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Friday, November 30, 2012

This Week @ NASA: November 30, 2012

Astronaut Scott Kelly has been selected by NASA to begin a one-year mission aboard the International Space Station in 2015. Joining Kelly on the ISS will be Russian cosmonaut, Mikhail Kornienko. The pair will launch aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in spring 2015. Their 12-month stay aboard the world's only laboratory in microgravity will provide new data about how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space. That information will help scientists assess crew performance and health, and develop better ways to reduce the risks of long-duration spaceflight.
Also, Training Continues for Next Expedition Crew, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft confirms water ice on Mercury, NASA Administrator visits Rocket Maker, J-2X tests continue, Curiosity Rover Report and more!

The Ministers of Space: Europe Plans Space

The Italian city of Naples was the dramatic setting for a summit to set Europe's future in space. From rocket launchers to Mars explorers, everything was under debate - in particular, money. Ministers from the 20 member countries of the European Space Agency, including newcomers Poland, had to decide which projects are funded and how.
The European Space Agency left the Naples summit with the cash and political support for a 10.1 billion euro space programme for the coming few years.

Soyuz readied for lift-off at French Guiana; Launch Reset for Dec 1, 2012 9:02 PM-ET

UPDATE: An anomaly occurred during the final chronology for Flight VS04 – Pléiades 1B, thus halting the count-down. A new launch attempt is slated on the night of Saturday 1st at 9:02 PM ET December, 2012. Details on re-set forthcoming. Twitter updates.

Liftoff of the Soyuz on November 30, 2012 is set for a precise moment—11:02:50 p.m. local time (in French Guiana—initiating a 55-minute mission to deploy Pléiades 1B in a 695km. circular orbit, inclined 98.2 degrees. The launch of Arianespace's next medium-lift mission has been equipped with its Pleiades 1B observation satellite passenger at the ELS launch complex.
Readers may watch the night launch HERE at 9:02:50 p.m. EST Washington.
With a fueled mass of approximately 1 metric ton, the dual-use Pléiades 1B spacecraft will provide optical imaging coverage for French and European defense ministries, institutions and civil users. It is to join the twin Pléiades 1A satellite launched last December 2011 by Arianespace on Soyuz’ second mission from the Spaceport.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

South Korea Stands Down Orbital Rocket Launch; North Korea Readies New Rocket

South Korea Naro-1
South Korea on Thursday, November 29, 2012 scrubbed an attempt to fire its first satellite into orbit from its own soil amid what appears to be a North Korean booster being moved to a launch pad.
South Korean engineers halted a launch campaign of the Naro-1 amid concerns with the rocket’s flight control system delaying the attempt again. A problem with the first stage fueling system halted a launch attempt earlier this month. Parts were shipped from Russia to fix the problem only to have another crop-up with the South Korean segment.
North Korea Unha-3
Meanwhile, North Korea, following a failed orbital launch attempt in April 2012, is believed to be preparing an Unha rocket orbital launch attempt from the Sohae Satellite Launch Station in Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, North Korea in December 2012 or January 2013, according to 38 North.
North Korea has yet to provide notification for international flight and shipping of splashdown zones for the used rocket stages, as it did before the April launch. Nor has it filed a plan for a frequency for a signal that would be emitted by a satellite.

Water at the poles of Mercury confirmed !

It has been estimated that there may be up to 1 trillion metric tons of water ice on Mercury. MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging spacecraft have confirmed a long-held hypothesis that Mercury harbors abundant water ice and other frozen volatile materials in its permanently-shadowed polar craters. The full November 29, 2012 NASA HQ press conference on science at planet Mercury lasts 53-minutes. More from NASA and The New York Times.

MARS TIME: looking for organic compounds

The scientists and engineers who operate Curiosity are finally adjusting back to Earth time after months of working according to Martian time. Because a day on Mars lasts about 40 minutes longer works shifts for the MSL team were based on Mars days.
Meanwhile, the next news conference about the NASA Mars rover Curiosity will be held at 9 a.m. PST Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 in San Francisco at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).  The news conference will be streamed online at:

Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover's full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds -- carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.

The Mars Science Laboratory Project and its Curiosity rover are less than four months into a two-year prime mission to investigate whether conditions in Mars' Gale Crater may have been favorable for microbial life. Curiosity is exceeding all expectations for a new mission with all of the instruments and measurement systems performing well. This is spectacular for such a complex system, and one that is operated so far away on Mars by people here on planet Earth. The mission already has found an ancient riverbed on the Red Planet, and there is every expectation for remarkable discoveries still to come.  

After spending six weeks doing science investigations at Rocknest, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is on the move again to Point Lake and a place to try out the drill.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Los Alamos Engineers Build New Deep Space Nuclear Engine for Possible Propulsion

Engineers have built a new uranium-powered engine they say will propel future deep space missions.

A Los Alamos National Laboratoryteam of researchers has demonstrated a new concept for a reliable nuclear reactor that could be used on space flights.

Large Hadron Collider creates new 'spooky' matter or Big Bang Quark-Gluon Plasma?

Switzerland's Large Hadron Collider has created what scientists believe to be a new form of matter.  RedOrbit, UPI, Gizmag, and NBCNews have more details.

Elon Musk has plans for colonizing Mars

Hank Green is all about Mars, and Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, has some plans for colonizing the Red Planet that have got Hank very excited.

ISS Expedition 34 Crew readies in Star City

The Expedition 34 crew members conduct final training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center before their Dec. 19, 2012 launch to the International Space Station. Flight Engineers Chris Hadfield, Roman Romanenko and Tom Marshburn are in Star City, Russia, conducting Russian Soyuz and Russian segment qualification exams and simulations.

Stratolaunch engages Orbital Sciences Corporation in wake of SpaceX departure

Stratolaunch Systems, the commercial space venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has cut ties with one of its high-profile partners, SpaceX, instead opting to utilize Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation to evaluate alternatives for cargo and humans to space, [SpaceNews].
“Stratolaunch and SpaceX have amicably agreed to end our contractual relationship because the current launch vehicle design has departed significantly from the Falcon derivative vehicle envisioned by SpaceX and does not fit well with their long-term strategic business model,”  Stratolaunch CEO Gary Wentz was quoted by Flight International (Nov. 27, 2012).
Stratolaunch is developing the world’s largest plane, with six 747 engines and a wingspan greater than the length of a football field, to launch rockets into space from 30,000 feet in the air. The vehicle requires at 12,000 feet runway. Stratolaunch has previously targeted 2016 for flights.
Wentz said in his message, “Moving forward, Stratolaunch has engaged Orbital Sciences Corporation to evaluate and develop alternative solutions with the objective of arriving at a design decision in the early spring timeframe. The other segment contractors will continue to proceed forward in accordance with existing plans since their interfaces have been defined.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Monitoring the Effects of Power Plant Emissions on Air Quality using NASA EOS

"Monitoring the Effects of Power Plant Emissions on Air Quality using NASA EOS" is now on EarthZine. Scholars associated with NASA DEVELOP are undertaking a unique remote sensing project to compare air quality using ground sensors and satellites to gain better understanding of the lessened impact of clean coal technology, and how this technology has been enhanced since the 1950s.

The future of the project is unique as over the next three years the new technologies are advanced for coal and another coal-fired plant is converted to natural gas. *Click "Thumbs-Up/Like"at the bottom of the EarthZine site to support the project.

A total of eighteen NASA DEVELOP satellite remote sensing research projects involving various nations are now available for review.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Zero 2 Infinity Tests NearSpace Balloon

A successful balloon flight test by Zero 2 Infinity on Nov. 12, 2012 could pave the way for a cheaper form of space tourism.
The "bloon," as the company calls it, would carry a pressurized pod for two pilots and four passengers as high as 22 miles (36 kilometers) up. That "near-space" experience would be well below the 62-mile (100-kilometer) altitude considered the edge of space but still high enough for passengers to see the Earth's curved horizon, the thin blue atmosphere, and black space, even in daylight.

Aerobrakes may curb future 'space junk'

Engineers at the University of Glasgow and Clyde Space Ltd have developed a practical solution to the increasing problem of space debris expected to be available next year.

Millions of pieces of ‘space junk' are orbiting the Earth as a side-effect of human exploration and exploitation of space. The pieces range from tiny fragments of bigger objects such as rocket boosters to full-sized pieces of now-defunct equipment. Working satellites and spacecraft can be damaged by collisions with debris, which can travel at velocities of several kilometres per second.
AEOLDOS is lightweight, foldable 'aerobrake' for CubeSats and small satellites. Once the spacecraft has reached the end of its operational life, the lightweight aerobrake, made from a thin membrane supported by tape measure-like struts, springs open to generate aerodynamic drag against the extremely thin upper atmosphere that still exists in near-Earth space.
As the satellite falls out of orbit the aerodynamic effects increase, causing the satellite to harmlessly burn up during its descent. This ensures that it does not become another piece of potentially harmful space debris.
AEOLDOS is an off-the-shelf standard product developed by the University of Glasgow and Clyde Space, and offered for sale by Clyde Space. Flight ready versions are expected to be available from the end of 2013, notes Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc.

Many amateur astronomers, like those associated with the University of Virginia's College at Wise, are looking to participate in a DARPA SpaceView program to track dangerous space junk in low earth orbit.

Space Agencies Name One-Year ISS Crew

Astronaut Scott Kelly
The American and Russian space agencies have named an astronaut and cosmonaut to spend one-year at the International Space Station for the purpose of better understanding how the human body adapts to extremely long space missions, such as voyages around the moon, to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars, NASA officials said.
American astronaut Scott Kelly, 48, and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, 52, will launch on the one-year space station flight in spring 2015 and return to Earth in spring 2016, NASA officials announced Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Crews so far have done only six-month stints on the station.
Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko
"Congratulations to Scott and Mikhail on their selection for this important mission," William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations in Washington, said in a statement. "Their skills and previous experience aboard the space station align with the mission's requirements. The one-year increment will expand the bounds of how we live and work in space and will increase our knowledge regarding the effects of microgravity on humans as we prepare for future missions beyond low-Earth orbit."

Cosmonaut Valery Polyakov
As noted by Managing Editor Tariq Malik, the 2015 space station flight by Kelly and Kornienko will be the longest mission to the International Space Station, but not the longest continuous spaceflight. That record is held by cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who lived aboard Russia's Mir space station from January 1994 until March 1995, ultimately spending 438 consecutive days in orbit.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Boeing Considers More Dollars in CST-100 spacecraft to compete with SpaceX Dragon

Atlas-V with CST-100
Mike Leinbach, director of human space flight operations for ULA and former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson suggest that Boeing management may make a larger corporate investment in its under development CST-100 human-rated spacecraft to "significantly"speed the first astronaut launches prior to the now planned late 2016 target. It would be a welcome move to get two commercial carriers with astronauts on launch pads by mid-decade.
"We’re looking heavily into getting some additional Boeing investment to move that (late 2016) date to the left significantly, which we think we need to do to keep pace with SpaceX,” Ferguson said while Leinbach noted, “It’s just a question of time," in an interview with Florida Today.  Both men were envisioning the Boeing CST-100 capsule filled with a crew riding an Atlas-V to low earth orbit.
 CST-100 closes on Bigelow station
The ULA Atlas V rocket is being upgraded and human-rated to boost the Boeing CST-100 spacecraft to carry as many as seven astronauts to the International Space Station or other orbital destinations, such as a Bigelow inflatable space station. The first test is targeted for 2016.
Commercial space launch competitor SpaceX aims to launch a piloted test flight of an upgraded Dragon in mid-2015. The Atlas-V and Boeing CST is planning its first human piloted flight in late 2016. The hint of greater Boeing investment may sqeeze the timeline to provide market competition to SpaceX.

A deeper private investment by Boeing would also be welcome news to Bigelow Aerospace as it seeks to perfect its business plan of hiring taxis to ferry international commercial researchers to private inflatable space laboratories later this decade. Interestingly, the CST 100 was developed as part of a partnership between Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace.

Though Boeing has received millions of dollars from NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Development program, the company has maintained that it needs a destination besides the ISS to make the program financially viable for Boeing. Enter Bigelow, who have been working to bring inflatable, commercially produced space stations to orbit and subsequently working directly with Boeing on the CST-100 development.

Rendering of a Bigelow inflatable attached to International Space Station
Discussions have been underway for the past two-years to attach a Bigelow inflatable habitat to the International Space Station by mid-decade.

CST-100 at Bigelow Station
Both NASA and Bigelow stand to gain from putting an inflatable module on the ISS. Given the fact that inflatable modules could play a major role in any future NASA interplanetary spacecraft or surface base, NASA could gain valuable in-flight data from an inflatable module on ISS, as well as much-needed stowage space.

Bigelow would gain confidence in, and operational experience with, its inflatable modules in a crewed environment, confidence which would undoubtedly also be gained by any potential future customers to Bigelow. Given that the ISS is a permanently crewed operational environment, it is an ideal testbed to demonstrate these technologies

DELAY: Falcon-9 Dragon Launch March 1st

One of the Falcon 9's Merlin engines failed on the OTS-C1 mission.
NASA managers say the next launch of a Orbital Transportation Services (OTS-C2) Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station will be postponed from January until March 1, 2013 so a determination may be made as to why one of the OTS-C1 rocket’s nine engines failed about a minute after lift-off on October 7, 2012 on the first operational commercial mission.
Falcon 9 on launch pad
Company and NASA engineers are still sorting out what caused one of nine Merlin engines to shut down early during the Oct. 7 launch of a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station, NASA officials told an advisory committee, reports Florida Today

SpaceX hopes to have the booster and capsule human-rated by mid-decade to provide commercial launch services to American astronauts - negating the need for the Russian Soyuz taxi service.

Meanwhile, Orbital Sciences Corporation hopes to forge forward with the launch of the Antares-Cygnus on its first operational mission to the International Space Station in April 2013 providing the second commercial space launch firm to boost cargo and supplies to space.

By 2015, the European Space Agency will discontinue the Automated Transfer Vehicle or ATV cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station ceding the runs to the two American commercial space launch firms. The ATV technology will be transferred to the development of a service module for NASA's new Orion human-rated spacecraft. Orion is expected to make its first unmanned orbital test-flight atop a Delta-IV in 2014.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Europe and China Seek Space Cooperation

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the China National Space Administration (CNSA)are warming to future human joint space projects if recent overtures are any indication.
Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency, told the Observer in an exclusive interview: "There is not a single space power left in the world that thinks they can afford to send men and women to explore the moon or Mars on their own national budget. This is something that will have to be done by international co-operation."
Shenzhou-9 launch
"Even the Chinese, who have so far done it on their own, are looking for partners. We are in discussions with them. Some of our astronauts are learning Chinese and there are Chinese astronauts training at our centre in Germany. We have no concrete plans as yet but it is clear that future of manned space exploration lies with international cooperation."

Chinese-European space cooperation within the next 48-months would ring-in a new era of global human space cooperation. Perhaps such effort would serve as a precursor to multinational missions which include taikonauts. The political impact in Washington may change thaw an otherwise cold atmosphere among conservative members of the US Congress.
Taikonaut Liu Lang in 2012
In September 2012, Thomas Reiter,  head of ESA's human spaceflight division, discussed the possibility of European astronauts riding to space alongside Chinese taikonauts before the end of the decade. The ESA, Reiter noted, is planning to slowly deepen cooperation with its Chinese counterpart and could aim for joint missions in "the second half of this decade."
New European astroanuts
"In fact, some of our astronauts have started Chinese language training," Reiter told the British publication The Telegraph in the fall of the year.
Europe and Russia have both signaled support for China to come into the International Space Station partnership. Objections, however, continue from the United States. "As I would welcome a European astronaut flying aboard a Chinese spaceship it would be of course a very, very powerful political sign to have China on board the ISS," said Reiter.

Oklahoma Spaceport Struggles into Future - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |
Almost a decade ago, space journalist Jeff Foust called it the "Little spaceport on the prairie" but some now in Oklahoma wonder if the investment is worth it in the above report from KOTV.
Georgia, Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii and Texas are considering new public-private spaceports while Alaska, California, Florida, New Mexico and Virginia continue multi-million dollar investments into existing or expanded commercial space launch infrastructure. Oklahoma continues to seek its niche in the NewSpace era.

Private bond investors are looking at the future spaceport business prospects and market studies, indicated in part by a recent article in Bond Buyer Online. 'Wild cards' will enter the marketplace as soon as human commercial space launch carriers start offering cheaper suborbital parabolic and point-to-point flights, low earth orbit stays at commercial space facilities, and short-term stays around the far side of the moon or landing at a surface outpost for commercial science and tourist pleasure.

Friday, November 23, 2012

LADEE to Investigate Lunar Atmosphere

"By night the Glass Of Galileo ... observes Imagin'd Land and Regions in the Moon." - John Milton (Paradise Lost - 1667)
Most view the moon as having no atmosphere. Yet the 'lunar atmosphere' -  less than one hundred trillionth of Earth's atmospheric density at sea level - may be caused by multiple sources as science lifts the veil to gain more knowledge of the dusty environment.
Clementine moon probe
The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is a NASA robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. The mission is set to launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island in August 2013 - the first deep space probe ever launched from Virginia.
The latest lunar probe will examine the composition of the lunar atmosphere by analyzing light signatures of materials it finds, measure variations in the lunar atmosphere over multiple lunar orbits with the moon in different space environments, and collect and analyze samples of any lunar dust particles in the tenuous atmosphere. The probe will add significantly to human knowledge of the lunar environment and it may answer several puzzling questions.
In short, "LADEE will investigate this moon magic trick of levitating lunar dust," notes Live Science journalist Leonard David.
Boston University study
Nearly two decades ago, scientists found the wispy atmosphere of the Moon extends at least 9,000 miles above its surface through the faint glow of sodium gas. The most likely explanation is the evaporation of atoms from the lunar surface when it is struck by light particles called photons coming from sunlight. Sodium and other elements escape the surface through erosion caused by the bombardment of photons, as well as heat from sunlight warming surface materials
Clementine moon probe photo
Evidence has mounted that the tenuous atmosphere of moving dust particles constantly leaping up from and falling back to the Moon's surface, giving rise to a "dust atmosphere." The term "Moon fountain" has been used to describe this effect by analogy with the stream of molecules of water in a fountain following a ballistic trajectory while appearing static due to the constancy of the stream caused by electrostatic levitation.
Lunar atmosphere studies
Positive charges build up until the tiniest particles of lunar dust (measuring 1 micrometre and smaller) are repelled from the surface and lofted anywhere from metres to kilometres high, with the smallest particles reaching the highest altitudes. Eventually they fall back toward the surface where the process is repeated over and over again. On the night side, the dust is negatively charged by electrons in the solar wind. Indeed, the fountain model suggests that the night side would charge up to higher voltages than the day side, possibly launching dust particles to higher velocities and altitudes.

This past August 2012, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter detected helium in the moon's tenuous atmosphere, confirming observations made four decades ago on the lunar surface, corroborating measurements made by the Lunar Atmosphere Composition Experiment (LACE), which was deployed by moonwalking Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972, noted MSNBC.

Lunar Industries: "Moon" movie
LADEE's mission is one of importance in our understanding of the Moon, its atmosphere, and how subsequent human interaction in the coming two-world system development will impact its future. Humans are expected to return to the Moon's surface in the next decade and begin to develop human outposts and lunar industries on the surface. The surface and atmospheric dust must be better understood by future astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts and robonauts expected traverse its regolith, lava tubes and craters.

2013 Phases of the Moon Animation Released

This visualization shows the phase and libration of the Moon throughout the year 2013, at hourly intervals. Each frame represents one hour. In addition, this version of the visualization shows additional relevant information, including the Moon's orbit position, subsolar and subearth points, distance from the Earth, and more. Details from NASA.

Musk Dedicated to Build Mars Transports

Speaking to a full house at the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) this week, Elon Musk imagines he will have to go to Mars himself and live in the self-sustaining human colony that SpaceX will be instrumental in establishing, notes FlightGlobal.
Elon Musk plans a trek to Mars.
Musk told his RAeS audience that he is "hopeful" the first Mars mission will be a government-private partnership, but added that he had to prepare for an all-private effort: "It needs to happen one way or the other."
SpaceX intends to build a methane/liquid oxygen (Lox) engine, said Musk, in a shift away from the highly refined kerosene rocket propellant (RP-1) that has powered the company’s previous engines. He told FlightGlobal that methane fuel has performance, cost and storage advantages over alternatives and could even be extracted from the Martian atmosphere for use in landing and ascent stages.
President Obama with Musk in 2010
“The energy cost of methane is the lowest and it has a slight Isp (specific impulse) advantage over kerosene,” said Musk, adding that “it does not have the pain-in-the-ass factor that hydrogen has”. Hydrogen, another commonly used fuel, has storage and handling difficulties and the problem of hydrogen embrittlement.
Musk confirmed that he would not be seeking collaboration with the Russians, despite their lead in this technology, before adding however that “we might hire a few”. Musk also ruled out working with China, noting that they did not seem to want collaboration anyway.

Musk also lectured at University of Oxford at the Oxford Martin School presentation at the Sheldonian Theatre to a large crowd about "space travel, electric vehicles and solar energy"

Musk spoke of his sadness at the end of the Apollo space programme and his ambition to reignite the passion for space exploration with a “small” mission to Mars. “I didn’t think it would be possible to create a space company - it seemed like the provenance of governments”, he said.

The entrepreneur also talked to the audience about his vision for electric cars and solar power, both of which in he holds significant investments.

Musk’s next projects include a fully reusable rocket and Mars settlement is within his sights.

Virgin Galactic Threatens to Depart New Mexico Over Liability Waivers for Suppliers

There's real concern that the quarter of a billion dollars New Mexico has invested in Spaceport America could be gone if the New Mexico legislature does not enact a spaceflight liability  extending protection to commercial space launch firm suppliers, according to KTSM-TV (news video) and SpaceNews.

Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides says the legislature's failure to pass the law next year could force his company to rethink plans to base its business at Spaceport America. Virgin Galactic signed an agreement to become the $209 million Spaceport's anchor tenant, reports KTSM-TV.

"We are going to look hard at what happens this session in terms of our future stance with the spaceport," Whitesides told KRQE. "The deal we signed up for was a bustling spaceport that had multiple tenants there," Whitesides continued. "I have to tell you, spaceport is losing opportunity to get new business."

The Save our Spaceport Coalition group has formed to seek state passage of a new law limiting the liability for space accidents in order to ensure the future of Spaceport America and save thousands of jobs in aerospace, tourism, and construction. The legislation, twice rejected by the New Mexico state legislature, would seek to prevent lawsuits against the manufacturers and suppliers of space vehicles for human commercial space flight.

Virginia was the first state in the nation to pass liability immunity for commercial human spaceflight firms and their suppliers in 2007. Since that time, Virginia passed into law a state income tax exemption for business profits earned in space or for spaceflight training and dedicated nearly $50-million to the well-equipped commercial spaceport co-located on the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

Virginia was followed by Florida, Texas, and Colorado in the adoption of spaceflight liability and immunity for commercial space launch firms and their suppliers. The current New Mexico law, like California, provides protection to the commercial space launch operators, not spacecraft part suppliers.

At the 2012 FAA/AST conference in Washington last February, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell specifically mentioned Virgin Galactic as a potential tenant should it look for business expansion. Space business friendly, the Commonwealth state is now boasting a number of Washington Capitol Hill political leaders who may make a difference for the development of the Virginia spaceport.

Advocates of human spaceflight liability and immunity are also considering federal legislation to give national primacy recognition to such state laws. Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Roanoke) is expected to chair the House Judiciary Committee in the new Congress. 


The Line opinion panel discusses the future of New Mexico's Spaceport America. The venture faces stiff competition from spaceports in other states. Is the facility's anchor tenant - Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic - enough to attract more business? Or do liability laws need to be changed to entice companies in the industry? New Mexico spent $209 million building the spaceport, and residents of three Southern New Mexico counties currently pay a special sales tax designated for the project.

Antares-Cygnus Set for ISS in April 2013

The first test launch of the Antares-Cygnus to the International Space Station has been set for April 2013 following delays resulting from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch pad construction and by minor damages from  Hurricane Sandy.  If completed successfully, the next flight will be the first of eight contracted flights for NASA, carrying supplies to the ISS.
Artist rendering of hot fire test.
The first test launch of the Antares booster without the Cygnus cargo spacecraft is set for January 2013 following a cold-flow test, a crucial trial in which the rocket is fueled and defueled and a hold-down (hot fire) test will be held, in which the rocket's two Aerojet AJ-26 engines will be lit but the rocket restrained from flight late this month (November 2012), according to FlightGlobal.
The first flight, slated for early next year, will carry a dummy Cygnus cargo carrier along with a secondary payload comprising four cubesats to orbit. The vehicle will not rendezvous with the ISS on the initial Antares booster test. 
Meanwhile, NASA investigators may have discovered the root cause of two consecutive launch failures of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus XL rocket, a manufacturing defect that could affect the company’s Antares rocket. NASA and Orbital investigative teams have traced the problem to a heat-treated frangible rail designed to fracture when a pyrotechnic charge is detonated post-launch to shed the rocket’s payload-fairing shroud.
William Gerstenmaier (NASA)
William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Spaceflight and Operations Directorate, noted recently teams have discovered a manufacturing problem “that may be more generic than just to the Taurus,” and that while the investigation into this new line of inquiry is preliminary, the findings and mitigation efforts may affect not only the Taurus XL, but other Orbital launch vehicles as well, including the company’s Pegasus, Minotaur and Antares launchers.
Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski recently told Aviation Week that the company ’s Antares, Pegasus and Minotaur rockets all fly versions of the frangible joint fairing separation system. These rails are located along the seam between the two halves of Orbital’s clamshell-shaped fairing, as well as at the base of the fairing that connects to the launch vehicle itself.

Antares will launch from Virginia
If Orbital meets four significant milestones ahead with the "hot fire" test, the flaring manufacturing problem, the booster flight test, and the April 2013 demonstration mission, the Cygnus spacecraft will become the second operational commercial cargo available to the space agency - supplementing the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (now seeking a human flight rating).

Unlike the Dragon which has both up and down cargo capability, the Cygnus will, at least initially, will only have up mass capability and burn-up on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere following undocking from the ISS.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Europe Joins America in Next Step in Space

Artist impression of ESA ATV with NASA Orion (MPCV)
Europe is preparing plans to join the United States in building a manned spaceship that would take men and women to the moon and beyond. The project is supported by the UK and could see a British astronaut launched into deep space before the end of the decade, reports the Guardian.
The European Space Agency (ESA) have announced in Naples, Italy Nov. 21, 2012 that they will inform NASA they are ready to build an ATV derived Service Module for Orion, to be ready for the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) in 2017. The announcement came after the UK stepped up with additional funding, marking the country’s first real human BEO commitment.
Now, ATV – pending the expected official NASA acceptance – has a second life after it completes its role as a resupply vehicle to the International Space Station (ISS), incidentally linked to ESA’s involvement with the orbital outpost, notes NASA Spaceflight.
Orion's test flight is set for 2014
The Orion capsule – known officially as the Multiple Purpose Crew Vehicle – is designed to carry astronauts on missions of up to six months and could take men and women to the moon, or an asteroid or possibly even Mars.
The plan for Europe to join the US in building Orion spaceships stems from NASA's decision to privatize crew and cargo flights to the space station with Space X, Orbital Sciences Corporation and potentially Boeing, Sierra Nevada and perhaps others. The ESA ATV's will no longer have a role in ISS cargo by mid-decade.

The use the ESA ATV's avionics and propulsion for NASA Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle would be Europe's major contribution to the ISS from 2015 to 2020 under a barter agreement.

A glimpse into the future ...

Europeans and Russians Agree on ExoMars

The European Space Agency has agreed to move forward with Russian partners on the ExoMars missions in which Roscosmos would get the Martian missions in 2016 and 2018 off the ground with its Proton rockets, sending first a satellite to look for methane and other trace gases in the atmosphere, and then Europe's own Mars surface rover.
Russian Proton rocket
ESA turned to Russia after NASA retreated from a partnership at the beginning of 2012, citing budget concerns. NASA spent the year evaluating its options for future Mars exploration, pursuing less expensive objectives and closer synergies between robotic and future human missions to the red planet, noted on-line publication SpaceflightNow.
"It's a pity that we've lost the partnership with NASA but it's good that we've now got the Russians coming in instead, so we're optimistic that this is now on track," British Science Minister David Willetts said, according to AFP.
Besides the Proton launchers, Russia has agreed to build a descent stage for the European rover and provide scientific instruments to the lander and orbiter components of ExoMars.
The BBC points that the European-Russian ExoMars partnership may lead to future interplanetary cooperation to explore Jupiter,  its moon Ganymede and lunar robotics. Frederic Nordlund, the head of international relations at ESA noted, "Russia already has its Luna-Glob and Luna-Resurs missions, which are already being implemented, but we're considering other opportunities for this in other areas."

The ExoMars Drill is devised to acquire soil samples down to a maximum depth of 2 metres, in a variety of soil types. This video shows footage from tests of a prototype drill.

Fortnight countdown to "the history books"

Mission scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory, Dr. John Grotzinger, talks to about how the instrumentation on the rover made the find that he calls "one for the history books". Results to be announced early December, 2012. See earlier Spaceports post.

The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla digs deeper into the speculation of the Mars findings. More from Cosmos and Wired.

South Korea to Launch Rocket Nov. 29, 2012

South Korea plans again to launch a space rocket next week, over a month after it put off the launch due to a last-minute technical glitch. The science ministry and the state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute have decided to launch the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1), also known as Naro-1, on Nov. 29, 2012.
The Naro-1, a 140-tonne rocket, will carry a 100 kilogram (220-pound) satellite it will carry has a one-year operational lifespan and was developed by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
If the launch is successful, South Korea will join the Asian-capable nations of placing satellites in orbit along side China (1970), Iran (2009), Israel (1988),  Japan (1970), and India (1980). Overall, it South Korea would be the 10th nation in the world to place a satellite into orbit.

North Korea has unsuccessfully attempted to place a satellite into low earth orbit in 2012, and it is expected to try again in 2013.

Dwarf-Planet Makemake has planetary scientists exploring beyond dwarf Pluto

A recent opportunity to watch the dwarf planet Makemake's shadow gave astronomers clues to its size, shape and surprising lack of any atmosphere. Makemake, discovered on March 31, 2005, is 52 astronomical units from the sun.

Makemake, outside the orbit of Pluto, is among other dwarf planets, specifically Eris and  Haumea. The known dwarf planets join other large trans-Neptunian objects within the solar system. 

The NASA New Horizons spacecraft, now slated for a rendezvous flyby of Pluto in the summer of 2015, will explore one or two ancient Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) in an planned extended mission. A KBO flyby is expected in 2018 or 2019, though it could be as early as 2016 or as late as 2021.

Since no other Kuiper Belt mission is planned - either by NASA or by any space agency - New Horizons is very likely to be the only spacecraft that will explore KBOs in the lifetime of most people alive today.

Known objects in the Kuiper belt, derived from data from the Minor Planet Center. Objects in the main belt are colored green, while scattered objects are colored orange. The four outer planets are blue. Neptune's few known trojans are yellow, while Jupiter's are pink. The scattered objects between Jupiter's orbit and the Kuiper belt are known as centaurs. The scale is in astronomical units

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Europeans React to Changing American Booster Rocket Competition: Ariane 5-ME

Credit: CNES
The first European ministerial level in four years to discuss space projects ended among the 20-nations involved with the European Space Agency to discuss the funding of future projects with the Ariane 6 decisions delayed until mid-2014 and a new Araine 5-ME projected to launch in 2017.
The French and the Germans are bridging cleavage of opinions over the development of a new Araine 6 booster rocket in the face of a fast-shifting satellite market, growing strength of the US commercial launch sector, and the European government financial pressures.
Development of a new rocket launcher - the Ariane 6 - was discussed as advanced by the French. France was pushing for a smaller, sleeker Ariane 6, which would require investment of about four billion euros, culminating in a maiden flight in 2021. On the other hand, there is a German-backed option, an Ariane 5 ME (for "Midlife Evolution"), which would be ready by 2017 at a putative cost of two billion euros (video).
A compromise approved the "ME" and over the next two years study how its technology could be used in a future Ariane 6 to save money. According to France 24, the BBC and Spiegel, the Ariane 5ME compromise appears to have won the day.

The Ariane 5 booster has been lofting about half of the telecommunications satellite market to orbit from South America's French Guiana launch site the past several years. The Soyuz-2 booster has recently been added to the spaceport stable as well.
Elon Musk
Entrepreneur Elon Musk recently told the BBC that the Ariane 5 rocket stands "no chance" in the face of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy systems from his own SpaceX outfit, as it's more expensive to use -- and the contrast will only get worse when a cheaper, next-generation Falcon 9 arrives, he says. Musk echoed France's position that Ariane should skip a mid-life upgrade to its vehicle and jump directly to a less expensive Ariane 6.

ESA Council meeting at ministerial level press conference held Wednesday, November 21, 2012. ESA's members are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada takes part in some projects under a Cooperation agreement. Poland exchanged Accession Agreements with ESA in September 2012 to become the 20th Member State.

The Dark Side of the Moon: German Lunarlander Shelved by European Ministers

The news emanating from Europe was disappointing inasmuch as European Space Agency (ESA) will not be pursuing the lunar lander. Governments around the globe (save China) appear to be ceding the Moon to the commercial sector in this decade.
According to German space officials, European robotic lunar lander has been shelved during a budget-setting meeting of senior government ministers which began Tuesday, November 20, 2012, opting instead to fund a new launcher development, Earth observation, space station operations, and the joint ExoMars mission with Russia, reported SpaceflightNow.   
Moonlander had been on shaky ground from the start. With few other nations willing to take part in the initial studies, noted SpaceNews
As previously noted, the first proposed ESA mission was going to Shackleton crater and was designed to address human exploration issues articulated by NASA. Some architects within NASA were hoping that lander (and perhaps others like it) would be ESA’s contribution to an integrated robotic and human exploration program.
"Alas, Europe is setting that mission aside for other priorities," notes a disappointed David A. Kring, Ph.D. from the Center for Lunar Science & Exploration. Moonlander project managers had estimated that the total cost of the mission, including the lander’s launch and operations, would be 500 million euros or about 650 million USD.

Thanksgiving Food on the Space Station

Crew-members onboard the International Space Station will celebrate the United States day of thanks with a combination of American and Russian foods. Commander Kevin Ford runs though the list.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Earthshaking" Mars news "for the history books" or dampened expectations?

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has delivered the first Martian dirt sample to its onboard chemistry laboratory, testing out gear that forms the scientific heart of the $2.5 billion robot with planetary scientists and the public now awaiting the results that is 'gonna make the history books."
A recent soil sample taken by Curiosity is yielding some very exciting results that NASA Curiousity scientists  are remaining very tight-lipped about. In an interview with NPR's Joe Palca, Principal Investigator for the rover mission John Grotzinger said that a recent soil sample test in the SAM instrument (Sample Analysis at Mars) revealed something "earthshaking." "This data is gonna be one for the history books," he said. "It's looking really good."
Gale Crater NASA/JPL
 SAM can detect organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it — and is thus key to Curiosity's mission, which seeks to determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbial life. Unfortunately, the world will need to wait at least a few more weeks to find out what that discovery was while NASA runs additional tests. NASA JPL has subsequently sought to dampen expectations saying, "It won't be earthshaking, but it will be interesting."
Star Trekking
Nancy Atkinson, writing for Universe Today and io9, and Pop Sci's Rebecca Boyle both speculate the discovery could be linked to the evidence of flowing water previously existing in the Gale Crater. Rich Apodaca thinks Curiosity discovered small organic chemicals. Whatever the history-making news may be from Mars in December, those interested in astrobiology will either be very excited or very disappointed.

NASA plans to announce the news at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which takes place December 3 to 7 in San Francisco.