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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Iran's Alborz Space Center Opened to Press

International journalists have been allowed to look inside Iran's key space facility for the first time, [BBC video]. The press tour of the Alborz Space Center, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) west of Tehran, also sought to showcase Iran's advances in aerospace sciences less than a month after it announced another satellite was launched into orbit, writes Ali Akbar Dareini for the Associated Press.

In 2005, Iran launched its first commercial satellite in a joint project with Moscow, which is a partner in transferring space technology to Iran along with North Korea and China. That same year, the government said it allocated $500 million for space projects in the next five years, notes Arab News.

The Iranian Space Agency was established on 1 February 2004 and was mandated to cover and support all the activities in Iran concerning the peaceful applications of space science and technology under the leadership of a Supreme Council of Space chaired by Iran’s President, [Wiki].

The Iranian President President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has signaled in the past that the Iranian nation plans to launch a human space mission in 2017. How much progress the country can make in in sending a faza navard (astronaut) to space in the next few years remains unclear.

Military and foreign affairs observers have expressed concern with the development of the dual use technology and the merger of the space boosters with Iran's growing nuclear capability.

"We Are the Explorers!" - and we must GO!

Why do we explore? Simply, it is part of who we are, something we've done throughout history. NASA's new video, "We Are the Explorers," looks at that tradition of reaching for things just beyond our grasp, and how it's helping lay the foundation for our greatest journeys ahead. Appropriate for "Leap Day!" The movie voice of the leader of the Transformers (Peter Cullen) narrates this NASA promotional film. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

March Sky Filled with Five Planets, Moon, ISS

Andrew Fazekas of National Geographic News notes, "For the first time in almost a decade, sky-watchers this week will be able to see all five naked-eye planets over the course of one night for several nights in a row [in March 2012]."  Those interested in the planets should take advantage of the opportunity to see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Earth's moon, perhaps an International Space Station flyby.  Viewing Mars is best on March 3, 2012 for brightness magnitude and 5, 2012 for observation size. On March 6, 2012, one may view Mars with a almost-full waxing gibbous moon of Earth to the east. 

Mars will come into Opposition on March 3, 2012 in the constellation Leo. Two days later, on March 5, 2012, the planet will have its closest approach to Earth during this apparition: 100.78 million km (0.6737 AU). This is close to the least close, or largest value, as Mars will be considerably close to the aphelion of its orbit, which it will have passed just on February 15, 2012. Opposition occurs close to Northern Summer/Southern Winter Solstice on Mars, which takes place on March 30, 2012, so that Earth will be at high northern declination from Mars, and the Martian North Pole will be in good view from Earth.

Gaining INSIGHT to Mars a Budget Challenge?

A proposed Discovery mission concept led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., to investigate the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets by studying the deep interior of Mars now has a new name, InSight. Nonetheless, the Valley Sun reports the proposed 2016 mission could be a hard sell to federal budget policymakers in 2012. There are a number of Mars scientists concluding American Mars exploration is at a crossroads.

InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport and is a partnership involving JPL, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the French Space Agency (CNES), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and other NASA centers. The previous name for the proposal was GEMS (GEophysical Monitoring Station). NASA requested that name be reserved for an astrophysics mission known as the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer, which was already in development.

“We chose the name InSight because we would literally peer into the interior of Mars to map out its structure,” said JPL’s Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator. “With our geophysical instruments we will be able to see right through to the center of Mars, and will be able to map out how deeply the crust extends as well as the size of the core.”

InSight is one of three missions vying to be selected for flight in the Discovery Program, a series of NASA missions to understand the solar system by exploring planets, moons, and small bodies such as comets and asteroids. All three mission teams are required to submit concept study reports to NASA on March 19, 2012.  More from the Future Planetary Exploration blog.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn take Sky

Backyard stargazers get a monthly guide to the northern hemisphere's skywatching events with "Tonight's Sky." In March 2012, the constellations of spring -- Gemini and Cancer -- take over the night. Jupiter and Venus approach each other in a close encounter for the Ides of March. Mars rises in the east by nighfall and starts to become the best time to view Mars all year. Saturn will also climb into the March sky.

"Tonight's Sky" is produced by, online home of the Hubble Space Telescope. This is a recurring show, and you can find more episodes — and other astronomy videos — at

Soyuz TMA 04-M Prep Continues for May 15, 2012 Ride to Orbit from the Cosmodrome

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome preparations continue for the May 15, 2012 launch of Soyuz TMA-04-M human transport spacecraft under the International Space Station program.

NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Roscosmos cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin are scheduled to fly on Soyuz TMA-04M to replace Expedition 30 crewmates Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoli Ivanishin and Dan Burbank, landing April 30, 2012 aboard Soyuz TMA-22.

The ISS Expedition 31 increment will begin with the undocking of Soyuz TMA-22. The Soyuz TMA 04-M crew of three will arrive about two weeks later to commence duties at the International Space Station.
The only means the International Space Station partners have to exchange crews on orbit is to utilize the Soyuz spacecraft, at least until the American commercial spacecraft are rated for human flight sometime over the next few years. Cargo and re-supply of the orbiting lab are operated by the Europeans, Japanese and the Russians with two new American cargo spacecraft being launched to the space station for the first time later this year.

Russian ISS Progress 47 Readied for April 2012

Prelaunch processing of transport cargo vehicle ISS Progress 47 (M-15M), under the International Space Station Program, is underway. Space vehicle ISS Progress 47 loaded with propellant and compressed gases has been delivered to SC ATF for the performance of final processing operations. Progress 47 is expected to launch atop a Soyuz U booster rocket in April 20, 2012 from the  Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Don Pettit Demostrates Drinking in Space

Using a piece of transparent plastic and some tape, International Space Station astronaut Don Pettit builds a coffee cup that works in a weightless environment. He makes six so he may share tea with his astronaut and cosmonaut colleagues aboard the orbiting space lab.

Mojave Air and Space Port Asks for California State Legislators to Provide Help to Compete

Stuart Witt, CEO of the East Kern Airport District, which manages the Mojave Air and Space Port, said immediate action is needed to battle efforts by governors in several states to lure the new industry to their states.

Speaking at the NextGen Suborbital Research Conference in Palo Alto on Monday, Witt warned that "Virginia, Maryland, Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, and other states, with the support of their Governors, legislators and business communities, are visiting aerospace businesses at the Mojave Air and Space Port in an effort to recruit them and their highly-skilled jobs to their states."

“These states are serious about stealing jobs, revenue, and businesses from California while our state does nothing to stop them,” Witt added. “Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who successfully lured Virgin Galactic to headquarter at his state's spaceport, told me on several occasions that 'Your state makes my job easy!'"

"California, we have a problem," Witt said. “We are first in flight test, but we are in last place on the list of business-friendly states. Many of the young, innovative companies in this growing industry of commercial space launch are based in California, especially at Mojave Air and Space Port in Kern County. We want to keep them. To do that, California must compete."

"In Mojave, we have a thriving community of aerospace and high-technology companies attracted only by our local incentives, wide open spaces, and pioneer spirit," Witt said. "Today we call on our State representatives and Governor Brown to take one small step to encourage our growing commercial space industry to keep innovating and doing business in California."

The former Navy Top Gun pilot said California lawmakers need to enact legislation to support the emerging commercial space industry

Witt said California should match incentives available in competing states, including: Legislation to limit liability as this new industry develops, "Zero G Zero Tax" zones to provide tax incentives for investing in companies involved in space-related activities, tax credits for aerospace job creation, cash incentives, taxpayer-financed infrastructure, and loans to attract and retain this industry.

"Florida, Texas and Virginia have already enacted legislation to encourage the booming business that got its start at Mojave; Colorado and New Mexico will soon follow," Witt told the meeting of space industry leaders. “We need a state commitment to attract aerospace to California rather than letting it continue to erode as it has for the last 30 years," he said.

Ice Core Records: From Volcanoes to Supernovas Secrets Uncovered

Researchers have been traveling for decades to some of the coldest places on the planet to uncover some of the secrets from space that have been left behind on Earth, [PDF].

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Branson-Hefner: Playboy Bunnies in Space?

While British billionaire Sir Richard Branson expects the first powered flights of the Virgin Galatic VSS Enterprise to take to the skies in powered test flights to perfect the world's first passenger spaceliner service later this year, Playboy magazine owner Hugh Hefner has teamed with Branson for a few cosmic enterprising ideas such as sexy bunnies in space!

Not to be left behind in future technologies, Playboy has entered the scene with something that might become the next Playboy Mansion in space. “The Playboy Club in space will be on a station in orbit, like a cruise ship,” Playboy writers A.J. Baime and Jason Harper explained in a description.  Some some fanciful designs for the magazine's March 2012 issue.
Playboy's editorial director Jimmy Jellinek said: "As Virgin Galactic gets closer to becoming the world's first commercial space line, Playboy is eagerly pondering the creation of the ultimate intergalactic entertainment destination. This heaven-in-the-heavens will exceed starry-eyed travelers' wildest dreams, and guests will truly experience a party that's out of this world."

The Playboy business leaders ran their idea by a few investors and even consulted futurist Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute think tank, former NASA scientist Stan Kent and Virgin Galactic head designer Adam Wells to conceptualize it all.
The club would feature Playboy bunnies in jet packs serving drinks to punters in a zero-gravity nightclub, while those who want to eat at the futuristic fine dining restaurant could do so in a "spinning section" that would prevent their food, and themselves, flying everywhere.
It will have an elegant restaurant, space farms, a gaming room with a massive roulette wheel and (ahem) “zero-gravity sex suites.”  The other features of the Playboy Club in space, including massive guns that will fire guests’ luggage in oversized cargo-bullets (that would be some seriously lost luggage), a spinning super-structure to simulate gravity, and a zero-gravity nightclub with webbing to hang on and don't forget the Bunnies with jet packs, as well as suites with a POD (Pleasure Orbital Dome), for which “the entire Kama Sutra will have to be reimagined according to the rules of zero-gravity physics,” according to Baime and Harper.
The Playboy Mansion in space invitations will only go to the rich and famous so most readers might have to wait a while to even get a ticket to the hottest club ... off the planet, or to learn the ZeroG Bunny Hop.

Fun to think about? Yeah. Is any of it likely? No, not any time this side of 2035. Although the entire commercial gimmick does raise a few points:

1) History has plenty of instances of explorers (or their crews) and mineral miners being motivated by more carnal concerns;

 2) That for all the technology that will get us into space, humans are just not all that far removed from the basic instincts;

3) That after the novelty of space travel wears off, there will have to be other diversions. And if the frontier boom towns of nearly every culture are an indicator, the diversions will be religion, booze and sex — and probably not in that order.

4) That sex sales fashions, magazines, books, movies, shows, and just perhaps, human space flights or a stay at a long duration lunar mining colony.  The whole notion of men and women in space has opened new social research fields in recent years into such areas as astrosoiciology, gender issues and romance in space.

What makes anyone think travel to the Final Frontier will be any different? It won't, just ask Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise about entertainment in the longer-term future. 

ESA ATV3 Edoardo Amaldi Set Set to Launch March 9, 2012 from French Guiana to ISS

ATV-3 (Automated Transfer Vehicle) is due to lift off on top of Ariane 5 next 9 March from Europe's Spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana. It will then dock to the International Space Station on Monday, 19 March 2012.

Named the Edoardo Amaldi, ATV-3 is carrying another record consignment, dry cargo and propellants to the ISS. One major item is a NASA water recycling unit for the orbital complex. Another special aspect of the mission is that for the first time the ATV will rendezvous with the ISS in a new configuration.

ATV-1, the Jules Verne, and ATV-2, the Johannes Kepler, have already been successfully launched since March 2008. ESA is completing two more ATVs to be flown until 2015. ATV-4, the Albert Einstein will launch from Kourou in February 2013 while ATV-5, the Georges LemaƮtre, will launch from Kourou in February 2014.

Barnstorming the Suborbital Frontier in 2012

Scientists Alan Stern and Dan Durda describe the coming era of suborbital spaceflight and how it will open up great possibilities for researchers, educators, and the public beginning later this year. The video was filmed, edited, and produced by Jim Arthurs of Colorado Springs.

12 Suborbital Scientists signed up to participate in the inaugural course on January 12-13, 2010 at The National AeroSpace Training And Research (NASTAR) Center, located just outside Philadelphia, PA. The researchers, students and grad students that participated were supported from the following institutions: SwRI, Boston University, the Denver Museum of Natural Sciences (DMNS), the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Central Florida and the University Space Research Association (USRA).

The NASTAR Suborbital Scientist Training Program includes an overview of the commercial space research industry, high altitude training, suborbital space flight training and distraction factor management training. Trainees practice comprehensive Astronaut training techniques and learn how to mentally and physically prepare themselves and their experiment for the extreme environmental conditions experienced during spaceflight.

Lunar Industries, Ltd. within the decade?

The next sprint to the moon ia gearing up as an extra-terrestrial gold rush with the five biggest space agencies getting together in Quebec City, Canada this week to discuss an idea gaining currency in business and scientific circles: that within human reach lies an unfathomable wealth of resources, some of them common on Earth and others so exotic that they could change the way we live.

Several countries, including China, have expressed a desire to start mining the moon's resources, reports Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press, noting that moon is home to a number of compounds that are not readily available on Earth — like Helium-3, a gas that could potentially fuel future nuclear-fusion power plants. Such a development would hold drastic implications for human activity, beginning with energy consumption. The moon also contains gold, platinum-group elements, and rare-earth elements.

Drilling for lunar resources may not be that far off. Some predict it could start by the end of this decade. With hydrogen, the moon could hold the energy necessary to launch flights into deeper space. Several countries are even looking beyond the moon for possible mining sites, to Mars and also to asteroids.

Creating a permanent lunar outpost would be a precondition for any such projects. The Russians have already been talking about establishing a moon base by the year 2020. The Japanese are considering a robot-tended base. The Chinese have designs on the Moon too. More from The Washington Post.

Cosmic Particles Being Gathered by the ISS Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

NASA Public Affairs Officer Kelly Humphries talks with Trent Martin, Johnson Space Center project manager for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) aboard the International Space Station now gathering data on dark matter, dark energy, and anti-matter from about the cosmos. The knowledge gained from AMS-02 will provide many new scientific insights for years to come.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The MoonNext Mission Being Planned for 2018

The European Space Agency (ESA) is planning a one ton lunar lander robot probe for the Moon's south pole in the 2018 time-frame designed to demonstrate precision landing capability. The project has been dubbed The MoonNext mission.

The high capacity cargo lander would be launched aboard Ariane 5 rocket. The mission would be launched from Kourou in 2018 taking a few days to transfer from Earth to a Low Circular Lunar orbit. A landing would then take place at the Lunar south pole and the deployed equipment and payload would be operational for one year once on the moons surface.

Once set upon the lunar surface, it would release a small Moon rover to trundle across the regolith (soil) and to potentially explore polar craters on the Moon hiding vast reserves of water-ice deep in their shadows (BBC).

A a two-day pan-European lunar meeting to be held in Berlin, Germany on 19th and 20th April 2012 to be held under the umbrella of the NASA Lunar Science Institute’s European nodes. Some of the possible interests [PDF] in the exploration of the Moon include astronomical, astrophysical, geological, commercial, resource utilization, and strategic considerations, as well as its use as an outpost for future human exploration of the Solar System, [PDF].

A dozen or more Moon missions are being planned by China, Europe, India, Japan, Russia, the United States, and the X-Prize Foundation international teams over the balance of the current decade. Each will be an affirmative step to returning human beings to the surface of the Moon in the decade of 2020.

The next mission set to launch to the Moon is NASA's LADEE aboard a Minotaur-V booster rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Va. in 2013.  It will be the first lunar spacecraft ever launched from Virginia. LADEE will gather detailed information about conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. It will not conduct surface operations, however.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Atlas-V Roars to 200th Successful Flight

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket launched the MUOS-1 satellite on February 24, 2012. The satellite is the first of a quartet of bent pipe birds that will upgrade and replace an aging network of defense satellites.

The United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed-Boeing joint venture, plans to launch six more Atlas V and four four Boeing Delta IV rockets this year.

"The 200th flight of the Centaur is a very big milestone for the ULA team, as Centaur has been pioneering space launch for the last 50 years," said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. . "It took 33 years for Centaur to accomplish those first 100 flights. The next 100 Centaur launches have been accomplished in just 17 years," reported SpaceRef.

The ULA Atlas-V is favored by most of the funded commercial crew program firms, including but not limited to, Boeing's CST-100, Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser and Blue Origin spacecraft. ULA is seeking to human-rate the Atlas-V booster for subsequent launch of commercial crew spacecraft.

America's first orbital astronaut, Senator John Glenn noted that "The program has come a long way since 50 years ago when I launched on an Atlas launch vehicle. I'm just glad the latest version is still doing such important work for our nation."

"Taking America To New Heights"

The American Commercial Crew Program will take US to New Heights!

This Week @ NASA: February 24, 2012

The Kennedy Space Center hosted several events to celebrate 50 years of Americans in orbit. John Glenn also conducted an in-flight call during the NASA Future Forum at the Ohio State University provided an opportunity for The International Space Station crew to congratulate Glenn on the Anniversary of his historic flight and for the Senator, a big proponent of the ISS, to hear first-hand about life onboard the orbiting outpost.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

'GoldenEye' electromagnetic pulse attack from space, British MPs Urge Defense Upgrades

A nuclear device detonated up to 500 miles above the earth's surface could generate an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) with a "devastating" effect on power supplies, telecommunications and other vital systems, in a scenario akin to the plot of the 1995 James Bond film 'GoldenEye' - reports Matthew Holehouse for  The Telegraph and Ian Drury in the MailOnline, both covering a British military defense report.

Tory MP James Arbuthnot, chairman of the UK defense select committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today program: "It would have a far more devastating impact to use a nuclear weapon in this way than to explode a bomb in or on a city. It would, over a much wider area, take out things like the National Grid on which we all rely for almost everything. It would take out the water system and the sewage system. Rapidly it would become very difficult to live in cities - within a matter of days." 

Arbuthnot also told The Guardian, "Space weather is a global threat and may affect many regions and countries simultaneously. It is time that the government began to approach this matter with the seriousness it deserves." A very significant solar flare event may create EMP as well.

The United States set up a commission to assess the threat from an EMP attack in 2001. It concluded that North Korea, Russian, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Cuba understand how such an attack could work - and that many countries believe the US is able and willing to make an EMP strike "under a broad range of circumstances" - Holehouse suggested in a second piece in The Telegraph and echoed in the Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle.

If a small nuclear weapon, as postulated in a White House planning guide, is launched to high-altitude over the United States, perhaps fired from a freighter operating off the U.S. coast, the resulting electromagnetic pulse (EMP) could collapse the national electric grid and other critical infrastructures that sustain our modern society. The Congressional EMP Commission warned in 2008 that, given our current state of unpreparedness, an EMP attack by rogue states or terrorists could kill millions of Americans from starvation, disease and societal collapse, reported Peter Vincent Pry for The Washington Times earlier this month.

American missile defense advocates are urging the Congress to pass legislation to protect the nation from an orbital EMP attack and a space-based missile defense system. Advocates are urging presidential action with programs to curb atacks through a strong, modern missle defense system. More from RightSideNews.

On the other hand, the Missile Defense Agency, an arm of the Pentagon that maintains an arsenal of ground-based interceptors ready to fly into space and smash enemy warheads, says that defeating such an attack would be as straightforward as any other defense of the continental United States.       

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Orbital Sciences' Antares to Conduct Hot-Fire Test at Wallops Island in May; June Launch

Animaition of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket at Wallops Island, Va.
Dulles, Va-based Orbital Sciences Corporation is poised to carry out a key hot-fire test in May 2012 and then the inaugural flight of its Antares rocket in late June 2012, once the state of Virginia completes delayed work on a commercial launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Va., Chairman and CEO David Thompson told financial analysts in a conference call today, Feb. 21, 2012.

In late August or early September, 2012 Orbital Sciences will launch the new Antares rocket with the Cygnus spacecraft on a mission to demonstrate the capacity of the commercial space launch firm to safely and reliably deliver cargo to the International Space Station. Orbital Senior Vice-President Frank Culberston recently gave a talk about the status of the plans [PDF].

Meanwhile, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California plans to launch a demonstration flight in late April, 2012 and the first cargo resupply flight in the summer of this year from a completed Cape Canveral, Florida launch pad.

The two commercial space launch firms shared $3.5 million in NASA contracts for a combined twenty commercial cargo flights to the ISS, Orbital Sciences with eight and SpaceX with 12. More from SpaceflightNow.

Moon, Venus and Jupiter Highlight Night Sky

SKY WATCHER ALERT: The brightest planets in the night sky are aligning for a must-see show in late February and March 2012. Start looking tonight! The Moon, Venus and Jupiter are ripe for astronomical observation.

Chaikin: Space Exploration Future Tied to Lowering Cost of Getting to Low Earth Orbit

Andrew Chaikin, an American author, speaker and space journalist, appears on The Alyona Show on Russia Today-TV to briefly discuss the future of spaceflight in the wake of the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's first American orbital flight. Chaikin notes that the most significant challenge for space exploration is lowing the cost to climb through the Earth's atmosphere to low earth orbit.

Colorado Advances Spaceflight Liability-Immunity Measure in State Legislature

While New Mexico's legislature has opted not to expand space flight liability and immunity law, Colorado is advancing its liability limitation for spaceflight, similar to those adopted in Virginia (2007), Florida (2008) and Texas (2011), reports CBS4 in Denver.

Korea to Join NASA in CubeSat Study of Moon

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) has agreed to join with NASA to study the moon’s magnetic fields by orbiting CubeSats near the lunar surface, according to The Dong-A ILBO and The Korea Hearld.

During the Apollo era it was discovered that lunar rocks are magnetized and the lunar crust contains strong magnetic anomalies. The origin of this magnetism continues to be debated. The two leading explanations are an ancient core dynamo and a process related to the impact of meteoroids. The existence of an ancient core dynamo would have implications for the thermal history of the Moon and the generation of planetary dynamos in general. By carefully studying the magnetic remanence carried by one of the most ancient and pristine lunar rocks, lunar scientists have found evidence of a core dynamo on the early Moon.

Dr. Ian Garrick-Bethell
Ian Garrick-Bethell (video), an assistant professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz, who is an authority on the moon’s magnetic fields (lunar geophysics and paleomagnetism), said, “The Lunar Impactor will take pictures of magnetic fields near the moon’s surface for the first time,” adding, “Hopefully, the project will play a critical role in identifying why water ice was created and what relationship water ice has with the moon’s magnetic fields.”

Garrick-Bethell, and his colleagues, have indicated that the next logical step for low-cost nanosatellite projects is to explore the Moon through either flybys or impacts. Basic student instruments such as magnetic sensors and imagers could be flown on CubeSats, as per his suggestion in a 2009 White Paper.

Monday, February 20, 2012

India May Delay Chandrayaan-2 Moon Lander

India's second mission to the moon Chandrayaan 2 will launch a spacecraft using an Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) booster with a spacecraft and a landing platform with the moon rover estimated between 2014 and 2016. The rover would move on wheels on the lunar surface, pick up samples of soil or rocks, do a chemical analysis and send the data to the spacecraft orbiting above, according to a report in Express News.

Chandrayaan-2, which was slated for launch in 2014, may be rescheduled to 2016 because of a delay in the construction of the Russian lander that was to place an Indian rover on the moon, notes a recent report in Asian Scientist. Another possible reason for an expected delay in the launch date is due to India's inability to perfect the cryogenic engine technology for an upper stage of the GSLV booster, according to DNA.

The moon had been known as a dry and barren satellite, but India`s first unmanned lunar probe Chandrayaan-1 discovered 600 million tons of water ice in 2008. After the discovery, global space powers that aim to build space stations on the moon began paying keen attention to the celestial body.

The Moon is geologically active now

New images acquired by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft show that the moon's crust is being slightly stretched, forming small valleys - at least in some small areas. High-resolution images obtained by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) provide evidence that these valleys are very young, suggesting the moon has experienced relatively recent geologic activity. Smithsonian Instituion Senior Scientist Tom Watters explains more about the moon's recent geological activity in the above 2-minute video. More from NASA.

As an aside, a team of Dutch earth scientists have now identified the likely reason for the lack of volcanic activity: the hot, molten rock contained within the Moon's interior could be so dense that it is too heavy to rise to the surface, according to media reports about a recent study. Nonetheless, the Dutch study indicates that the Moon may one day have lava flows, noted the Mail Online. Moonquake data suggests that there is lots of liquid magma deep within the Moon because around 30% of the rocks there are thought to be molten.

However, a  recent MIT study of the Moon denotes a static orb with little to no internal activity, reports Scientific American. New evidence from an ancient lunar rock, collected on the Apollo 11 moon mission, suggests that the moon once harbored a long-lived dynamo — a molten, convecting core of liquid metal that generated a strong magnetic field 3.7 billion years ago.

With the recent lunar remote sensing missions and scientific studies of rock samples from the Apollo mission era, new understanding of our nearest neighbor continues to emerge. The geologic science of the Moon appears far from settled.

Virginia legislators differ on spaceport funding

Virginia House and Senate differ on spaceport budget in Richmond.
Virginia House and Senate budget writers have differing proposals on funding significant growth at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, with the House offering up $15-million per year and the Senate only $1.5 million from state transportation funds, amid an $85 billion two-year budget, the largest in Virginia's history.

None of these proposals  is set in stone—instead, they’re starting points for budget negotiations. Both houses will vote on these proposals later this week, and then go through some procedural maneuvers to put the budget into a conference committee. That committee will work to craft a final budget that both houses approve and the governor signs before it takes effect. Spaceport advocates are expected to go to work advancing the $15-million dollar annual spaceport investment.

Budget gamesmanship is underway
The Virginia Space Flight Authority budget is projected to remain level at the current Appropriation Act funding level of $1.5 million for the next two years in the Senate committee budget bill [Item 430 #3s]. Meanwhile, the House committee has adopted a measure to enable use of $15-million per year from the Transportation Trust Fund for the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority [Item 430 #5h]. This is the most significant difference between the two budget bills that will require work by a House-Senate budget conference committee.

The House committee measure recommends that $4-million be provided in 2012-2013 be provided to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority for final improvements to the launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport now being prepared for commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station later this year. The Senate committee bill replaces the proposed expenditure of $4,000,000 from the general fund for capital improvements to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport with Virginia Public Building Authority debt [Item 430 #2s].

The budget versions go on to mandate that by October 1, 2012, in order to provide the Commonwealth with the greatest flexibility in the use of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority shall renegotiate the memorandum of understanding among the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, and Orbital Sciences Corporation.

The Virginia the House of Delegates budget bill notes that following completion of an operational report by the Secretary of Transportation, the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority shall develop a comprehensive Virginia Aerospace Strategic Plan to increase the competitiveness of the Virginia aerospace industry with it being delivered to the Secretary no later than December 1, 2012. The Senate budget bill, expected to go to floor debate this week, tracks the House language.

The McDonnell Administration budget proposals for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport are the most aggressive effort put forth since its original start-up in 1995. The FAA declared "Virginia as an Agent of Change" in remarking upon the state's space policy  in liability immunity in 2007 and ZeroGravity-ZeroTax in 2008 heralding the gubernatorial effort to make it "the best spaceport in America."

Newt Gingrich's longtime fascination with space documented by university archives

A review of thousands of documents detailing Gingrich’s career, reported by The Washington Post, reveal a longtime fascination with space by former Georgia Congressman, now 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich.

Reviewed transcripts are contained in a largely unexplored cache of documents compiled by a former Gingrich aide and archived at the University of West Georgia, where Gingrich was an assistant professor in the 1970s. Among the transcripts are notes of the then-Congressman interest in space policy, including plans for a dozen low earth orbit space stations and a lunar mining outpost.

Washington Post journalist Jerry Markon notes in a review of the transcripts, "he proposed unionizing workers in space. And Republican leaders who were resisting additional funds for science, he said, were “idiots” and “so incredibly stupid,”' [pg. 4 of the Post article].

Gingrich's interest in space goes back to his early youth, when he read Missiles and Rockets magazine and obsessed over the Soviet Sputnik program. He recently proclaimed that the "weirdest thing" he ever did in Congress was to introduce a "Northwest Ordinance for space" that would allow a moon colony to become a state once 13,000 lived there.

"Here's the difference between so-called romantics and practical people," Gingrich said during his January Florida primary effort. "I want every single young American to say to themselves, I could become one of those 13,000, I can be part of building a bigger, better future, be part of a generation of courageous people who do something big and bold. We want Americans to think bolder about space and rebuild the country we love."

Nearly thirty years later, the 2012 Republican presidential contender Gingrich says critics of his call to ramp up American space exploration don't understand the power of science, technology and entrepreneurship to change the future.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Golden 50th Anniversary for Astronaut John Glenn and America's First Orbit of the Earth

50-YEARS AGO: The Mercury-Atlas 6 mission was the first attempt by the U.S. Mercury program to place astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr. in orbit. The Friendship 7 mission was launched on 20 February 1962, from Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. In the wake of the successful orbital flight, Glenn got a huge ticker tape parade in New York City of four million people. American space technology has matched Soviet space technology. John Glenn had matched Yuri Gagarin.

On a more contemporary note, the 2012 Virginia General Assembly passed a House Joint Resolution No. 234, offered by State Delegate Terry G. Kilgore (R-Scott County), commends John H. Glenn, Jr. and points to the astronaut's training at NASA Langley in Hampton, Virginia.

Muncy: SpaceX at ISS, Powered Suborbital Flight, and On-Orbit Fuel Depot Tipping Points

The SpaceX Dragon commercial space cargo spacecraft approach and docking with the International Space Station in 2012 was cited by PoliSpace's Jim Muncy as the top "tipping point" event for NewSpace in 2012 during questioning on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston.

SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation anticipate 2012 launch dates to deliver the first commercial cargo missions launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida and Wallops Island, Virginia, respectively.

Muncy, a Co-Founder of the Space Frontier Foundation and who assists space entrepreneurs, cited as the second tipping point for NewSpace in 2012 as powered flight and landing of suborbital spacecraft vehicles. He specifically noted Armadillo Aerospace, Virgin Galactic's  SpaceShipTwo and/or XCOR for possible powered test flights lights to space this year.

The third and final tipping point cited by Muncy for NewSpace in 2012 was the possibility of NASA to ink an executable contract for cryogenic transfer and storage on orbit. He noted that such an event would dramatically change the economic calculations by the commercial space launch sector firms. Noting whether it was 500 to 50,000 lbs. of fuel, Muncy said a contract to deliver fuel on-orbit would change the commercial space business outlook.

CCDev2 Commercial Crew Space Launch Firms Making NASA Measured Milestones Progress

NASA’s commercial space partners are making significant progress in maturing designs and development of their commercial crew transportation systems under CCDev2 evidenced by the graph above [PDF NASA details].

During the past two months, eight milestones were completed by Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Alliant Techsystems, Inc., and Excalibur Almaz, Inc.

"The milestones are really the mile markers of each one of these companies," Scott Thurston, chief of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) Partner Integration Office said recently. "It's based on each company's development plan, not what the government wants, so each company is a little bit different."  The NASA Commercial Crew effort is very much like a venture capitalist endeavor because NASA is investing in systems and laying out expectations, but not dictating how companies make their systems work.

The total number of completed milestones under CCDev2 is now 34 of the 62 plotted by NASA. Each of the milestone accomplishments help Americans in ending the human spaceflight "gap" created last year with the retirement of the space shuttle fleet and the current dependence on the Soyuz for American human spaceflight.

ESA' Swarm Satellite Trio to Investigate Earth's Magnetic Field Weaking from Orbit

The European Space Agency magnetic field Swarm mission is to investigate the Earth's magnetic field in unprecedented detail. Swarm is due to be launched inthe summer of this year. Without our planets protective magnetic field, life on our planet would struggle to survive. The Swarm mission consisting of three identical satellites will be used to study all aspects of the Earth's magnetic field and assess whether it is weakening. This report outlines the science of the mission and includes interviews with a project scientist and project manager. The three Swarm satellites are due for launch on the same launcher in summer 2012. More from ESA.

The objective of the Swarm mission is to provide the best ever survey of the geomagnetic field and its temporal evolution, and gain new insights into improving our knowledge of the Earth's interior and climate.

Dr. Space Places Importance on Education

Moonandback Media conducted an exceptional interview with Dr. David Livingston of The Space Show. Livingston is also a University of North Dakota adjunct professor in graduate-level space studies. Livingston talks about American education and the importance of the future strategic work force development to space development and sustainable national innovation.

Space debris a growing problem in low orbit

Swiss Space Center at EPFL just launched the "CleanSpace One" project. The aim is to design and build a satellite that will chase, grab and destroy a space debris - namely one of the first Swiss satellites, Swisscube-1 or TIsat-1.

New York Times journalist Kenneth Chang writes an article entitled: "For Space Mess, Scientists Seek Celestial Broom" Saturday, February 18 describing the problem of space junk and how it is being investigated for possible resolution.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell Pushes Spaceport Development to Multi-Commercial Launch Firm Facility by Investing Real Money

Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Wallops Island, Va.
A prime location for orbital launches and a trajectory path over the Atlantic Ocean position the Commonwealth's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport for tremendous growth over the next few years. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell outlined the study called, Competitive Analysis of Virginia's Space Industry, at the 15th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference held in Washington, D.C. The study details the Commonwealth's space landscape and gives recommendations and strategies to move the program forward, [Virginian Pilot].

"Virginia is poised to become a leader in commercial space launch operations and our efforts will be enhanced by the implementation of these recommendations," said Governor McDonnell. "As one of only four spaceports in the U.S. licensed to launch vehicles into orbit, we can only gain by promoting a robust space industry in the Commonwealth."  View the study report: Competitive Analysis of Virginia's Space Industry [PDF] and Gov. McDonnell's full remarks.

The most recent study comes on the heels of a report released in late 2011 by KMPG entitled Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority: Governance, Organization and Competitive Landscape.[PDF]. Legislation is advancing in the 2012 Virginia General Assembly [HB 813 and SB 284] to perfect many of the recommendations.  The spaceport authority board was moved from the Virginia Department of Commerce & Trade to the Virginia Department of Transportation last year.

In a unique effort, Virginia legislators are passing "tweaks" to a new tax law passed last year that transfers any tax revenue stream from human commercial space flight sales made in Virginia to the operating budget of the commercial spaceport. The measure would redirect any tax revenute stream generated by Virginia-based Space Adventures from its sales of human orbital, suborbital and zero-gravity parabolic training flights.

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority meets in Richmond next week to review the studies, pending legislation, and ongoing organizational expansion. The new Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares commercial rocket is expected to commence commercial cargo flights to the International Space Station from Wallops Island, Virginia later this year along with the SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Both commercials space launch firms are under delivery contracts with NASA.

Virginia has been seeking interest in utilization of the launch pad and range facilities at the NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility and state-owned Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in recent years with passage of NewSpace state policies, duly noted by the FAA/AST and the states of Florida, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

February 18, 1930: Pluto Discovered

Discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh on February 18, 1930, Pluto was considered the ninth solar system planet until 2006. On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined what it means to be a "planet" within the Solar System. This definition excluded Pluto as a planet and added it as a member of the new category "dwarf planet" along with Eris and Ceres.

A number of scientists hold that Pluto should continue to be classified as a planet, and that other dwarf planets should be added to the roster of planets along with Pluto.  Pluto has four known moons.

Felix Baumgartner Continues to Train for New World Record Jump from Edge of Space

Red Bull Stratos' pilot Felix Baumgartner continues to train with coach Joe Kittinger for a new record-setting 120,000 feet (23-mile) jump from the edge of space in the summer of 2012 above the New Mexico desert at Roswell.

This is a mission to overcome limits which have existed for almost fifty years, ever since the heroic achievement of the young US Air Force test pilot, Joe Kittinger, with his 1960 Excelsior mission.

Red Bull Stratos will attempt to make history and deliver valuable learnings for medical and scientific advancement that will aid the exploration of space in future years.

On August 16, 1960, Joseph Kittinger jumped his last Excelsior jump, doing so from an air-thin height of 102,800 feet (31,334 meters). From that nearly 20 miles altitude, his tumble toward terra firma took some 4 minutes and 36 seconds.

Exceeding the speed of sound during the fall, Kittinger used a small stabilizing chute before a larger, main parachute opened in the denser atmosphere. He safely touched down in barren New Mexico desert, 13 minutes 45 seconds after he vaulted into the void.

The jump set records that still stand today, among them, the highest parachute jump, the longest freefall, and the fastest speed ever attained by a human through the atmosphere. Somewhat in contention is Kittinger's use of the small parachute for stabilization during his record-setting fall. Roger Eugene Andreyev, a Russian, is touted as holding the world's free fall record of 80,325 feet (24,483 meters), made on November 1, 1962.  Baumgartner's 2012 jump will attempt a new overall world record.

NASA's heavy-lift launch vehicle touted

Featuring NASA Marshall's Foundations of Influence, Relationships, Success & Teamwork (FIRST) employees and student interns, "Future Frontier" discusses the new Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift launch vehicle and its importance to furthering NASA's exploration mission. NASA FIRST is the Agency's leadership program for promising young professionals. (NASA/MSFC)

China to Orbit Three Taikonauts by Summer

The Chinese government will launch its fourth human-rated Shenzhou spacecraft atop a Long March 2F rocket between June and August on a mission to take three taikonauts to the Tiangong-1 lab module currently orbiting the Earth. The crew will seek to further perfect docking a longer duration spaceflight, the Chinese media started reporting Friday, Feb. 17, 2012.

The taikonaut trio are slated blast off on board the Shenzhou (Divine Vessel) IX, which will manually dock with the module, Xinhua News Agency said, quoting a spokesman for China's space program. The crew may include the first Chinese national female taikonaut.

After the space rendezvous, the crew will move temporarily into the Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) space lab, where they will perform scientific experiments. The taikonauts are expected to stay in space for more than 10 days, the longest any Chinese astronaut has spent off the planet.

Global Space Politics with Dr. Jill Stuart

Dr. Jill Stuart discusses outer space politics recently at London School of Economics program, "The Hot Seat." Dr. Stuart discsses the space programs of the United States and China.  She discusses the national will of the United States and China to boost space exploration budgets at the nation-state level or techno-nationalism. She also speaks to India, Japan and Europe and the private sector.

NASA Premier: Friendship 7 50th Anniversary

NASA celebrates the 50th Anniversary of John Glenn's orbital space flight. Glenn's flight ushered in a new era for space travel in this premier on NASA-TV the evening of Feb. 16, 2012.

John Glenn, America's first astronaut to orbit Earth, launched aboard his Friendship 7 Mercury capsule on Feb. 20, 1962. At the end of the mission, Friendship 7 splashed down into the ocean and Glenn was honored by President John F. Kennedy and celebrated as a hero across America.

ESA: The sounds of space

There are many links between music and space. Astronauts like Frank De Winne take their favourite rock music with them to orbit, while musicians on Earth often take inspiration from the stars in their work. Some astrophysicists have transposed plasma waves and electron beams into audible sound.

NASA's COTS Program, A Brief History

Michael Clark provides a new nine minute episode of Epic Future Space with an overview of the NASA COTS program with SpaceX launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida and Orbital Sciences Corporation launching from Wallops Island, Virginia.

Comonauts Conduct Spacewalk at ISS

Clad in Russian Orlan spacewalks, cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Anton Shkaplerov conducted a 6-hour, 15-minute spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Feb. 16 to move one of two cargo cranes from the Pirs docking compartment to the Poisk module and attach five debris shields to the hull of the Zvezda Service Module.

It was the first spacewalk conducted by station residents since August 2011 and the 162nd spacewalk in support of space station assembly and maintenance. It was the third spacewalk in Kononenko's career and the first for Shkaplerov.

First Human to Humanoid Handshake in Space

Robonaut, the first humanoid 'bot in space, was activated and ordered to shake hands (and pose for a picture) with Dan Burbank, International Space Station commander, on February 15th, 2012. R2 is designed to provide astronauts assistance on the orbiting space station.

Robonaut Deputy Project Manager Nic Radford talks about Robonaut's first hand shake in space, as well as what the future hold for robot aboard the International Space Station.