: A Year in Review

A look back at an exciting year of exploration of 2011. The New Year of 2012 promises to be equally exciting throughout the solar system.

Ringing in the New Year at the Space Station

The International Space Station video update for Dec. 26-30, 2011.

Chinese Media Outlines Space White Paper

A white paper published on Thursday reports that China has made innovative achievements and breakthroughs in major space projects. And space technology has seen a remarkable upgraded. Issued by the State Council Information Office, the paper says China will push forward to create a foundation for future human spaceflight.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chinese Policy: Land Humans on the Moon

China has declared its intention to land "taikonauts" on the moon, in the first official confirmation of its aim to go where Americans last set foot nearly 40 years ago.

While Chinese scientists have previously discussed the possibility of a manned lunar mission, a government white paper published in the China Daily on Thursday is the first public government document to enshrine it as a policy goal.

China will “conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing”, the white paper said, as reported by Simon Rabinovitch in Beijing for The Financial Times, (dramatization video of first Chinese moon landing in 2020).

Spokesman Zhang Wei noted China has signed 66 international space cooperation agreements with 22 states and regions, and 44 of them currently remain in effect, noted the Xinhua media outlet in China, pointing to Chinese international space technology cooperation for peaceful purposes.  The New York Times suggests that the Chinese white paper on the new five-year space plan presents a challenge to the American space community and United States strategic competitiveness.

While the Obama Administration has signaled a willingness to work with China, the Congress has blocked any effort to link the US-Chinese space efforts. The Chinese are slated to mount two human orbital missions in 2012 to their now orbiting space lab with intent to construction their own international space station by 2020 and conducting robotic lunar missions by mid-decade.

CubeSat launcher market demand growing: Virginia making effort to boost development

Earlier this month, news of a proposed Virginia tax incentive for sending cremated remains into space went viral around the globe.

Stories appeared in Germany, Great Britian, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and throughout the United States. Most mocked the idea, some have taken a more serious look see, like WDBJ-TV Roanoke, Va. Yet the real opportunity of the incentive is being missed by journalists.

The opportunity is to boost CubeSats as primary satellite payloads at a significantly lower cost than exists today. There is more to the story of the state tax credit proposal than meets the eye.

KentuckySpace KySatCubeSat
Secondary payloads, however unconventional or unusual they may seem at first blush, may defray costs associated with carrying the primary satellite payloads to orbit. In many cases, the primary payloads of sounding rockets lofting from Wallops Island, Va. are scholarly and scientific, involving students learning engineering and science skills, but they fail to be put in orbit.

CubeSats—so named because the satellites are cubes 10 centimeters on a side—have found a niche among universities, becoming a relatively inexpensive means of giving engineering studies hands-on experience with space hardware. It is a potential disruptive technology, while others note a lack of CubeSat maturity. Many universities, especially in Kentucky, are seeking to go mainstream without a defined NanoSat dedicated rocket booster.

The Space-X Falcon-1 was to be a launcher for small NanoSat or MicroSats to orbit. However, the market has not fully matured to the satisfaction of the commercial space launch firm. To mature this niche space access market NASA and the FAA are seeking to prime the pump, notes space policy analyst Jeff Foust, last summer in Space Review. Orbital Sciences Corporation has sought to enable CubeSat launches on the TaurusXL in the past.

Last year NASA announced the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge as part of its Centennial Challenges prize program. The competition would offer $2 million to a vehicle capable of placing a single CubeSat into orbit and doing it again within a week. SpaceFlorida is supporting the NASA program.

Separately, the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) included in its fiscal year 2012 budget proposal a request for $5 million for a “Low Cost Access to Space Incentive”, a prize competition to promote the development of nanosatellite-class launchers. Like the NASA competition, this prize would go to the first non-government team to launch a single CubeSat, although in this case the launch system would have to be at least partially reusable, Foust noted.

The Virginia proposal for a tax incentive to launch cremated remains as a secondary payload to CubeSats may be ahead of the curve, but it certainly fits within the paradigm to make CubeSat LEO  more than mere hitchhikers -perhaps a CubeSat going to the Moon. Right now, Virginia university space research is lagging other states, despite increasing demand.

But, if the state's proposal serves as an incentive for development of a new commercial space launch booster and moving secondary payload to primary, the effort made will earn cheers for Virginia (again, pg. 3); or, at least, from those seeking innovation at NASA, the FAA and NewSpace CubeSat community.

Orbital Sciences' new Antares rocket will boost secondary payloads to LEO in 2012

Spaceflight Inc. announced last month that it has two customers to fly 4-NanoSats on the maiden flight of the Antares (formerly Taurus II) rocket being developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation and launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Va.

Under a contract with a US Government customer, Spaceflight will integrate three 1U (10x10x10 cm) spacecraft in a single ISIPOD 3U dispenser. Under a second contract with a commercial customer, Spaceflight will integrate one 3U (10x10x34 cm) spacecraft in a single ISIPOD.

Spaceflight reached a separate agreement with Orbital Sceinces Corporation to carry the small spacecraft as secondary payload into orbit aboard the Cygnus mass simulator that will be launched in the test flight. The test flight of the Antares is being conducted by Orbital as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

ORBCOMM OG2-Sats to Launch via SpaceX

ORBCOMM Inc. of New Jersey and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of California announced December 28, 2011 the launch schedule for ORBCOMM’s second generation (OG2) satellites.

The updated plan includes launching the first OG2 prototype satellite on the first Cargo Re-supply Services (CRS) mission in mid-2012, followed closely by an additional launch of two OG2 satellites into a high inclination orbit as a secondary payload in late 2012.

In early 2013, SpaceX plans to launch eight to twelve OG2 satellites, and the remainder of the constellation of 18 OG2 satellites is expected to be launched in 2014. All launches are expected to be on Falcon 9 rockets.

"We are excited to put ORBCOMM's second generation satellites into orbit as scheduled, in the most desirable inclinations with the least amount of risk." said Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX. "ORBCOMM has been a great partner and we are looking forward to launch."

"We are pleased that SpaceX has offered ORBCOMM this opportunity to launch two satellites that will help our customers using our OG2 messaging services, and additionally augment service to our maritime Automatic Identification System (AIS) customers that benefit from coverage at higher inclinations," said Marc Eisenberg CEO of ORBCOMM. "The net outcome of these revised launch plans has us launching OG2 satellites at a faster pace with less risk."

Meanwhile, ORBCOMM, Inc. announced earlier this week that LuxSpace Sarl (LuxSpace), an affiliate of OHB System AG, has confirmed that construction and testing of the LuxSpace. The VesselSat2 AIS satellite has been successfully completed. The spacecraft has been shipped to the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWC)'s Tiayuan Satellite Launch Center (TSLC) in the Ganso Province of the People's Republic of China. The target launch date for VesselSat2 is set for January 10, 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Soyuz-2-1A rockets Globalstar-2 to orbit

A Soyuz-2-1A rocket with Fregat booster and six American Globalstar-2 satellites launched from Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan today (Dec. 28, 2011), at (12:09 PM EST or 17:09 UTC. The rocket carried six Globalstar-2 Satellites into orbit. All indicates are a successful Russian launch.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Young Kim Jong-un now with missile control

North Korea's new 28 or 29 year old leader Kim Jong-un has become the “supreme commander” of the military putting him in control the nation's growing missile and nuclear bomb making capabilities as well as space launch.

The North Korean news media and military elite have steadily built the Kim Jong-un  image as a “young commander.” (He did attend the country’s top military school, but there is no indication that he served as a soldier.) Nonetheless, he was declared Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army on 24 December 2011, in charge of the overall party leadership.

The late 20-something North Korean leader now has general charge of ballistic missiles and nuclear facilities. His government and military are likely closer to mounting nuclear warheads on its ballistic missiles than generally reported, possibly only one or two years away, the Congress's former top expert on the issue has concluded.

Larry Niksch, who tracked North Korea for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service for 43 years, concludes in a new paper that the North probably would need as little as one to two years to miniaturize and mount a nuclear warhead atop its medium-range Nodong missile once it has produced enough highly enriched uranium as the warhead's core fuel, reports Reuters.

The Korean People’s Army is among the world’s largest, with 1.1 million troops on active duty in a country with a population of 23 million. Soldiers serve 10 years in the military, which runs its own factories and trading arms, and being in the military is a privilege reserved for those considered loyal to the leadership.

China Beidou Navigation Goes Operational

China flipped the switch on a satellite navigation system December 27, 2011, which will provide positioning, navigation, and timing operational services to China and the surrounding region, according to the state-run Xinhua News.

The Beidou Navigation Satellite System is intended to replace China's reliance on the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). Officials starting building Beidou in 2000 and since then, the country has launched 10 satellites, the most recent of which went up in November, Xinhua said. Six more satellites will launch in 2012; work is not expected to be complete until 2020.

Xinhua said Beidou is compatible with the U.S. system, as well as the EU's Galileo Positioning System and Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS).

Happy New Year 2012 from Expedition 30

From aboard the International Space Station, Commander Dan Burbank and his Expedition 30 crew send their best to all for a happy and healthy 2012.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Anousheh Ansari: 1st Female Private Space Explorer Interviewed after "Space Tourists"

Anousheh Ansari, the first private space female space explorer and technology entrepreneur, answers questions about space travel, technology and the social hurtles women in science and the technology field face. Anousheh also recounts her own experiences in business and in space travel. The Documentary Channel has released a film about her experience entitled "Space Tourists."

Phobos-Grunt incoming to Afghanistan?

Scientists and Earth residents are hoping the planet Earth's atmosphere will do its job and incinerate the trouble-plagued, toxic and now defunct Phobos-Grunt spacecraft now expected to crash January 14, 2012 somewhere between 30.7 Degrees North and 62.3 Degrees East in southwestern Afghanistan near the city of Mirabad, reports RIA Novosti.
The U.S. Strategic Command said the spacecraft would enter the atmosphere at 2.22 a.m. Moscow time (22.27 GMT) estimating an Afghanistan re-entry from its detailed tracking of the now dead interplanetary space probe, said the Russian news source. The US DoD unit is charged with space operations.

The Russian Federal Space agency Roscosmos said earlier that the troubled spacecraft would fall between January 6-19 at a location between 51.4 Degrees North and 51.4 Degrees South. The area includes the U.S., China, Africa, Australia, Japan, the Middle East, which includes Afghanistan, the south of western Europe, Ukraine and a small part of Russia.

Six tons of the 8.5 ton spacecraft is made up of a poisonous propellant consisting of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and dinitrogen tetroxide (DTO).

"These chemicals are just lethal, very nasty, but we should be safe from them because of the incredible heat of re-entry. After all, this stuff is meant to burn and this probe doesn't have heat shields," editor  Jonathan Nally told Malcolm Holland of The Daily Telegraph in Australia.

Space consulting expert James Oberg told media said the tons of toxic fuel could make the Phobo-Grunt spacecraft, now suffering total battery failure, "the most toxic falling satellite ever" when it re-enters the atmosphere, perhaps impacting he surface of the Earth.

US Moon Probes Set to Enter Lunar Orbit

Over the New Year's weekend, a pair of spacecraft the size of washing machines are set to enter orbit around it in the latest lunar mission. Their job is to measure the uneven gravity field and determine what lies beneath — straight down to the core, in the $496 million, three-month NASA mission.

On New Year's Eve, one of the Grail probes — short for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory — will fire its engine to slow down so that it could be captured into orbit. This move will be repeated by the twin spacecraft on New Year's Day, January 1, 2012.

As the probes circle the moon, regional changes in the lunar gravity field will cause them to speed up or slow down. This in turn will change the distance between them. Radio signals transmitted by the spacecraft will measure the slight distance gaps, allowing researchers to map the underlying gravity field.

Using the gravity information, scientists can deduce what's below or at the lunar surface such as mountains and craters and may help explain why the far side of the moon is more rugged than the side that faces Earth.

The probes are officially known as Grail-A and Grail-B. Several months ago, NASA hosted a contest inviting schools and students to submit new names. The probes will be christened with the winning names after the second orbit insertion, Zuber said.

Besides the one instrument on board, each spacecraft also carries a camera for educational purposes. Run by a company founded by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, middle school students from participating schools can choose their own lunar targets to image during the mission.

The gravitational field of the Moon has been measured through tracking the Doppler shift of radio signals emitted by orbiting spacecraft. The main lunar gravity features are mascons, large positive gravitational anomalies associated with some of the giant impact basins, partly caused by the dense mare basaltic lava flows that fill these basins. These anomalies greatly influence the orbit of spacecraft about the Moon. There are some puzzles: lava flows by themselves cannot explain all of the gravitational signature, and some mascons exist that are not linked to mare volcanism.

In 2013, NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will explore the extremely-thin Moon atmosphere and floating dust. This moon mission will launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.

Stay turned, knowledge of the Moon is about to increase with the integration of the internationally gathered lunar surface mapping data with the gravitational data and new knowledge of the lunar atmosphere by mid-decade. There may even be a privately financed human mission to the Moon. MORE.

Russians Delay Launch of Proton-M for Tests

The launch of a Russian Proton-M carrier rocket with a Dutch telecommunications satellite SES-4 (NSS-14) onboard was called off on Monday due to "technical problems", a spokesman for the Khrunichev State Research and Production Center said.

"The date and time of the launch will be set after the detected faults are removed and additional tests are carried out," a source tolf Interfax of Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin's decision to postpone the launch.

The SES-4 (formerly NSS-14) satellite would have been launched on a Proton-M launch vehicle topped by a Breeze-M upper stage booster. The launch was scheduled for December 26, 2011 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Russia has experienced a number of launch mishaps in the past 13 months, including the crash of a Meridian dual purpose satellite shortly after take-off last week. The rocket failures come on top of the loss of Phobos-Grunt, Russia's most ambitious planetary mission in decades. It became stuck in Earth orbit after its launch in November and is expected to fall back to Earth on the 14th of January 2012 in southwestern Afghanistan near the city of Mirabad.

Russian Soyuz-2 'Go' from Baikonur

A Russian Soyuz-2 Fregat booster is to orbit six American Globalstar-2 telecommunications satellites after blasting off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan with the green light by technical inspectors. Watch LIVE launch here with an approximate 12 PM launch time Wednesday, December 28, 2011.

Private circumlunar human mission TBA 2012

Since 2001, Space Adventures, Ltd. has arranged for seven private citizens to fly to space each spending approximately 10 days on board the International Space Station, but the firm has lunar plans.

The commercial space firm has been organizing the much-touted mission to circumnavigate the moon, on a circumlunar trajectory since 2005.  Many expect the flyby of the private lunar spaceflight participants to be announced in 2012. Their Russian cosmonaut commander-pilot to be announced later.

In January 2011, the Virginia-based Space Adventures announced that it had sold one of the seats on the lunar voyage for $150-million. Negotiations for selling a second $150-million seat have been underway. Space Adventures seeks to launch the circumlunar voyage on a Soyuz capsule sometime in 2015 on a mission dubbed Deep Space Expedition Alpha (DSE-Alpha).

The DSE proposal is to launch the Soyuz with one crew member and two passengers aboard; a Zenit rocket booster will then be launched carrying a rocket stage weighing up to 14.5t, to dock with the Soyuz and propel it to circumlunar velocity. Two different flight profiles were originally proposed by Space Adventures. The direct-staged profile, lasting about 8-9 days, would involve docking to the booster stage intended to propel the craft and direct departure for the Moon.

The other profile, lasting about 9-21 days, would incorporate a several day visit to the International Space Station into the flight plan before rendezvousing with the booster stage and departing for the Moon. If either flight profile were to be adopted and executed, it would be the first flight for humans outside of low earth orbit in 33-years, or since 1972's Apollo 17 flight to the surface of the Moon.

A number of commercial space advocates believe it will be a private citizen who next returns to the surface of the Moon, prior to any Earth government. Only the balance of the decade will tell.

Space Adventures has been seeking additional flights from the Russians to continue to send private spaceflight participants to the International Space Station by gaining dedicated Soyuz vehicles carrying two spaceflight participants instead of the normal one. Recent issues with the Soyuz booster are calling the plans into question, however.

China to Launch Space Lab Crews in 2012; Continue Developing Lunar Rover for 2013

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is on track to launch two human taikonaut space crews to the Tiangong 1 space lab in 2012/2013 with the Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 spacecraft as a part of the Chinese Project 921. China's first female is expected to be among the crew.

A dramatisation video of Chinese Shenzhou spaceflights featured pin-up actress Zeng Li as China's first female taikonaut.

A second space lab, Tiangong 2 is expected to be launched in 2013. This will be larger than Tiangong 1 at some 20 tons and 14.4 metres length. This will be visited by future Shenzhou missions though exact details are not yet available.

A larger basic permanent space station is expected to be the third and last phase of Project 921. This will be a modular design with an eventual weight of around 60 tons, to be completed sometime before 2020. The first section, designated Tiangong 3, is scheduled for launch in 2015. Tiangong 3 will weigh 22 tons and be 18.1 metres long. Additional modules will be connected over several missions to build the space station. The Chinese space station is scheduled to be completed in 2020, just as the International Space Station is scheduled to retire.

In 2012, China will continue to develop its lunar hardware with a target of launching their third Moon probe, the Chang'e 3, with China's first lunar rover, in 2013. Chang'e 3 will operate for 90-days. It has been reported that the lander, a subsequent Chang'e 4 rover, will inspect the Moon's surface and probe its resources in 2017. The rovers would also provide data to determine the selection of a site for a manned Moon base.

The Chang'e 3 lander is scheduled to land on the Sinus Iridum at a latitude of 44° north. Chang'e 3 is currently scheduled to be the first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the Moon since Soviet Russia's Luna 24 in 1976, breaking a 37-year gap in lunar surface exploration.

By 2017, the Chinese lunar program aspires to launch Chang'e 4 to return a lunar regolith (soil) with up to two kilograms and returning the sample back to Earth for study. While no formal plan to place Chinese taikonauts on the surface of the moon, it is symbolic that the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) logo carries with it two human footsteps on the moon's surface and many expect the next humans on the Moon will be Chinese.

Meanwhile, the American Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, consisting of two small spacecraft GRAIL A and GRAIL B, were launched on 10 September 2011. The orbital insertion dates are December 31, 2011 (2011-12-31) (for GRAIL-A) and January 1, 2012 (2012-01-01) (for GRAIL-B). MORE.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Guest Radio DJ Elon Musk's Music

Rocket genius, electric-car manufacturer, and software developer, Elon Musk made an appearance as a guest radio disk jockey on WCRW Radio this past week playing music that has inspired him over the years. As Elon prepares to launch the Falcon 9 Dragon with the first commercial cargo to the International Space Station in February 2012, the radio station even gets Musk to whistle. Hat tip to Clark Lindsey at Hobby Space (11-minute DJ ).

Commercial Cargo Ships to Supply ISS in 2012

With a multinational crew of six having resumed residence aboard the International Space Station for the holidays, the American astronauts have commercial re-supply cargo ships dancing in their heads.

The Expedition 30 crew will perform dozens of experiments, many of which will focus on how the human body adapts to living and working in the weightless space environment -- work considered key to preparing for future missions beyond Earth orbit.

The astronauts and cosmonauts also will be on board for a test flight that will open a new era of commercial resupply services by SpaceX launching the Falcon 9 with Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral, Fla. and Orbital Sciences Corporation launching the Antares (Taurus-2)with the Cygnus capsule from Wallops Island, Va.. If all goes as planned, the Expedition 30 crew will dock the Dragon and new Cygnus spacecraft in early 2012.

"I view these vehicles like wagon trains supplying some government-run fort out West, and it doesn't matter whose wagon train it is. What's important is that the wagon train eventually makes it to the fort,"  U.S.astronaut Don Pettit said.

The Dragon and Cygnus commercial cargo carriers will join robotic Russian Progress, European ATV and Japanese HTV spacecraft in delivering cargo to the station over the next several years. SpaceX hopes to have the Dragon carrying American astronauts by mid-decade.

MIT Professor Sarah Seager Lectures on Kepler Spacecraft ExoPlanet Science

For centuries people have wondered, "Are we alone?" With hundreds of planets now known to orbit other stars, we are finally able to begin answering the ancient questions, "Do other Earths exist? Are they common? Do any have signs of life?

MIT Professor Sarah Seager discusses how astrobiology and space engineering research will come together to enable us to discover and identify other Earth-like worlds in this recent 70-minute SETI lecture. More on Dr. Seager.

NASA's Kepler space telescope will soon tell us the statistical numbers of Earth-size planets orbiting sun-size stars. Beyond Kepler is the search for potentially habitable worlds around nearby, sun-like stars.

Da Vinci glow to appear Monday the 26th

Greg Redfern photo of Earthshine
You may have seen “The Da Vinci Code” movie, but have you seen the Da Vinci glow?

Five hundred years ago, Leonardo Da Vinci solved an ancient astronomical riddle: the mystery of Earthshine. When you think of Leonardo Da Vinci, you probably think of the Mona Lisa or 16th-century submarines or, maybe, a certain suspenseful novel. That's old school. From now on, think of the Moon.

Little-known to most, one of Leonardo's finest works is not a painting or an invention, but rather something from astronomy: He solved the ancient riddle of Earthshine.

Earthshine with Venus nearby.
It will be a sight to see Monday evening at dusk, as “Earthshine,” or sunlight reflected off the Earth, generates a ghostly illumination of the shadowed moon along with the crescent that will be in direct sunlight, says the NASA Science News service.

For thousands of years, humans marveled at the beauty of this "ashen glow," or "the old Moon in the new Moon's arms." But what was it? No one knew until the 16th century when Leonardo figured it out.

Astronomers named this visual effect “the Da Vinci glow” after Leonardo Da Vinci, the genius who first determined its cause. This will not be the only celestial light to brighten the evening sky the day after Christmas, a date some celebrate as Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day. Venus will be prominent in the deep blue twilight, and the giant planet Jupiter will appear above it, in the constellation Pisces, NASA says.

Forming a triangle, the two planets and the moon will be the brightest lights in the night sky. Anyone can see them with the naked eye, but a telescope will improve the view: “With a simple triangular sweep, you can see the clouds and moons of Jupiter, mountains and craters on the moon, and the fat gibbous form of Venus,” say NASA astronomers. Rarely can so much amateur astronomy be done with so little effort.” The Moon and Venus will set about 2.5 hours after sunset Monday.

When the sun sets on the Moon, it gets dark--but not completely dark. There's still a source of light in the sky: Earth. Our own planet lights up the lunar night 50 times brighter than a full Moon, producing the ashen glow. The Earth's white clouds are most helpful in reflecting light to the lunar surface.

Visualizing this in the 1500s required a wild kind of imagination. No one had ever been to the Moon and looked "up" at Earth. Most people didn't even know that Earth orbited the sun. (Copernicus' sun-centered theory of the solar system wasn't published until 1543, twenty-four years after Leonardo died.)

Leonardo da Vinci: Genius
Wild imagination was one thing Leonardo had in abundance. His notebooks (Da Vinci Codex) are filled with sketches of flying machines, army tanks, scuba gear and other fantastic devices centuries ahead of their time. He even designed a robot: an armored knight that could sit up, wave its arms, and move its head while opening and closing an anatomically correct jaw.

To Leonardo, Earthshine was an appealing riddle. As an artist, he was keenly interested in light and shadow. As a mathematician and engineer, he was fond of geometry. All that remained was a trip to the Moon. It was a mental journey.

LIVE In-Flight Downlink to be held at the University of Virginia's College at Wise on Thursday, January 26, 2012, 9 AM

The downlink with the International Space Station shall commence at 9:20 AM.

The general public is invited to participate with hundreds of students from rural Central Appalachian Mountain communities in connecting by two-way audio and video in-flight link to the astronauts now aboard the International Space Station beginning at 9 AM, Thursday, January 26, 2012 at the University of Virginia's College at Wise newly-opened convocation center. The event shall get underway at 9 AM continue until about 12 noon.

ISS Commander Dan Burbank (NASA) and Flight Engineer Don Pettit (NASA), and the humanoid Robonaut-2 (NASA) are expected to take fifteen-to-twenty questions from among the students for about 20-minutes. On the ground, the student downlink will be hosted by NASA Associate Administrator for Education (and former astronaut) Leland Melvin from Wise. He will be joined by the first private female space explorer, Anousheh Ansari.

The downlink event will be televised and webcast by NASA-TV for student classrooms throughout the state from the campus convocation center, with the kind assistance of NASA and the Virginia Education Association.

In addition to the ISS astronauts and Melvin, the students will hear from one of the human-machine interface software designers of R2, Adam Sanders. The graduate of the University of Virginia and  Wise County Public Schools will discuss his work in the development of R2 while employed by General Motors. He will also discuss potential future applications for R2 on the Moon. A full-scale mock-up of R2 will be there.

Dr. Billie Reed, the executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, will give a presentation about the development of the Antares rocket and launch pads at the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. The facility is supporting the launch of commercial cargo resupply to the International Space Station beginning in the spring and a Moon flight called the NASA Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) in 2013.

Students will also be treated to an array of exhibits on the concourse of the convocation center ranging from  a mock-up Mars Rover Curiosity set to land on Mars in August, human spacesuits, photography displays of the space station, a Hubble Space Telescope demonstrator, Apollo lunar project murals, a super-sized Moon globe and a priceless Apollo 14 Moon rock.

The ProArt Association and the Wise County Chamber of Commerce will host an evening reception in the University of Virginia College at Wise Science Center from 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm on Thursday, January 26, 2012 to honor visitors from the NASA Langley Research Center while viewing the exhibits to Russian piano music.

STEM education organizers are hopeful that the event will stimulate interest in a number of programs either underway or planned for the rural Virginia students. Two high school teams have organized for the Team America Rocket Challenge while the FIRST Robotics Team looks to expand its number. An Aviator-in Training program is being organized for spring to teach students grades 9-12 pilot ground school (with a flight simulator) and leading to their first instructor-assisted airplane flights from the Lonesome Pine Regional Airport.

The most ambitious efforts expected to flow from the ISS in-flight downlink is for the University of Virginia's College at Wise to fly a science experiment on the International Space Station in partnership with Nanoracks, sometime in 2013.  Meanwhile, local high school students are being sought to enlist for participation in NASA HUNCH to build flight hardware for the ISS.

Mountain Empire Community College will be hosting a pre-downlink event on its campus in Big Stone Gap, VA. on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 between 10 AM and 12 noon, including a lecture by Adam Sanders. He will be joined by NASA Langley mechanical engineer Amanda Cutright, and the NASA DEVELOP earth sciences program for  presentations at the Goodlow Center on campus.

The unique series of events are being supported and sponsored by the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council, the Napoleon Hill Foundation, the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, Wise County, the Norton City Schools, Mountain Empire Community College, the University of Virginia's College at Wise, local Kiwanis Clubs, and a host of private corporate sponsors within the region and state. The NASA Teaching from Space Office at the Johnson Space Center is coordinating the downlink with local organizers managing the satellite and video wall technology contractors.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Uphoff Orbital Mechancis: Lunar Cycler Orbits and Tethers to the Moon's Surface

The late Chauncey Uphoff contributed interesting orbital mechanics for transport from low Earth orbit to and from low Moon orbit utilizing gravitational forces and, subsequently and more uniquely, the utilization of tethers to achieve lunar surface transport to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

Uphoff's 1991 abstract, (with M.A. Crouch), entitled "Lunar Cycler Orbits with Alternating Semi-Monthly Transfer Windows" enables the reader to invision the modern Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habits in a system of LEO Earth to LMO Moon and back in a rotating cycle, using electric populsion for minor corrections.

In a subsequent 1999 abstract Uphoff, (with Robert P. Hoyt), entitled "Cislunar Tether Transport System,", the two describe a space system architecture for repeatedly transporting payloads between LEO and the surface of the moon utilizing tethers, without significant propellent.

To enable a a two-world system, there must be cheaper and more reliable Earth-Moon transporation systems. It may well be as we gaze "Beyond Apollo", the work of the late Dr. Uphoff will be built upon by orbital machanics in this decade and the next.

This Year @NASA: 2011 in Review

From understanding our Earth, to new clues about possible life elsewhere. From fostering life-changing research in space, to sharing our vision of the future with those destined to journey there.

From the end of one monumental mission, to the beginning of a new era in the human exploration of our solar system. "This Year @NASA" looks back at the stories that made 2011 -- and help frame our path ahead.

Russian Space Industry "Suffering Crisis"

Russia's space industry needs an influx of new faces to overcome its current crisis, the head of the Roscosmos agency said on Friday, hours after a satellite crashed aboard a Soyuz-2 booster rocket in southern Siberia. (Russian-TV report)

The mishap Friday occurred about seven minutes after the Soyuz rocket fired away from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia at 1208 GMT (7:08 a.m. EST). The kerosene-fueled rocket pointed southeast from Plesetsk, a military-run launching base in Arkhangelsk oblast north of Moscow.

“The space branch is suffering a crisis. We must resolve this situation and give way to the youth…Perhaps it's time for reshuffle,” agency chief Vladimir Popovkin said, according to RIA Novosti.

It is the fifth failure of Russian-made rocket systems this year bringing renewed doubt as to the ability of the industry to sustain astronauts and cosmonauts safely aboard the International Space Station, according to the BBC. More from NASA SpaceflightSpaceflightNow, and The New York Times.

The 'Genesis' broadcast from the Moon

May we all witness a Christmas like this again - in this decade!

Merry Christmas Fellow Earthlings!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Soyuz TMA-03M Docks to Space Station

After launching in their Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft to the International Space Station, Expedition 30 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers arrived at the complex on December 23, docking their craft to the Rassvet module on the Russian segment of the complex.

A few hours after docking to the station, Kononenko, Pettit and Kuipers were greeted by three other crew members on the outpost, station Commander Dan Burbank of NASA and Russian Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, who have been aboard the orbital laboratory for just over a month.

Space Agency Poll-tics: "What is the biggest NASA accomplishment of 2011?"

NASA is conducting a poll of the major space agency accomplishment of 2011. The Spaceports blog urges reader participation and input into the NASA poll on the question posed: "What is the biggest NASA accomplishment of 2011?  You may want to give thought to the options presented or offer "Other" with comments. While the results will not change the direction of the agency in 2012, input never hurts.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

European Astroanut André Kuipers Dubbed "The Space-Flying Dutchman"

European astronaut André Kuipers is on his second voyage to the International Space Station to begin a nearly six month stay as a part of the six-member crew of Expedition 30. "The Space-Flying Dutchman" is being feted in a number of ways by his fellow countrymen in the Netherlands, as CollectSpace reports. Is it cheesie?

ISS Crew Sees Comet Lovejoy from Orbit

International Space Station Commander Dan Burbank captured spectacular imagery of Comet Lovejoy as seen from about 240 miles above the Earth's horizon on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011.

Today Burbank described seeing the comet two nights ago as "the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space," in an interview with WDIV-TV in Detroit. Last night he captured hundreds of still images of the comet.

Ho! Ho! Ho! A Martian Santa Claus?

Take a virtual sleigh ride over the real landscapes of Mars, courtesy of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (NASA JPL).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Soyuz Climbs to International Space Station

Liftoff at 2:31 into vid. - Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers began five months in space with the successful launch of their Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to the International Space Station. The three are joining Expedition 30 station Commander Dan Burbank of NASA and Russian Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, who've been on the outpost for just over a month. The trio is expected to dock with the space station Friday, 10:22 am EST, December 23, 2011.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Soyuz Crew Readied for Morning Flight to ISS

Expedition 30 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers appeared before the Russian State Commission on December 20, 2011, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Lift-off is set for 8:16 AM EST Wednesday.

The commission gave its final approval for their launch December 21, 2011 [8:16 AM EST Wednesday] to the International Space Station. The crew also conducted a final pre-launch news conference at the Cosmonaut Hotel crew quarters as they prepared for liftoff in the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft. A NASA spokesperson described the temperatures as "bitterly cold." The temperature was about minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

The trio will spend five months on the Station. Also featured in the video are the backup crew members, Russian Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko, NASA Flight Engineer Suni Williams and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide.

Earth-sized planets found but not in the habitable zone for liquid water

NASA's Kepler mission has discovered the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system. The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close to their star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface, but they are the smallest exoplanets ever confirmed around a star like our sun.

The discovery marks the next important milestone in the ultimate search for planets like Earth. The new planets are thought to be rocky. Kepler-20e is slightly smaller than Venus, measuring 0.87 times the radius of Earth. Kepler-20f is slightly larger than Earth, measuring 1.03 times its radius. Both planets reside in a five-planet system called Kepler-20, approximately 1,000 light-years away in the constellation Lyra.

Kepler-20e orbits its parent star every 6.1 days and Kepler-20f every 19.6 days. These short orbital periods mean very hot, inhospitable worlds. Kepler-20f, at 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius), is similar to an average day on the planet Mercury. The surface temperature of Kepler-20e, at more than 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit (760 degrees Celsius), would melt glass.

“The primary goal of the Kepler mission is to find Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone," said Francois Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., lead author of a new study published in the journal Nature. "This discovery demonstrates for the first time that Earth-size planets exist around other stars, and that we are able to detect them.”

Soyuz Readied for Wednesday 8:16 AM Launch

LAUNCH ALERT: Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency are scheduled to blast off at 8:16 a.m. EST Wednesday, December 21, 2011 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Live NASA TV coverage will begin at 7:30 a.m. The cosmonaut and astronauts will dock with the International Space Station this week bring the crew size back to six.

Virginia to Invest $4-Million in Spaceport

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell plans to spend $4 million to help finish building a new launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, writes Cory Nealon for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va.

Announced Monday with the release of McDonnell's two-year budget for Virginia, the funding is subject to debate. But state lawmakers, touting potential economic development benefits, have generally been supportive of the spaceport.

"We should also be at the forefront of another growing part of the private sector: the space industry," McDonnell said in a statement issued by his office.

Part of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, the spaceport is one of four licensed in the U.S. to send rockets into orbit. It is led by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, a governor-appointed board that aims to tap into the growing commercial space industry.

Gov. McDonnell has made the spaceport one of the priorities of his administration over the past 24-months in keeping with his pledge to make the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport "the best in America" for the commercial space era.

McDonnell is being touted for the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nomination. Virginia is "in-play" as one of the key battleground swing states in the upcoming presidential election.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Expedition 30 Soyuz Spacecraft On Pad

The Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft and its booster were moved to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a railcar on December 19, 2011, for final preparations prior to launch to the International Space Station on December 21, 2011.

The TMA-03M will carry Expedition 30 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers to the complex. The trio will spend five months on the outpost, joining station Commander Dan Burbank of NASA and Russian Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, who have been in orbit for just over a month. More from MSNBC about Christmas at the ISS.