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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Russia to Build Nuclear Space Engine by 2017

Russia's space agency is continuing to plan to build a nuclear-powered spaceship for manned missions to Mars say those associated with the Skolkovo Innovation Center [video]. The engine may be available as soon as 2017, surpassing previous reports for the development of an orbital propulsion system likely launched by Russia's Proton and Angara rocket carriers.

Denis Kovalevich, head of the nuclear technologies cluster of the Skolkovo Foundation, told the Interfax news agency, that the use of nuclear fuel was aimed at interplanetary travel and work was on schedule with several fuel types being tested, he added.

He said a fully Russian-designed nuclear-powered engine was expected to be tested in 2014 and should be completely ready by 2017. Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, which initiated the project, has allocated some 805 million rubles (about 27 million U.S. dollars) for the work, Kovalevich said, adding that the nuclear-powered engine was designed to have a three-year service life with no refuelling.

The Skolkovo Innovation Center (also Russian Silicon Valley in Skolkovo) is a planned high technology business area to be built at Skolkovo near Moscow, Russia. The site is intended to be a highly modern complex created to encourage scientifically-technological based companies. The Skolkovo Innovation Center is tasked with concentrating intellectual capital and encouraging the development of various technologies. As corporations and individuals become "residents" of the city, proposed projects and ideas receive financial assistance.

The Space Technology and Telecommunications Cluster is intended to strengthen Russia's position in the respective industries. Area of activity is wide: from space tourism to systems of satellite navigation. Russian companies will be able to increase their market share in the global market, the total volume of which is estimated at 300 billion dollars.

Meanwhile, the development of nuclear technologies is the way to become an innovative leader and to keep the defense capabilities of the country. At the same time, the goal of the cluster is not only to encourage the competitiveness of nuclear power markets, but also to develop breakthrough technologies and products. Together the nuclear and space clusters are advancing the development.

Science Experiments Among ATV-3 Payload

ISS Update Commentator Pat Ryan interviews Camille Alleyne, Assistant Program Scientist for International Space Station. They discuss the science payload that was delivered to the station and crew aboard the "Edoardo Amaldi" Automated Transfer Vehicle-3 (ATV-3). Seven Nanoracks, LLC experiments were delivered to the ISS.

Earth Normally Has More Than One Moon

Our 2,000-mile-diameter Moon, so beloved by poets, artists and romantics, has been orbiting Earth for over 4 billion years. Its much smaller cousins, dubbed “minimoons,” are thought to be only a few feet across and to usually orbit our planet for less than a year before resuming their previous lives as asteroids orbiting the Sun, according to a team of astronomers from the University of Helsinki, the Paris Observatory and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Scientists have theorized from computer simulation models that at any given time there should be at least one asteroid with a diameter of at least one meter orbiting Earth. Of course, there may also be many smaller objects orbiting Earth, too. While the typical minimoon would orbit Earth for about nine months, some of them could orbit our planet for decades, some perhaps longer.

In 2006, the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey discovered a minimoon about the size of a car. Known by the unimaginative designation 2006 RH120, it orbited Earth for less than a year after its discovery, then resumed orbiting the Sun.

More resonant near-Earth objects (NEOs) have since been discovered. These include 3753 Cruithne, 54509 YORP, (85770) 1998 UP1, 2002 AA29, and 2009 BD which exist in resonant orbits similar to Cruithne's. 2010 TK7 is the first and so far only identified Earth trojan.

History in the Making at SpaceX Launch Pad

America stands on the cusp of a new era in commercial space launch development in the next thirty days with the planned launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster and Dragon spacecraft.

On April 30, 2012 at 1622 GMT (12:22 p.m. EDT) from Cape Canaveral, Fla., the American commercial space launch firm will make its first-ever effort to go to orbit, dock with the International Space Station and, moreover, make a safe return to Earth.

Success would mark a significant dynamic change in the commercial space flight industry, and greater support for human-rating the Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX this week announced a group of experts to advise on commercial crew safety, reports The Los Angeles Times.

Stephen Clark of Spaceflight Now provides a description of the flight cargo and the preparations being made during the launch campaign now underway.  The dynamic entrepreneur Elon Musk is the 'Iron Man' behind SpaceX and the first commercial spaceflight to the International Space Station. Forbes' Hannah Elliott takes a drive with Elon in the video below.

Meanwhile, a lower-key second commercial launch effort is underway at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Va. where Orbital Sciences Corporation readies the new and untested Antares booster. The Antares is hosting the Cygnus advanced maneuvering spacecraft. The launch effort from Wallops Island has faced fueling system construction delays. Nonetheless, a stepped-up is being made to commence the first hot fire test and the first flights to the International Space Station in the fall of this year from Virginia's Eastern Shore.

Japan Deploys Missile Defense Shield Prior to the North Korean Planned Unha-3 Launch

The Japanese guided missile destroyer DDG-174 Kirishima on Saturday left the Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture for the East China Sea ahead of a planned rocket launch by North Korea, Kyodo News reported. The Japanese defense minister, Naoki Tanaka, has activated the missile defense shield in the event the North Korean Unha-3 rocket launch is deemed a threat, says CNN.

The Kirishima, equipped with sea-based interceptor missiles, will deploy with two other warships to shoot down the rocket in space if it begins falling on Japanese territory. Ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors will also be deployed on Miyako Island, Okinawa Prefecture, reportedly.

Pyongyang's government says the rocket will put an earth observation satellite into orbit sometime between April 12 to 16, 2012. Remote sensing satellite images show that North Korean launch facility is undertaking a launch campaign presently. The North Koreans believe it is their right to launch the Unha-3 with payload to orbit as a recent signatory to the 1966 Outer Space Treaty.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Story Behind Space: Eyes in the Sky

AMAZING!  or "Brass Hat."
Hat Tip to Steven Andrews

Getting to Know the Goldilocks Planet

NASA's Kepler spacecraft is discovering a veritable avalanche of alien worlds. As the numbers mount, it seems to be just a matter of time before Kepler finds what astronomers are really looking for: an Earth-like planet orbiting its star in the "Goldilocks zone".

Highlights of the April Sky 2012

Backyard stargazers get a monthly guide to the northern hemisphere's skywatching events with "Tonight's Sky." In April, Saturn reaches opposition and the Lyrid meteor shower streaks through the sky.

View Saturn all night this month, and view icy moons through a telescope.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jose Hernandez Court-Confirmed Astronaut

Congressional candidate Jose Hernandez prevailed in court today, March 29, successfully defending the right to use the title "astronaut, scientist/engineer" on the ballot for Congress in the 10th Congressional District of California. A Sacramento judge ruled that Hernandez, who flew in the shuttle Discovery three years ago and departed NASA in January, 2011, can use the ballot designation of "astronaut" in his current congressional bid, reports the Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee.

The law firm of Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk filed a lawsuit last week in Sacramento County Superior Court that aimed to take Hernández’s profession as astronaut off the ballot in June’s primary, arguing that he was no longer an astronaut, notes the Patterson Irrigator. Perhaps greater details of the legal ruling will be forth coming and if an appeal is to be sought by the litigants.

N Korea Said to be Fueling Rocket for Launch

North Korea has begun fuelling a rocket for a launch seen by the West as a pretext for testing ballistic missile technology banned by the UN. The country had begun inserting liquid fuel into the rocket, a diplomatic source told Japanese newspaper the Tokyo Shimbun.

"The launch is coming closer. The possibility is high that the launch date will be set for April 12 or 13," the Japanese newspaper source said. The source confirmed earlier reports that the rocket had been moved to a launch pad in Tongchang-ri in the country's far northwest.

The North insists it has a right to launch a civilian satellite and says it will estimate crop yields and collect weather data. The North Korean-built satellite will also assess the country's forest coverage and natural resources, the official news agency said late Wednesday in another attempt to stress the purportedly peaceful nature of the exercise.

The satellite weighs 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and will follow a "solar synchronous orbit" at a height of 500 kilometres (around 300 miles), with a lifespan of two years, it quoted an unidentified senior official from the Korean Committee for Space Technology as saying. The North has said it has invited experienced space experts and foreign media to observe the operation.

Meanwhile, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia-Pacific Security Affairs Peter Lavoy told the told the House Armed Services Committee that North Korea has indicated the rocket will be launched southward, but the US lacks confidence about the rocket’s stability and where the impact will be - saying, “The debris could fall on their countries; could cause casualties.”

Lavoy confirmed that plans to provide food were now suspended because the US lacked confidence that North Korea would stick to its commitments to allow proper monitoring of the aid’s distribution.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Is it Snowing Microbes on Enceladus?

There's a tiny moon orbiting beyond Saturn's rings that's full of promise, and maybe -- just maybe -- microbes.

In a series of tantalizingly close flybys to the moon, named "Enceladus," NASA's Cassini spacecraft has revealed watery jets erupting from what may be a vast underground sea. These jets, which spew through cracks in the moon's icy shell, could lead back to a habitable zone that is uniquely accessible in all the solar system, notes a NASA release today.

"More than 90 jets of all sizes near Enceladus's south pole are spraying water vapor, icy particles, and organic compounds all over the place," says Carolyn Porco, an award-winning planetary scientist and leader of the Imaging Science team for NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. "Cassini has flown several times now through this spray and has tasted it. And we have found that aside from water and organic material, there is salt in the icy particles. The salinity is the same as that of Earth's oceans."

Thermal measurements of Enceladus's fissures have revealed temperatures as high as -120 deg Fahrenheit (190 Kelvin). "If you add up all the heat, 16 gigawatts of thermal energy are coming out of those cracks," says Porco. She believes the small moon, with its sub-surface liquid sea, organics, and an energy source, may host the same type of life we find in similar environments on Earth.

European Cargo Ship ATV-3 Delivers Supplies to the International Space Station

The European Space Agency's "Edoardo Amaldi" Automated Transfer Vehicle-3 [ATV-3] cargo craft automatically docked to the aft port of the International Space Station's Russian Zvezda service module on March 28, after a five-day journey that began with its launch from Kourou, French Guiana on March 23, 2012.

The "Edoardo Amaldi" delivered more than 7 tons of food, fuel and supplies for the six crew members on the orbital laboratory. It is expected to remain docked to Zvezda for about six months, [BBC].

Footage from a pass over Leiden (the Netherlands) of ESA's Space Freighter ATV-3, less than a day before docking to the ISS. First an old Russian Soyuz r/b (99-039B, from the OKEAN-O launch) passes, then seconds later the ISS, then FIA Radar 1 comes into view (going the opposite direction, being in retrograde orbit), and next the ATV-3 chasing the ISS, following it by 2.5 minutes separation in pass time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

US Missile Defense Shield to Deploy in Asia

The United States is seeking to build regional shields against ballistic missiles in both Asia and the Middle East akin to a controversial defense system in Europe, a senior Pentagon official disclosed.

Washington is engaged in two sets of trilateral talks over the Asian system – one with Japan and Australia, the other with Japan and South Korea, one expert said. The United States budget vests $10-billion per year in a missile defense shield programs.

The effort may complicate U.S. ties with Russia and China, both of which fear such defenses could harm their security even though the United States says they are designed only to protect against states like Iran and North Korea, notes Rueters. Russia and the United States have been discussing the Kremlin's objections to a defense missile shield in Europe.

"The Chinese side has taken note of the reports," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said following the report from Washington. "We always believe that every country should address anti-missile issues in a cautious way, with a view of maintaining global strategic stability and enhancing strategic mutual trust, and achieve universal security through political and diplomatic means," he said.

Such shields could help counter perceived threats to their neighbors from Iran and North Korea and help defend the United States from any future long-range missiles that the two countries might develop,  Madelyn R. Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, told a conference co-hosted by the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.

AIA Touts Aerospace in the American Economy

A new report commissioned by AIA demonstrates the irreplaceable impact the aerospace and defense (A/D) industry has on America's economic and national security. Addressing the current economic crisis, the report emphasizes the industry's support of more than three million American workers. With federal budget sequestration looming and DOD, FAA and NASA budgets facing severe cuts, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and Aerospace Industries Association have escalated efforts to educate the public and elected officials on the need for alternatives to budget sequestration.

The complete study, The Aerospace and Defense Industry in the United States: A financial and economic impact study, is available at

ISS Progress 47 Continues Launch Campaign

The launch of the ISS Progress 47 spaceship from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan is scheduled for April 20, 2012. The launch campaign started in February to continue the unmanned cargo flights to the ISS. SpaceX will launch the first Falcon 9 Dragon from Cape Canaveral, Florida 10-days following the Russian Progress spacecraft on April 30, 2012, if all goes as now planned.

Wallops Island Launches 5 Sounding Rockets in Five-Minutes for ATREX Atmosphere Mission

AFTER numerous launch delays due to wind or clouds, the NASA Wallops Flight Facility launch teams were successful in boosting five sounding rockets to the edge of space for the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) mission. The mission science experiment chemical tracers were visualized in the upper atmosphere from as far as West Virginia, south to Wilmington, North Carolina and as far north as Connecticut, Delaware, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. NASA mission scientists will now being data analysis of the Earth's upper winds.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Space Heroes" Named in South Carolina

Passion, honor, and perseverance launched three South Carolina natives into history books and into the South Carolina Hall of Fame. "Space Heroes" chronicles the incredible journey taken by Charles M. Duke, Jr., Ronald Erwin McNair and Charles F. Bolden, Jr. on their way into outer-space. Their inspiring success stories remind all South Carolinians [and all Americans] that anything is possible, if you believe in yourself and aren't afraid of hard work.

Space: Not Just for Billionaires Anymore

Advances in payload and transport technology have made it easier than ever for entrepreneurs to launch into space - some for less than even $1M in capital. Entrepreneurs are now exploring opportunities with new rocket launchers, novel uses of affordable small satellites, space tourism, and even space-based power generation and extraterrestrial mining. The space market is already a $280B business.

Space has always been a breeding ground for new technologies that later integrate into our everyday lives. Discover the latest developments and learn how private investors and businesses are providing new solutions for the Earth-bound.

Cassini space probe will dash into the Saturian Rings in 2016, Scientists Now Plan

The last set of orbits of the Cassini Saturian system space probe will bring the spacecraft up close, offering new scientific insights, perhaps even clues to the age of its majestic rings in 2016, the BBC reports. Cassini will attempt space exploration within the Saturn ring gaps for the first time prior to its demise into the crushing atmosphere of the planet. The ring creation has been theorized to be from several possible sources.

Meanwhile, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is preparing to make its lowest pass yet over the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus, where icy particles and water vapor spray out in glittering jets. The closest approach, at an altitude of about 46 miles (74 kilometers), will occur around 11:30 a.m. PDT (2:30 p.m. EDT) on March 27, 2012 (NASA JPL).

Obama needs "space" on missile defense

At the tail end of his 90 minute meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev Monday, President Obama said that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with controversial issues such as missile defense, but incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to give him “space,” reports ABC News.

Medvedev, who last week demanded written proof that Russia is not the intended target of U.S. missile defense efforts, responded agreeably.

SkyNews, says, Obama's rivals for the White House have pounced on controversial comments he thought he had made in private to the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. Republican primary frontrummer Mitt Romney called Obama's remarks  "an alarming and troubling development."

"President Obama signalled that he's going to cave to Russia on missile defence but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be 'flexible' in a second term," challenger Romney said. "President Obama needs to level with the American public about his real agenda."

Mitt Romney said today that Russia — not Iran or North Korea — is the United States’ “number one geopolitical foe,” adding that Russia “always stands up for the world’s worst actors,” ABC News reports the former Massachusetts governor as saying.

In their joint statement to reporters Seoul, South Korea, President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev spoke carefully about continuing discussions on the sensitive issues of European missile defense, notes The Washington Post.

American President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speak to the press after a bilateral meeting in Seoul, South Korea at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit. March 26, 2012. 

International Launch Services Lofts US Satellite on Proton-M Commercial Booster

Russia's Proton-M carrier rocket with a U.S. telecoms satellite Intelsat 22 satellite was launched on Sunday, March 25, 2012 from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, a spokesman for the Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said.

The Proton Breeze M vehicle is built by Khrunichev State Research and Space Production Center of Moscow, one of the pillars of the aerospace industry and majority owner of International Launch Services (ILS). Proton has a heritage of 374 missions since its maiden flight in 1965.

Obama Seeks Global Nuclear Missile Reduction Amid Concern Over DPRK Satellite Rocket

President Barack Obama is urging North Korean (DPRK) leaders to "have the courage to pursue peace" and warning the country that provocation will lead to condemnation by the international community. Addressing new leaders in Pyongyang, Obama warned that their current path seeking nuclear capable missiles would lead to "more broken dreams, more isolation and ever more distance between the people of North Korea and the dignity and opportunity they deserve."

Nuclear Security Summit Protests
During the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama committed to further reduce America’s nuclear stockpile, saying the United States had more nuclear weapons than it needed and that it wouldn’t compromise American national security, [video news].

Bloomberg News reports, that Obama told an audience at the at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, South Korea that the United States will seek talks with Russia on steps to reduce their arsenals of strategic and tactical nuclear missile weapons, as well as the number of warheads they have in reserve, as well as his broader goals of blocking the spread of nuclear weapons.

DPRK rocket launch campaign underway
“I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal,” Obama said. “We can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need,” [CNN]. 

Obama said the US was also moving forward with Russia to eliminate enough plutonium for about 17,000 nuclear weapons and turn it into electricity. And he heralded an earlier agreement with Russia to reduce nuclear arsenals under the New START Treaty, which Obama called "the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades," noted NDTV.

"When we're done, we'll have cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s," the President said.

US-Russian diplomats signed START
Obama also prodded Russia in a new way, saying he would seek discussions with Moscow on an unprecedented front: reducing not only strategic nuclear warheads, but also tactical weapons and warheads in reserve. He said he planned to discuss that proposition with former leader Vladimir Putin, who will return to the presidency later this spring after winning an election held earlier this year, when they meet in May.

President Obama is meeting today with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev amid the 53-nation state foreign delegations attending the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit [news video]. The Chinese President pledged to seek a reduction of tensions between North and South Korea and dissuade the launch of a North Korean space satellite in a 40-minute meeting with the Republic of Korea (ROK) President Lee Myung-bak, reported The Korea Times.

South Korea has publicly indicated that it may exercise the option of shooting down the booster rocket should in cross South Korean air space. "We are studying measures such as tracking and shooting down (parts) of a North Korean missile in case they stray out of their normal trajectory" and violate South Korean territory, said Yoon Won-shik, a vice spokesman at the ROK Defense Ministry noted AP.

President Obama and South Korea President Lee Myung-bak hold a press conference after discussing North Korea's nuclear weapons development, bilateral trade, and other issues of mutual interest,[White House, March 25, 2012].

Sunday, March 25, 2012

ORBITAL - Hommage à Youri Gagarine

Magical time lapse movie in IMAX quality of an orbit of the Earth! Best viewed full-screen to gain the effect.

Mining the Moon: Helium 3 Extraction Views

Apollo 17 astronaut-geologist Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, and others, discuss the profound potential of mining the Moon starting on significant scale in the next decade, in the above video posted by Moon Express today.

Moon Express is a commercial firm building vehicles and robotic probes to land on the lunar surface to start the first extraction of minerals on the Moon. The commercial firm is one of the leaders of private sector efforts to reach the lunar surface in the next 36-months with small robotic moon rovers.

The American, Chinese, European, Indian, Japanese, and Russian government-sponsored remote sensing probes have gathered significant knowledge of the Moon's minerals and surface features in the past few years, with missions ongoing. Most all of the governments, save Americans, have government sponsored efforts to gather surface samples and start lunar mining outposts. The Americans, on the other hand, are beginning to look to the commercial sector, like Moon Express, to start the first mineral claims.

An American private company is planning the first commercial cislunar navigation flight around the moon first done in 1968 but last in 1972.  The plan is expected to be announced later this year upon the commercial passengers making proper business arrangements, along with use of a Russian-made Soyuz booster and capsule and cosmonaut commander-pilot.

The Chinese and Russian governments have expressed the realistic goal of placing taikonauts and cosmonauts on the surface of the Moon early in the next decade to follow-up on their robotic exploration of our two-world system. Permanent human settlement will be the next step, sometime in the near-term future.

Obama Warns North Korea to Halt Launch

President Barack Obama warned North Korea if it moves forward with a planned rocket launch next month the Pyongyang regime risks further isolating itself from the global community.

Through the Looking-Glass
President Obama, taking his first visit to the tense Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, referred to the north. "It's like you're in a time warp. It's like you're looking across 50 years into a country that has missed 40 years or 50 years of progress," after visiting the most forward and heavily-fortified buffer zone point, Observation Post Oullette.

King Jong-un consolidating power
Earlier this month, North Korean's new leader Kim Jong-un visited the DMZ to urge North Korean troops to stay on a state of high military alert. In subsequent North Korean rallies, military chief Ri Yong Ho warned in a speech that the North Korean army would "sweep out" the South Korean traitors using their guns, according to footage from North Korea's state TV. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was singled out for with specific threats, [video].

Obama is pressing North Korea's closest military ally and economic patron, China, to press the Pyongyang regime on its nuclear program. Obama is set to meet with China President Hu Jintao in Seoul. Fifty-four world leaders have gathered in Seoul, South Korea, 25-miles south of the DMZ to discuss security of nuclear materials worldwide.

"Given they [the Chinese] have more influence [on North Korea]… than any other country on earth, what are they doing to help guide or urge North Korea to take a more constructive approach?" said Obama.

North Korea continues to erect the Unha-3 rocket booster set to launch from the the Solace Satellite Launching Station on the North Korean West Coast, reports The New York Times. The booster is said to be lofting the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite to low earth orbit on April 15, 2012. The DPRK diplomats have told the West that it believes it has an international right to launch a peaceful earth observation satellite and it is being held at a different standard.

President Obama's trip comes as North Koreans mark the end of the 100-day mourning period for longtime leader Kim Jong Il, who died of a heart attack in December. Since Kim's death, son Kim Jong-un has been paying a series of high-profile visits to military units and made his own trip to the "peace village" of Panmunjom inside the DMZ earlier this month.

A solemn national memorial service was held in Pyongyang, North Korea on Sunday, March 25, 2012 marking the 100th day since the demise of the late leader Kim Jong Il. Kim was succeeded by his young son, Kim Jong-un.

In Seoul, Obama said: "It's not clear exactly who is calling the shots and what their long-term objectives are," in reference to what seems to be the unsettled leadership style of the late 20's Kim Jong-un, now Supreme Leader of the DPRK.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

X-37B Space Plane "Game-Changing" Mission Extended Indefinitely; Third Launch Planned

The USAF X-37B space plane may be about as taikonauts enter space lab.
The military's mysterious, experimental unmanned space plane is doing such a good job that its mission has been extended indefinitely—if only anyone knew what its mission was. The mission is top secret.

Details on the mission involving the X-37B are virtually nonexistent. The official U.S. Air Force fact sheet says the vehicle is being used as an "experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force," reports U.S.News & World Report.

The Boeing-build spacecraft began its life as a NASA program, with the Air Force contributing some development funds. It was originally conceived as a vehicle that could robotically refuel or repair satellites. Once NASA decided to drop the program, it was transferred to the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA), and then to the Air Force, where it became a top secret, "black" program.

General William Shelton, head of the Air Force Space Command operating the X-37B space plane was asked to give adjectives for the X-37B, he offered up "spectacular" and "game-changing" whatever that means for a secret spacecraft with no public information about its mission other than  it continues to orbit close to the Chinese space lab, Tiangong-1, where Chinese taikonauts are expected to arrive in the next few weeks.

The current orbiting USAF X-37B is the second space plane placed into low erath orbit. The first launched and landed successfully spending 220 days in space in 2010. Nevertheless, USAF General Shelton said that the military has no intention of purchasing any more of the winged, resuable vehciles, which resemble a smaller version of  NASA's now retired space shuttle. The general did confirm a third mission for one of the two X-37B spacecraft is set for the fall of 2012.

New Trends in Space Exploration: Partnerships, Commerce, and Beyond

New Trends in Space Exploration: Partnerships, Commerce, and Beyond discussion was held Sunday, March 18, 2012 at The Tech Museum. The gathering included Sophie-Charlotte Moatti, Dr. Bob Richards, Dr. David Livingston, Kenneth E. Washington, Ph.D. and moderated by Angie Coiro in this nearly 1.5 hour event.

Harmony with the Dark Sky April 14, 2012

On Saturday, April 14, 2012 the Town of Harmony, the largest Green Certified Community in Central Florida, will be hosting their 9th Annual Dark Sky Festival in the Harmony Town Square from 6-11pm. Festival admission is free and open to the public, drawing about 5,000 people in 2011.

The purpose of the Dark Sky Festival is to expose the general public to the marvels of astronomy and the importance of protecting dark skies - not just for astronomy purposes, but also for the values that darkness provides to area wildlife. This festival will include Stargazing on “Telescope Hill,” NASA exhibits and speaker, Local astronomers, science exhibits and demonstrations, Starlab Mobile Planetarium, live music, Cosmic Kids Zone, “Glow Golf,” and much more. Blog readers may opt to attend, [Hat Tip to Lauren Harder].

Proton M Rocket Set for Baikonur Launch

The Proton M launch vehicle, utilizing a 5-burn Breeze M mission design, will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, with the Intelsat 22 satellite on board for a March 25, 2012 launch for International Launch Services. Click here to view the planned Sunday launch at 8:10 AM EDT.

This is the first supersynchronous mission for ILS Proton. The first three stages of the Proton will use a standard ascent profile to place the orbital unit (Breeze M upper stage and the Intelsat 22 satellite) into a sub-orbital trajectory. From this point in the mission, the Breeze M will perform planned mission maneuvers to advance the orbital unit first to a circular parking orbit, then to an intermediate orbit, followed by a transfer orbit, and finally to a geostationary transfer orbit.

Once an astronaut, always an astronaut?

Astronaut Hernandez
Jose Hernandez flew in space, but his astronaut identity is now under political and legal fire, reports The Fresno Bee, as a political wedge issue being developed in a California Congressional campaign. The NASA trained  astronaut is learning the difference between rocket science and political science the hard way, it appears.

In a pointed challenge, a Sacramento law firm is asking a judge to block Hernandez from describing himself as an "astronaut/scientist/engineer" on the June 5, 2012 primary ballot as he seeks to challenge freshman Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock in the November General Election. The lawsuit notes Hernandez has left NASA.

Read more here:

"Hernandez's attempted use of 'astronaut' violates the [California] Election Code's unambiguous requirement that a candidate's ballot designation reflect one's current profession, vocation, or one held during the previous calendar year," the lawsuit states.

The case may be one of first impression in the United States of how one defines astronaut. It is most commonly defined as "a person engaged in or trained for spaceflight." However, the California lawsuit alleges that "astronaut is not a title one carries for life."

Hernandez trained and flew as a NASA astronaut spending 14-days in space as a member of the crew of STS-128 on a space station construction mission in September 2009. The legal challenge is a novel approach to challenging a Congressional candidate's credentials.

Read more here:

Missile or satellite? The debate continues ...

LinkTV host Yul Kwon speaks to Abraham Kim of the Korea Economic Institute and Han Park from the University of Georgia about North Korea's proposed satellite launch and its ramifications regarding the pending food for nukes deal that North Korea established with the United States. The North Koreans point to South Korea's efforts to launch a satellite and Japan's repeated space launches as a legal basis to justify the North Korean satellite launch. The dual-use technology debate will continue.

Edoardo Amaldi ATV Set for Docking with ISS

Europe's space freighter is on its way to the International Space Station. Since its launch this 23 March, the  spacecraft, the third in a series, has been fully checked out, and has started the orbital manoeuvres required to reach the ISS on March 28, 2012. The ESA ATV-3 will remain docked with the ISS until September 2012 subsequently burning-up in the Earth's atmosphere upon re-entry.

The European spacecraft ATV 3 Edoardo Amaldi is tracked across the morning twilight sky March 24, 2012 on its way to the International Space Station with supplies as seen in the above video from Leiden, the Netherlands by a skillful sky watcher.

International Space Station Crew Stands Down from Debris Alert After Retreating to Soyuz

Fragments of a Russian Cosmos-2251 satellite forced six space station astronauts to seek shelter in escape capsules early Saturday as the space junk came close to a collision course with the ISS. The space station crew climbed into two Soyuz vehicles ready to rocket back to Earth just in case.

The debris the debris passed within about 9 miles of the space station, at 2:38 a.m. eastern time. Soon afterward, American and Russian officials allowed the astronauts and cosmonauts to return to the station.

Russian satellite Cosmos-2251 (type Strela-2M) was launched on June 16, 1993 from Plesetsk Cosmodrome. On February 10, 2009, the satellite collided with America’s Iridium-33 at the height of 790 kilometers. Both satellites were completely destroyed. The incident became the first of its kind in space exploration history. Satellite Cosmos-2251 split into some 600 fragments larger than five centimeters, and thousands more smaller pieces, more from The Space Review.

NASA said it could not even determine the size of the debris. Even small amounts of debris, however, can pose a danger to the 450-ton space station; the space station and the satellite debris were traveling at speeds of 17,500 miles an hour.       

American commander, Daniel Burbank and five experts: Russians Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin and Oleg Kononenko and astronauts of NASA and the European Space Agency, Donald Pettit and André Kuipers hunkered down in two docked Soyuz spacecraft. This is the third time in 12 years that astronauts and cosmonauts have had to seek shelter from space junk, pointing to a growing problem within the low earth orbit space commons.

Space agencies around the goble have growing concern with space debris with many looking for means to mitigate against the problem.  The so-called "Kessler syndrome" is expanding in low earth orbit.

The United States Space Surveillance Network is tracking more than 22,000 objects larger than 4 inches in size, NASA said, with about 1,000 being some form of spacecraft and the rest being classified as debris. Most of the debris floats within 1,250 miles, or low orbit, of the planet.       

Friday, March 23, 2012

Europeans Plan 2022 Follow-Up to NASA MESSENGER at Planet Mercury

Mercury has always been something of a puzzle for planetary scientists. Its close position to the Sun means it is very difficult to observe, but now a series of satellites is getting up close to this fascinating planet. The European Space Agency's BepiColombo mission is among them, and it will offer an unprecedented level of information about the mysterious world of Mercury when it arrives in 2022, [ESA].

The smallest planet in the solar system keeps serving up big surprises. Scientists working on the NASA Messenger mission to Mercury have found that the planet has unexpected inner layers and craters with tilted bottoms, and it may have been geologically active far later into its life than previously imagined. The spacecraft entered orbit around Mercury March 17, 2012.  Already planetary scientists have discovered what appears to be water ice on the hottest planet at its polar dark craters - similar to the Moon.

LA Space Salon presents: Dr. Lee Valentine

Lost in space? Don't worry, Dr. Lee Valentine has the map. A champion of commercial space exploration for over three decades and director of the Space Studies Institute, Lee has helped shape policy and programs advancing the cause of permanent manned settlement, [SpaceVidCast].

Lee will be speaking with us about his unique and powerful perspective, about a future in space not tethered to any planet, about drinking deeply of the sun and devouring whole asteroids. He will help us plot a course forward, onward and upward. The vision, as he puts it, is to "Mine the Sky, Defend the Earth, Settle the Universe". And to further inspire - Lee manages to do all of this while saving lives every day as an emergency room doctor.

Robonaut 2 Gears-Up at the ISS

NASA says the future of space exploration includes humanoid robots working alongside flesh-and-blood humans. The U.S. space agency is a step closer to making that a reality with Robonaut 2, the first human-like robot on the International Space Station, [VOA].

SpaceX Space Act Agreement Status

NASA Public Affairs Officer Kyle Herring interviews Jon Cowart, Commercial Crew Program, Partner Manager for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), about the status of Space Act Agreement. SpaceX is planning an April 30, 2012 launch of the Falcon 9 with the Dragon spacecraft.

STRATFOR: Is North Korea being held to a different standard for a space satellite launch?

Stratfor Vice President of East Asia Analysis Rodger Baker examines the conflicting statements and rhetoric out of Pyongyang and Seoul in advance of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit. The discussion includes significant references to the planned North Korean satellite launch planned for April 15, 2012.

Japan has condemned what it believes is a ballistic missile test. The test, which is banned by US resolutions, has provoked a strong response from the Japanese, who have said they may shoot down the rocket if it passes over Japanese soil. RT provides some measure of analysis.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned North Korea Friday that any rocket launch could discourage international aid donors and worsen the country's already dire humanitarian situation. Ban told an audience of government officials, diplomats and academics that he was "very troubled and very deeply concerned" by Pyongyang's announcement to launch a satellite next month. He said it would be a "clear violation" of UN Security Council resolutions and warned that the North already had a "serious humanitarian crisis" on its hands.

ESA: "Back at the ISS Yes!"


The YouTube Space Lab global winners were announced at a special award ceremony with NASA astronaut, Sunita Williams, and other guests. While in Washington they also took a weightless ZERO-G flight! Meet all the winners at

Mars 500 Mission Simulation Considered for ISS

International Space Station partners are considering the orbiting outpost to simulate a 500-day astronaut-cosmonaut deep space mission to Mars in 2015 patterned after the patterned after Moscow-based Mars 500 simulated flight conducted at a research center last year. The mission would be designed to study human factors, technology and delayed communications, according to NASA. No decision on a mission profile has yet been made.

A five hundred day human Mars mission is more than 16-months in space going to and from the Red Planet. The human endurance record of 14 months in space was set by a Russian cosmonaut aboard the Mir space station in the mid-1990s. Only two others - both Russians - have spent as long as a full year in space. No NASA astronaut has spent more than seven months in space on a single mission.

Physical as well as psychological questions will have to be addressed before anything of that sort is attempted by multiple space agencies prior to undertaking such a simulated mission at the International Space Station. There is at least a significant probablity that the space agencies will agree to simulate the first leg of a Mars deep space trek with 9-month stays at the orbiting space station. More from MSNBC.

Launch Window Closed for ATREX Multiple Rocket Launches from Wallops Island, VA

UPDATE: The ATREX mission launch wondow closed Friday morning. The mission launch is on hold because of more distant clouds. Nonetheless, the launch readiness was go - save clouds.  The mission launch will again be rescheduled. The launch may be viewed in a NASA webcast or follow on Twitter and Facebook to keep-up with precise launch date.

The Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) will gather information needed to better understand the process responsible for the high-altitude jet stream located 60 to 65 miles above the surface of the Earth.

As part the mission, the five rockets will release a chemical tracer that will form milky, white clouds that allow scientists and the public to "see" the winds in space. These clouds may be visible for up to 20 minutes by residents from South Carolina to southern New Hampshire and Vermont.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kourou Spaceport: Launch of ATV-3 to ISS

LIVE LAUNCH VIDEO: The webcast from the launch site on the occasion of the launch of a "Space Ferry", named after Edoardo Amaldi, by the European Space Agency (ESA). Amaldi was CERN's first Secretary General and founding father, and a visionary pioneer for ESA [PHOTOS].

ATV Edoardo Amaldi (ATV-3) is due for launch on 23 March 2012 at 05.34 CET, and it will carry a record load of over 7 tonnes into orbit. More from the BBC, NASASpaceflight,, and pad roll photos from SpaceflightNow. Live Launch Video.

Monday, March 19, 2012

N Korea invites back UN nuke monitors as it shows miltary force to leader Kim Jong Un

Tensions rose Monday on the Korean peninsula, with Pyongyang releasing video of a major military exercise and Seoul accusing its northern neighbor of using the planned satellite launch as a pretext for testing a nuclear weapon delivery system. The North Korean video shows leader Kim Jong Un meeting soldiers and watching what is described as a joint strike drill of the North's army, navy and air force. It shows a warship being blown up at sea, soldiers firing missiles and an airplane exploding in mid-air.

Meanwhile, the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Monday it has received an invitation from North Korea to visit, three years after its inspectors were expelled from the communist country a second time, according to the BBC.

The move appeared to be an attempt by North Korea to show it was serious about a nuclear moratorium deal with the United States last month, an accord which has been thrown into doubt by Pyongyang’s announcement Friday of a planned rocket launch.

But a Vienna-based Western diplomat told Reuters that North Korea had “offered to meet with the IAEA to discuss the moratorium, they didn’t actually offer the IAEA moratorium monitoring at this point.”

A spokeswoman for the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said the invitation was received Friday — the same day Pyongyang announced it would launch a rocket carrying a satellite followed by an offer to allow space experts and journalists access to the launch site.

The U.S., Russia, South Korea and Japan have condemned the planned launch, saying it violates a U.N. ban on all North Korean launches using ballistic missile technology. Even Pyongyang's long-time ally, China, has expressed rare disapproval. Beijing said it is concerned about the launch's potential to disrupt regional peace and security. More from RTTNews, CNN, the Bangkok Post and the Herald Sun.

"I Celebrate Yuri's Night Because..."

Pete Worden

Dr. David Livingston of The Space Show

Dr. Alan Stern

Marimikel Charrier

MoonExpress: The Importance of the Moon to Humanity's Two-World Future

Based on excerpts from a CNN interview, Moon Express co-Founder and CEO Bob Richards explains the big picture of lunar exploration and the importance of the Moon to humanity's future.

With the advent of a new era of private space companies working collaboratively with NASA, the Moon is now within the reach of small teams of visionary engineer/explorers. Once only a project for government superpowers, enabling access to the Moon for exploration, research and commerce is now doable by commercial companies backed by private players.

Moon Express is building the modern equivalent of a railway system to the Moon that will enable a new generation of lunar exploration and development activities. "Moon 2.0", catalysed by the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition, is one of today's greatest adventures of entrepreneurship, exploration and discovery.

Bob Richards has led the development of many institutions, organizations and companies dedicated to expanding Earth's economic sphere and creating a multi-planet civilization. Together with co-Founders Naveen Jain and Barney Pell, Moon Express is helping open up a new era of lunar exploration for the benefit of humanity's future on Earth and in space.

Curiosity: In the Cruise Phase to Mars

In the eight-month trip to Mars, a lot has to go right for Curiosity to arrive safely on the surface of Mars in August 2012.

Elon Musk Appears on CBS "60 Minutes"

Appearing on CBS 60 Minutes, Sunday evening, March 18, 2012, Elon Musk talks about his dream. From PayPal to electric cars to rockets, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk wants his company, SpaceX, to build America's next manned spacecraft. Scott Pelley reports.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

North Korea Says Satellite Launch is a Right

The Voice of Korea has stated that the "Launch of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 Is legitimate right of DPRK" and it has notified the appopriate international authorities of the planned launch and it will invite foreign experts and reporters to the launch site.

North Korea defended its defiance of demands by the US and others to cancel the launch as exercise of its “right to use space for peaceful purposes.” As explained by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency, “The satellite launch for scientific researches….can by no means be a monopoly of specified countries.”

The North Korean government announced the intention to launch the satellite early Friday morning, March 16, 2012.  More details about the North Korean response to international objections to the proposed rocket flight are reported by The China Post.

Meanwhile, The International Herald Tribute is reporting that the Japanese government is giving consideration to shooting down the North Korean rocket booster should it approach Japan.