Monday, October 31, 2011

Boeing and Space Florida Partner to build new capsule at KSC

In a hanger once home to NASA’s shuttle Discovery, Boeing and Space Florida announced a new partnership that will build the aerospace firm’s CST-100 commercial spacecraft in that very facility at the Kennedy Space Center.

The hanger known as Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) was packed with space center employees, NASA officials, Boeing representatives, and state and local officials including Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Space Florida is the state’s aerospace economic development agency. Boeing banners,  and mockups of the capsule-style CS-100 were on display in OPF-3, which will be utilized to manufacture, assemble, and test the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100.

“It’s more fun to talk about the future than what we’ve done in the past,” said Scott. Economic development officials said the agreement could create up to 550 jobs for the Space Coast region. In a statement regarding the partnership, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “Neither NASA nor the Space Coast can afford to stand still. We must be aggressive in pursuing this next generation of space exploration -- and the jobs and innovation that will accompany it.”

Boeing’s CST-100 capsule, which will carry a crew of seven, is being developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program, which has awarded the company about $131 million through two rounds. The program’s intent is to foster the development of commercial systems able to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station by late 2016. Four private spacecraft are in development.
In a press release issued by Boeing, the company cited several reasons for choosing to consolidate their CST-100 development at KSC.

"We selected Florida due to the cost benefits achieved with a consolidated operation, the skilled local workforce, and proximity to our NASA customer,” said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Commercial Programs for Boeing Space Exploration. “Pending the continued selection of Boeing for future Commercial Crew development and service contracts, and sufficient NASA funding, we project a Commercial Crew program workforce ramping up to 550 local jobs by our scheduled operational date of December 2015. The CST-100 will provide NASA with reliable, safe, and affordable transportation to the International Space Station and other destinations in Low Earth Orbit.”

"We are extremely pleased that Boeing will locate its Commercial Crew headquarters here in Florida," said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, the State’s aerospace economic development agency. "This positions our state well for future growth and a leadership role in NASA's next generation human space exploration initiatives. It is also a key factor in ensuring Florida's space-related economy continues to thrive after shuttle retirement."

Boeing is working with Space Florida on agreements to use Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility Bay 3 (OPF-3) and Processing Control Center (PCC) facilities for Commercial Crew program execution. The OPF-3, previously used to perform maintenance on the space shuttle orbiters, features approximately 64,000 square feet of manufacturing and processing areas and about 64,000 square feet of office, laboratory and logistics areas. The PCC consists of approximately 99,000 square feet of control rooms and office space Boeing plans to use to support mission operations, training and program offices. The PCC previously supported shuttle orbiter testing, launch team training, and computer system software and hardware development and maintenance operations.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Layoffs continue at United Space Alliance reported on Friday that United Space Alliance's total employment dipped below 3,000 as the company laid off another 54 workers, including 43 based at Kennedy Space Center.

The workforce for NASA's lead space shuttle contractor is down more than 70 percent from its peak of 10,500 in January 2005. The biggest reductions came before and after the last shuttle mission landed in July.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Upcoming Russian Progress cargo flight first since August failure

Russia is poised to re-open the critical supply line to the International Space Station with a cargo launch on Sunday that will be the first since a launch failure of a similar craft on August 24. The Progress freighter is scheduled  for a 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT) liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
The failed motor was very similar to those on the venerable but proven Soyuz rockets; currently the only spacecraft available to ferry crews to the orbiting outpost. NASA now pays the Russians $350 million per year following the retirement of the space shuttle fleet.
Staffing levels at the station were cut due to uncertainty over the reliability of the rocket’s upper stage. Manned flights were suspended after the Progress failure, reducing the space station’s crew from the normal complement of 6 to 3, for an indefinite and possibly extended period of time.

Reuters reported that the Russians had traced the cause of the previous Progress flight failure to possible debris and clogging in a fuel line and have performed additional inspections and are confident in their spacecraft.
"Things happen during launches. They are very dramatic and they get everyone's attention," NASA astronaut Mark Polansky, director of operations in Russia, told Reuters. "What is important is to say, 'OK, there is a problem' and make sure it is fully analyzed and we truly understand what the real root cause is," Polansky said.

If Sunday's launch is successful, a new crew would fly to the outpost on November 13. Their arrival on November 15 leaves just six days before the current crew is scheduled to depart. Their replacements would launch between December 21 and 26.

NASA's NPP Polar Satellite Achieves Orbit

The Associated Press has reporting that NASA's NPP weather satellite launched early this morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base atop a Delta II rocket has achieved orbit.

FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: After a years-long delay, an Earth-observing satellite blasted into space early Friday from the central California coast on a dual mission to improve weather forecasts and monitor climate change.

A Delta II rocket carrying the NASA satellite lifted off shortly before 6 a.m. EDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The satellite was deployed into an orbit 500 miles above Earth about an hour after launch.

The satellite joins a fleet already circling the planet, collecting information about the atmosphere, oceans and land. The latest — about the size of a small SUV — is more advanced. It carries four new instruments capable of making more precise observations.

Tim Dunn, a launch director for NASA, said in streaming commentary on the agency's website that the flight "went terrific" and there "is a lot of celebration in control room right now."



Thursday, October 27, 2011

Early morning launch anticipated for polar orbiting satellite

With less than 12 hours remaining before the early morning launch of NASA’s NPP satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, all systems remain “go” and satisfactory weather conditions are forecast for the 5:48 a.m. EDT scheduled launch.

Service crews began filling the first stage of the ULA Delta II rocket with kerosene, and the mobile service tower is expected to be rolled back from the rocket sometime around 7:30 p.m.  EDT today. Liquid oxygen will be pumped into the rocket's first stage early tomorrow morning. A press release from NASA stated that the weather forecast remains flawless, calling for a 100 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time.

NASA's plans continuous coverage of the countdown and launch will beginning at 3:01 a.m. EDT on NASA TV at and on NASA's NPP Mission Launch Blog.  The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) represents a critical first step in building the next-generation Earth-observing satellite system that will collect data on both long-term climate change and short-term weather conditions.

NPP will extend and improve upon the Earth system data records established by NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) fleet of satellites that have provided critical insights into the dynamics of the entire Earth system: clouds, oceans, vegetation, ice, solid Earth and atmosphere.

The mission is scheduled to launch on Oct. 28, 2011 at 2:48 a.m. PDT/ 5:48 a.m. EDT, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is managing NPP for the Earth Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

The NPP will collect critical data on long-term climate change and short-term weather conditions. With NPP, NASA will continue to gather key data records initiated by the agency's Earth Observing System satellites, monitoring changes in the atmosphere, oceans, vegetation, ice and solid Earth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Test Pilot Keith Colmer becomes commercial astronaut

Former U.S. Air Force test pilot Keith Colmer,44, call sign “Coma,” bested a field of more than 500 other applicants to be selected as a pilot for Virgin Galactic. Colmer’s competition included about a dozen former NASA astronauts. He is an MIT graduate and a veteran combat pilot who served in Iraq, flying tour tours in an F-16, and he was the first Air National Guard pilot to be selected to attend the U.S.A.F. test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base.

Virgin Galactic stated in a press release, “Colmer was selected due to his 12 years of operational, developmental and experimental aircraft test flight experience, as well as more than 10 years of combined military experience in US air force spacecraft operations and flying. He has logged over 5,000 hours in more than 90 different types of aircraft. He’ll be putting those skills to work at Virgin Galactic, helping test-fly Virgin Galactic's ships -- WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. Colmer will join Virgin's chief pilot David Mackay in the Mojave desert in California, where the test flights have been taking place."

This isn’t Colmer’s first attempt to become an astronaut. In a recent interview with New Scientist Colmer said he had applied in 2003 to NASA and was a finalist. Colmer said what really excites him about working with Virgin Galactic is meeting the people who will fly with them and giving more people access to space.
It's really about giving the average person access to space. And at the same time building competition so that you can make things a little more competitive, maybe come up with some new technologies and lower [space flight] costs,” Colmer said. “It's an incremental step to do orbital operations. It's baby steps, but you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don't take.
Colmer told "I am extremely honored to have been the first astronaut pilot selected through competition to join the team. Virgin Galactic is truly revolutionizing the way we go to space, and I am looking forward to being a part of that."
Virgin Galactic's president and CEO, George Whitesides, added: "Keith brings the kind of tremendous multi-dimensional talent and skill set that we are looking for in our astronaut pilots. But equally important to us are his impeccable character and his outstanding record of high caliber performance in highly demanding environments. He sets the bar very high for others to come."

Virgin Galactic hopes to conduct powered suborbital flights of its WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo vehicles in 2012, with commercial flights beginning late that year or in 2013.
A Virgin Galactic spokesman said the company plans to hire several additional astronauts as commercial operations commence, and it's not yet known who will pilot the first flight of six paying customers into space, at a reported fare of $200,000.
The company last week dedicated a terminal at SpacePort America in Las Cruces, N.M., which will serve as its initial base for commercial flights. Flight testing is presently based in Mojave, Calif., and also includes pilots from vehicle manufacturer, Scaled Composites.

To read more of New Scientist’s interview with Colmer click here.

Click here to read the Virgin Galactic press release.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NASA progress report charts commercial spacecraft milestones

By J.G. Wallace

NASA has released a status report on progress in the development of commercial rockets and space vehicles. The report charts various “planned milestones” for the six companies participating in the second round of the Commercial Crew Development program, or COTS. NASA is hopeful that some of the spacecraft under development could carry astronauts to the International Space Station by 2016.

NASA’s Return on Investment Report, issued October 25, 2011, stated “Over the last two months, NASA’s industry partners demonstrated substantial progress toward achieving crewed spaceflight in the middle of the decade by completing six more Space Act Agreement milestones.”

“In just six short months since the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 partners were selected, they have completed 21 of the 57 planned milestones.”

The six participating firms are Sierra Nevada, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Blue Origin LLC, Alliant Techsystems (ATK), United Launch Alliance, and Boeing (with their development partner Bigelow Aerospace).

The report made note that Boeing, together with their Bigelow Aerospace teammates had completed a series of successful air bag drop tests for the CST-100 commercial crew spacecraft.

Also highlighted was NASA’s partnership with Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in the technical development of their commercial Liberty launch system. ATK was formed in 1990 as a subsidiary of Honeywell Inc., and was the sole manufacturer of the reusable Solid Rocket Boosters used to launch the Space Shuttle.

The report also noted that astronauts have been assigned to the various COTS participants to help bring NASA’s expertise and knowledge of more than 50 years of human spaceflight to the commercial development process. NASA's crew members evaluate the partners’ designs, and provide them feedback and recommendations based on lessons learned from their real experiences living and working in space.

The full report is available in PDF format here

The Commercial Crew Development program's progress will be the subject of a U.S. House Committee on Science hearing scheduled at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Watch a live Webcast

Monday, October 24, 2011

First Soyuz launch from French Guiana a success

With more than 1,700 launches already in the log book, it’s understandable to picture the vast steppes of Kazakhstan as the backdrop for a Soyuz mission, but the most recent Soyuz launched from a decidedly different venue: the near-equatorial coastal launch site of Kourou in French Guiana.
Arianespace, which has long operated the Kourou site for their Ariane rocket series, confirmed that the initial Soyuz flight from the facility on October 21 was a success. The payload of the first two Galileo navigation satellites have reached orbit. In all, a constellation of 30 such satellites are planned, with the intention of reducing European reliance on the existing GPS system. 14 more Soyuz launches are planned from French Guiana, according to Arianespace, which markets the Russian rocket in Europe.
According to Flight Global, the Soyuz offers European clients an alternative for payloads, “payloads too sensitive to send to Kazakhstan and too light to require Ariane V performance.”
The site's placement is closer to the equator than Baikonur in Kazakhstan, allowing Soyuz to lift heavier loads by taking advantage of the Earth's rotation. Soyuz has made more than 1,700 launches from only two sites: Baikonur in Kazakhstan, and Plesetsk in Russia. The next Soyuz launch from Kourou is scheduled for December.
The Ariane V and Soyuz will soon be joined by Vega, a new European rocket built for light payloads. The first Vega launch is tentatively scheduled for early 2012.

Arianespace was founded in 1980 as the world's first commercial launch services provider

Click here to read Flight Global article

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Orbital Sciences Revises Taurus 2 Timeline

Virginia based satellite and rocket builder Orbital Sciences announced earlier this week that the initial launch of their Taurus 2 rocket has again been postponed, this time due to development delays in preparing the Wallops Island, Va. base for operations.
On Oct.20, Orbital Sciences said the initial launch had been postponed between two and three months, thus delaying a planned cargo module berthing at the International Space Station using the Taurus 2 rocket and Cygnus cargo module until May 2012.
The historic Wallops Island facility is being developed by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, and work will not be completed until around the week of Oct.24, thus delaying the final certification and turnover to Orbital Sciences until early January. If that schedule holds, Orbital plans to conduct a test of the Taurus 2’s first stage in late January, followed by the rocket’s inaugural launch in late February or early March.
Following those tests, Orbital plans to conduct a Taurus 2 flight in early May, carrying a Cygnus station cargo vehicle, which is expected to be berthed at the I.S.S., demonstrating the company’s ability to deliver payloads to the I.S.S. The first operational space station cargo-delivery mission for Taurus 2 and Cygnus will occur in late August or early September under this revised schedule, according to the company.
In a conference call with investors, Orbital Chief Executive David W. Thompson said development of the Taurus 2 rocket and the Cygnus supply vehicle have been proceeding well. Thompson noted that Orbital and its engine supplier, Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., are returning to regular deliveries of the Russian-designed AJ-26 first-stage engine to the Wallops Island facility following a fire during an engine test in June.
That fire was attributed to a fuel line defect that required remedial work on about one-third of the engines. Thompson said four flight-ready AJ-26 engines are already at Wallops, with several more to arrive in December.
Under a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract, Dulles, Va.-based Orbital and NASA are dividing the cost of preparing Taurus 2 and Cygnus. The current contract includes a first test flight of Taurus 2, and the demonstration flight of Taurus 2 with the Cygnus supply carrier. Once this contract is concluded with a successful Taurus 2-Cygnus demonstration, Orbital will plans to begin delivery of eight Taurus 2-Cygnus launches under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. reported:

“With Taurus 2 and Cygnus apparently on track, the only holdup for the launch is the preparation of the spaceport, Thompson said.
“Additional work had to be performed to more thoroughly clean the propellant and pressurization tanks delivered last year but not maintained in a proper way, and some structural rework on the launch mount, which supports the rocket,” Thompson said during the conference call. He said the necessary work on the launch structure is the result of a lack of subcontractor management by the Virginia Spaceport Authority.
Beyond the NASA space station resupply contract, Orbital hopes to sell Taurus 2 vehicles for other NASA missions including science and Earth observation satellites. NASA and Orbital are negotiating Taurus 2’s addition as a NASA-approved vehicle for satellite launches, Thompson said.
The U.S. Air Force is expected to issue a request for bids from prospective launch-service suppliers late this year or early in 2011. Orbital will respond to this bid request in hopes of being placed on the Air Force’s list of approved rockets for future military missions.
Launches of commercial telecommunications satellites from the Wallops Island facility would be difficult given the facility’s location and the power of the Taurus 2. But commercial Earth observation satellites could be launched there, and Thompson said talks with commercial Earth observation satellite owners were under way.”

Click here to read the full article on

Friday, October 21, 2011

China may grab manned space lead and focus on the moon, Bigelow warns

In the 1960’s the fear of a Soviet “Red Moon,” helped inspire America to forge ahead on space efforts even if it appeared the Russians had an insurmountable advantage. Today, billionaire space executive and entrepreneur Robert Bigelow is warning that China is poised to dominate manned space efforts and within 15 years may be in a position to stake a claim on the moon
Bigelow told attendees at the recent
International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, N.M., that he is deeply worried about such a scenario, saying Americans need a “kick in the ass” to respond to the Chinese challenge.
According to MSNBC, Bigelow, the founder of the Budget Suites hotel chain and
Bigelow Aerospace promised to "cause a stimulation" with his remarks at the ISPCS conference, and delivered on that promise by laying out an argument for China's growing space dominance. He said the trend could conceivably lead to a lunar takeover in the 2022-2026 time frame.
Bigelow characterized China as "the new gunslinger in Dodge" when it came to space exploration, noting that China is progressing along a slow, steady path toward space proficiency. Those steps include planned follow-ups to the
Shenzhou 8 spacewalk mission in 2008, the unmanned Chang'e lunar missions and last month's Tiangong 1 space lab launch. In the coming years, China will have plenty of cash for great leaps forward in space, while the United States will be hamstrung by higher debt and tighter budgets. After his remarks, Bigelow told reporters that the Chinese space program could serve as a "fear factor" to energize the efforts of NASA and its space partners. "It's the best kick in the ass that you can have," Bigelow said, adding that he also doubted that the Chinese would be content with taking on the status of a partner in the U.S.-led space "family," even if they were invited to join. "They want to have their own family," he said.

MSNBC continued:
“Why would China want to lay claim to the moon? Bigelow referred to some of the long-discussed potential benefits, including the moon's abundance of helium-3, which could someday be used as fuel for nuclear fusion (although that idea has been oversold in the past). The moon's raw material could also be turned into the water, oxygen, building materials and rocket fuel needed for human exploration. But Bigelow said the biggest payoff would come in the form of international prestige, just as it did for the United States after the moon landings.
"This would endure for a very long time," he said. "It’s priceless. ... Nothing else that China could possibly do in the next 15 years could produce as great a benefit."
Bigelow speculated that China could conduct detailed surface-based surveys of the lunar surface in the mid-2020s, setting the stage for the country to withdraw from the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and formally claim possession of the moon. China could then conceivably insist on being paid for lunar concessions, Bigelow said.
He said the Bigelow proposed diverting 10 percent of the U.S. defense budget to the space effort, which he said would provide an annual boost of $60 billion. It may turn out to be "too late" for a space race to the moon, he said; Bigelow suggested that a U.S.-led consortium should target Mars instead.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

NASA Gives Preliminary Approval to SpaceX Dragon Launch Abort System

SpaceX passed another important milestone on the road to having their Dragon capsule “man-rated” to carry astronauts into space, as NASA gave a preliminary approval to the California based aerospace firm’s launch abort system.

The abort system will include engines built into the capsule’s side walls, as opposed to a tower design used on older Apollo era craft. NASA’s Orion capsule also features a tower design, which would include rocket motors to pull the capsule off the launching rocket in the event of a launch abort in flight.
According to, NASA has agreed to pay SpaceX up to $75 million in the second round of the Commercial Crew Development program, which awards payments based on completed milestones. reported:

"SpaceX says the reusable system will save money and eliminate the need to jettison an abort tower during a nominal flight. The engines could also be used eventually for a landing on land instead of water.

NASA approved the preliminary design under a program helping four companies develop commercially operated spacecraft that could transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station by the middle of the decade. NASA agreed to pay SpaceX up to $75 million in the second round of the Commercial Crew Development program, with payments awarded upon completion of specific milestones.

The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company has completed four of 10 milestones to date.The Dragon is expected to begin delivering cargo to the station next year, and is being upgraded for crewed missions."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Russians see potential for moonbase in lunar lava caves

First such lunar colonies could be built by 2030, scientist estimates

The United States may have been there first, but the first lunar colonists may be speaking Russian, thanks to an ambitious proposal to establish an underground colony that was unveiled this week.

According to Reuters, Russian scientists announced that they are hoping to set up the first colony on the moon by 2030, making use of a vast underground network of lava tubes through a possible entrance discovered in 2008 by Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft.

Lunar researchers have long suspected the moon's volcanic past created an underground network of lava tubes as its legacy, and images from the Japan's Kaguya spacecraft showed a possible way down — a mysterious, meters-deep hole breaching the surface. The discovery of volcanic tunnels on the moon could provide a natural shelter for the first lunar colony, cosmonauts and scientists, according to Sergei Krikalyov, who heads Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center outside Moscow. Krikalyov made the announcement on Tuesday during a forum on the future of manned spaceflight.

"KAGUYA (SELENE)" was launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) H-IIA Launch Vehicle at 10:31:01 a.m. on September 14, 2007 (JST) from Tanegashima Space Center (TNSC). The major objectives of the "KAGUYA" mission were to obtain scientific data of the lunar origin and evolution and to develop the technology for the future lunar exploration. "KAGUYA" consisted of a main orbiting satellite at about 62 miles (100km) altitude and two small satellites (Relay Satellite and VRAD Satellite) in polar orbit.

The orbiters carried instruments for scientific investigation of the Moon, on the Moon, and from the Moon. KAGUYA was descended to the 31 mile (50km) altitude on February 1, 2009 and then was descended again to 10-30km in altitude (Perilune) from April 16, 2009; finally, KAGUYA was impacted to the south-east of near side of the Moon on June 10, 2009.

"This new discovery that the moon may be a rather porous body could significantly alter our approach to founding lunar bases," veteran spaceman Sergei Krikalyov, who heads Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center outside Moscow, said at a forum on the future of manned spaceflight.

"If it turns out that the moon has a number of caves that can provide some protection from radiation and meteor showers, it could be an even more interesting destination than previously thought," he said.

A slide-show image showing bunker-like inflatable tents dotting the lunar landscape helped forum participants imagine the lunar bases. "There wouldn't be any need to dig the lunar soil and build walls and ceilings," said Krikalyov.

Click here to read full Reuters article

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Orion’s Road to the Stars Runs Through Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s next move on the path to certifying the Orion capsule for manned spaceflight isn’t yet clear, as the space agency will soon have to choose which important test to conduct next. What is clear, and good news to the residents and economy of Florida’s famed Space Coast is that both of the upcoming tests will be launched from Cape Canaveral.

Orion, the space vehicle system intended to take astronauts into deep space, must complete both an atmospheric re-entry test and a low-altitude emergency escape mission. NASA intends to conduct the first test in late 2013 or early 2014, followed by the second test in 2015 or 2016. The second would follow in 2015 or 2016. An initial unmanned test flight of Orion and the new Space Launch System is proposed for 2017, with human expeditions beyond Earth orbit commencing around 2021.

Orion is a holdover remaining from the now cancelled Project Constellation moon program initiated under President George W. Bush. Under the current administration’s plans for manned space flight the Orion system might be used to land a manned mission on an asteroid.

According to an article by Florida Today Staff Writer Todd Halvorson, NASA spaceflight chief William Gerstenmaier was briefed earlier this month on the two options. The article speculated that NASA may favor conducting the atmospheric re-entry test first as the Orion capsule for that mission then could be then re-used for the low-altitude abort test.

“Within the next two months, I expect him to make a choice,” said NASA Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer.

The two upcoming flight tests follow a 2009 launch-pad abort test performed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The intent is to show Orion can be safely flown during two of the most critical periods of a mission.

To read more about the upcoming test flights, click here for the article

Monday, October 17, 2011

NASA Reveals New Rocket

NASA revealed a new rocket design recently that will be taking Americans into space as soon as 2021.

Space Launch System will be the most powerful rocket ever built. Possible destinations for the rocket are the moon, asteroids, Mars or one of Mars's moons.

The rocket can also launch a crew ship out of the rocket in case of emergency.

SLS seems it will define standards for rockets worldwide.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently unveiled its new rocket design, which will someday launch Americans into space. It would be the most powerful rocket ever built, and unlike the space shuttle, which stayed in Earth’s orbit, this megarocket will aim for much farther destinations.

Height: 320 feet. The space shuttle was 184 feet on the launchpad.

Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle: Holds four astronauts.

Solid rocket boosters: In two minutes, produce as much energy as it would take to power to 92,000 homes for a full day.

Click here to see more of SLS's features.

Government watchdog report urges better evaluate launch industrial base before signing $15B long term deal with United Launch Alliance

SpaceX CEO had raised questions of fairness, cost

A report issued today by a government watchdog agency the U.S. Government Accountability Office urged the Department of Defense to review plans for a bulk buy of United Launch Alliance (ULA) rockets prior to committing to buy 40 ULA boosters over five years, starting in the 2013 budget year. The report also suggested the D.O.D. should conduct an independent assessment of the health of the U.S. launch industrial base, paying special attention to engine manufacturers.
The report also highlighted other areas that the agency believes need further study before the D.O.D. commits to their plan to spend about $15 billion for launch services from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2017 through DOD's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The program launches satellites for military, intelligence, civil, and commercial customers.
Prior to the report being released,
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was critical of the purchase plan, which would have given ULA an unfair advantage in securing military payloads, according to a report published by SpaceX is already under contract to launch NASA cargo to the International Space Station and for a slate of commercial payloads, wants a chance to compete for military launches:

"Musk says the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, which has launched twice, and a planned heavy-lift version of it could by 2014 launch defense missions for at least a billion dollars less annually than ULA — and more if the worst-case cost projections are accurate.
A five-year deal for ULA would mean SpaceX couldn’t compete for those missions until 2018 and fly them for about a decade, he said.
That would diminish the company’s competitiveness for launches of commercial satellites, a market largely lost to overseas competitors.
“The Air Force is the biggest single buyer of satellite launch in the world, so it’s kind of like being shut out by the major anchor tenant in your country,” Musk said. “It would hurt our ability to compete effectively in the rest of the world, particularly against the rising power of China.”
Musk wonders why military officials haven’t deemed SpaceX an integral part of the launch industrial base it wants to stabilize, rather than just backing giant contractors Boeing and Lockheed.
But SpaceX says such a large-scale purchase would effectively shut it out of that market for a decade, limiting competition and wasting money.
“We just don’t think that’s in the best interests of the country,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
The Falcon 9, he notes, is entirely made in America, while ULA’s most frequently flown rocket, the Atlas V, is powered by a Russian main engine and includes components from Switzerland.
ULA says a long-term deal wouldn’t eliminate competition. A buy of 40 ULA boosters would cover only 80 percent of the projected national security demand, Gass said, leaving the government flexibility to broaden the field of providers if it chooses. SpaceX doubts that excess demand exists.
The Air Force says its internal studies have encouraged block buys to control costs, but it is looking at a range of options and has made no decision."

Click here to read full article from

Friday, October 14, 2011

Spaceport America Gearing Up For Launches

While NASA struggles to get its astronauts back into low Earth orbit, two commercial space launch companies are preparing to increase launches at the country's first commercial spaceport, north of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

UP Aerospace announced it will be launching nine new missions from Spaceport America in 2012 and 2013, and Virgin Galactic cut the ribbon at their new spaceship assembly building and hangar in preparation for their first launch, tentatively scheduled for 2012.

Both companies have already had successful launches of their commercial spacecraft and are building toward more regular launches. UP Aerospace has already made good use of its SpaceLoft rocket and Virgin Galactic is busy testing its SpaceShipTwo craft even as I write these words.

The fact is, though some people continue to have their doubts about the commercial space industry, these two companies have slowly been building a viable business model. And though SpaceX does not launch from Spaceport America, it too has been very successful, and is planning a possible mission to the International Space Station sometime before the end of this year.

The march toward a commercial space industry has been long and fraught with disaster, but that dopes not mean the progress has been halted. Just the opposite. With every failed attempt to get a commercial spacecraft launched the industry has a whole has learned valuable lessons that have helped them reach ever greater heights.

“Spaceport America has an established history with UP Aerospace, and we congratulate this forward-thinking company on its new launch contracts with NASA and the Department of Defense,”

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist Launch Opportunities Program awarded UP Aerospace a contract to integrate technology payloads and launch them into space on up to eight flights using its SpaceLoft rocket. This contract reserves two launches with options on purchasing up to six additional flights in 2012 and 2013.

The first launch for NASA is still in the planning phase, but is expected in the first quarter of 2012, according to a news release from NMSA. The second contract was issued by the Defense Department’s Operationally Responsive Space Office, and will be a suborbital flight also planned for the first quarter of 2012.

“We have a great relationship with Spaceport America,” said UP Aerospace President Jerry Larson. “We are excited to see business ramping up for our SpaceLoft launch vehicles, and look forward to meeting the needs of our customers.”

Click here to read more about the activity at Spaceport America.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

NASA Confident In Next Soyuz Launch

Following the introduction of a new set safety procedures the Russians say they are ready to launch a Progress re-supply vehicle to the International Space Station later this month followed by a crewed Soyuz vehicle in early November, and NASA is in favor of both.

The Russian space program, the only program capable of putting an astronaut in orbit and/or visiting the ISS, was temporarily halted this past summer following the loss of two Progress spacecraft. This proved problematic for NASA which found itself suddenly facing the prospect of de-manning the ISS for the first time in more than a decade.

Russian officials said they have identified and fixed the problem with the Progress rocket motors and are confident in the new system they have put in place to maintain safety. NASA officials have reviewed the Russian investigation and results agree the new system is safer and more reliable.

This is good news for anyone interested in getting astronauts into orbit. Of course this only returns us to a one-spacecraft system. It doesn't address the fact that NASA is still years away from having its own manned space vehicle, much less conducting missions beyond low earth orbit.

The Russian investigation determined that low fuel feed to the gas generator in the Soyuz's third-stage engine likely caused the Progress 44 crash. The fuel feed issue may have been caused by contamination in the fuel line or a valve.

After consulting in depth with the Russians, NASA formed its own team to look into the Soyuz problem, Gerstenmaier said.

"They did kind of a background check to make sure that the conclusions the Russians were drawing were reasonable," Gerstenmaier said. "We completed that review today within the agency, and we agree with the basic Russian findings."

Since the Progress 44 incident, the Russians have boosted their quality-control efforts, Gerstenmaier added. For example, they've increased the number of people inspecting Soyuz rockets and are videotaping some key assembly operations at the factory.

The engines for the next two Soyuz launches — the unmanned Progress 45 cargo mission on Oct. 30 and the Nov. 14 crewed mission — were built under the newer, stricter oversight, Gerstenmaier said.

Click here to read more about the Russian investigation and NASA's decision.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blowing up the balloon: old technology gains new life in space exploration and experimentation

By. J.G. Wallace

When you think of NASA and future space exploration, it’s typical initially to envision rockets and spaceships. A different vision is shaping up in the Oregon countryside, and it involves a high tech take on the first manned flying machine – the balloon.

NASA has been funding efforts at Near Space Corporation, a Tillamook, Ore., aerospace company that operates out of WW II era wooden blimp hangar at the former Tillamook Naval Air Station. Near Space Corp. isn’t a newcomer to the aerospace scene – but their work has remained largely out of the public eye due to their remote location, a small work force of about 15 employees, and a clientele of defense and corporate entities that have contracted with the company for experimental work

Near Space Corp. recently worked with NASA to develop and test materials that could be used on a balloon-borne probe to be sent to Titan, Saturn's biggest moon. Titan is the only moon in our solar system to have a dense atmosphere. An aerobot, or unmannered aerial robot, operating in Titan’s atmosphere would have to withstand temperatures around 300 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-180 degrees Celsius).

Near Space has plenty of interior space for their work, including a hanger with a 1,072-foot-long, 192-foot-high giant blimp bay. It is believed to be the largest timber structure in the world. Decommissioned in 1948, the facilities at Tillamook N.A.S. were initially designed for the K-Ship blimps that kept watch for enemy submarines in World War II. Since being decommissioned, the hanger facility has served as a lumber mill, a research facility for blimps and balloons, and the Tillamook Air Museum, which shares space with Near Space Corp.

A previous project for NASA involved testing components for an airplane that would be flown to Mars inside a spacecraft, then unfold itself and fly through the Red Planet's thin atmosphere. Near Space performed those tests by flying the payloads to high altitudes aboard a balloon and dropping them from 115,000 feet (35 kilometers), simulating the Martian atmosphere such a craft would have to fly through. NASA eventually decided not to pursue the ARES, or Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey mission, but has now contracted with Near Space Corp. on plans for the commercialization of suborbital research payloads.

Near Space Corp. was one of seven companies selected to receive NASA contracts totaling $10 million for suborbital flights. Over the next two years, Near Space and the six other companies will help NASA try out various technologies for getting experiments to the edge of space and back, according to MSNBC.

Traditional high-altitude balloons alone can't carry experiments all the way up to the 62-mile (100-kilometer) boundary of outer space, but they can rise high enough to provide a good test for equipment that would eventually go farther out — like that Mars airplane or that Titan aerobot balloon. Typically, at the end of a high altitude balloon-borne experiment, the payload is returned on a parachute. Near Space is working to change that and is developing a new type of aircraft that would fly back to a landing strip once released from the balloon.

The company's 8-foot-wide High Altitude Shuttle System, or HASS, has already shown that it's capable of autonomous flight back to its base. Eventually, the HASS craft will be able to carry a 100-pound (45-pound) payload at altitudes of 100,000 feet (30 kilometers) for hours or days at a time. Initial development of the HASS was funded by the U.S. military for use as an aerial battle-coverage platform in Afghanistan and Iraq. NASA's grant would focus on the use of HASS and other balloon platforms for research and for testing high-altitude technologies.

NASA has awarded the company its first task order to integrate and fly space technology payloads. A company official told MSNBC that the initial funding would provide for about 15 aerial test campaigns. Another company funded by the recent contract, UP Aerospace, recently announced they had been contracted by NASA for up to 8 rocket launches over a two-year period.

Click here for more from the MSNBC Story.

Near Space Corporation

Click here for the Experimental Results for Titan Aerobot Thermo-Mechanical Subsystem Development.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

YouTube Ideas In Space

Lenovo and YouTube are teaming up to find the next batch of physics and biology experiments to be conducted on the International Space Station.
NASA is currently scanning YouTube for submissions from kids between the ages of 14-18.

What is great about this program is the way they are reaching out to kids. The next generation of space explorers spends most of his/her time in school. It's hard to get excited about space science in gym class. By teaming up with YouTube, NASA is tapping the Digital Generation for inspiration.

Let's face it, space science simply does not get kids as excited as it once did. That might be because we have so few missions to space that involve people. In fact at the moment NASA doesn't even have a spaceship to get to the ISS, much less the "Moon, Mars and Beyond."

Anyone with kids knows how difficult it is to get them excited about what's for desert, much less the idea that they might get to travel to space when they're 30. If it isn't happening right now, they'll move on to something else fast enough; come and get them when it's finally ready.

Hopefully this new program will prove successful enough for them to hold it every year. If so, I anticipate the entries will grow more numerous, more intense and more likely to spur some real breakthroughs.

The YouTube SpaceLab project, which launched this week, is a new one-of-a-kind competition for high school students aimed at getting teenagers more interested in science. Students ages 14 to 18 can submit their experiments on biology and physics to the contest to an all-star panel of judges including world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking. Other judges include NASA administrators William Gerstenmaier and Leland Melvin, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihito Hoshide and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte. Zahaan Bharmal, Google’s head of marketing for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said all of the judges were excited to participate in the contest and motivate the next generation of scientists.

Students may submit experiments individually or in groups of up to three young scientists. Six regional winners will win a trip to Washington, D.C. and will get to experience a zero-gravity flight.

Click here to read more about the YouTube project.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tomorrow's Space Plane: Today

The super-secretive X-37B Space Plane owned and operated by the U.S. Air Force has been so successful they are now planning to build a slightly larger version which could be used to ferry astronauts and supplies in and out of low earth orbit; to the International Space Station or some other orbital facility such as a Bigelow Space Hotel.

This is a tall order for such a small craft, but the USAF believes they can scale up the design (slightly) and make room for five or six astronauts. In fact, a larger version of their re-useable space plane is already complete. Called the X-37C (Because have almost no imagination) it is about 1.5 times the size, give or take, but still much, much smaller (and simpler) than the space shuttles on which it was based.

It seems only logical that the USAF develop their space plane to its fullest capacity. If their idea works, they should use it. Adding a cargo module would be fairly simple (they say) and the space plane doesn't even require a pilot or much ground crew, so that means more passengers, less working crew.

The other good thing about the X-37B is the fact it remained in-orbit for 244 days, performed flawlessly, landed, was re-fitted and launch again in a matter of weeks. It seems to be a much hardier spacecraft than any re-useable craft we have seen so far. If the USAF wants to launch astronauts, I say, go for it!

Last year, the X-37B completed its first test mission of 244 days and demonstrated the viability of a small test platform that can return experiments for post-flight inspection and analysis, Grantz reported. "We validated all the autonomous guidance, navigation and control, aerodynamics and aero-heating and the thermal protection system," he said. [Photos: Air Force's 2nd Secret X-37B Mission]

Grantz said the maiden voyage of the unpiloted X-37B proved highly successful after its launch atop an Atlas 5 501 booster. Its landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California required no ground intervention during the entire orbital re-entry.

Turnaround of that first vehicle for its next flight has required less time and hours than expected supporting the concept of an affordable, reusable system. In fact, the deployable and stowable solar array used on that first flight is onboard the third X-37B mission, he said.

"From a test vehicle standpoint, the 244 days is the longest duration on orbit for a reusable spacecraft," Grantz told the audience.

Click here to read more about the X-37B.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Russia Identifies Reason For Rocket Failure

Don't look now but Russia may be back in the rocket business before you know.

Vladimir Popovkin, the head of the Russian space agency, Roskomos, told lawmakers in his country the problem which caused the loss of a Progress spaceship a few months ago was only a "glitch" and that launches could resume later this month. he also said he expected the International Space Station could be re-supplied and back on schedule by December. (A re-supply mission is already schedule for Oct. 30.)

However, Popovkin also said he felt despite the fact Russia was only country currently able to bring crews and equipment to ISS they were lagging behind other nations when it came to development and oversight. He said he believed the nation should pursue the creation of an independent committee to keep watch on the space program and start investing in new technology to update their existing decades old space craft.

Popovkin said a series of botched launches in recent months showed the need to create an independent agency to run quality controls at the Russian-leased Baikonur launchpad in Kazakhstan.

"I honestly do not think it should be seen as a major achievement for us that we are the only ones fully supporting (flights to) the International Space Station," he said.

"While other countries are working on new (spacecraft) we are forced to focus on the production of well-reputed but comparatively old spacecrafts Soyuz and Progress."

Despite the fact that Russia fields 40 percent of the world's space launches, he said it only held 3 percent of the $267-billion-dollar global space industry market this year.

NASA unveiled plans last month to redirect funds toward building a deep-space rocket to carry astronauts to the Moon, Mars and other destinations beyond.

NASA projects its first test flights in 2017.

Click here to read more of Popovkin's comments.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

ESA Spending A Billion Euros To Study The Sun

The European Space Agency approved this week the most comprehensive space program ever undertaken to study the Sun.
The ESA Solar Orbiter will operate about 30 million miles from the Sun, closer than any probe before it. It will take the combined efforts of a the ESA and NASA to make the mission a success and deliver reams of solar data.

Unfortunately, I think the money spent on this program is a waste.

For a billion Euros we could start a manned colony on the lunar surface which could lead to further exploration of the solar system. For a billion Euros we could develop new propulsion technologies, new ways to live in space (like artificial gravity) or even launch a mission to Mars. For a billion euros the ESA could even develop and build its own re-usable spacecraft.

I am not saying that the science we gain from studying the Sun is not important. And I am not saying we shouldn't be glad for ANY space missions which get launched. But I am saying that at this crucial junction in the history of human space exploration it is quite troubling to me that we are not making a more distinct and dedicated effort at human habitation of space; the development of better, faster and safer space craft. Right now, if we needed to put a human being into space only the Chinese stand a chance of making that happen and the international community refuses to work with them.

No, the Solar Orbiter is a great idea and will return important data. But we need to put just as much emphasis on putting humans into space as we do on getting information from space.

Throughout, Solar Orbiter will be staring into the "furnace". The main workings of the spacecraft will have to hide behind a shield to protect it against temperatures higher than 500 degrees; its instruments will need to peek through small slots.

"Solar Orbiter is not so much about taking high-resolution pictures of the Sun, although we'll get those; it's about getting close and joining up what happens on the Sun with what happens in space," explained Tim Horbury from Imperial College London and one of Solar Orbiter's lead scientists.

"The solar wind and coronal mass ejections - these big releases of material coming off the Sun; we don't know precisely where they're coming from, and precisely how they're generated. Solar Orbiter can help us understand that."

Click here to read more about the ESA plans including the possible launch of probe to search for Dark Matter.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Now More Than Ever: Shields Up!

As scientists and astronomers caution astronauts and airline travelers about the hazards of a recent increase in solar radiation I am reminded of the fact we possess no shield from such things.

Despite our ability to live and work in hazardous environments, short of panels of dense materials, which are expensive to put into orbit, our astronauts have no protection from the perils of solar radiation, cosmic particles or even micro-meteorites. Not to mention larger things like errant pieces of space junk or larger impacts from meteors or asteroids.

Scientists have struggled with the design of energy shielding technology. The very idea, while perfectly plausible in science fiction remains elusive in science fact. Plasma fields have been considered and electro-magnetic energy fields of some sort have also been bantered about. But so far, nothing is close to the testing stage.

As we contemplate sending human beings into deep space, to asteroids, or Mars or beyond, we have to remember that besides an obvious lack of capable spacecraft we also lack the infrastructure to make this happen. Powerful engines are a great idea, but so is artificial gravity, food replicators and of course, shields.

Radiation hazards are likely to increase for air travelers and spacefarers in coming years due to changes in solar activity, researchers say.

Cosmic rays from deep space and high-energy particles from the sun can be hazardous to astronauts and also can expose airline crews and passengers to radiation, as well as damage spacecraft, aircraft and satellites. Solar magnetic fields protect Earth by repelling incoming galactic cosmic rays, but the period of high solar magnetic activity known as the grand solar maximum that persisted throughout the Space Age now appears to be coming to an end, and solar particle levels might start rising at the same time.

Cosmic rays constantly bombard the Earth from deep space, but solar activity is dependent on the sun's regular weather cycle. The sun is currently approaching the peak of its current 11-year cycle, called Solar Cycle 24. That peak will occur in 2013, NASA has said.

Click here to read more about solar radiation risk from

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Ever dream of becoming an astronaut? NASA is hiring.

With the right credentials, you could apply to be part of NASA's next batch of astronauts. All they are asking for is people with a bachelor's degree in engineering science or math and three years of relevant professional experience.

It is easy to apply, but the odds of being picked are slim. The last time NASA hired a group of astronauts was in 2009. Out of about 3,500 that applied, only nine Americans made the cut.

Manager of NASA's astronaut candidate programs Duane Ross said he only expects about eight to 12 astronauts will be hired this time, and those hired won't even hear the good news until 2013.

The selected astronauts could be the some of the first astronauts to visit a nearth-Earth asteroid.

NASA says it's opening the application process for astronaut candidates in early November, for the first time since the shuttle fleet's retirement this summer.

Even though the shuttles will never fly again, and even though astronauts will be traveling to the International Space Station exclusively on Russian spacecraft for at least the next three years, it takes years to train a new crop of spacefliers and get them into the rotation. The class of candidates to be selected over the next year and a half could conceivably be among the first visitors to a near-Earth asteroid in the mid-2020s.

"For scientists, engineers and other professionals who have always dreamed of experiencing spaceflight, this is an exciting time to join the astronaut corps," Janet Kavandi, director of flight crew operations at NASA's Johnson Space Center. said in today's announcement on the selection process. "This next class will support missions to the station and will arrive via transportation systems now in development. They also will have the opportunity to participate in NASA's continuing exploration programs that will include missions beyond low Earth orbit."

Click here to read more about the NASA astronaut selection process and what their duties will include.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Commercial Flights To ISS Happening "Soon"

NASA said commercial flights to the International Space Station are not years away, but just months.
At least everyone hopes so.

SpaceX was planning to launch a final demonstration mission to dock with ISS in late November, but company CEO Elon Musk said late last week that mission was being pushed back to late December or early January. The reason is a technical one having more to do with scheduling flights than technical problems, but the effect is the same: doubt.
In the meantime, Russia is planning to resume manned launches to ISS in November, which would at least avoid the debacle of having to abandon the station due to an inability to get anyone up there.

The fact is, as least for now, space exploration remains dangerous, complicated and expensive, with rewards being mostly a measure of accomplishment. The commercialization of space, while worthy of investment, is still no guarantee of revenue. Most space exploration done today is done for the benefit of science and the advancement of human civilization--not so much for monetary gain. This has had a definite dampening effect on the surge of commercial space launch entrepreneurs we saw immediately after the launch of the X-Prize competition at the end of the 20th century.

However, companies like SpaceX has certainly shown their is some practical value to be had in commercial space endeavors. And whether they launch in November or January they fact they are so close to becoming the commercial space carrier we have all dreamed about is something worth crowing about.

SpaceX's next demonstration flight for NASA, once targeted for launch Nov. 30 from Cape Canaveral, is now planned no earlier than Dec. 19 and could move to next year.

The company cites ongoing technical preparations for the mission, which plans to berth an unmanned Dragon capsule at the International Space Station, and the need for NASA and international partners to confirm launch dates for Russian spacecraft following the loss of a Progress cargo ship in August.

The company has tentatively requested the December launch date from the Eastern Range but the mission's timing looks "more like January," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said last week during a speech in Washington, D.C.

"Our flight is one of many that have to be carefully coordinated, so the ultimate schedule of launches to the ISS is still under consideration," the company said in a statement.

Click here to read more about SpaceX.