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Monday, April 30, 2012

SpaceX Conducts Static Fire Test at Cape; Launch to ISS Now Set 9:38 AM EST, May 7th

The nine main engines on the Falcon 9 were worked out for 2 second on the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The rocket will carry the first commercial spacecraft, the Dragon capsule, to dock with the International Space Station.

IF SpaceX and NASA stick to the current timeline following the review of the test firing data , the Falcon 9 rocket will send the robotically controlled Dragon capsule into orbit on May 7. A couple of days later, the spacecraft will catch up with the space station and go through a sequence of rendezvous maneuvers, reports MSNBC. The launch is scheduled for 9:38 am EST, May 7, 2012.

SpaceX aims to be the first private company to send its own spacecraft to the orbiting research lab, a capacity that only Russia, Japan and Europe can currently handle since the US shuttle program ended last year, noted AFP. More from SpaceflightNow.

Abort Launch Requirements Outlined by NASA

The Launch Abort Systems developed by NASA is a key element for several companies who are competing for NASA Commercial Crew Program dollars. The program will eventually drive human-rated traffic to the International Space Station.

X-Prize: Visioneering for Solutions

CNN’s Ali Velshi showcased X PRIZE Foundation's Visioneering 2012 on his program, "Your Money", this past Saturday and Sunday. Along with commentary, Ali highlighted the process of Visioneering and a few of the distinguished participants.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Richard Branson May Provide Last Chance to Hillary Clinton for Astronaut Wings in Space

United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's childhood aspiration of becoming an astronaut was dashed by NASA, but she may not be giving up on the dream of reaching the heavens (at least flying Virgin Galactic suborbital).

Welcoming to the State Department the British billionaire mega-tycoon Sir Richard Branson, Clinton hailed the space tourism pioneer for being "such a strong proponent for business-as-unusual."

"I'm excited he is here because many, many, many years ago, I wanted to be an astronaut and I think he may be my last chance to live out that particular dream," Clinton, 64, said to laughter from the audience, noted AFP.

Clinton often tells the story about how NASA rejected her inquiry on joining the space program in the early 1960s because she was female.

Reason TV: Kennedy Political Space Satire

As with most of us Kennedys, this one too requires a keen sense of humor to fully appreciate the political satire. Talk it Lisa!

A Magnetoplasma Rocket to the Moon?

Future moon utilization will require a great deal of cargo in the form of facilities, machinery, vehicles, and supplies. Present planning assumes that all of this cargo will be transferred from low Earth orbit to the Moon's surface by chemical propulsion.

An unmanned cargo capability based on VASIMR® propulsion offers significant cost savings to the proposed lunar exploration program. VASIMR® delivers the highest fraction of the initial mass in low Earth orbit (IMLEO) to the Moon, thereby reducing the cost per kg. In a 6 month lunar cargo mission, a VASIMR® with 5,000 s specific impulse can deliver approximately double the payload mass of a chemical rocket system.

Astrobotic Prospector to the Moon in 2015

Astrobotic's Polaris lunar rover is slated to prospect for potentially rich deposits of water ice, methane and other resources at the moon's north pole in three years.
Astrobotic Technology Inc. announced a NASA contract last week to determine whether its polar rover can deploy an ice-prospecting payload to the Moon. The ice could yield water, oxygen, methane and rocket propellant to dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration.

“Astrobotic seeks the immense resources available on the Moon to both accelerate space exploration and improve life on Earth,” said David Gump, president. “The lunar path is near term. We intend a prospecting mission in 2015.”

Recent lunar-orbiting satellites from several nations, and a NASA probe that impacted near the Moon’s south pole, have sensed polar ice composed of water, methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and other substances. These polar resources went undiscovered during the Apollo expeditions which landed near the equator. The next step is to drill and measure the polar ices directly to see if they are sufficiently concentrated to be useful.

Lunar propellant derived from the ice could fuel spacecraft for long voyages, Earth-return, or maneuvering satellites. Water and oxygen would be invaluable for life support. Other elements have immense value for energy, processes, fabrication and habitation. When seeking resources from planetary destinations, the four-day travel time to reach the Moon enables early return on investment compared to more distant targets.

Lunar Polaris rover will ride Falcon 9
Astrobotic has reserved a Falcon 9 launch vehicle made by SpaceX to send its spacecraft and robot explorer on a trajectory toward the Moon in October of 2015. The Astrobotic spacecraft will deliver the prospector to the lunar surface with technology that autonomously avoids landing hazards such as large rocks and craters. The navigation system is derived from technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University under Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, Astrobotic’s founder.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Leonard Nimoy to Space Shuttle Enterprise: "Live Long and Prosper"

Leonard Nimoy, the Science Officer of the fictional Starship Enterprise, along with NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, salute the Space Shuttle Enterprise during the ceremonies in New York City Friday, April 27, 2012.

RADIO IRISH captures all the action from Frank Sinatra Park in Hoboken, New Jersey. The report provides interesting commentary from Americans about the space shuttle program and the future of United States spaceflight.

The Space Shuttle Enterprise - the first US shuttle ever built - swept across the Manhattan skyline for a historic final flyover before landing at the John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Music to the ears of those who declared this space shuttle "Enterprise" and a salute to those now testing the VSS "Enterprise" at Mojave Space Port.

Jon Stewart's Take on Asteroid Mining!

"Do you know how rarely the news in 2012 looks and sounds how you thought news would look and sound in 2012?"

Ira Flatow of Science Friday interviews Eric Anderson about his private venture to mine asteroids. Meanwhile, Irene Klotz questions Bigelow Aerospace attorney Mike Gold about who owns the asteroids to be mined.

Then there is a note from the future:
In 2057, the United States Library of Congress set out to catalogue the folk music that came out of the early asteroid mining culture beginning around 2021 with private companies like Planetary Resources and their first manned missions. Miners would spend years on asteroids and would often write and transmit songs to earth. This song, "Mining an Asteroid" comes from an unknown author in 2034 who describes the loneliness and longing for family that many miners felt during their missions.

Expedition 31 Crew to Launch May 15, 2012

Expedition 31 Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Flight Engineer Joe Acaba and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin, along with Expedition 31 backup crewmembers Kevin Ford, Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy, fielded questions from the media at their training base at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, outside Moscow on April 25 ,2012.

The crew later participated in traditional ceremonies also at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, including a visit to the Yuri Gagarin museum where Padalka signed a traditional cosmonauts' log, and the laying of flowers at a statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. The events were part of traditional activities conducted in advance of the launch of Padalka, Acaba and Revin to the International Space Station on May 15, 2012 aboard Soyuz TMA-04M. Upon docking with the ISS, they will join Expedition 31 Commander Oleg Kononenko, André Kuipers, and Don Pettit.

This Week @ NASA: ISS and SpaceX

Mini-Jets Punch Through F-Ring at Saturn

New images from the Cassini spacecraft reveal rogue kilometre-sized objects punching through Saturn's F-ring as the source of 'mini-jets' seen emanating from the ring, according to the European Space Agency.

Saturn's narrow F-ring is already known to host a variety of dynamic features including channels, ripples and 'snowballs' that are created by the gravitational influence of nearby moon Prometheus. While some snowballs are likely broken up by collisions and tidal forces, the new images reveal five hundred separate cases where small surviving fragments punch through the F-ring, dragging icy ring particles with them.

The objects collide with the ring at low speeds of around two metres per second, resulting in 'mini-jets' that extend between 40 and 180 kilometres from the ring. In some cases the snowball impacts occur in groups, creating exotic patterns as they drag through the ring. More from NASA JPL.

Soyuz TMA-22 Lands from Orbiting Station

The Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft carrying Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin landed in Kazakhstan Friday at 1:45 a.m. EDT after undocking from the International Space Station officially ending their stay.

The Soyuz performed a deorbit burn before the descent module separated from the rest of the Russian spacecraft and entered the Earth's atmosphere. Afterward, the Soyuz deployed several parachutes, slowing its descent, and then fired three small engines to soften its landing. Support personnel extracted the Expedition 30 crew members from the Soyuz and they are now being monitored by flight surgeons.

Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank of NASA, Russian Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin were greeted in a traditional ceremony at the airport in Kustanai, Kazakhstan on April 27, 2012, hours after landing in their Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft on the steppe of Kazakhstan. After the ceremony, the crew split up, with Shkaplerov and Ivanishin returning to their training base in Star City, Russia, while Burbank boarded a NASA plane in Kustanai to return to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

SpaceX Static Fire Test on Monday, Apriil 30

On Monday, April 30, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will webcast a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket’s nine powerful Merlin engines in preparation for the company’s upcoming launch. The webcast, available at, is set to begin at 2:30 PM ET/ 11:30 AM PT, with the actual static fire targeted for 3:00 PM ET/ 12:00 PM PT.

The 9 engine test will take place at the company’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as part of a full launch dress rehearsal leading up to the second Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) launch. During the rehearsal, SpaceX engineers will run through all countdown processes as though it were launch day. The exercise will end with all nine engines firing at full power for two seconds.

After the test, SpaceX will conduct a thorough review of all data as engineers make final preparations for the upcoming launch, currently targeted for May 7, 2012. SpaceX plans to launch its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. During the mission, Dragon’s sensors and flight systems will be subject to a series of tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the space station.

If NASA decides Dragon is ready, the vehicle will attach to the station and astronauts will open Dragon’s hatch and unload the cargo onboard. This will be the first attempt by a commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station, a feat previously performed by only a few governments. Success is not guaranteed. If any aspect of the mission is not successful, SpaceX will learn from the experience and try again. It is also the second demonstration flight under NASA’s program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station.

Planetary Resources, Inc. has bold plan

Planetary Resources, Inc. held a press conference earlier this week to "expand Earth's natural resource base" by developing and deploying the technologies for asteroid mining.

Although the long-term goal of the company is to mine asteroids, its initial plans call for developing a market for small (30–50 kg) cost-reduced space telescopes for both Earth observation and astronomy. These spacecraft would employ a laser-optical system for ground communications, reducing payload bulk and mass compared to conventional RF antennae. The deployment of such orbital telescopes is envisioned as the first step forward in the company's asteroid mining ambitions.

Ultimately, the goal is to establish fully automated/robotic asteroid-based mining and processing operations and the capability to transport the resulting products wherever desired. Developing the necessary technologies to maturity, and deploying them in proof-of-concept operations is the company's intermediate-to-long-term goal.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tonight – live coverage ILS launch of Yahsat 1B

International Launch Services (ILS) will launch the Yahsat 1B satellite on a Proton M/Breeze M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on April 23, 2012. The commercial launch can be followed live via the ILS special video website.  Launch takes place 6:18 PM (18:18) EDT; 22:18 GMT today. The webcast begins at 6:00 PM (18:00) EDT; 22:00 GMT, 04:00 Baikonur.

RISAT-1 saetellite set for launch at Sriharikota

The final hours of the launch campaign of India's Radar Imaging Satellite (RISAT-1) from the spaceport at Sriharikota, India are underway for a at 5.45 a.m. liftoff on Thursday, April 26, 2012.

The four stages of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-XL) are stacked at the launch-pad on the beachside on the Sriharikota island. The 71-hour countdown for the lift-off commenced today (Monday, April 23, 2012).

The RISAT-1, a remote-sensing satellite a decade in the making, will be the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) first indigenous radar-imaging satellite made.  RISATs use synthetic aperture radars and the great advantage of RISATs is that they can take pictures of the earth at all times, through rain, sun, clouds, fog and cyclones.

Whilst this is the first time the ISRO is launching its own RISAT, it has twice launched Israel's RISATs to orbit using the PSLVs from Sriharikota. The ISRO first put Israel's RISAT, Tecsar, in orbit in January, 2008, and the agency deployed Israel's RISAT-2 in orbit in April 2009. Both Tecsar and RISAT-2 are reconnaissance/surveillance satellites. While Israel uses the images from Tecsar, India uses the images from RISAT-2 for surveillance.

How might asteroid mining work?

Asteroids have provided much of the earth's precious metals. In fact, most of the metals we mine today originally came from asteroids hitting the earth in its early days. But near earth asteroids provide the best opportunity for mining, because they are closer to reach. Collecting material could be as simple as using a magnetic rake to scrape up valuable material, which would then then processed and returned back to earth.

In 2012, Asteroid 18412 was named in honour of Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, an Australian Science Broadcaster and author. He discusses the possibility of asteroid mining in this morning boradcast in Australia.

OSIRIS-REx to Launch in 2016 to Asteroid

OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer) is an approved NASA mission of about $1-billion designed to send an unmanned spacecraft to study and return a sample of asteroid 1999 RQ36, a carbonaceous asteroid, to Earth for detailed analyses in 2023.

Planetary scientist and former NASA astronaut Tom Jones, PhD, a leader in the newly formed private firm Planetry Resources, Inc., talked about this particular asteroid with Fox News about two years ago [video].

NASA has selected the University of Arizona to lead a sample-return mission to an asteroid. The team is led by Michael Drake, director of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. will manage the mission for NASA. Lockheed Martin is building the spacecraft.

Vesta—A New Look at an Ancient Asteroid

Vesta, the second-largest object in the asteroid belt, is bright enough to be seen from Earth without a telescope. Now, thanks to NASA's Dawn spacecraft, scientists can take a much closer look at Vesta. As Dawn orbits Vesta at low altitude, it captures high-resolution images of the asteroid's surface.

Vesta's scarred, cratered landscape is marked by deposits of bright and dark minerals, which appear most frequently at impact sites. Other observations identify Vesta as compositionally similar to terrestrial planets like Earth and Mars. Scientists are eager to study the asteroid's structure to learn more about how Vesta and other planetlike objects formed during the earliest days of the solar system.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Let's Go To Mars: 4-Things Must be Solved

Hank ponders the major challenges of going to Mars and the need for a plan to realistically get there.

Progress M-15M - 47P Docks with ISS

The robotic Progress 47P (Progress M-15M) cargo ship docked with the space station at 10:39 a.m. EDT, ending a two-day flight that began with an eye-catching launch. The two spacecraft were sailing 249 miles (400 kilometers) over northern China, just south of the Mongolia border, when Progress 47 parked itself at the orbiting lab, reports MSNBC.

The Progress 47P is the third robotic supply ship to arrive at the station this year. The Progress 46P spacecraft launched in late January 2012 and departed the outpost last Thursday. Europe’s third Automated Transfer Vehicle arrived in late March 2012, notes Florida Today.

Kaku: mining the heavens is just the ticket

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player
"I think private enterprise will boldly go where governments fear to tread. And I think the space program has been in purgatory in the last few years. NASA is an agency to nowhere. So, we need private enterprise, especially people with deep pockets to help jump start the program and maybe mining the heavens is just the ticket," theoretical physicist and best-selling author Michio Kaku says in the linked ABC interview. More here.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch to ISS Coming Soon

With the Falcon-9 countdown now in single digit days, the start-up SpaceX is challenging us all to think of new innovative ways to create the NewSpace Age. The planned mid-day Monday, April 30, 2012 launch may histoically represent the demarcation point of unfathomable entrepreneurial opportunities ahead for the most enterprising innovators among us.

Potentially lower cost access to orbit may radically change the opportunity economics resulting in closure of the business case for a number of unique off-Earth plans over the balance of the decade. Among them are private human-rated orbital space habitat research stations, space debris mitigation, satellite repair and refueling, orbital power stationsasteroid and lunar resource gathering and, as Elon Musk sees it, on to Mars.

American free enterprise may be coming of age in space on Monday, April 30, 2012 - on the presumption that this Musk created business venture proceeds largely as planned.

The Soviet's 1st Star Squad Documented

A Russia Today 25-minute documentary, marking the Cosmonautics Day when on April 12, 1961, when the first human when to space. Yuri Gagarin was ultimately the first but there were 19 people more -- the members of the first Cosmonauts Squad. What did they have to endure before the first human being flew into space? What happened to them afterwards? Find out the secrets of the Soviet space program and personal dramas of the star squad members.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Planetary Resources Starts with Billionaires

There's a new space venture about to get underway, and the backers are big ones. Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Charles Simonyi, X PRIZE chairman Peter Diamandis and James Cameron have something special planned. Stay-turned more information Tuesday afternoon, April 24, 2012. There are many potential uses for asteroid materials, including steam-powered spaceships!

Boeing, NASA Sign Agreement on Mission Support for Commercial Space Transportation

Boeing has signed an agreement with NASA's Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) at Johnson Space Center to collaborate on mission planning, training and flight operations for the company's Commercial Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft.

Under the new arrangement, which Boeing negotiated under its current Phase 2 NASA Space Act Agreement for Commercial Crew Development, Boeing will begin discussions with the MOD on integrating launch operations and the company's own mission control facility at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., with training and real-time operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"Adding MOD to our team leverages NASA's experience in crewed space operations to ensure mission success for our CST-100 spacecraft," said Chris Ferguson, director of Crew and Mission Operations for the Boeing Commercial Crew Program. "As we continue to mature our spacecraft design, MOD technical support will ensure the CST-100 is built with the operators in mind."

Later this year, Boeing intends to enter into a larger agreement with the MOD to provide end-to-end flight operations from the command and control facility in the Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center, the site where NASA managed the Apollo missions and all 135 flights of the space shuttle.

"Colocating initial CST-100 flight operations with the International Space Station flight control facility in the Mission Control Center will facilitate a seamless transition to regularly scheduled CST-100 operations with the space station," Ferguson said. "Working with MOD on Boeing's mission operations also will help NASA retain key proficiencies for future human spaceflight operations."

The CST-100 is a reusable capsule-shaped spacecraft based on flight-proven subsystems and mature technologies. The system can transport up to seven people, or a combination of people and cargo. Boeing has designed the spacecraft to be compatible with a variety of expendable rockets to enable competition and reduce cost over the program life cycle. The company has selected United Launch Alliance's Atlas V launch vehicle for initial test flights that will begin as early as 2015.

Boeing's Commercial Crew Program includes the design, manufacture, test and evaluation, and demonstration of an integrated Commercial Crew Transportation System -- comprised of the CST-100 spacecraft, launch vehicle, and ground and mission operations for NASA's Commercial Crew Development program.

The Boeing system will provide crewed flights to the International Space Station and also support the Bigelow Aerospace orbital space complex. The program is based on Boeing's experience and innovation evolved from more than 50 years of human spaceflight and nearly 100 years of commercial aviation.

Which moon has the best chance for life?

Which moon in the solar system has the best chance for life: Titan, Europa, or Enceladus? Philip Plait, an astronomer, teacher, lecturer and all-around science junkie, seeks to provide an answer in a recorded chat with viewers.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Orbital Delays Antares-Cygnus Launch for Another Month or Two Says CEO Thompson

Orbital's David Thompson
Space News' writer Peter B. de Selding is reporting that the first flight of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket with the Cygnus space station cargo freighter has slipped again and is not likely to occur before October or November, Orbital Sciences Chief Executive David W. Thompson said April 20, 2012.

In a conference call with financial analysts, Thompson pointed to no specific issue responsible for the latest delay of between one to two months from the previous schedule, announced in late February. He said the certification of the Wallops Island, Va., spaceport and its propellant-handling facilities is proceeding without major incident, and that the launch pad should be turned over to Orbital by mid-June or perhaps a bit earlier.

A test firing of the Antares rocket’s first stage on the launch pad is now scheduled for early July. The rocket will make its inaugural flight, without the Cygnus cargo carrier, in August under the new schedule. The Antares/Cygnus launch would then occur in October or November, 2012.

The Antares medium-lift launch vehicle was rolled to the launch pad built for it at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, in preparation for a hot-fire test of the new rocket now being pushed from spring to summer. The test vehicle will be returned to the processing building while work preparing the propellant-delivery systems at the pad are completed. After the hot-fire test, a second vehicle will be launched to fulfill a milestone under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Resupply Services (COTS).

AJ26 Aerojet engine
Orbital’s progress was slowed by a test-stand fire at the NASA Stennis Space Center triggered by a kerosene leak in one of the AJ26 engines destined for Antares. Subsequent checks of the remaining AJ26s by Aerojet, which produced them by modifying surplus Russian NK-33 engines, have turned up no additional cracks as serious as the one that caused the fire.

In a previous conference call with financial analysts in February, Thompson pointed to the delayed on-pad testing as a primary cause for the delay of the launch of the first Antares. Procedural inspection jobs in the tank farms and plumbing that deliver kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen to the rocket after it is erected on the pad remain to be certified. More from SpaceflightNow.

ISS Progress 47P Launched from Baikonur

At 16:50:24 Moscow Time an automatic transport cargo vehicle ISS Progress 47P was launched from the Baikonur Launch site. The purpose of the launch is to support further in-orbit operation of the International Space Station (ISS) in accordance with the Russian commitments under this project.

The main objective of the mission is to deliver more than 2.4 tons of various cargoes to the Station, that are required to continue the ISS mission in a manned mode, and provide living and working conditions for the crew. The vehicle was inserted into a parking low-Earth orbit with the following parameters: 51.63 deg. inclination, 193.68 km minimal altitude, 256.52 km maximum altitude, 88.7 min orbital period. The vehicle docking with the station is scheduled for April 22, at 18:41 Moscow Time.

Unha-3 flight animation depicts destruction

VisualMotionMedia has posted a 3D depiction of the fatal flight of North Korea's Unha-3. Launched from the Sohae Launch Complex, Unha-3 suffered a catastrophic event after 90 seconds of flight on 13 April 2012. The animation depicts the launch and short flight.

CNN points to possible Chinese involvement is the North Korean missile program. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the US House Armed Services Committee that "I'm sure there's been some help coming from China. I don't know, you know, the exact extent of that [missile technology assistance]. An enormous, 16-wheel truck missile launch transporter, known as a transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) may have Chinese origin. China denies violation of the United Nations scanctions on North Korea.

North Korean space officials, meanwhile, said in a statement Thursday that they will keep pushing forward with their space development program stating an intention of putting "satellites for peaceful purposes will be put into space one after another," reports The Telegraph.

South Korean military intelligence is suggesting that another rocket is being assembled at the North Korean Sohae Launch Complex, reports RT.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bolden: The next great chapter of exploration

In this one-hour lecture at the Australian National University, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses the important role that NASA plays in shaping the future of space exploration, and the agency's long-term ambitions, such as landing astronauts on Mars. The lecture occurred the first week of April 2012.

Great Nations Do Great Things

Dreaming Big is an inspirational video that brings together a collection of perspectives and ideas from a diverse group of individuals. Young astronaut hopefuls, renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and Lockheed Martin engineers who are building our nation's new Orion spacecraft all share their perspectives on the importance of exploring our universe.

ISS Progress 47 Prepared for Launch April 20th

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome,  Kazakhstan launch site the preparations continue for the launch of ISS Progress 47P (Progress M-15M) cargo vehicle to the International Space Station. The Soyuz-U launch vehicle was rolled out from the integration building to the launch pad. Soyuz-U launch vehicle with ISS Progress 47P transport vehicle is installed on the launch pad. The launch is scheduled for Friday, April 20, 2012, 8:50 EST loaded with 2.5 tons of food, fuel and supplies for the six crew members aboard the orbiting laboratory.

A Russian Progress cargo ship left the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, April 19, 2012. ISS Progress 46P, which arrived at the station in January undocked from the Pirs docking compartment carrying trash and other disposable items. Russian flight controllers will command the resupply ship to leave the station for several days of tests, then send it to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

"Earth is a crumb in a supermarket full of resources ..." says Peter Diamandis

Billionaire investors have formed a new company called Planetary Resources which will publicly announce its intentions in Seattle, Washington on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 1:30 PM EST at the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. The media buzz expectations anticipate a mining of off-Earth mineral resources from near earth object asteroids (NEO's) commercial venture.

While details of the company, called Planetary Resources, Inc., and its mission are still under wraps, officials with the enterprise did state that "the company will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP," according to media alert sent to reporters April 18, 2012.

Billionaires Charles Simonyi, Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, plus fellow billionaires K. Ram Shriram and Ross Perot Jr. (son of the former presidential candidate), plus filmmaker James Cameron are among the investors lead by risk-taker Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson.

Mining the sky for resources has been the topic of books, university graduate space studies classes, and joint private-academic research. Never before has such a financial luminary group formed a private sector business venture to mine asteroids, the Moon or other planets. Diamandis discusses his resource view of the solar system in a 2005 TedTalk.  Update from The Wall Street Journal.

India Test Fires Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile Known as the "China Killer"

India on Thursday, April 19, 2012, successfully test-fired the 5000-km range surface-to-surface Agni-V Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of covering entire China and reaching deep into Europe. Agni-V will help India gatecrash into a small and exclusive club of nations with intercontinental ballistic missile capability. The ICBM should be operational by the military in 2014. More from The Times of India.
India's nuclear warhead-capable missile is to be used as a strategic defense measure regionally with China. The Chinese have expressed concern with the ICBM test launch capable of of striking the cities of Beijing and Shanghai. India indicates that it is not targeting any particular nation but seeks new security measures in the 21st century, including tactical incorporation of the ICBM in submarine forces and adding multiple re-entry vehicle capability.

Only the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China have had military space nuclear ICBM capability. India is now the sixth ICBM-capable nation. North Korea and Iran have been seeking to develop the ICBM technology in recent years but neither is yet fully capable.

Colorado Governor to Sign Spaceflight Liability Limitation at the National Space Symposium

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, attending the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, will today sign into law a bill that will position Colorado to capitalize on significant new opportunities in commercial space transportation and tout the state's plan for a new commercial mile high spaceport.

The new law limits liability for companies that would operate space flights from the proposed Spaceport Colorado. It becomes the next state, after Virginia, Florida, Texas and a more limited version enacted by New Mexico for Virgin Galactic, to limit liability exposure of the commercial launch provider/operators. Virginia passed the first liability limitations in 2007 setting the benchmark for other states.

"Commercial space offers a wealth of opportunities and Colorado intends to be at the forefront of the industry," said Hickenlooper. "The signing of this bill represents our collective next step as a state to testing the limits of space."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ISS Commander Astronaut Dan Burbank Returning to Earth April 27, 2012

Students joined Burbank @ISS 
Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank reflects upon his upcoming return to Earth April 27, 2012 aboard the Soyuz TMA-22- along with Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov - and his experiences of living and working aboard the International Space Station.

During the course of the astronaut Burbank's command, he has encouraged thousands of students to pursue STEM-education. The largest gathering of students to join the Expedition 30 mission segment came from over 4,000 students gathering at the University of Virginia's College at Wise. The logo shirt from the downlink will be sent to Burbank in Houston, Texas on April 27th by the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council which was the lead sponsor of the downlink.

Mysterious 'Dark Matter' Discussed

Hank reports on some new discoveries: one which points towards the existence of dark matter with the "majorana particle" and another, which points towards the existence of life on Mars.

Astrophysicists using Europe's MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope in Chile have discovered that theorized Dark Matter is not where it is supposed to be. This realization threatens years of assumptions about the distribution of 80% of the Universe's mass.

What a difference a day makes in Virginia

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell backs Virginia commercial spaceport
After a rejection of the state budget Tuesday, the Virginia General Assembly did a U-turn adopting the two-year $85 billion dollar budget that includes millions of dollars for opeartions at the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island. It also includes language for a launch pad purchase and fueling improvements to the state can better market the the space launch facilities.

The state legislators also provided near unanimous support to a recommendation from Governor Bob McDonnell to increase the annual transfer from the Virginia Department of Transportation from $7.5 million to $9.5 million Wednesday. Gov. McDonnell has been steadfast in his support for growth of the commercial spaceport to a multi-user facility by commercial space launch firms.

The Virginia commercial spaceport has expanded to two operational launch pads, a payload processing facility, and a new liquid fueling system. The launch manifest for the launch pads include several missions lead by Orbital Sciences Corporation - including commercial launch cargo to the International Space Station, a civil space NASA LADEE lunar robotic exploration mission and a military space mission called ORS Enabler - each designed for orbit.

US House Panel Pushs Mars Sample Return

Painting of Mars sample return by Pat Rawlings for NASA.
A House of Representatives spending panel has proposed a NASA budget for 2013 that allocates $150 million toward the development of a Mars sample return mission within the next decade. The bill, drafted by the House appropriations subcommittee for commerce, science and justice, includes language that would forbid NASA from spending the money until the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academies can certify that the mission concept chosen by the agency will lead to returning a martian sample to Earth.

If an NRC review of NASA's mission concept concludes that it will not lead to a sample return, the bill directs the agency to spend the $150 million on developing a mission to orbit Europa, one of Jupiter's icy moons, cites Science.

The Obama Administration's budget proposal being reviewed by Congress would cut NASA's Mars exploration programs and terminate a joint effort between Europe and the United States. Europe is now looking to Russia for assistance as a result. President Obama raised the spector of NASA having the goal of placing humans on the surface of Mars rather than the Moon in 2010.

SpaceX Dragon FRR Briefing for April 30 Launch to the International Space Station

On April 16, 2012, a preflight briefing regarding the SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle was held at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Briefing participants were NASA's Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, International Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffredini, NASA's Commerical Orbital Transportation Services Program Manager Alan Lindenmoyer, SpaceX's Chief Executive Officer and Chief Designer Elon Musk and NASA Flight Director Holly Ridings. Part 2 of the briefing is with Questions and Answers below.

Standby for a history making events April 30, 2012 (launch) and May 2, 2012 (ISS docking).

American Free Enterprise to Get Cargo to ISS

Expedition 30 Flight Engineer Don Pettit talks in the above video about the SpaceX Dragon vehicle, which will be the first commercial spacecraft to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. The American free enterprise will be carrying cargo to space this year with the SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida and Orbital Science Corporation's Cygnus spacecraft. It all begins in this month and throughout the calendar year.

As ISS astronaut Don Pettit says, "hold on to your hats!" Or, as Johnny Cash used to say "Yippie yi Ohhhhh, Yippie yi yaaaaay!"

Meanwhile, the US Senate Appropriations subcommittee cuts $305-million for commercial crew and cargo launches from the next fiscal year from the President's proposed budget.

NanoRacks for Vacuum Space Experiments

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) is offering researchers a chance to conduct experiments in the vacuum of Space. Small payloads of materials, observation and biological science experiments are sought to be placed in low earth orbit at the International Space Station by way of NanoRacks. A growing number of commercial and academic institutions are utilizing NanoRacks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Virginia Budget Stalls Millions to Spaceport

Senate kills budget compromise
For the third time this year, the Virginia state budget for the next two years has died in the Senate, risking shutdown of state government operations, forcing local governments into budget standstills, and placing at-risk millions in new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport funding to expand operations for commercial space launch operations in the years ahead.

The conference report on the $85 billion spending bill five months in the making died on a 20-19 vote late Tuesday after Democrats balked in a dispute over funding for a high-priority Capital Beltway transit project. It was a party-line vote, with 20 Republicans voting for it; 19 Democrats against it. But because it failed to achieve the necessary majority — 21 votes — the bill does not pass.

The defeated budget would have authorized $7.5 million in Transportation Trust Fund revenues each year for operational and maintenance needs of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority on Wallops Island. It also includes language for a launch pad purchase and fueling improvements to the state can better market the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

The Senate recessed until Wednesday rather an adjourned, preserving the opportunity to reconsider and perhaps pass the spending plan at that time. The Senate needs one of the twenty dissenting Senators to adopt a budget.

Space Shuttle Discovery Lands in Virginia

Space Shuttle Discovery landed a Dulles International Airport in Virginia this morning flying from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The space shuttle soared over the Washington Monument, the White House and the Capitol in a high-flying salute to the nation's capital Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reports. The world's most flown spacecraft, Discovery will go on display at the Smithsonian's Udvar Hazy center later this year. Photographs of Discovery over Washington, DC this morning.

UAE Abu Dhabi Spaceport on the Horizon

Spaceport United Arab Emirates?
Richard Branson’s Abu Dhabi-backed Virgin Galactic has appointed a senior executive to manage the establishment of a spaceport in the United Arab Emirates capital, with the long-term aim of reducing the flight journey to the United States to one (1)  hour, reports ArabianBusiness.

“Perhaps one day to see a future generation of our spaceships to fly from here to Abu Dhabi to New Mexico in no more than an hour… The first city pair in which the globe is once again brought closer together for the benefit of us all,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi.

Steve Landeene will oversee the task as chief adviser on the project to find a suitable location and start the regulatory processes needed to allow space flights to take place, Virgin Galactic has announced.

Virgin Galactic's New Mexico spaceport will be finished in about 12 months and flights will likely start in 2014. The new spaceport in the UAE is a logical step as the company's biggest backer is Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments, with which it paired in 2009, according to ArabAerospaceOnline

The development costs associated with the new commercial spaceport plan in the UAE has not been disclosed but it would most likely exceed $250-million. Virgin Galactic has also touted commercial spaceports in Sweden or Scotland for future possible commercial suborbital development.

Primer for the Venus Transit June 5, 2012

Dr. Kevin McGouldrick details the history of transits and observations of the planet Venus in a recent 45-minute lecture at the University of Colorado Boulder. On June 5, 2012, for the last time in 105 years, until December of 2117, the planet Venus will pass directly between Earth and the Sun, in an event called a transit.

McGouldrick takes the opportunity to spotlight the pivotal role that observations of the planet Venus—with special emphasis on those of previous transits—have played in the development of our current scientific world view. He also describes the vital role that future explorations and study of the planet Venus, as a small part of a bigger picture sometimes called "Comparative Planetology," must play in the future of scientific exploration.

Ballistic Missile Defense Major Issue in MilSpace Between Moscow and Washington

Stratfor Analyst Eugene Chausovsky explains how the planned U.S. ballistic missile defense system in Europe affects Moscow's participation in the upcoming Russia-NATO summit in Chicago.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Dragon Launch Campaign for April 30 a GO!

As this computer animation shows, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on approach to  the International Space Station, with Canadarm2 grappling the capsule in free flight and docking it to the Station. At the end of its mission, Canadarm2 will undock and release Dragon for its return to Earth, where it will then be retrieved and reused.

"Everything looks good as we head toward the April 30 launch date," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, but cautioned more work remains before the launch can be finalized. There is a good chance to make the 30th," said the spaceflight  mission planning veteran, adding that a final decision is expected by April 23, quoted by AFP.

If successful with the April 30, 2012 launch and the May 2nd docking, it will be the first time a commercial American robotic spacecraft has ever flown to the International Space Station, notes MSNBC and  The spacecraft will remain docked at the ISS for a few weeks before attempting a controlled splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

The vehicle has been given a  has been given tentative clearance to launch thew Falocon 9 rocket booster with the Dragon spacecraft on 30 April at 12:22 EDT (16:22 GMT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida following a Flight Readiness Review (FRR) Monday, April 16, 2012.  If mostly successful, the flight will go down in the annals of space history, most likely marking a new era in commercial spaceflight.

Musk voiced cautious optimism that the attempt would work, noting that the company has launched the Falcon 9 rocket twice before and successfully sent its Dragon capsule into orbit and back once. "I think we have a got a pretty good shot but it is worth emphasizing that there is a lot that can go wrong on a mission like this," SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk said.

How to Get Tax Breaks from Space Activity

"How to Get Tax Breaks by Doing Things in Space" -- reads an io9 headline this day. The piece points to Virginia's "Zero-G, Zero Tax Act" enacted in 2008 as a means of gaining a state income tax break. The possible beneficiaries of the break include Reston, Va.-based Space Adventures, LLC and Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corporation.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Morehead State University to Launch Cosmic Xray Background Nanosat in August 2012

The Morehead State University, (Morehead, Kentucky), will launch the Cosmic X-ray Background Nanosat (CXBN) aboard an Atlas-V booster on Thursday, August 2, 2012 from the Vandenburg, California Air Force Base. CXBN will be a co-hosted secondary payload with the primary being the classified NROL-36 payload for the United States National Reconnaissance Office.

The CXBN nanosat was delievered to the NASA Launch Services Program in January 2012, according to LEX18.

Dr. Ben Malphrus, Director of the Space Science Center at Morehead State University and Director of Ground Operations for Kentucky Space explains the device on board the Cosmic X-Ray Background Satellite, or CXBN, that will register X-ray photons. The CXBN will refine the two existing measurements of remnant X-ray from the Big Bang.

The mission was selected in January 2011 by NASA to fly on the Operationally Unique Technology Satellites (OUTSat ) Mission as part of NASA's Educational Launch of a Nanosatellite (ELaNa) program. The Space Science Center submitted a proposal to NASA in Fall 2010 which was subsequently awarded, resulting in the flight opportunity on the OUTSat Mission.

Jovian Europa Exploration by Mid-Century?

Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher Galileo Galilei discovered Europa, a significant moon orbiting the giant planet Jupiter, over 400-years ago through a small telescope, January 8, 1610 to be precise.
Since the late 1970's, Europa has drawn a lot of international scientific interest because of its potential to harbor life beyond that of planet Earth. Slightly smaller than Earth's Moon, Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and probably has an iron core. It has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Its surface is composed of ice and is one of the smoothest in the Solar System.

Yet the most intriguing aspect to Europa is a potential water ocean existing beneath the cracking surface ice crust. Conjecture on extraterrestrial life has ensured a high profile for the moon and has led to steady lobbying for future missions. Strategic international exploration of the solar system could possibly lead to human missions to the Moon, asteroids, Mars and then on - to Europa by the mid-21st century.

New Details Emerging on the North Korean Unha-3 Boost Phase Rocket Failure

Details emerging from the United States and South Korean intelligence about the loss of the North Korean Unha-3 or "Galaxy-3" rocket paint a picture of a more complex failure than the initial media snippets of information available just after the April 13, 2012 technology failure, shares blog AmericaSpace.

Craig Covault writes, "new data indicates that a brilliant flaming explosion occurred toward the front of the vehicle blowing off the satellite and Iranian 3rd stage, but that the rest of the rocket kept going, propelled by its four-engine 1st stage that functioned as intended."

Analysts now believe the structural failure of the Unha-3 began at the front of the rocket and severed the nosecone covering the payload, the satellite itself and the Iranian developed third stage. The first stage continued to push along what had become wreckage at the front of the rocket for another 40 sec. until its normal burnout and separation from the second stage. The second stage however failed to fire and it along with the first stage fell at the northern edge of the planned normal first stage impact zone.

Analysts believe that flash occurred during or shortly after the Unha-3 reached the point in the flight of maximum dynamic pressure, Max-Q, when the vehicle goes supersonic putting the greatest aerodynamic and structural stress on the vehicle.

While the lower stages of the North Korean rocket continued to function, resonance at the top of the launch vehicle resulted in “catastrophic disassembly of the third stage at Max Q,” Charles Vick, senior technical and space policy analyst at told the website EE Times. “The vibrations just tore it apart.” said Vick.

North Korea on Sunday unveiled a new missile at a military parade in Pyongyang.
Nick Hansen, of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, wrote on the website 38 North that satellite imagery and photos taken by journalists allowed to visit North Korea’s new launch site back up the claim that the North has a bigger missile in mind because the gantry used on Friday is much bigger than it needed to be for the Unha-3 rocket. More from The New York Times and The Telegraph.

Soyuz TMA-04M Being Tested for May 15, 2012 Launch of New Crew to Orbiting Space Station

Prelaunch tests of the Soyuz TMA-04M crew vehicle continue at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the planned May 15, 2012 launch to the International Space Station ferrying Roscosmos cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin along with NASA astronaut "Joe" Acaba. The three member crew flight was previously delayed by a capsule air leak.

Verification sequence covers standalone and integrated system tests, tests in vacuum and acoustic chambers. At the final stages, prime and backup crews arrive at the spaceport to inspect the vehicle and to make their comments on desired accommodation of the hardware inside the Soyuz.

There remains a lot of activity at the International Space Station prior to the launch departure of the Soyuz TMA-04M and its crew from Earth with the departure of an older Russian cargo ship and arrival of a new one, departure of three of the the current six member ISS crew, and the arrival of the first American commercial cargo spacecraft.   

The Progress M-15M is expected to launch with cargo to the space station on April 20, 2012. The Progress M-14M cargo ship is expected to depart the ISS Pirs docking port on April 19, 2012 to make way for the new Russian cargo spacecraft.

Astronaut and ISS Commander D abiel Burbank and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoli Ivanishin are now expected to depart the International Space Station on Friday, April 27, 2012 aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft. Their departure will downsize the crew to three for a little more than two weeks.

The commercial Dragon2 spacecraft is expected to launch April 30th and arrive May 3, 2012 for the first test of the SpaceX launch system and docking at the the space station, if all remains on the currently announced scehdule.