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Monday, May 28, 2012

The First Man: Neil Armstrong Interview

American iconic hero Neil Armstrong
Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the Moon July 20, 1969, gives a rare four-part interview with CPA Australia - now online for you viewing enjoyment.

As the first person to walk on the moon, he is a man whose name will be remembered for generations to come. But one of the other well-known things about Neil Armstrong is that he hardly ever gives interviews, notes The Guardian.

CNN reports, the 81-year old American is famously reluctant to discuss the moon landing and has granted very few interviews in the last 40 years. But Armstrong talked through those final knuckle-whitening minutes when he realized Eagle's auto-pilot was trying to set them amongst a minefield of slopes and boulders on the lunar surface within the four-part interview.

Virginia's Orbital is Next in Commercial Race

The next private firm to help pave the way to the NewSpace Era is Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation, now prepping to launch the new Antares booster (with Cygnus capsule attached) this fall from the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Accomack County, Virginia.

If the test launch of Antares is successful this fall, Orbital's first commercial launch to the space station will likely take place by the end of the year with others following in six-month intervals, and probably for the operation life of the International Space Station. A lot is riding on success.

SpaceX has set the commercial space launch benchmark at Cape Canaveral with glorious success. The question before the commercial space community now is whether the Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares booster can match the feat this year and deliver Cygnus cargo to station from Wallops Island.

Meanwhile, the Virginia spaceport is emerging from a lengthy history of launching 17,000 sounding rockets since World War II into the entrepreneurial world to compete for launches, largely with Cape Canaveral, Florida and other space states building commercial spaceports.

The important questions for the commercial Virginia spaceport is whether it will continue to be a site where benign, lifeless commercial, civil and military payloads are boosted to orbit across the Atlantic Ocean space operations range. Or, in the alternate, is the spaceport to more fully engage the likes of emerging spaceports in Florida, California, New Mexico and Colorado in lofting citizen astronauts to suborbital and orbital space.  The decision will decide the spaceport's development future.

Virginia's Governor Bob McDonnell has a bold vision for Virginia's commercial spaceport, pledging nearly $50-million in political and financial capital to spaceport operations over the next five years. The Virginia legislature was the first in the nation to adopt a human informed consent legal regime in 2007 and adopt a 2008 'ZeroGravity ZeroTax' state policy to boost utilization of the spaceport.

The policy and money are the easy parts in many respects. Some see focus on the success of Orbital's Antares program as the essential key, while others promote a diversified commercial launch carrier portfolio including a human spaceflight component into the market mix. The next five years will begin to set the course of the spaceport's global market niche.

Nonetheless, competition and cost control is what NewSpace is all about in the 21st century. As the organizational culture changes within the federal space agency making way for the innovative ideas of a more dynamic and less bureaucratic Internet-driven space pioneering culture, spaceport developers must soon decide a direction.

 Competition will bring about more innovative and cost cutting approaches to human spaceflight systems, hardware development, launch infrastructure and range operations, not only in the United States but across the world.

The role of Virginia in the NewSpace commercial area is about to unfold. The leadership, strategic planning, and vision must match the efforts of the governor and legislature that have provided a solid policy and financial base, if it is to be "the best spaceport in America" where astronaut Pilgrims are lofted to new worlds.

South Africa and Austalia to Share SKA

Australia and South Africa are to host a vast radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, which will give humankind its furthest peek into the universe. South Africa sees it as a turning point for the continent's scientific and technological credentials (BBC).

Chinese Boost Long March 3B with MilSat

A Long March 3B rocket lifted off Saturday and successfully deployed a Chinese military communications satellite bound for an orbit over the equator, state media reported. The 185-foot-tall launch vehicle, weighing about one million pounds, blasted off at 15:56 GMT Saturday from the Xichang space center in southwest China's Sichuan province. Launch was at 11:56 p.m. Beijing time.

The Long March 3B/E rocket flew with an enhanced first stage and liquid-fueled boosters. The three-stage rocket released the Chinasat 2A payload in an oval-shaped transfer orbit ranging in altitude from 129 miles to about 22,240 miles. The Chinasat 2A spacecraft will circularize its orbit about 22,300 miles over the equator, where its speed will match the rate of Earth's rotation, making the satellite appear to hover over a fixed position.

Xinhua news agency reported the satellite was built by the China Academy of Space Technology. The craft is likely based on China's DFH-4 satellite platform, China's most powerful standardized platform for communications missions. According to Xinhua, the Chinasat 2A satellite will be used to meet the demands for China's radio and TV broadcasting and broadband multimedia transmissions. But analysts believe the satellite will serve with Chinese military with on-the-move communications.

Saturday's liftoff was the eighth space launch of the year for China, and it marked the 28th launch to reach orbit worldwide in 2012. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

NASA Seeks Property Rights on the Moon?

"Comprehensive protection for the Apollo sites will only come through an international agreement designating those sites as protected areas. Nevertheless, international space law and traditional property and tort laws currently provide limited mechanisms for protecting the Apollo artifacts should a future private or state-sponsored lunar operator damage, contaminate, or attempt to salvage this equipment," was the conclusion reached by attorney Matthew Kleiman in a November 7, 2011 article published by Space Review.

On May 24, 2012, the Google Lunar X-Prize accepted proposed set of NASA guidelines entitled, "NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts" that seek to preserve important heritage locations of the Apollo landing and Ranger impact sites.  The guidelines have been made available internationally, and the agency welcomes other nations to participate in and improve upon them, said NASA spokesperson Joshua Buck.

NASA is asking anyone that makes it to the lunar surface to keep their landing at least 1.2 miles away from any Apollo site and about 1,600 feet from the five Ranger impact sites. The distance should keep the old equipment safe from a terrible accident or collision. It will also would put the new equipment “over the lunar horizon” relative to the relics, and prevent any moon dust – known to be a highly abrasive material – from sandblasting NASA’s old machines, notes Adam Mann writing for Weird Science.

The Apollo 11 and 17 sites — the first and last places visited by man — are singled out in particular for extra care and respect. Robots are prohibited from visiting both sites and are requested to remain outside a large radius (250 feet for Apollo 11 and 740 feet for Apollo 17) to prevent a stray rover from accidentally harming hardware or erasing any footprints.

While the United States space agency have few legal options to enforce the restrictive "guidelines" from violation, as properly noted by Kleiman, the fact that the United States is circulating the document to private contenders for the Google Lunar X-Prize and foreign nations does appear to raise the specter of lunar property rights.

Perhaps Rand Simburg's suggestion for a comprehensive international lunar property rights regime has growing merit, but with a demurrer by James Dunstan and Berin Szoka. Thomas Gangale also has interesting insights at to lunar property rights with a recent book. Obviously, legal scholars need to more fully engage the scope of lunar property rights as Moon mining companies set-up shop.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Salute to Elon and the United States of Ideas


Familes Have Personal Connection to SpaceX

Hundreds of families have personal connection with the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch to orbit. CBS Denver has the full report.

ISS Astronauts Talk Dragon WIth Reporters

ISS Expedition 31 Flight Engineers Don Pettit, Andre Kuipers and Joe Acaba discuss Dragon's mission with reporters during a crew news conference. Dragon is scheduled to spend six days berthed to the station before being detached and released on May 31.

Back to the Future?

The success of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft marks a new commercial space era this week enabling many young Americans to dream again of lunar exploration, moon bases, and the extraction of lunar minerals. While Mars and the asteroids will be among the sites targeted by the civil space agencies around the Earth, the moon will become much more a target for American private business development with humans in the decade ahead, along with the Chinese and Russians.

This Week @ NASA: May 26, 2012

Dragon Hatch Opens at 5:53 AM Saturday

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 31 Flight Engineer Don Pettit and Joe Acaba of NASA and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers opened the hatch to SpaceX's Dragon cargo craft and entered the vehicle Saturday, May 26, 2012 one day after the world's first commercial cargo spacecraft was berthed to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

"Like the smell of a brand new car," said NASA astronaut Don Pettit, after going inside of the SpaceX Dragon capsule. The compartment was brilliantly white and, he noted; clean, no dirt or other particles appeared to be floating around.

Dragon will remain berthed to the ISS Harmony module until Thursday, May 31, 2012, enabling the crew to unload supplies for the station's residents before it is re-grappled and released to return to Earth for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California. Dragon will return with a limited amount of cargo from the International Space Station.

Dragon carried up 1,000 pounds of food, clothes, batteries, student science experiments and other provisions. It will bring back 1,400 pounds' worth of gear.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bolden Talks to Astronauts and Control Rooms

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden phones Expedition 31 crew members Don Pettit, Joe Acaba and Andre Kuipers aboard the International Space Station following their successful grappling and berthing to the orbiting laboratory of SpaceX's uncrewed Dragon capsule on May 25, 2012. Dragon is the first commercial spacecraft to travel to the ISS.

The International Space Station six-member crew plans to begin unloading the half ton of food, water and clothes aboard Dragon at 7:40 a.m. EDT Saturday. As the door opens to the Dragon capsule, it will be a symbolic opening of the doorway to our commercial future in space!

SpaceX Mission Milestones Recapped

Mission milestones of the first commercial spaceflight to visit the International Space Station are recapped at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas with comments from SpaceX's Elon Musk. Read Hannah Elliott's of view at Forbes, "Elon Musk On The Biggest Week of His Life."

SpaceX Brings Space-Based Power Closer?

Stratfor CEO George Friedman examines the prospects for the commercial potential of space with the launching of SpaceX's first cargo vehicle. Friedman sees the expansion of space-based solar power as coming steps closer as a result of the successful SpaceX cargo launch to the International Space Station.

America Has New Path in Space

Dragon Grabbed by Space Station on Orbit

"Looks like we got us a Dragon by the tail," radioed NASA astronaut Don Pettit to mission control in Houston.

The International Space Station's Canadarm2 grabbed a hold of the SpaceX Dragon capsule at 9:56am EST on May 25th, 2012, slowly bringing it to berth. SpaceX engineers had to improvise after LIDAR range detection gear saw a false marker on the ISS.

It marks the station's first linkup with a U.S.-made spacecraft since last year's retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet, and potentially opens the way for dozens of commercial cargo shipments. If the long-range plan unfolds as NASA hopes, U.S. astronauts could be shuttled back and forth on the Dragon or similar spacecraft within just a few years, noted Alan Boyle for MSNBC.

Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of SpaceX, said Thursday in an interview with The Los Angeles Times that he knew the company was embarking on the most difficult part of the mission. "I think we're approaching the highest-risk portion of the mission," he said. "But I think we're ready to go for the home run."  SpaceX on Twitter.

Iran Readies 4th Satellite Launch for June

Iran's Safir 2B rocket will launch Fajr satellite
Iran is set to launch a satellite called Fajr (or "Dawn") atop an upgraded Safir 2B (Ambassador) rocket on a mission to demonstrate the country's first use of a maneuverable spacecraft in orbit. The satellite is likely small as the 30-ton Safir 2B rocket is capable of launching only lightweight payloads into low-flying orbits. The launch is expected to occur in June 2012.

The new satellite is reportedly equipped with an Iranian-built global positioning satellite system that will enable Iranian space officials to track its flight. While the exact intended altitude and mission length of the Fajr satellite is unclear, the spacecraft is apparently designed to snap photos of Earth with a resolution of between 1,650 feet to 3,300 feet. It is designed to stay in orbit 18-months.

Iran is reportedly plans to launch two other satellites, "Tolu" and "Mesbah", in the near-term futrue. The Iranian Space Agency is planning to launch a space vehicle with biological objects into space, as a pre-step for the country's first manned space flight, said the Iranian Embassy in Moscow recently.

Iran has launched three satellites to date, including its first indigenous satellite, Omid, in 2009. In 2010, the country launched another satellite and a capsule containing turtles, a rat and a worm into space. In 2011, Iran reportedly attempted to launch a live monkey into space, but the rocket failed to reach space. Iran has said it intends to launch a manned mission prior to the end of the decade.

Iran, like other countries, has a right under international law to the use of space for peaceful and scientific purposes. Iran is one of the 24 founding members of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which was set up in 1959.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dragon to Dock with Station Friday Morning!

Astronauts aboard the space station watching the Falcon 9/Dragon launch!  Credit: ESA/NASA
SpaceX is planning to webcast Dragon's historic attempt to visit the space station live Friday morning starting at approximately 4:30 AM PT / 7:30 AM ET.

Friday, May 25 (Flight Day 4): Live coverage of the rendezvous and berthing of the Dragon spacecraft to the station begins at 2 a.m. and will continue through the capture and berthing of the Dragon to the station’s Harmony node. A news briefing will be held at 1 p.m. after Dragon is secured to the station.

Saturday, May 26 (Flight Day 5): Live coverage of the hatch opening and entry of the Dragon spacecraft begins at 5:30 a.m. and will include a crew news conference at 11:25 a.m.

SpaceX on Twitter.

SpaceX-NASA Conduct Joint Orbital Operations

The status of the SpaceX mission is updated during a briefing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 24, 2012. The demonstration flight of the unscrewed Dragon capsule is the first commercial spacecraft journeying to the International Space Station. NASA Flight Director Holly Ridings provides a briefing with SpaceX Dragon Mission Director John Couluris.

Dragon Spacecraft Passes Zone Test at ISS

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched by the Falcon 9 rocket on May 22, 2012 is seen flying under the International Space Station at a distance of about 1.5 miles on May 24, 2012. While in this ISS "zone," tests verified rendezvous and communications capabilities between the uncrewed capsule and the orbiting laboratory. Docking is now expected Friday, May 25th.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reported receiving a call Wednesday night from President Barack Obama. "The President just called to say congrats," Musk said on Twitter. "Caller ID was blocked, so at first I thought it was a telemarketer :)" - noted Associated Press.

The next step is for the spacecraft to berth with the orbiting lab, in order to unload the half ton of supplies it has brought to space and then get restocked with gear to return to Earth. If NASA gives the go ahead, the robotic arm grab attempt would begin at 8:06 am (1206 GMT) with the docking itself scheduled for 11:05 am (1505 GMT), a NASA spokesman told AFP.

SpaceX takes 'Scotty' to Final Frontier

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Student science is underway with SpaceX

NASA Public Affairs Office commentator Pat Ryan talks with Dr. Tara Ruttley, ISS Associate Program Scientist, about the science payload carried in the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, the impact of commercial cargo ships on science activities and the ISS Research & Development Conference in June 2012.

SpaceX Blasts Into 'Uncharted Territory'

Lift-off of the Dragon and what it means from Miles O'Brien. SpaceX went from propulsion chief Tom Mueller’s garage to flying to the International Space Station in 10 years and less than $1 billion. That’s less than a single Space Shuttle mission and includes all-new designs for rocket engines, launch vehicles, and spacecraft.
If Dragon passes all of its demonstration tests, The Canadarm2 (Space Station arm) will grapple the capsule and dock it to the Station. This animation shows you how it will be done.

SpaceX Puts Fire in the Sky!

More from The New York Times.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rainbow Bridge on the Edge of Forever

The Rainbow Bridge (near Page, Arizona) is similar to "The City on the Edge to Forever." The Arizona-Utah stateline site was a perfect location to watch the recent annular solar eclipse.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Ring of Fire Burns Throughout the West!

Tribute to the annular solar eclipse from northern Arizona!

The Ring of Fire at the Rainbow Bridge

Find a centerline location of the annular solar eclipse
The first annular ecplise of the 21st century is on the way to the western United States. Viewers should seek to position themselves in the centerline along the track for the best and longest site of the event. The eclipse will be visible on a path from northwestern Texas through New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, southern Utah, Nevada, northern California and southwestern Oregon late in the day on May 20, 2012.

The Rainbow Bridge is one of many locations gazers will flock. The partial eclipse for this area begins at about 6:20 pm Mountain Standard Time and ends at 8 pm, while the annular eclipse (in which the moon lines up directly in front of the sun except for the outer edge of the sun) happens at about 7:30pm, lasting for more than two minutes.

Friday, May 18, 2012

TV Coverage Set for "Year of the Dragon!"

Live streaming of a preflight press conference on Friday, May 18 at 1 pm EDT, and NASA’s launch coverage starts at 3:30 am EDT on Saturday. To enable rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS), the instantaneous launch window is now at 4:55 am EDT. SpaceX will start webcasting from about 40 minutes prior.

The Flight Day 3 and 4 maneuver tests and berthing are set to be shown starting at 2:30 am and 2 am EDT respectively.  The schedule has the hatches between the craft being opened on Day 5, Wednesday, May 23, with NASA coverage starting at 5:30 am EDT.

Female Taikonaut Certain for Shenzhou 9

With the growing possibility of the Shenzhou 9 launching to space atop a Long March 2F booster from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center next month, the Chinese space officials will definitely launch a female military air force pilot-turned-taikonaut to orbit..

Wang Yaping, 32 and Lui Yang, 33
Commander in Chief Liu Yu of the Chinese Academy of Launch Technology, disclosed it will be one of two female taikonauts - either Major Wang Yaping, 32, from Yantai, Shandong Province, or Major Liu Yang, 33, from Zhengzhou, Henan Province will be aboard the next Shenzhou flight to become China's first female taikonaut.

Major Wang Yaping 50/50 has chance
Both women are married, and are career pilots in the People's Liberation Army, which they both joined direct from high school, in 1997. They were drafted for spaceflight training, in early 2010, from a pool of just 15 potential female candidates. It is likely that both women will fly to space with the first on Shenzhou 9 and the second on Shenzhou 10 later this year.

Shenzhou 9 is scheduled to rendezvous, and complete a manual docking, with the orbiting Tiangong 1 module, and will stay in orbit for 13 days. It will be China's most complex, and longest, spaceflight, more than doubling their current endurance record as the Chinese government seeks to build a permanent space station and place taikonauts on the surface of the Moon next decade.

Japan's H-2A Joins Commercial Launch Biz

The H-2A rocket blasted off from the space centre on Tanegashima Island in southern Japan at 1:39 am on Friday marking Japan's entry into the commercial space launch business, notes The Wall Street Journal with a reporter at a spaceport ringside seat. But the cargo launch story was much more about the emerging and globally competitive commercial space launch business.
The South Korean satellite, the KOMPSAT-3 (Arirang 3), is a multipurpose observation satellite developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, said a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). This was the 21st launch of the H-2A rocket developed by Jaxa, which is reportedly working on a next generation H-3 rocket.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), which has operated the rocket since 2007, is looking to carry out more commercial launches, joining the race in a space dominated by the Europeans and Russians. Japan has been on a decades-long quest to be part of the commercial launch business, reports the BBC. However, launching a satellite from Japan is expensive compared to launching one from other countries because of the strong yen, making it difficult for Japan to obtain overseas orders.
A Japanese H-IIA rocket rolled out to the launch pad at the Tanegashima Space Center Wednesday, May 16, 2012 in this timelaspe video. After the failure of the No. 6 rocket in 2003, H-2A rockets have made 14 consecutive successful launches, a success rate of 95 percent.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Space entrepreneurs coming into their own

CCTV: SpaceX, owned by the billionaire entrepreneur, Elon Musk, is soon to become the first private company to build a spacecraft in order to dock with the International Space Station. Everyone is rooting for the SpaceX Team Saturday morning!

The Wall Street Journal reported today that NASA is now considering enabling private spaceflight participants to join NASA astronauts on private spaceships to the International Space Station similar to what the Russians have being doing with the Soyuz spacecraft for over a decade. Open markets for spaceflight appear to be emerging globally.

The New York Times reports how two California high school students are conducting an experiment to how determine quickly does grape juice turn to wine. Their experiment is one of 11 aboard a rocket scheduled to blast off early Saturday (4:55 AM) from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to the International Space Station.

Robotic anchor will grip space rocks soon

NASA JPL researchers present a 250-mm diameter omni-directional anchor that uses an array of claws with suspension flexures, called microspines, designed to grip rocks on the surfaces of asteroids and comets and to grip the cliff faces and lava tubes of Mars. Part of the paper, "Gravity-Independent Mobility and Drilling on Natural Rock Using Microspines," by A. Parness et al., presented at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

To recover the riches embedded in asteroids, as the recently launched Planetary Ventures aims to do, miners will first need to latch their drills onto the surface of the space rocks. NASA scientists are at work on a robotic gripper that appears up to the task and to start space mining.

ILS Launches Nimiq-6 Sat on Proton-M Rocket

Lift off of a Proton-M rocket carrying the Nimiq-6 satellite occurred May 17th 2012 at 19:12 UTC from Pad 24 in Area 81 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. More from

SpaceX Readies for Launch; Commercial Space Era Set to Dawn in Orbit Saturday 4:55 AM

If all goes as planned, the commercial spaceflight company SpaceX will launch its Dragon capsule into low-Earth orbit and dock with the International Space Station on Saturday at 4:55 AM. Miles O'Brien fills us in on the details of the mission, the engineering challenges and the other spaceflight companies vying for a chance at delivering cargo and people to low-Earth orbit.

Soyuz Docks with ISS, Crew Awaits the Dragon

A Russian Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin docked with the international space station at 12:36 a.m. ET Thursday as the two spacecraft soared 249 miles above the border between Mongolia and Kazakhstan to start their four-month stay. The three new crew members join  Expedition 31 crew members — NASA's Don Pettit, ESA Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.  

The docking of the Soyuz to the station clears the way for launch of the new commercial cargo ship Dragon Saturday at 4:55 AM EDT, a critical test flight intended to pave the way for post-shuttle U.S. resupply missions. If successful, the SpaceX Dragon will conduct 12 contracted unmanned supply runs to the station over the next few years.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spaceflight Informed Consent in California?

Six years ago Virginia lead as the first state to adopt a spaceflight liability and immunity law.

That was 2007, but today similar spaceflight liability and immunity state laws are on the books in Florida (2008), New Mexico (2010), Texas (2011) and Colorado (2012). Five states in six years, or could it be six states in six years?

Parabolic Arc's Doug Messier posts that California may be the sixth state to adopt a spaceflight laibility and immunity law in pointing to the efforts to seek state action.

California Assemblyman Steve Knight of California’s 36th district introduced an informed consent bill (AB 2243) in February 2012. The bill (May 7, 2012 text) made it out of committee with only minor revisions, and was approved by the Rules Committee, says Mojave Air & Spaceport operator Stu Witt.

Virgin Galactic begins numerous text flights of SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise later this year at Mojave. The primary purpose behind such laws is to seek to reduce spaceflight liability insurance imposed upon the commercial space vehicle carriers and spaceports.

Hawaii could be state No. 7 in 2013 or 2014?  

Voyage of the Dawn to the Asteroids

Dawn is a NASA spacecraft tasked with the exploration and study of the two largest members of the asteroid belt: Vesta and the dwarf planet, Ceres. The spacecraft was constructed with some European cooperation, with components contributed by partners in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. The Dawn mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Dawn may be the first spacecraft to orbit two separate extraterrestrial bodies, using ion drive to travel between its targets. Previous multi-target missions using conventional drives, such as the Voyager program, were restricted to flybys.

Launched on September 27, 2007, Dawn reached Vesta on July 16, 2011, and will orbit and explore it until August 26, 2012. Thereafter, the spacecraft will head to Ceres, which it is scheduled to reach in February 2015. It will be the first spacecraft to visit either body. Dawn is NASA's first purely exploratory mission to use ion propulsion.

SpaceX Dragon to Carry Student Experiments

NASA Public Affairs Officer Amiko Kauderer interviews Camille Alleyene, International Space Station Assistant Program Scientist, about the science experiments flying to the station and returning to Earth aboard the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft. Many student experiments are going up on the Dragon via Nanoracks, LLC under a NASA Space Act Agreement.  Many more student experiments are being planned throughout the United States to foster more STEM-education and return new science.

IRVE3 "Space Brakes" to be Tested at Wallops

Final preparations are underway for the launch of the Inflatable Re-Entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE3) later this nothern summer. It will be launched aboard a sounding rocket and the materials that make up the inflated heat shield will be put to the test on re-entry. The experiment may lead to advanced interplanetary "space brakes."

NASA launched an inflatable heat shield experimental spacecraft on 17 August 2009 with the successful first test flight of the Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE2). The heatshield had been vacuum-packed into a 15-inch diameter payload shroud and launched on a Black Brant 9 sounding rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

Nitrogen inflated the 10-foot (3 m) diameter heat shield, made of several layers of silicone-coated [Kevlar] fabric, to a mushroom shape in space several minutes after liftoff. The rocket apogee was at an altitude of 131 miles (211 km) where it began its descent to supersonic speed. Less than a minute later the shield was released from its cover to inflate at an altitude of 124 miles. The inflation of the shield took less than 90 seconds.

Mary Beth Wusk and Amanda Cutright describe the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) and Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE 3) projects at the NASA Langley Research Center's Tweetup on Nov. 8, 2011.

Texans Support Boca Chica Beach Spaceport

Port Isabel, Texas
Hundreds of people turned out Tuesday for a public hearing on SpaceX’s proposal to build a satellite launch site at Boca Chica Beach in Cameron County, Texas and virtually all comments from the public showed support for the project with about 500 in attendance.

The Federal Aviation Administration hosted a Tuesday hearing to help assess the proposal by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, for a launch pad on the Texas Gulf Coast. The Cameron County site under consideration is at the eastern end of State Highway 4, about 3 miles north of the Mexican border. It is about 5 miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island. All launches would be toward the east over the Gulf of Mexico.

Spaceport Boca Chica?
The area currently being scrutinized for the SpaceX space launch facilities is near the dunes off Boca Chica and is accessed by the two-lane Highway 4. SpaceX requires a 5 acre footprint inside a 50 acre buffer zone. The real estate would either be owned or leased for the project expected to be in the hundreds of millions dollars in capital construction costs over a few years.

The FAA heard from local, county and state officials as well as educators and students — all showing support for space technology making its way to one of the poorest areas in the nation, according to a report in The Brownsville Herald.

State Rep. Oliveira
State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said residents were mistaken if they believed SpaceX did not have the support of Governor Rick Perry’s Office. Oliveira said the state has dedicated about $2.2 million to the project. Perry’s office provided the Brownsville Economic Development Council, which is working with SpaceX locally, with a letter of support for the project that officials believe could be an economic boon to the area.

Gov. Perry supports Boca Chica pad 
According to the BEDC, SpaceX could bring about 600 direct jobs to the area with a minimum annual salary of $55,000. The salaries would be about 80 percent above the county’s average wages, officials said. It is estimated there would be $71,000,000 annual impact to the local economy with 50 million of that being in salary. There is a bit of tourism associated with these projected once-a-month launches.  Potentially 7,000-10,000 visitors to observe each launch, a modest number compared to Canaveral's 40,000.

According to the Federal Register, SpaceX proposes to build a vertical launch area and a control center to support up to 12 commercial launches per year. The vehicles launched would include the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and smaller reusable, suborbital launch vehicles. SpaceX alternatives include Puerto Rico and Florida sites.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ariane 5ECA carrying JCSAT-13 & Vinasat-2 successfully launched to earth orbit

On Tuesday, May 15, the European commercial space launch operator Arianespace successfully boosted a direct broadcast and a communications satellite: JCSAT-13 for Japanese operator SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation and VINASAT-2 for the operator Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNPT), as part of a turnkey contract with Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems (LMCSS). These were the 300th and 301st satellites launched by Arianespace from Kourou, French Guiana, and the 100th and 101st commercial satellites produced by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems.

In the 20-minute video above, the launch sequence is explained through liftoff and making orbit. More from NASA

Japan Continues Role in International Space Station Operations with Cargo and Astronaut

In the above 14-minute video, viewers look back and ahead at Japan's (JAXA's) major activities in recent space activities, not only manned space programs, but also space utilization with satellites, space science research, aeronautical technology research, basic technology research, and space transportation systems including launch vehicles.

The Japanese will loft the unmanned HTV-3 cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station on July 23, 2012. The cargo vessel with arrive at the ISS a few days after Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide  joins the ISS Expedition-32 on July 17, 2012 for a half-year stay in orbit.

Tractor Beams: Almost Real!

With the recent proposal to build the Starship Enterprise in the next 20-years, Hank tells us about some developments that are being made in the dramatic area of laser tractor beams.

Magnificent timelapse from Electro-L No. 1 Russian geostationary weather satellite

A timelapse of Planet Earth from Electro-L No. 1, a geostationary satellite orbiting 40000km above the Earth. The satellite creates a 121 megapixel image every 30 minutes with four visible and infrared light wavelengths. The infrared light appears orange in these images, and shows vegetation.

The images are the largest whole disk images of our planet, the resolution is 1 kilometer per pixel. The images are "masked" by a circular barrier that blocks out the light of the Sun and other stars. This is to prevent damage to the camera by exposure to direct sunlight. The images have been interpolated (blended) to create a smooth animation. More from The Los Angeles Times and MSNBC.

Continuing the celebration of ESA astronaut André Kuipers' music in space, British rock legend Sir Elton sent a special message to ESA, André and the crew of the ISS on the 40th anniversary of this classic song.

"Our generation was smitten with the glory and excitement of space travel. 'Rocket Man' - and indeed 'Dan Dare' on the Rock of the Westies album - came from those boyhood dreams of travelling beyond the stars and looking back on Earth.

China May Launch Shenzhou 9 in Mid-June with First Female Taikonaut to Tiangong 1

First female taikonaut expected to fly
Three Chinese taikonauts are expected to rocket to orbit aboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft by as early as mid-June 2012 on the nation's forth human spaceflight. The spaceflight includes the possibility of the first Chinese female among the three-member crew.  Nonetheless, the flight could be launched as late as August; no firm date has been announced in the Chinese media but preparations for the launch campaign are well underway.

Long March 2F
The taikonaut trio with launch the Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan space center in northwest China, whereupon the three taikonauts will guide the Shenzhou 9 spaceship to a manual docking with the now unmanned Tiangong 1 laboratory, a 34-foot-long module launched in September 2011. The crew is expected to stay docked a few days before returning to Earth. A female taikonaut would be another Chinese first and add to the international media attention expected for the flight.

Chinese taikonaut in 2008 spacewalk
China's earlier Shenzhou missions include the country's first human spaceflight in 2003, a two-man, five-day voyage in 2005, and the first spacewalk of the Chinese program in 2008. The 2012 Shenzhou 9 and Tiangong 1 laboratory meet-up would be the first time a Chinese space crew has docked with another orbiting vehicle in Earth orbit and it would symbolize a significant technological step forward for the program.

Virginia Spaceport Gains $19-million in Budget

$19-million for spaceport over 2yrs
The Virginia General Assembly adopted Gov. Bob McDonnell's budget amendment to increase the Transportation Trust Fund support for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport from $7.5 million to $9.5 annually with the House of Delegates adopting the specific two-year budget amendment 93 to 2 and the Senate 40 to 0.

Virginia will provide just under $50-million to the spaceport over the next five fiscal years, beginning July 1, 2012 by actions of the state legislators gathered in Richmond this year.

On the other hand, 29 of the 106 amendments the governor offered to two bills that direct state spending through June 2014 lay dead in the one-day budget amendment marathon session. The House did most of the damage, rejecting 23 budget amendments. The Senate killed five more. McDonnell withdrew three of his own amendments before lawmakers took them up. Nonetheless, the governor's spaceport amendment stood intact as the legislative smoke cleared.

NASA LADEE to launch from VA
The $19-million to the spaceport over the next two fiscal years comes at a critical time at Wallops Island. The spaceport launch pads will be roaring to life with commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station starting in fall of 2012 and continuing at a rate of every six-months with the new Antares rocket. NASA will be launching a NASA robotic satellite Moon mission called LADEE next year aboard a new Minotaur-V rocket. The Pentagon, meanwhile, is expected to launch two military-related orbital missions in 2013 on the well-proven Minotaur-1.

Soyuz TMA-04M in Orbit; Set to Dock at ISS

NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba, veteran cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin launched in clear skies aboard the Soyuz TMA-04M atop of a Soyuz FG rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:01 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 14, 2012 on their way for nearly half-year stay at the International Space Station.

(L to R) Acaba, Padalka and Revin
Padalka, who is making his fourth space flight, is one of Russia's most experienced and decorated active cosmonauts who has already spent 585 days in space and made eight spacewalks. Acaba had previously made one shuttle flight while Revin is making his first trip into space.

The crystal clear blue skies from the Kazakh steppe provided launch watchers an outstanding ascent view has seen in the 11-minute video above. Russia is now the sole nation capable of transporting humans to the ISS after the retirement of the US shuttle fleet to museums.

The trio will berth early on Thursday, May 17, 2012 joining Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA's Don Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers aboard the ISS, a $100 billion research complex orbiting about 240 miles (385 km) above Earth.

The crew will immediately begin preparation for the arrival next week of privately owned SpaceX's Dragon Capsule. It will be the first time a private company has launched space station supplies. The Falcon 9 booster is expected to roar to life at pre-dawn time of 4:55 AM Saturday, May 19, 2012 at the Cape Canaveral, Florida launch pad.

Artist rendition of Dragon docking
The Dragon cargo spacecraft contains about 1,150 pounds of food, clothing and other low-priority items. The capsule then will be repacked with around 1,455 pounds of trash and no-longer-needed components and detached from the space station on May 31, 2012. From that point, SpaceX plans to guide the craft back to Earth for a parachute descent to a Pacific Ocean splashdown.

Malenchenko, Williams and Hoshide
Kononenko, Kuipers and Pettit are scheduled to return to Earth on July 1 aboard their Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft. At that point, Padalka, Revin and Acaba will make up the core members of the Expedition 32 crew with Padalka serving as commander. Three fresh crew members -- cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide -- will join the ISS Expedition-32 crew two days after launch July 15, 2012 aboard the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Astronauts Suni Williams and Joe Acaba Talk About Riding Soyuz and Baikonur Cosmodrome

NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Joe Acaba talk about what it's like to ride on a Soyuz and how it differs from a space shuttle launch. NASA Astronaut Joe Acaba ride the Soyuz to orbit tonight launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. NASA-TV coverage begins at 10 PM TONIGHT. The next video segment shares insights on the Russian spaceport in Kazakhstan.

NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Joe Acaba talk about the formerly secret city of Baikonur in Kazakhstan, where launches of Russian rockets have occurred for decades.

Build the Starship Enterprise by 2032?

In Star Trek lore, the first Starship Enterprise will be built by the year 2245. But today, an engineer has proposed — and outlined in meticulous detail – building a full-sized, ion-powered version of the Enterprise complete with 1G of gravity on board, and says it could be done with current technology, within 20 years writes Nancy Atkinson for Univesre Today (and MSNBC).

Building the 21st century Starship Enterprise is the dream of an engineer who projects the cost over the next twenty years to be one trillion USD. Not that far-fetched when you consider how much has been spent in the last decade on Middle East wars.

Concept for a gravity wheel inside a 21st century USS Enterprise. Visit to learn how to build the 1st generation USS Enterprise over the next 20 year with 1g gravity. It's a spacecraft, a spaceport, and a space station all in one! More from the Huffington Post, Construction Digital, and the DailyMail.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

STAR Team Readies Lonesome Pine Spaceport

The Sky-Tech Aerospace and Rocketry (STAR) team will conduct high powered sports rocketry launches beginning at 10 AM EDT, Saturday, May 19, 2012 at the Lonesome Pine Regional Airport in Wise, Virginia to celebrate the anticipated launch of America's first commercial rocket to the International Space Station.

The STAR Team is a group of Wise County, Virginia high school seniors who have worked together the past 18-months building their skills and gaining National Association of Rocketry Level-2 certifications. Three of the group are now working on their private pilot license and Level-3 rocketry certifications along with their University of North Dakota space studies graduate school student mentors.

The general public is invited to the launch activities at the Lonesome Pine Regional Airport (spaceport) on Saturday, May 19th with the launch window between 10 AM and 2 PM. The group also plan night launches at the site beginning at sunset.

Soyuz TMA-04M on Baikonur Pad for Launch

The Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft and its booster were moved to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a railcar on May 13, 2012 for final preparations prior to launch to the International Space Station as shown in this 15-minute video. The live launch coverage begins Monday evening at 10 PM EDT on NASA-TV.

The Russian Soyuz launch system remains the only means to get Russian cosmonauts and American and European astronauts to the International Space Station. Many observers believe it will remain the only way through at least 2016-to-2017.

The American SpaceX private launch firm aspires to send astronauts to the station in less than five years. This coming Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 4:55 AM EDT, the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster is expected to loft the Dragon cargo capsule to dock with the ISS for the first time, as now planned.

China Launches Yaogan-14 and Tiantuo I Satellites from the Taiyuan Launch Center

China successfully launched the remote-sensing satellite Yaogan-14 May 10, 2012 with a Long March 4B carrier rocket from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the northern province of Shanxi.

The Yaogan-14 satellite will be used to conduct scientific experiments, carry out surveys on land resources, monitor crop yields and help with natural disaster-reduction and prevention. It was joined in the flight by a tiny satellite named Tiantuo I which will be mainly used for data reception for the satellite-based vessel Automatic Identification System, optical imaging and various space exploration experiments in orbit, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

NASA suggests that western analysts believe this class of satellites is being used for military purposes.

Last week, the Tianhui I-02 mapping satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu province using a Long March 2-D carrier rocket. The Tianhui I-02 will mainly be used to conduct scientific experiments, carry out land resource surveys and map territory.

Late last month (April 29, 2012), the Chinese launched the a pair of navigation satellites, marking the first time a Long March 3B (Chang Zheng 3B) launch vehicle has been used for this kind of mission. The launch of the (China's Beidou navigation system) Compass-M3 and Compass-M4 satellites took place at 2050UTC on Sunday from the LC2 launch complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

The long-term goal is to develop a global navigation satellite network similar to the GPS and GLONASS by 2020, eventually consisting a constellation of 35 vehicles, including 27 MEO (21,500 km orbits) satellites, three IGSO satellites (inclined at 55 degrees) and five GSO satellites, notes NASA

Virginia Set to Appropriate $47.5 Million to Spaceport Operations Over Next 5-Years

The Virginia General Assembly returns to Richmond Monday, May 14, 2012 to wrap-up the final work on the state's two-year budget containing a provision leading to a $9.5 million annually to the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority over the next five years - or $47.5 million to operate the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

Gov. Bob McDonnell has been steadfast in his support to expand the capacity of the Virginia spaceport to attract more commercial, civil and military space launch investment to the Eastern Shore launch pads over the balance of the decade. The Administration is advancing an overhaul of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority's purpose, governance, direction, and finance this year. 

Gov. Bob McDonnell backs spaceport
McDonnell first proposed $15-million per year for enhanced commercial spaceport operations with the plans adopted by the House but rejected by the Senate. The legislature compromised at $7.5 million annually in adoption of the state's budget in a special session.

The governor is now back with a budget amendment Monday to up the annual amount to $9.5 million. However, the budget will continue with a five-year sunset clause capping the state's pledge to a total of $47.5 million, if McDonnell's budget amendment is adopted, as expected.

The sunset provision authorizing the $47.5 million will impose accountability and responsibility upon the authority's board of directors to produce a successful launch manifest that brings value to Virginia within five years. If funding is to continue at the burn rate set, a multi-user facility must emerge.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Active Region 1476 Called "Monster Sunspot"

On May 11th 2012 at 23:54 UT, a coronal mass ejection raced away from the sun faster than 1000 km/s. The fast-moving cloud will deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field on May 14th 2012 around 14:30 UT, according to a revised forecast track prepared by analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab. Mars is also in the line of fire of the so-called “Monster Sunspot” now capturing attention of NOAA space weather scientists.

The AR-1476 sunspot is now facing directly at earth as it finishes its sixth day of it two-week transit across the face of the sun raising the concern for possible X-ray flares and cornal mass ejections. If within the next two days, the sun decides to mete out another dose of its corona, the earth and its communication, GPS, and electrical systems may not fair well and suffer disruptions. Nonetheless, only isolated M-class flares for the next three days (13-15 May) are being forecast.

Meanwhile, the Congress is continuing to express budget support for two solar missions in the coming few years. The NASA Magnetospheric Multiscale [MMS] mission is expected to launch in early 2015 and the Solar Probe Plus mission in a 2018 launch. Both missions will add extensively to the human knowledge base of Earth's star over the next decade to 15-years.

Meteor creates space-age 'gold rush'

NASA Ames, the SETI institute and other organizations are combing the mountainous region for pieces of the Sutter's Mill Meteor that lit up the sky over the area on April 22, 2012 over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. More from

Crashing into the Moon Redux

There was a time when only government agencies had the ability to blast rockets into space, or send missions to worlds beyond our own. These days, countries around the world are preparing to send missions to the Moon. They are joined by a rash of private ventures.

Their interest goes beyond exploration. They see a chance to make money, by supplying launch or human transport services, including tourism. Some hope to begin exploiting space resources like energy, or rare minerals.

Over 30 private robotics teams are now vying for the 30 million dollar Google Lunar X-Prize, a contest designed to spur the building and launching of rovers equipped to explore the lunar surface.

1st International Workshop on LunarCubes to be held October 4-6, 2012 in California

Flexure Engineering is creating the LunarCubes Working Group and LunarCubes workshops to promote the creation of a standard to facilitate the development of low cost, rapid development payloads that could be easily added to the many Lunar opportunities that will exist in the coming decades. The 1st LunarCubes Workshop will be held October 4-6, 2012, Mountain View California. Call for papers deadline is June 1, 2012.

LunarCubes will be more expensive and complex than the typical CubeSats but much cheaper than typical interplanetary sats.  There are six missions now under development by the American, Chinese, Indian, and Russian governments over the next three years,  with one or more private moon missions too. In the balance of the decade, more than fifteen additional missions are being considered for lunar orbit and landings.

By way of example, EuroLuna is planning an effort to get a LunarCube to the moon as a GoogleLunarX-Prize contestant.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Saturn's moon Phoebe Explored

Superficially, Saturn's moon Phoebe doesn't look much like a planet, but on the inside, the little gray moon has a lot in common with worlds like Earth.

Soyuz TMA-04M Launch May 14 11:01 PM EDT

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazakhstan, the preparations continue for the launch of Soyuz TMA-04M transport manned vehicle under the International Space Station program. Payload shroud roll on to the Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft was performed. Soyuz will rollout to its launch pad in Baikonur on May 12, 2012.

Live NASA TV coverage of the Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan begins at 10 p.m. EDT on May 14 (May 15, Baikonur time), with launch scheduled for 11:01 p.m. [NASA]. The three crew are NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russians cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin to become a part of the ISS Expedition 31 crew.

Kennedy Space Center Modernization Program

NASA Kennedy Space Center modernization is seeking to become a multi-user commercial and civil spaceport in 2012 and beyond.