Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Things Change: Falcon 1 Launch Success!!

MSNBC.com is reporting the successful launch of the low-cost Falcon 1 orbital delivery system.

This comes just hours after an aborted launch attempt due to a "communications glitch."

Although the second stage did tumble into a half-orbit, the rocket reached an altitude of 187+ miles, officially reaching space and proving its concept was sound.

Elon Musk said it was likely the company would proceed with scheduled launches later this year.

Falcon 1 Fails Again

The most recent launch of Falcon 1 failed, most likely due to a communications glitch. As the Associated Press reports in this story at CNN.com, Space Exploration Technologies has yet to launch its low-cost alternative to orbit.

A previous attempt failed moments after lift-off.

Even their technological approach, an oxygen-kerosene formula, seems a little haphazard when compared to the nitrogen and rubber favored by SpaceDev and SpaceShip One builders, Scaled Composites.

But Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, is no dummie. He has the right idea, and though the process may be slow, tedious and highly destructive, in the long run the payoff is great.

So what if it costs a few rockets?

Monday, February 19, 2007

SpaceDev Dream Chaser: Let's Get it Straight

Jim Benson dropped us a line last week, suggesting we might have been unfair in pointing out he has no hardware despite a plan to start sending paying customers to space in a few short years.

Fair enough. As he points out no one else does either, except SpaceShip One, which utilizes a hybrid rocket engine designed by SpaceDev, the same company responsible for developing Benson's SpaceDev Dream Chaser.

While the SpaceDev Dream Chaser project has no publicly displayed hardware, it certainly does have an impressive lineage: Vertical take-off and landing capability has been repeatedly successfully tested by NASA; It's lifting body design has been successfully tested by the Soviet Buran program; and the fact SpaceDev rockets have a very good success rate.

There are currently at least a half dozen commercial sub-orbital space tourism companies promising flights will begin in a few years or so. Of them all, Virgin Galactic is probably closer than anyone else, simply because they are using an already proven method for space insertion.

Benson Space Co. and the SpaceDev Dream Chaser are a close second place simply because of the proven concepts behind their project.

We stand slightly corrected, though still firm believers in the adage "the proof is in the pudding"...

Tooth Regeneration Success!

CNN is reporting that Japanese scientists have successfully grown new teeth in a mouse using only a single original cell. And it wasn't a stem cell.

The original story appeared in Nature Methods.

This success puts us further on the path to growing replacement organs from a patients own cells. The ability to do this means a better alternative for astronauts on deep space missions who become seriously ill or injured.

Calling Dr. McCoy...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Heard The News? ISS Crew Sets New Record--Pass It On

NASA Astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria set a new U.S. spacewalking record during their third EVA in little more than a week. The stepped-up pace of work is meant to help bring the station to a point where more scientific research can be conducted, the crew can be expanded and new labors on other space-related missions can be conducted. If all goes well, by this time next year there will be six astronauts on board, rather than the three-person crew which has manned the station for several years now.

The new U.S spacewalking record of 58 hours 32 minutes is still a long ways from the all-time record set by Russian Cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyoz of 82 hours. But for the Americans it is a step in the right direction...

Lost Amid the Turmoil: Ulysses Conducts Solar Pole Mission

While most of the nation searched for "astronaut diapers" and 'lust in space', NASA and ESA scientists were titillated by data from yesterday's solar southpole flyby being conducted by the Ulysses spacecraft.

For the third time since its launch in 1990, Ulysses has crossed the south pole of the Sun in an effort to provide data on an area we know very little about. The magnetic field in this area is different, Solar Wind comes from here, and strangely enough (according to data retrieved during a previous flyby of the area) the surface temperature in this area is different.

Scientists are excited about the questions they may have answered following this trip but also the new questions they will develop because of it...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dream Chaser Developer Still Making Headlines, Despite Not Having Hardware

Brian Emmett, the software consultant who gave up the free suborbital spaceflight with Virgin Galactic he won from Oracle Corp. (valued at $138,000) is still making headlines, with a little help from Benson Space Co. founder, Jim Benson.

Granted the SpaceDev Dream Chaser is a real concept, with an impressive heritage of success,it is also true that at this time no hardware has been displayed, much less tested. Suborbital flights are not scheduled until late 2008, and no commercial flights until 2010, but the lack of an actual craft for shake-out means anything could happen between now and then; multiple delays are nearly guaranteed.

However, credit Benson with keeping the company name in the news, by offering Emmett a job and a free ticket to ride one of the first flights, provided he write about his experiences during testing and training.
Benson, with 30 years experience as a successful technology entrepreneur, knows his way around the business of making money, so leave it to him to take advantage of good PR...

Endeavor Returning After Three-Year Overhaul

Florida Today is reporting NASA crews are hard at work reconstructing shuttle Endeavor following a three-year overhaul in the wake of the Columbia disaster. It will roll out to the launch pad on May 25, slated for liftoff to the International Space Station on June 29. It will be NASA's 119th shuttle mission. It's payload is small section of the ISS truss.

Perhaps its most precious cargo, however, will be astronaut educator, mission specialist Barbara Morgan.
Morgan will be NASA's first "educator astronaut", following in the footsteps of her successor, Christa McAuliffe, killed with six other astronauts in the Challenger disaster of 1986.
McAuliffe was to teach two lessons during her trip; It is hoped Morgan will provide NASA with the tools needed to better connect its mission for space exploration with schoolchildren everywhere...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Experimental Lunar Lander for Sale on eBay

An experimental Lunar Lander named Lauryad I is for sale right now on eBay. Buy it now for $199,999.00.

The Lauryad I designers and builders intend to compete in this year's X-Prize Cup, Lunar Lander Challenge. Winning bidder will own the ship outright and be entitled to half its earnings (if any) from the contest.

The craft is named for a ship from author Vanna Bonta's FLIGHT novel.

Chief engineer on the Lauryad I project, Allen Newcomb, also worked on Burt Rutan's SpaceShip One. This may or may not give him an edge in the lander competition, though Armadillo Aerospace has already shown great success with its entry, nicknamed Pixel.

Regardless of the outcome of the Challenge, the buyer of Lauryad I will still be a winner in the eyes of space enthusiasts everywhere...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Discovery Astronaut Charged with Attempted Kidnapping

CNN is reporting that NASA astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak, mission specialist aboard Discovery shuttle flight STS-116 last July, and the first Italian-American woman in space, has been arrested and charged with the attempted kidnapping of a romantic rival.
According to reports Nowak, married with three children, was vying with another woman for the affection of astronaut William A. Oefelein, pilot aboard shuttle flight STS-116.
Police say Nowak followed the woman, Colleen Shipman, from Texas to Florida, then accosted her in the parking lot of Orlando International Airport. During a search of Nowak's vehicle police discovered a BB gun, steel mallet and folding knife; rubber gloves and garbage bags; maps to Shipman's home and love letters to Oefelein.
Police also say Nowak told them she only intended to scare Shipman into talking to her about the relationship issue; she admitted having some sort of relationship beyond a working one with Oefelein, though she declined to be more specific.
The Orlando Sentinel has a copy of the arrest affidavit here.

China Space Successes Continue Unabated

Fresh from their recent success shooting down an orbiting satellite with a spear-tipped missile, China successfully launched another Beidou navigation satellite last Friday.

When completed sometime in the next few years, the Beidou, or 'Big Dipper' satellite system, will provide an independent Chinese satellite navigation system.

The Beidou system has been in development for nearly five decades, and will provide all-weather communication/navigation data for most of East Asia. Chinese scientists have been developing the system slowly, expanding and improving as funds have become available. China's recent economic growth has now provided them with the means to make it happen.

Friday's launch also further showcased the nation's successful Long March rocket launch system, also responsible for lifting the Shenzhou spacecraft. Another wildly successful Chinese space program...

Atlantis Prepped for Flight

Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to be moved to the vehicle assembly building on Wednesday, where it will be attached to its external fuel tank and prepped for flight. Mission STS-117 is scheduled to lift-off March 15 and head straight for the International Space Station where the crew will install a 14 meter truss and re-arrange some solar arrays.

The crew of STS-117 has been prepping for some time and fully intends to make the most of their time in space, completing their mission on time and without mishaps. Although installing trusses and solar arrays may seem 'old hat', nothing is ever quite as easy in space as it seems to be during training on the ground.


ISS Residents DIY; Set Spacewalking Records

CNN has a nice story about the record setting spacewalk of International Space Station resident astronaut Sunita Williams. This week Williams became the first female U.S. astronaut to spend more than 21 hours of spacewalking. Astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria is expected to set a new U.S record for men-in-space, later this month, when he surpasses 58 hours.

Despite these amazing records, what truly amazes us at SBA is that Americans still act as if there is a battle of the sexes going on. If you ask us, that type of thinking is so 20th Century...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Lockheed Martin Gets Keys to the Future (and $8 Billion)

According to this story in Florida Today, on Tuesday, NASA officials handed over the keys to the vehicle assembly building to be used by Lockheed Martin engineers designing the new Orion space vehicle. Though the company received an $8 billion contract for the project, the state of Florida also offered them $45 million to refurbish the outdated (though historically significant) Operations & Checkout Building, which will house the new spacecraft.

The O&C Building is the site where the Apollo spacecraft and Skylab were built, but it had long since fallen into disrepair. The new deal means the building will not be sold-off to developers (as had been planned) and will continue to play a vital role in the nation's space program, as it always has.

General Contractors in Space!

MSNBC.com has a nifty story detailing plans to build a lunar community in the 2020's, and the steps currently being taken to make that dream a reality.

Chief among them is understanding the tools we will need and the materials we will have to work with. Last year's discovery that microwaving moon dirt creates something similar to concrete has become a plan to build rovers which will do the job automatically; inflatable modules once tossed around as a possibility have become the choice of future designers and companies like Bigelow Aerospace are already putting some of those designs to good use in orbit.

But perhaps the most important part of any future lunar community will be the men and women of all nations who go there to work, live and carve out a future home for humanity. But truth be told these astronauts, though rigorously trained in all the skills needed to survive such a harsh environment, will be not much more than general contractors, building the subdivisions of the future...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

ISS Has Full Slate for 2007

In what is its most ambitious schedule yet, the crew of the International Space Station in 2007 will undertake more spacewalks, install more hardware and expand the size of their living quarters to create a space-based laboratory that would make DS9 Commander Benjamin Sisko proud.

Star Trek analogies aside, if NASA and its cadre of international partners are successful, by 2008 the station will be much larger, have more power and be able to conduct more science than ever before. More space, means more room for additional crew, and a reason for the first ISS spacecraft developed by the European Space Agency, the Automated Transfer Vehicle. Designed as a resupply craft, the ATV provides yet another means of getting supplies to the station without the need for the Shuttle or Progress spacecraft.

Japan too intends to build its own resupply ship for its Kibo laboratory which will be installed later this year.

In addition to this news, NASA this week signed agreements with two more private space launch companies to possibly provide future ships for flights to and from ISS though neither company yet has a completed craft...

Sea Launch Statement Says Investigation Has Begun

Following the dramatic explosion and destruction of its Zenit-3SL rocket and the NSS-8 spacecraft it carried, Sea Launch has released a statement claiming its floating Odyssey Launch Platform, though sustaining limited damage is seaworthy and supporting a full crew.

It also said it has received the full support of its customers and the "insurance community" regarding its track record of success and safety.

What exactly caused the calamity has yet to be determined, though a story at Spaceflight Now seems to indicate the rocket fell over immediately after engine ignition...

Yet Another Flying Car

The race is on to build the flying car of tomorrow, as yet another contender has joined the fray.
CNN is reporting that Urban Aeronautics, an Israeli company, hopes to have a marketable version of its first commercial flying vehicle on the road (so to speak) by 2010.

Called the X-Hawk, the vehicle is being designed for use as an emergency transport vehicle for urban rescue missions. Like most flying cars currently under design the significant difference between this type of vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicle and, say, a helicopter, will be its enclosed rotors, making power lines and tree tops a non-issue when it comes to maneuvering.

It remains to be seen which of the many planned flying cars will be the first to see flight. Among the many contenders: Moller Skycar; Transition, by Terrafugia, Inc.; or perhaps the less futuristic-looking AirScooter being built by AirScooter Corp.

There are many more dedicated engineers and inventors looking to make the best of the forthcoming Small Aircraft Transportation System, so it's still anybody's game...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Not Space Science But Stonehenge Discovery Still Big News

Despite the fact it is one of the world's most visited tourist destinations, been the center of controversial theories for hundreds of years, and even hosted a few television programs, Stonehenge continues to surprise.

This week British archaeologists announced the discovery of a small village built just a couple miles from the monolithic stone structure which was likely the home for the people who built and used Stonehenge. The village has been dated to nearly 2600 B.C., around the same time as the building of Stonehenge. This is also the time period when ancient Egyptians were constructing the pyramids.

This is obviously not a space-themed story itself, however, it does provide one more piece of evidence that Stonehenge was not, as some would have us believe, built by aliens...

Hubble Telescope Blinded

NASA scientists confirmed today the main camera aboard the Hubble Space Telescope has ceased functioning due to an electrical short circuit. This is the third time in a year the camera has shut down, and scientists say this time it's gone for good.

Two other less powerful cameras are operational and the satellite can still provide a wealth of scientific data, however the most important tool for astronomers around the world, its Advanced Camera for Survey, Hubble's main eye, is completely off line.

NASA says a planned service mission in September 2008 is still on and astronauts will be attempt to correct the problem then.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

SGAC Says: Explorers Wanted!

The Space Generation Advisory Council, a non-governmental agency which touts itself as the worlds largest space youth network, is looking for a few good men and women to join its global space advocacy effort.
Most members are students and young professionals, but anyone between the ages of 18-35 looking to help convince world governments and space agencies to push harder when it comes to the exploration of space, is welcome.
Visit their website ExplorersWanted.com to learn more. Basically, they need volunteers to help them get organized, get the word out and start making waves in the scientific community by germinating, discussing and developing new ideas when it comes to space technology.

The idea for a global network of space volunteers sprang from the minds of International Space University founders Peter Diamandis, Bob Richards and Todd Hawley, who believe that all persons born after 1961 have at least one thing in common: The prospect of human space travel was no longer fantasy...

Heroes of Apollo 1

On January 27, 1967, during a ground test of command module 012 on Pad 34-A, a short-circuit caused a flash fire, trapping and killing its three-man crew in seconds.

Most of us know that ship as Apollo 1.

We know the crew as astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

Officially the tragedy is referred to as the "Apollo Pad Fire"; unofficially it is known that though it took the lives of three honorable American heroes, it forever changed the U.S. space program by ushering in a host of design modifications, safety features and a much better understanding of the sacrifices that would be required for humans to conquer the challenges of spaceflight...

Cool X-Prize Cup Videos

Space.com has a cool new video feature section covering a multitude of challenges at the 2006 Wirefly X-Prize Cup, and as long as you don't mind watching a few commercials they really aren't half bad.

You can check their main video archive here.

There is some cool footage of the Space Elevator competition, the new lunar lander being designed by Armadillo Aerospace, and some general footage of the entire event. There are also interviews with Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize Cup (and Bronx native) and John Carmack, co-founder of id Software and founder of Armadillo Aerospace.

Now into its third year, the X-Prize Cup stands poised to usher in the 21st Century as imagined by science fiction writers, engineers and dreamers for as long as we have had such pursuits...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Iranians in Space

Iran intends to use a modified missile to launch low-earth-orbit satellites. This news came as a shock to world leaders, more accustomed to being leaders in the space initiative than followers. It could also pose a threat to security in the Middle East if Iran marries its pursuit of nuclear weapons with the capability to put a satellite in orbit.

Not surprisingly, Iran has been pursuing this capability for quite some time, only now reaching a point where the technology is within reach. The Iranian Space Agency has specific list of goals including remote sensing, communications and information technology. It also has partners including Chinese, Italian and Russian space scientists.

Iranian government officials have touted their peaceful pursuit of space technology, but countries who have long considered Iran a threat are worried the new technology will only provide a new threat from an old enemy...

The Legend of Lucid

At just 64 years young, astronaut Shannon Lucid is showing no signs of slowing down. Thankfully.

CNN has a nice feature story on her illustrious career and current assignment at NASA, which includes recent work with the crew of Discovery.

Her career is legendary among astronauts, holding the longest space duration record of any US crew member; was born in Shanghai, China, but considers Oklahoma her home-state; and unlike astronaut Norm Thaggard who was unable to walk following his return from the Mir space station, Lucid had no problem sauntering off the shuttle on her own, waving to the crowd like a true hero.

Yet another example of the many accomplishments of women in the field of space science...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Huygens Data Yet Yields Surprises

Hard to believe, but it has been two years since the Huygens probe descended to the surface of Titan, the product of a wildly successful joint mission between the European Space Agency and NASA.

The amount of data retrieved by the little probe has run the gamut from surface and atmospheric temperature readings to actual sounds produced by the surface winds. And the data is still being analyzed for more information.

Lakes of methane, polar clouds of ethane and cryo-volcanic eruptions all play a part in Titans topography, now better understood by planetary scientists. Cassini, the satellite which delivered the Huygens probe, continues to weave its way throughout the Saturnian system providing even more information about the curious moon. It will make its next flyby in just three days, coming within 2,000 miles of the surface.

String Theory Unknotted

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have proposed a test to determine whether String Theory is possible.

String Theory proponents say everything in the Universe is fundamentally built of minute 'strings' which resonate at different speeds. This theory provides a unified set of rules for everything in existence, bridging the gap between all the laws of nature from Gravity to Quantum Physics.
The only problem thus far has been proving whether or not it is accurate, because we have no way of detecting these strings. Until now. Well, sort of.

Physicists intend to use the Large Hadron Collider to test how W Bosons scatter in high-energy particle collisions. The test will not prove string theory correct, but rather it will show if any current assumptions about it are incorrect.

Not exactly the proof scientists, mathematicians and physicists around the world have been waiting for, but closer to a solution than we have ever been...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

UFO, or just another trick of the light?

Reports of an Unidentified Flying Object
(or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,
as alien-watchers currently prefer) at
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport
have spread like wildfire ever since
the Chicago Tribune printed a story on
New Year’s Day about the sighting.
Several United Airlines workers,including
supervisors, mechanics and pilots, said
they saw a flying saucer hover over
United Airlines’ Concourse C for several
minutes at around 430 p.m. on
Nov. 7, 2006, before it shot into the sky,
leaving a hole in the clouds.

It took some doing before this story
found its legs.
The National UFO Reporting Center,
based in a former ICBM missile silo
in Washington State, apparently was
the first to report the incident after
a worker contacted the agency. After
the center president was interviewed
by paranormal radio jock George Noory,
whose Coast to Coast AM show airs
across the country (usually in the dead
of night), at least one other worker
corroborated the story to NUFORC.
At some point the Tribune picked
up the story.

We should note that none of the witnesses
have allowed their names to be published.
United denies knowing anything about the
sighting, and Federal Aviation Administration
said air traffic controllers saw nothing out
of the ordinary and detected nothing
on radar. For that matter, nobody has come
forward with any video, which, these days,
is suspect in itself.

But conspiracy theorists have some ammo to
keep this story interesting. FAA at first
denied any knowledge of the event. When the
newspaper asked to inspect tower
communications from that day, however, the
federal agency admitted that a United
supervisor had indeed called the control
tower to ask if they saw an
elliptical object hovering over the concourse.
Who knew that the thugs conducting
the greatest cover up in human history could
be thwarted by a Freedom of Information
Act request?

India Catching-up with Space Faring Nations

India has made no secret of its intention to become a space faring nation. Recently they successfully launched and retrieved their first orbiting space capsule, laying the groundwork for a manned flight sometime in the next few years.

For 60 years the Indian Space Research Organization has sought to develop technologies that will help them fully develop their nation and better provide for the future of their nation. In fact, their research developments have provided better weather forecasting and wireless communciation capability for less-developed portions of their country, thereby increasing its ability to be a productive member of the global community.

The Chandrayaan project aims to put a satellite in orbit around the Moon this year or next, and their pursuit of a scramjet launch system promises to offer a low-cost launch capability in the very near future.
Soon US companies may outsource more than call-centers to India...

China Hits the Bullseye

The Chinese government has officially confirmed what governments around the world realized last week: They possess the power to shoot down any satellite they choose, at will.

SBA does not view this as a threat to world safety, merely as an amazing technological feat. Keep in mind the Chinese system does not blow up the target with a bomb or burn it up with a beam of plasma, but rather uses a blunt-tipped, spear-like, instrument to literally knock the low-earth-orbit satellite down. Nice shot, if you ask me.

Could this weapon be used against China's adversaries around the world? Yes. Of course, so could the arsenal of nuclear weapons kept in silos in the UK, US, India, Pakistan, France and Russia. Not to mention whatever capabilities Iran, North Korea and a host of other nations are keeping hidden.

And keep in mind, China is hardly the first nation to consider using weapons of mass destruction in space.
They are merely the first to tip their hand in this regard...