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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

August 2012 Stargazing Recommendations

Backyard stargazers get a monthly guide to the northern hemisphere's skywatching events with "Tonight's Sky." In August, 2012 we have two full moons in one month, a great look at the Ring Nebula, and the Perseid meteor shower.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Emily Lakdawalla Provides Curiosity Insights

The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla continues her tour of Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory Rover, at the Jet Propulsion Lab. This time  Lakdawalla introduces us to the other science instruments on the mighty explorer...the ones that don't take pictures.

Orion, SLS: NASA Hopes to Explore Beyond

As NASA continues building the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System rocket and a revolutionized launch site, we are now only a few years away from sending humans to an asteroid and one day Mars. With "Orion: Exploring Beyond" takes an animated look at what the first steps on those journeys will look like.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Baumgartner: Will third time be the charm?

Felix Baumgartner completed a second test dive from a balloon hoisted capsule. He reached 536 mph in the freefall. His objective is to break the speed of sound on his next dive from 120,000 feet. (B-Roll captures control center, capsule and landing). More from the Los Angeles Times.

Russian upgraded rendezvous system works

The unpiloted Russian cargo ship, ISS Progress 47P, redocked to the International Space Station July 28 after completing tests of an upgraded rendezvous system designed to facilitate future automated dockings to the orbital outpost. 

Progress 47P linked up to the Pirs Docking Compartment after an initial attempt on July 23 was aborted due to a problem with the new system. The Progress, which is loaded with trash and items no longer needed on the station, will undock for good on July 30,2012 and will depart the vicinity of the station for several weeks of tests by ground controllers before being sent into a destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean in late August, 2012.

Chinese Long March-5 Rocket Engine Tested

China's new rocket engine has passed its 200-second test. The test took place in an open field 50 kilometres from Xi'an, capital of Shaan'xi province, in northwest China.The new engines will be used with the Long March-5 rocket beginning in 2014.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

International Dialogue on Space Debris Planned

On-orbit servicing (OOS) and active debris removal (ADR) are part of an emerging category of future on-orbit activities that are critical for taking the next leap in our use of Earth orbit. The ability to repair or refuel satellites, construct new satellites in orbit, and even remove orbital debris can help drive innovative uses of space and create new possibilities. 

These activities also raises a host of diplomatic, legal, safety, operational, and policy challenges that need to be tackled for this future to be possible. On June 26, 2012, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held a conference on “Fostering Sustainable Satellite Servicing” in Washington, D.C. that served as an excellent beginning for this conversation. 

To continue the discussion, Secure World Foundation (SWF) will be holding two follow-on international conferences to bring in the perspectives and viewpoints from all stakeholders on issues of on-orbit servicing and active debris removal, extending the conversation to an international audience. 

 In partnership with the Institut francais des relations internationales (Ifri), SWF will hold a conference in Brussels, Belgium on October 30, 2012 to bring these discussions to the European community. SWF is also partnering with the Singapore Space and Technology Association (SSTA) to hold another conference in Singapore on February 20, 2013 to extend the dialog to the Asia-Pacific region.

Seeking Signs of Past Mars Habitability

Unlike previous rovers to Mars, Curiosity is a robot chemist seeking evidence of past habitability on Mars. Surface operations are set to begin August 6, 2012 and continue for months and years ahead.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Curiosity Landing Coverage Begins Aug. 5

The Mars Science Laboratory, the hardest mission ever attempted in planetary robotic exploration is about to prove its mettle with the landing of its Curiosity rover on the Red Planet. Live coverage begins at 11:30 p.m. Eastern on NASA TV.

Actor Wil Wheaton, "The Next Generation's" Wesley Crusher, hosts this look at the Mars Science Laboratory mission and its rover, Curiosity.

Sally Ride Recalls Her Space Flights to Orbit

The first American woman astronaut remembers her shuttle flights, and reflects on significant changes affecting Earth's climate since then. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal provide more reflection on Dr. Sally K. Ride.

Ride, Sally Ride Upon Our Mystery Ship!

"Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, commitment, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless," read a statement on the website of Sally Ride Science, a company she started to help teach students -- particularly young women and girls -- about science, math and technology.

"As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model," President Barack Obama said soon after news of her death broke. "She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools. Sally's life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come."

Public Comments about the first American women in space.

THE LAUNCH OF SALLY RIDE: 1st American Woman to Orbit

Landsat Continues Amazing Images

The top 5 images from the 40 year old NASA satellite as elected by NASA's audience (self-described Space Cadets). The cameras recorded images on several different wavelengths and delivered breath-taking imagery of the Earth. More from The Washington Post and Alan Boyle at MSNBC.

IRVE-3 Unqualified Success at Wallops Island

NASA Wallops Flight Facility launched a novel new heat shield prototype on a successful test flight Monday (July 23, 2012), a mission that sent a high-tech space balloon streaking through Earth's atmosphere at hypersonic speeds of up to Mach 10, reports MSNBC/ The "space brakes" system could be soon used by spacecraft returning from the International Space Station. Orbital Sciences Corporation and NASA have been in discussion with regard to using IRVE as a reentry system for its ISS cargo capusle..

Sunday, July 22, 2012

ISS Progress 47P Undocks from ISS

The ISS Progress 47P [Progress M-15M] cargo vehicle undocked from the International Space Station's Pirs docking compartment Sunday, July 22, 2012 at 4:26 p.m. EDT. NASA TV coverage of the Progress' re-rendezvous and docking will begin at 9:15 p.m. Monday, July 23, 2012. The ship will re-dock to the station at 9:57 p.m.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s HTV cargo vehicle, Kounotori3, launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan on Friday, July 27, 2012 at 10:06 p.m.

A Russian ISS Progress 48P [Progress M-16M] will launch to the International Space Station on August 1, 2012 performing a new flight maneuver to dock with the ISS more rapidly than in previous flights.

India Developing Satellite Navigation System

The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) consists of a constellation of seven satellites and a ground segment for positioning and timing applications starting launch in 2012 and complted in 2014.

INRSS will include three satellites in geostationary orbit and four satellites in geosynchronous orbit, transmitting L-band and S-band signals and providing coverage primarily for the Indian land mass. SLR tracking data will be used for orbit determination and calibration of the orbit determined from other sources.

Wallops Gears-Up for IRVE-3 Monday Morning

NASA has re-scheduled the launch of an inflatable heat shield technology IRVE-3 demonstration flight from the agency's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., for Monday, July 23, 2012 between 7 to 7:40 a.m. EDT.  NASA-TV will provide launch coverage. The rocket will be visible to residents in the Wallops and southern Chesapeake Bay region, if weather conditions permit lift-off.

The Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) is to be launched on a Black Brant XI sounding rocket and land approximately 100 miles east of Cape Hatteras, NC. The launch window on Monday for all rockets, including several to test tracking systems and gather atmospheric data, is 5 to 8 a.m.

A previous inflatable heat shield technology test (IRVE-2) was conducted in 2009. The test article demonstrated that an inflatable heat shield could survive intact after coming through Earth's atmosphere. IRVE-3 is the same size as IRVE-2, but has a heavier payload and will be subjected to a much higher reentry heat.

Spectacular Night View of Earth Captured

The foregoing video was created by Knate Myers using photographs taken from the International Space Station. He removed the noise, processed some of the shots in Photoshop and compiled the whole thing in Sony Vegas. (Hat Tip to Ron Elkins)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dreams of Space - "Why Explore Space?"

This video was the Coalition for Space 1st prize winner in the "Why Explore Space?" contest. In this compelling montage, Raymond Bell tells a story of a little boy who comes home from school and tells his Dad that he learned people went to the moon. He wants to go to the moon but his Dad says that he can't because people don't do that anymore. The little boys asks why and the Dad says, "sometimes you lose something and you forget how important it was, people don't dream like they used to." Through moving imagery, Bell compels us to dream on.

Orbital Sciences Delay Antares Launch

Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corporation now is targeting its inaugural demonstration flight until late September or early October, 2012 with a second launch — this time carrying the Cygnus cargo vehicle to the international space station — likely in mid-December, 2012, perhaps into early 2013.

In a Thursday, July 19, 2012 conference call for stock investors, Orbital Chief Executive David W. Thompson said the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, which is managing construction of the Antares launch pad at Wallops Island, Va., had encountered “a few unexpected obstacles in recent weeks,” pushing the Antares development and qualification schedule into fall of 2012.

The first stage of the Antares rocket will be placed on the pad for a hot-fire test to occur in late August or early September. About a month later — by early October — the full Antares is scheduled to conduct a demonstration flight without the Cygnus capsule. Thompson said this part of the schedule remained tight, despite the delays, and could still slip further given the program’s current development status, reported Peter B. de Selding for SpaceNews.

Meanwhile, Hawthorne, California-based commercial space launch provider SpaceX plans its SpaceX-1 Dragon Commercial Resupply Services flight to the International Space Station in October 2012 and SpaceX-2 in December, 2012. Both will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  

KOUNOTORI3 Departs for Space Station

The Japanese HTV-3 Resupply Craft is on its way to the International Space Station following its launch Friday, July 20, from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. Inforgraphic from

Friday, July 20, 2012

Kounotori-3 to Launch at 10:06 Tonight

NASA Public Affairs Officer Amiko Kauderer interviews Pete Hasbrook, associate program scientist, about the experiments traveling to the International Space Station aboard the H-II Transfer Vehicle-3, or HTV3. NASA webcast coverage begins at 9:15 pm EDT, July 20, 2012 from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

Never Stop Exploring

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Apollo's Children: Many Still Inspired

Journey to the Moon 43-Years On

KOUNOTORI 3 at Launch Pad in Japan

H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI" (HTV) is an unmanned transfer vehicle which carries food, clothes and equipment needed for experiments in the International Space Station (ISS).  The Japanese-made "KOUNOTORI 3" will loft 4.6 metric tons of cargo, including the TechEdSat. The spacecraft will be launched late on July 20st, 2012 on a 7-day journey to the ISS.

NASA Television coverage of the launch and arrival of an unpiloted cargo spacecraft to supply the International Space Station will begin at 9:15 p.m. EDT, Friday, July 20, 2012. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) "Kounotori 3" H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV-3, is set to launch at 10:06 p.m., July 20 (11:06 a.m. Japan time on July 21) from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

Read more here:

European Lunar Lander Mission Animation

Lunar Lander mission, from launch to landing and exploring the Moon, is animated for the European Space Agency. Lunar Lander is a robotic explorer that will demonstrate key European technologies and conduct science experiments planned for 2018. The mission is a forerunner to future human and robotic exploration of the Moon and Mars. It will establish European expertise to allow strong international partnerships in exploration.

Telecommunication Satellites 50-Years On

In 1962 satellite TV itself was making the headlines, with the launch of Telstar from Cape Canaveral, USA. Once in orbit it began to transmit pictures which found their way to Plemeur Bodou on the coast of Brittany. The first ever moving image to be broadcast by satellite across the Atlantic was a shot of the American flag. The next day the French engineers responded with their favourite crooner Yves Montand. Things have moved on since then, and nowadays it is breaking news stories and global sports events which are most frequently beamed live into space and back into our homes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Orion Parachute Test Successful

NASA completed another successful test Wednesday of the Orion crew vehicle's parachutes high above the Arizona desert in preparation for the spacecraft's orbital flight test in 2014. Orion will carry astronauts deeper into space than ever before, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and ensure a safe re-entry and landing.

A C-17 plane dropped a test version of Orion from an altitude of 25,000 feet above the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona. This test was the second to use an Orion craft that mimics the full size and shape of the spacecraft.

Exploring Curiosity: The Cameras

Emily Lakdawalla takes Mat Kaplan on a tour of the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory Rover for this Planetary Radio video segment. Shot at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), it reviews the many cameras on the rover that arrives on Mars August 5/6, 2012. Part 2 will explore the other science instruments.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nathalie Cabrol: "We are born explorers"

Nathalie Cabrol's trajectory to become a NASA Mars scientist was launched the moment she saw Neil Armstrong land on the Moon. She passionately counsels America to explore even in tough economic times. Cabrol says "we are born explorers."

Is an astronaut's life worth $28 billion?

"You're saying that you're going to give up four billion dollars to avoid a one in seven chance of killing an astronaut, you're basically saying an astronaut's life is worth twenty-eight billion dollars," says astronautical engineer and author Dr. Robert Zubrin in a recent article.

As the late Apollo 1 astronaut said, "If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."

SpaceX's Dragon Makes Business History

On May 25, 2012 SpaceX made history when the Dragon spacecraft became the first privately developed vehicle in history to successfully attach to the International Space Station. Previously only four governments -- the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency -- had achieved this feat. This video features highlights from the mission.

Space brakes test set for Saturday in Virginia

Heat shields keep re-entering spacecraft from turning into meteorites. But they've always been heavy and rigid. NASA's Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) will test an inflatable alternative for the 3rd time on July 21, 2012. More about the launch campaign and the future.

Warm Greetings for New ISS Residents

The hatches between the Soyuz and the Rassvet module opened Tuesday at 3:23 a.m. EDT when Flight Engineers Suni Williams, Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide entered the International Space Station. Expedition 32 Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineers Joe Acaba and Sergei Revin greeted their new crewmates. The six-member crew conducted a welcoming ceremony with family and mission officials then participated in a safety briefing in this 26-minute video.

The station, which orbits up to 410 kilometers (255 miles) above the Earth, is due to handle an unprecedented level of traffic. The launch and berthing of a Japanese cargo ship, the undocking and redocking of a Russian Progress supply craft to test a new rendezvous antenna, the arrival of yet another Progress with a fresh load of supplies and two spacewalks at the end of August, one by Padalka and Malenchenko and the other by Williams and Hoshide.

Malenchenko is one of Russia's most experienced cosmonauts, going into his latest mission with 515 days in space during a flight to the Russian Mir space station, a shuttle mission and two stays aboard the International Space Station. Williams, a Navy helicopter pilot, spent 195 days in space during an earlier station expedition while Hoshide helped activate a Japanese research module during a 14-day shuttle assembly mission.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mars Science Laboratory team field questions

With less than three weeks to the scheduled landing of the Curiosity rover on the Red Planet, leaders of Mars Science Laboratory team field questions form media about the mission, the most difficult ever undertaken in the history of interplanetary robotic exploration. The landing is set for Monday, August 6, 2012 at 1:31 AM.  The video above is one (1) hour.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Soyuz TMA-05M Launches to Orbit

UPDATE: Expedition 32 Flight Engineers Suni Williams, Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft at 10:40 p.m. EDT Saturday (8:40 a.m. Kazakhstan time on Sunday. More from Bill Harwood at CNET and  MSNBC/
The launch of the Soyuz-FG booster and Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft is in the final minutes of its preparation at Gagarin's Start, Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Live NASA-TV coverage begins at 9:30 pm EST with the launch set for 10:40 pm EST.

American astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency spaceflyer Akihiko Hoshide are aboard the Soyuz TMA-05M. The three members of the Soyuz TMA-05M crew will link with the International Space Station Tuesday, July 17, 2012 to commerce their part of the Expedition 32 increment joining station commander Gennady Padalka of Russia, his cosmonaut colleague Sergei Revin, and American astronaut Joe Acaba.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

RESOLVE may seek H2o at poles of moon

The Regolith & Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) project aims to demonstrate the utility of "in situ resource utilization" with testing of the vehicle in Hawaii this month, [Central FloridaNews 13, AmericaSpace and EnterSpace].

RESOLVE is a short-fuse project whose purpose is to provide high-heritage instruments for use aboard a near-term mobile mission landed at the lunar poles.The rover-borne payload can prospect for, localize, extract and chemically characterize the volatile components of the frozen lunar regolith In situ resource utilization is a way to rebalance the economics of spaceflight by reducing or eliminating materials that must be brought up from Earth and placed on the surface of the Moon or Mars for human use.

RESOLVE is developing a rover-borne payload that (1) can locate near subsurface volatiles, (2) excavate and analyze samples of the volatile-bearing regolith, and (3) demonstrate the form, extractability and usefulness of the materials. More from NASA Kennedy Space Center.

India Ramps Up Space Effort: Target Mars

India planning 2013 Mars mission
India is ramping up its space program efforts with plans for mission to Mars and the development of a third space launch pad at the Sriharikota spaceport to launch as many as 60-missions over the next five years, including a second mission to the moon and human-rated missions to low earth orbit.

India's government is in the final stages of approving a mission to Mars by placing a remote sensing spacecraft in orbit around the red planet to study climate, geology, origin, evolution and possible biology of the Red Planet. The Mars spaceprobe could launch as soon as November 2013, reports The Hindu and The Times of India.

The Mars spacecraft launch could precede the Luna-Resurs, the joint Russian-Indian lunar mission with a tentative timetable now pushed to 2015. There is media speculation that the Indian Mars effort may result in a delay of the joint lunar rover mission with the Russians.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Soyuz TMA-05M Rocket is Blessed

[Liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 10:40pm EDT Saturday] Preparations continued on July 13 for the launch on July 15 of Expedition 32/33 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko, NASA Flight Engineer Sunita Williams and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to the International Space Station. At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, a Russian Orthodox priest provided a traditional blessing for the Soyuz TMA-05M rocket at the launch pad where the three crewmembers will begin their journey to the station.

Later, Malenchenko, Williams and Hoshide appeared before the Russian State Commission at their Cosmonaut Hotel crew quarters in Baikonur, where the commission gave its final approval for the crew's launch. The crew also conducted a final prelaunch news conference at the Cosmonaut Hotel as they prepared for liftoff.

The trio will spend four months on the station. Also featured in the video during the State Commission and Crew News Conference were backup crew members Russian Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko, Canadian Space Agency Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield and NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn.

Chinese Taikonauts Meet the Press

The three taikonauts who went on the country's first manned space-docking mission last month said on Friday that they are in good health as they recuperate from their 13-day stay in space. The trio made their first public appearance since returning to Earth on June 29, 2012. They have been under quarantine the last two weeks as they rested, reports China Daily.

9 Minutes to Space: how to be a cosmonaut

"Nine minutes to space: how to be a cosmonaut" is provided by TV-Roscomos and runs almost 100-minutes.

SpaceX Readies Test of "Grasshopper"

SpaceX's Grasshopper testbed for a reusable rocket booster could fly soon from the company's McGregor, Texas test facility on a short hop designed to demonstrate its ability to take off and land under thrust on a launch pad, reports Spaceflight Now.

"We're hoping to do short hops at some point in the next couple of months, and then in terms of higher flights, I'm hopefully we can go supersonic before the end of the year," noted Elon Musk, the owner of the privately held SpaceX last month. "That's not a prediction. That's an aspiration."

Musk spoke last year at the National Press Club in Washington about the importance of trying to build the first reusable rocket in the world.
Musk sees the project as a means to significantly change the economics of access to orbit but does not suggest it will be easy. Nonetheless, SpaceX is determined to try to succeed.

IRVE 3 Test Flight Campaign Underway at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia

The Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) is the third in a series of suborbital flight tests of this new technology. The test article is scheduled to launch from the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore July 21, 2012 aboard a NASA Black Brant XI suborbital sounding rocket between 8 and 11 a.m.

After launch the rocket will climb 287 miles (462 kilometers) into the skies over the Atlantic Ocean. The IRVE-3 will separate from the sounding rocket, its aeroshell will get pumped full of nitrogen and then the inflated heat shield and payload will plummet back through Earth's atmosphere. Cameras and instruments will transmit pictures and data to researchers in the Wallops control room the entire time to weigh the value of what many now call "space breaks."

Part of the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) project within NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist's Game Changing Development (GCD) Program, IRVE-3 is one of NASA's many projects to develop new technologies to advance space travel. NASA Langley Research Center and Orbital Sciences Corporation may test a later version on Cygnus spacecraft re-entry from the International Space Station in the next 36-months.

If flight tests continue to be satisfactory, one potential application for inflatable reentry vehicles other than planetary probes is emergency evacuation of the International Space Station and other future manned orbital stations. Individual reentry survival mechanisms were first proposed in the early 1960s with the MOOSE (Man Out Of Space Easiest) concept from General Electric, notes GizMag.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

X1.4 Solar Flare Results in Coming CME

Solar Active Region 11520 July 12, 2012 unleashed a major and long duration eruption reaching X1.4 at  12:52 p.m. EDT (16:52 UTC). Associated with this blast was a Strong R3 Radio Blackout over central America. A Coronal Mass Ejection(CME) watch is now in affect as this eruption was in an earth-facing position.

Because this sunspot is directly facing Earth, everything about the blast was geoeffective. For one thing, it hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) directly toward our planet. According to a forecast track prepared by analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab, the CME will hit Earth on July 14th around 10:20 UT (+/- 7 hours) and could spark strong geomagnetic storms. Sky watchers should be alert for auroras this weekend, notes SpaceWeather

While sunspot AR1520 sounds like a solar behemoth, it is actually a relatively modest sunspot example, and promises more sun storms to come, Dean Pesnell, project scientist for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, told

Wired reports that if and when a solar megastorm hits Earth — and there’s a 1-in-8 chance by 2020 — the outcome would be much different. A powerful CME could temporarily peel away a significant portion of Earth’s protective magnetic shield, exposing satellites, power grids and other electronics to disruptive magnetic fields and radiation. The Los Angeles Times provides more details.

Saturnian Moon Titan May Harbor Life?

The Cassini spacecraft has detected an underground ocean on Saturn's largest moon Titan. If there is warm liquid water and carbon under the surface, could there be life as well? Dave Malkoff reports from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Finding water is a major step for finding life on other planets, which is why JPL and NASA scientists were so excited about reports coming from an aging Saturn exploration mission. In findings published in the journal Science, researchers detailed evidence that an ocean is beneath the icy outer layer of Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

Analyzing data from the Cassini spacecraft, researchers last month noticed the moon's shape stretched significantly as it orbited closer to Saturn, which turned out to be 30-foot-high tides. Scientists believe the tides can only be caused by a vast amount of water.

The First Extraterrestrial Marathon with Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity

More than 8 years after landing on the Red Planet, Mars rover Opportunity is still running. Indeed, mission planners say the tireless robot is poised to complete a full marathon--the first ever long-distance race on an alien planet. It may even go the extra mile.  More from The Los Angeles Times.

Soyuz TMA-05M Advanced to Launch Pad

The Soyuz TMA-05M and booster are advanced from final assembly to the launch pad at the Kazakh Baikonur Cosmodrome, on July 12, 2012 for a July 15, 2012 launch. NASA-TV will provide coverage of the launch beginning July 14, 2012 (Washington time).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Non-Planet Pluto has FIVE confirmed moons!

Astronomers have discovered an irregular shaped moon, between 6 and 15 miles across, circling the infamous dwarf planet on an orbit 59,000 miles in diameter. Sky and Telescope takes a more indepth look-see. Alan Boyle adds more on MSNBC.
Al Jazeera interviews Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute about the new find.
The New Horizons spacecraft closes on Pluto for a remote sensing session in mid-July 2015. The spacecraft will be the first to return data about the dwarf planetary system.

Astronomers continue to carefully review observational data for objects around the Pluto system.

ESA Highlights the PromISSe mission

During his six-month PromISSe mission on the International Space Station, ESA astronaut AndrĂ© Kuipers conducted experiments, soaked-up the views of Earth and space, and interacted with thousands of people on Earth from space. The 14-minute provides highlights.

"Gravity" of Space Debris to Hit Big Screen

"Gravity," the 3-D IMAX sci-fi drama starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts stranded in orbital space by cascading space junk, has been pushed from its November release to an unannounced date in 2013 by Warner Brothers.

Plot: Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first space station mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) in command of his last flight before retiring. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. Satellite debris hits the space station, destroying most of it and killing all but two astronauts, Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (Clooney).

Clooney as astronaut
Stone and Kowalsky are left completely alone–tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth…and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.

Gravity, running about 2hrs., has a production budget of $80 million and is being filmed digitally. Filming began in London in May 2011 and depicts a possible scenario with growing amounts of orbital space debris.

LauncherOne - Furthering the Space Frontier

Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson announced LauncherOne on July 11, 2012, a revolutionary new launch vehicle dedicated to enabling dramatically more people and users to benefit from space. The firm has several commercial customers signed-up.

Announced during the Farnborough International Air Show 2012, Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, announced thenew air-launched rocket specifically designed to deliver small satellites into orbit would likely start in 2016.

LauncherOne will be a two-stage vehicle capable of carrying up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to orbit for prices below $10 million. The rocket will be launched from Virgin Galactic’s proven WhiteKnightTwo, the uniquely capable aircraft also designed to carry SpaceShipTwo aloft to begin her suborbital missions. Thanks to the extreme flexibility of air launch, Virgin Galactic’s customers will enjoy reduced infrastructure costs in addition to the wide range of possible launch locations tailored to individual mission requirements and weather conditions. Branson and other senior executives announced that work has already begun on the vehicle.

Several LauncherOne customers were recognized at the event, representing a broad range of commercial satellite applications. Those named were Skybox Imaging (Skybox), a Silicon Valley-based firm that recently announced it has raised $91 million for a high resolution imaging constellation; GeoOptics Inc., a U.S.-based company developing a constellation of non-imaging remote sensing satellites; Spaceflight, Inc., the aggregator and integrator of small satellites; and Planetary Resources, Inc., the newly-announced, billionaire-backed asteroid mining venture.

At the same event, Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson revealed that the company has now accepted deposits for suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo from 529 future astronauts, a number greater than the total count of people who have been to space throughout human history. This news comes following a flurry of recent test activity and confirmation that all major components of SpaceShipTwo’s rocket system have been qualified for powered flight, on track to begin before the year’s end.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Copenhagen Suborbitals 2012 Launch Test Campaign

Copenhagen Suborbitals is a non-profit organization based in Denmark's capital, Copenhagen. The organization's main goal is to develop relatively inexpensive forms of suborbital manned spaceflight outside of government programs and the influence of large, for-profit corporations. The group recently proposed a 2012 launch campaign.

Gov. Perry Lands XCOR Aerospace in Texas

Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined XCOR Aerospace and the Midland Development Corp. to announce the creation of XCOR's new Commercial Space Research and Development Center headquarters at the Midland International Airport. XCOR develops and produces reusable launch vehicles, rocket engines and rocket propulsion systems, and will create 100 jobs at this new facility [XCOR].

"This is a great day for Midland and a huge step forward for the State of Texas. Visionary companies, like XCOR, continue to choose Texas because they know that innovation is fueled by freedom," Gov. Perry said in his speech. "Whether on the cutting edge of biotech, communications, commerce or privatized efforts to serve the needs of the next generation of space explorers, you can find Texas at the forefront of the movement."

"You have great flying weather out here. You have a beautiful down range place for us to fly over where we are not putting people at risk. You have a very welcoming business climate," Jeff Greason, President and CEO of XCOR Aerospace told NewsWest 9. Texas is among the states that have adopted an "informed consent" for human spaceflight.

The City of Midland is applying to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a Commercial Space Launch Site (spaceport) designation for MAF, an estimated 12 to 18 months process. Upon completion of the licensing process and the hangar renovation, the XCOR presence will begin to ramp up. The application process will likely last 12 to 18 months, but once licenses have been approved, and the airport hangar is fully renovated, XCOR is expected to boost its activities in Texas.

XCOR recently announced it is aiming to begin operational Lynx spacecraft flights from California's Mojave Air and Space Port in 2013, and flights from another new spaceport on the tiny Caribbean island of Curacao the following year.

10 Signs Of Alien Life?

Presenting 10 pieces of evidence that seem to suggest that maybe we're not alone in the universe.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Planetfest Set for August 4 and 5 in Pasadena

Star Trek's Robert Picardo is lowered to Earth the same way Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory Rover, will reach Mars. He joins Bill Nye to invite you to Planetfest 2012 in Pasadena on August 4th and 5th. Can't join us in Pasadena? Check to see if there is a Planetfest satellite event near you, or join the virtual celebration through our live webcast!

Telstar 1 Launch Commercial Communications Network 50-Years Ago with Remarks from JFK

A half century ago (July 10th, 1962), Telstar 1 became the first communication satellite to relay a television signal across the Atlantic Ocean. Transmissions were limited to 20 minutes each 2.5 hours due to its orbit.

Aurora Borealis Producing Sound?

Energetic particles that cause the Aurora Borealis "northern lights" may also be responsible for an odd clapping sound heard by some observers. The study was performed by  Professor Unto K. Laine of the  Aalto University in Finland are to be presented at the The 19th International Congress on Sound and Vibration, Vilnius, Lithuania, July 08-12 2012. UPI has more on this breaking story.

"Our research proved that, during the occurrence of the northern lights, people can hear natural auroral sounds related to what they see," Aalto researcher Unto K. Laine told UPI. More from MSNBC.

Satellite Salvage Project to Start in 2015

The Pentagon wants to harvest dead communication satellites for spare parts and re-use them in orbit. The program, called Phoenix, may hold an orbital trial phase by 2015. The project kicked off last year and has entered a new phase this week, after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) issued a bid to commercial satellite owners. 

 DARPA is asking for old spacecraft which could be dissected by its robotic space cannibal as proof of the concept. The agency also hosted a conference attended by academics, private companies and military experts to discuss technological and regulatory challenges of the $36 million program. 

The idea DARPA has is to put into geosynchronous orbit (GEO) a servicing satellite equipped with robotic arms and other tools needed to harvest re-usable details in space. The so-called tender would roam the neighborhood and prey on defunct satellites for things like antennae and apertures which can be reused at a much lower cost than if the same parts were boosted from earth. 

Next, an array of smaller spacecraft called satlets would be delivered as ride-along payload with commercial satellite launches. The nanosatellites would be picked up and stored by the tender to be attached to salvaged antennae to serve as new controllers. The resulting spacecraft would then be placed into new positions and be used by the US military on the ground for communication.

The longer-term commercial applications for satellite servicing, recovery and fueling, and the re-purposing of satellite parts may cut costs of doing business on-orbit. 

US International Space Cooperation Slows

The American space program, after five decades of setting the international agenda for exploration, appears increasingly stymied when it comes to new cooperative ventures with other countries, writes Andy Pasztor for The Wall Street Journal.

The United States has been a leader in big science ventures with multinational partners ranging from the Hubble Space Telescope, International Space Station and the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around the planet Saturn.

In the past year or so, however, the United States has declined to include the Chinese in the International Space Station complex, declined to cooperate with the Europeans on missions to Mars, and has set NASA sites on asteroids rather than the Moon for future human missions.

The American commercial sector appears to be speeding-up private efforts to build orbital launch capacity for humans and cargo, robotic probes to land on the moon and conduct space resource surveys in this decade unlike the government-centric programs around the globe.

Countdown Begins at Japan's Tanegashima Space Center for H-II Transfer Vehicle

The launch pad campaign is underway at the Japanese Tanegashima Space Center for the orbital launch of the H-II Transfer Vehicle with the KOUNOTORI-3 set to carry cargo to the International Space Station on July 20, 2012 (July 21 in Japan) arriving in the wake of the Soyuz TMA-05M carring crew from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The HTV is the only resupply vehicle also capable of delivering external unpressurized cargo to the station since the shuttle's retirement. The cargo is mounted to an exposed pallet that sits within the HTV's unpressurized section.

The ISS currently is replenished by the Russian Progress resupply vehicle, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and the commercial SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. The four resupply vehicles will be joined by the Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft, which will launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia. The test flight of Orbital's Antares rocket tentatively is set for this fall, with the Cygnus demonstration flight following in the winter.

Dream Chaser Hopes for 2016 AutoFlight

The veteran of five space flights James S. Voss tells Euronews SciTech about the Dream Chaser project he's in charge of as the Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Exploration Systems vice president.

Mark Sirangelo, Chairman of Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems, explains the strategic vision for the Dream Chaser project in the exclusive interview with Euronews SciTech.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Emily Lakdawalla provides a tour of Saturn

Planetary Society Science and Technology Coordinator Emily Lakdawalla provides a guide to the rings of Saturn, featuring beautiful images and video.

Baumgartner to space jump this summer

Later this summer in the desert of New Mexico (2012), Felix Baumgartner will attempt a record-breaking freefall jump from 120,000 feet - 23 miles - above the earth as part of Red Bull Stratos: a mission to the edge of space.

The attempt will take place near Roswell, NM, USA, and if successful, Felix Baumgartner could be the first person to break the speed of sound with his own body, protected only by a space suit. As no one has successfully jumped from this height before, it's uncertain what the highest supersonic freefall in history will look or feel like.

The above animated video gives us a sense of what to expect when the history-making jump takes place later this summer when the weather is best for a launch. A live webcast of the Red Bull Stratos 120,000 foot freefall will air on

Ahead of Felix Baumgartner’s attempt to become the first person to freefall from space, Red Bull Stratos' medical director Dr Jonathan Clark explains what precautions the team are taking in a must-see video. Clark's wife, astronaut Laurel Clark, was killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia re-entry Feb. 1, 2003.  Dr. Clark has dedicated nearly a decade of his professional life to finding emergency re-entry alternatives for astronauts.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Sunspot 1151 Unleashed a X1.1 Solar Flare

Monster Sunspot AR1151 just unleashed a Major X1.1 Solar Flare at 7 pm EST July 6, 2012. After a constant barrage of M-Class solar flares this huge active region finally produced an X-Class event - one of the strongest flares possible and the fifth of the year. Associated with this blast is a 10cm Radio Burst,Type IV Sweep Frequency Event and a proton event is now in progress. 

The sun storm could create a "wide-area blackout" in the high-frequency radio communications. Radio blackouts can occur when a layer of Earth's atmosphere, called the ionosphere, is bombarded with X-rays or extreme ultraviolet light from solar eruptions. Disturbances in the ionosphere can change the paths of high and low frequency radio waves, which can affect information carried along these channels. Experts cannot yet rule out a glancing blow to our planet on July 8th or 9th. Stay tuned to SpaceWeather  for further analysis.

This sunspot region has also produced several coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are clouds of plasma and charged particles that are hurled into space during solar storms. Powerful CMEs have the potential to disrupt satellites in their path and, when aimed directly at Earth, can wreak havoc on power grids and communications infrastructure.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Soyuz TMA-05M Launch Coverage July 14th

NASA TV coverage of the Soyuz TMA-05M launch begins at 9:30 p.m. EDT, Saturday, July 14. NASA Flight Engineer Sunita Williams, veteran Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Flight Engineer Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will launch to the station at 10:40 p.m. (8:40 a.m., July 15 Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The trio will arrive at the station late Monday, July 16, joining NASA Flight Engineer Joe Acaba and two Russian cosmonauts, Expedition 32 Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin, who have been aboard the orbiting laboratory since mid-May, 2012. Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide, who also will be part of the Expedition 33 crew starting in September, will return to Earth in mid-November, 2012.

Kennedy Establishing NewSpace Gateway

Post Higgs boson: Supersymmetry, Dark Matter and Extra Dimensions?

CMS and ATLAS present their results, showing evidence of a new particle of a mass and signature identifying it as the Higgs boson. But more research is needed to insure this is exactly the boson predicted by the Standard Model.
American theoretical physicist Michio Kaku talks with MSNBC about the future implications of the confirmation of the Higgs boson particle existance for the future.  There remain many unsolved problems in physics for a new generation of scientists to solve. More from the DailyGalaxy.

Going beyond the beginning of the beginning?

Dark Matter?

Ariane 5 Lifts from Europe's Spaceport @Kourou French Guiana July 5, 2012

Carried on an Ariane 5, the latest weather satellite in Europe's highly successful Meteosat Second Generation series, MSG-3, lifted off from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on 5 July 2012.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Space Tech Expo Set for 2013 in California

Space Tech Expo 2013 brings together global decision makers involved in the design, build and testing of spacecraft, satellite, launch vehicle, and space-related technologies. This exhibition + conference takes place in May 21-23, 2013 Long Beach, CA, USA.

Excalibur Almaz Founder Art Dula Talks Moon

The spaceflight firm Excalibur Almaz estimates that it can sell about 30 seats between 2015 and 2025, for $150 million each, aboard moon-bound missions on a Salyut-class space station driven by electric hall-effect thrusters, notes MSNBC earlier this week.

Higgs Finding Placed on Par with Moon Landing


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Masten's Xaero's Makes 444-Meter Test Flight

Masten's Xaero returns to the skies to complete a flight to 444 meters AGL - a record for Xaero and the company. Xaero took some time off while the team put significant work into updating her landing gear and cutting mass and solving some guidance issues.

Masten Space Systems designs, builds, tests and operates reusable launch vehicles. Reusable launch vehicles will enable an increase in flight rate, drive down the cost of space access, and allow more people to reach space. The firm will perform a series of demonstration flights of a Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) reusable suborbital launch vehicle from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Masten has received multiple contracts from the Flight Opportunities Program, which pays for flights aboard reusable suborbital vehicles for qualified research experiments

Leaked Video Suggests New Particle Found

The above video was briefly made public on the CERN website July 3 confirms that the European physics lab has discovered a new particle — most likely the long-sought Higgs boson. Joe Incandela, spokesman for the CMS experiment at CERN'sLarge Hadron Collider. National Geographic has more along with AFP.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Rock star physicist Brian Greene talks Higgs

Brian Greene discusses the post-Higgs boson universe at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival.

What is the Higgs boson?

John Ellis answer the question What is the Higgs boson? in preparation for the press conference following the seminar on LHC 2012 results on the Higgs boson searches, due on Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at CERN in this three-minute video.  More today from NPRThe Los Angeles Times,  Associated Press (AP) and Nature.

Bill Nye: What happens if Americans slow exploration of worlds and your place in space?

What's the cost to science if the U.S. slows down its exploration of other worlds? Bill Nye explains in this two-minute CNN video.

Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 Set for 2014

The first Orion spacecraft destined for spaceflight testing arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with ceremony. United Launch Alliance's Delta-IV will boost the vehicle to orbit with a subsequent re-entry. The mission is called Exploration Flight Test-1. More from SpaceNews.
When NASA conducts its first test launch of the Orion spacecraft in 2014, the crew module’s designers will record invaluable data about its performance — from launch and flight, to re-entry and landing.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Scientists 99.99% Certain Higgs Boson Found

Scientists at Cern will announce that the elusive Higgs boson 'God Particle' has been found at a press conference Wednesday July 4, 2012, it is believed, reports the DailyMail in London. The speculation around the Higgs certainly has hundreds of thousands of people talking about physics, perhaps millions by Thursday.

Particle physics researchers from two teams at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17 mile-long particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland, are expected to say they are 99.99 percent certain the Higgs boson has been found - which is known as 'four sigma' level. The management at CERN want the two teams to reach the 'five sigma' level of certainty with their results - so they are 99.99995 percent sure of the finding.

The Higgs boson is predicted to exist by the particle physics theory known as the Standard Model. The Higgs boson, physicists believe, bestows mass on all the other particles and was crucial to forming the cosmos after the Big Bang.

In 1994, Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman came up with a nickname for the Higgs boson – the mysterious particle proposed by physicist Peter Higgs back in the 1960s to explain the origin of mass. Lederman invented the name the "God particle” because it was “so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive.”

Higgs boson independence day July 4, 2012?

Scientists are trying to understand the fabric of the universe itself. It’s a hugely fundamental piece of the mystery of how the universe is put together. Has the Higgs boson finally been detected? Follow the LIVE Webcast as the announcement is made.

Stay tuned to the CERN research center near Zurich, Switzerland Wednesday - the 4th of July 2012. There should be physics fireworks!

A one-hour BBC documentary is an execllent preimer on the so-called 'God particle.'  More from Alan Boyle at MSNBC.

Soyuz Undocks from ISS; Crew Lands Safe

Expedition 31 Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers land in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz spacecraft after 191 days aboard the International Space Station. More from MSNBC, The Washington Post, Russia Today and De Telegraaf (Netherlands).
SoyuzTMA-03M landing zone in Kazakhstan (Credit: RT/Reuters pool)

The Soyuz capsule carrying the three Expedition 31 crew members undocks form the International Space Station and begins its journey back to Earth. Live coverage from NASA.

Expedition 31 Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers bid farewell to their International Space Station crewmates and board the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft to return to Earth after 193 days in space.

Tonight's Sky: July 2012

Backyard stargazers get a monthly guide to the northern hemisphere's skywatching events with "Tonight's Sky." In July, the Delta Aquarid meteors pay a visit, and a trio of nebulae grace the sky.