Thursday, December 29, 2011

SpaceX Postpones Secondary Satellite Launch

SpaceX had opted not to piggyback the launch of two small communication satellites with the crucial and potentially historic launch in February of the first commercial cargo flight to the International Space Station.

Originally the private aerospace development firm planned to send aloft two prototype Orbcomm satellites on the upcoming Feb. 7 launch of a Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9 booster rocket. Instead SpaceX has elected to delay the launch to a later mission as to reduce the risk of anything interfering with the Dragon’s primary mission.

A press release from SpaceX explains that the revised launch plan reduces risk for Orbcomm and allows SpaceX to focus on its upcoming demonstration under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, according to an article in

"SpaceX will fully verify the mission performance on the COTS mission and focus on the successful berthing of the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station," the release says.

In total, SpaceX plans to launch a constellation of 18 Orbcomm OG2 satellites by 2014 on its Falcon 9 rocket.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Expedition 30 Crew At Full Strength

Posting a few updates to add some rocket’s red glare to your holiday glow. The big space news today was the arrival of three more crew members at the International Space Station, bringing the station up to its planned capacity of six. Following the end of the shuttle program and the loss of a Soyuz based cargo craft, the capacity had been halved.

NASA provided the following update on today’s successful docking and some of the highlights of the crew’s mission. They are expected to witness space history in February when an unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule will fly the first commercial cargo mission to the I.S.S., which will also be a milestone on SpaceX’s road to certifying the Dragon for commercial crew transport missions.


New Expedition 30 Crew Members Welcomed Aboard Station

The International Space Station is now fully staffed with a six-member crew. Expedition 30 Flight Engineers Don Pettit, Oleg Kononenko and Andre Kuipers were welcomed aboard the orbiting complex when the hatches between the station and the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft were opened at 12:43 p.m. EST on Friday. They docked to the Rassvet module at 10:19 a.m.

The International Space Station is now fully staffed with a six-member crew. Expedition 30 Flight Engineers Don Pettit, Oleg Kononenko and Andre Kuipers were welcomed aboard the orbiting complex when the hatches between the station and the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft were opened at 12:43 p.m. EST on Friday. They docked to the Rassvet module at 10:19 a.m.

They launched at 8:16 a.m. (7:16 p.m. local time) on Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers are scheduled to live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory until May.  The new trio joins Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin who have been living and working on the station since Nov. 16.

After a safety briefing, the station’s newest residents will begin a series of ongoing orientation activities to begin the process of familiarizing themselves with their new home aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Over the holiday weekend, the six station residents will continue regular maintenance duties and ongoing scientific research. They also will perform their daily physical exercise routines, enjoy some off-duty time and have an opportunity to speak with family members.ily members.

NASA's Highlights in Space 2011

Also in space news, Nasa posted this summary of their efforts in spaceflight in 2011, and where that vision may take us one day. It’s a pretty accurate summary of progress being made when many people are only aware of the passing of the space shuttle program.

Its been a challenge to the already strapped economy in Florida’s Space Coast region, but there are signs of progress and future prosperity as many of the private space efforts turn to the manpower and assets available in the region.


WASHINGTON -- In 2011, NASA began developing a heavy-lift rocket for the human exploration of deep space, helped foster a new era of commercial spaceflight and technology breakthroughs, fully utilized a newly complete space station, and made major discoveries about the universe we live in, many of which will benefit life on Earth.

"The year truly marks the beginning of a new era in the human exploration of our solar system," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "Just as important are the ground-breaking discoveries about Earth and the universe, as well as our work to inspire and educate a new generation of scientists and engineers, and our efforts to keep the agency on a firm financial footing with its first clean audit in nine years. It's been a landmark year for the entire NASA team."

Here are some of NASA's top stories for the past calendar year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Soyuz Launch Brings I.S.S. to Full Crew Capacity

Once again Russia’s venerable space workhorse the Soyuz spacecraft proved that winter weather is not a launch concern as three new crew members blasted off from Kazakhstan on a mission to the International Space Station.
The impending arrival of NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, and Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers, representing the European Space Agency brings the station back to a full crew of six, which will permit the astronauts to focus more on experiments. With only three crew members since the retirement of the space shuttle in July, most of the crew’s time was spent on station up keeping tasks.
The full crew of six will spend the Christmas and New Year’s holidays together in space, and a celebration is planned.  After braving temperatures that plummeted well below zero degrees at the Baikonur Cosmodrone, the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft successfully launched at 8:16 a.m. ET. The trio is scheduled to dock at the I.S.S. on Friday morning for a five-month stay that will give them a ringside seat for the expected historic arrival of the first commercial cargo carrier, a SpaceX Dragon capsule which will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in February atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
They will be welcomed by the other members of Expedition 30, station commander Daniel Burbank of NASA and flight engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin of Russia, who have already put up festive holiday decorations to mark the season.
Burbank discussed the planned holidays in space in a holiday greeting message, according to
"We'll celebrate the holidays in great fashion after they get here," Burbank said of the new crew members. "We've already put up decorations, and we've gathered together all the cards and gifts that our friends and families have sent to us, and we're planning a couple of big meals. That'll be great."
Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers, all veteran spacefliers who've been to the space station before, will also have their work cut out for them once they arrive at their new home away from home. In addition to wide-ranging scientific research projects, the crew members will spend their time keeping up the station and fixing anything that might break.
"If liquid's squirting out someplace, then it's like I'm a plumber for the day; if an electronics box isn't working right then you're an electrical repairman for the day," Pettit said during a press conference a few months before the launch. "You have to remember that the space station is so complicated, no one person could keep all the details in your mind. That's why we need all the folks on the ground."
The presence of six crew members onboard the station will allow each space flier to dig deep into research.
"I think I have something like 57 experiments from NASA, from ESA and also from [the Japanese space agency] JAXA," Kuipers said in a press conference earlier this year. "There's a whole bunch of experiments that I'm looking forward to, experiments in different fields — fluid physiology, fluid physics."
The Expedition 30 team is also scheduled to be in space for a milestone event. On Feb. 7, the first commercial spacecraft to visit the International Space Station is set to launch. The SpaceX Dragon capsule will be making its first cargo delivery run as part of a NASA program to encourage the development of private spacecraft to help fill the gap left by the retirement of the space shuttles this summer.
The unmanned Dragon is due to launch on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, and make an autonomous rendezvous with the space station. Once within reach, the crew inside the station will grab onto the freighter will the station's robotic arm and berth it on the lab.
"We've been practicing the dynamics of how you do that and we practice that a lot," Pettit said. "Once you get these docked to station, it's pretty much standard operations."
After about three months in space, the Expedition 30 mission will change over to Expedition 31, and Kononenko will take over command of the station.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Curiosity Radiation Data May Benefit Future Astronauts

Curiosity may only be three weeks into an eight month journey to Mars, but the NASA probe is already collecting and contributing data that may one day help astronauts to safely follow in its path. reported that the Curiosity rover is transmitting data on deep space radiation which could help spacecraft developers in designing shielding to keep crews safe on planetary or deep space missions. An onboard Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) is gathering information on high-energy space particles from the sun and other sources. Previous space probes have also compiled data on deep space radiation, but the RAD on Curiosity is contained inside the spacecraft’s protective aero-shell,  giving researchers a better idea what astronauts inside a spacecraft might be exposed to in the future. reported:

"RAD is serving as a proxy for an astronaut inside a spacecraft on the way to Mars," Don Hassler, RAD's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., said in a statement. "The instrument is deep inside the spacecraft, the way an astronaut would be. Understanding the effects of the spacecraft on the radiation field will be valuable in designing craft for astronauts to travel to Mars."

Curiosity, the centerpiece of NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, launched on Nov. 26 and is due to touch down at the Red Planet's Gale Crater in early August 2012. The 1-ton rover's chief aim is to gauge whether the Gale Crater area can, or ever could, support microbial life. Most of Curiosity's 10 different science instruments are built to help the rover answer this question.

RAD will also help assess Martian habitability. However, the toaster-size instrument was designed specifically to prepare for future human exploration of Mars. Its measurements will help scientists calculate the radiation dose astronauts would receive on the surface of the Red Planet, researchers said. But future Martian explorers would also be exposed to radiation during their long journey to the Red Planet, so mission scientists have turned RAD on in deep space.

Scientists have measured space radiation before, but previous observations were made with instruments at or near the surface of spacecraft, researchers said. The RAD observations mark the beginning of Curiosity's science work, which will really take off when the rover lands on Mars next August.

"While Curiosity will not look for signs of life on Mars, what it might find could be a game-changer about the origin and evolution of life on Earth and elsewhere in the universe," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "One thing is certain: The rover's discoveries will provide critical data that will impact human and robotic planning and research for decades."

Currently the rover is more than 31.9 million miles on a journey of 352-million miles, and is following a trajectory that would miss the Red Planet entirely. A series of planned course corrections are slated to begin in January 2012, which will nudge the spacecraft toward the proper alignment for atmospheric entry next summer.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Space News Roundup Report

It’s been a busy week for space news and SpaceBlogAlpha wanted to bring our readers up to date on some of the items we haven’t featured yet. Many of the breaking space stories we feature come from Florida Today’s outstanding space news and their own space blog, The Flame Trench. The shuttle era has ended but there is a lot of exciting commercial space development work being done, and it is an exciting time to cover space news from a Space Coast vantage.
The first story featured here is from Florida Today and features Orbital Sciences Corp., which plans to launch commercial cargo flights to the International Space Station from a facility at Wallops Island, Va. Antares.
Their medium-class rocket formerly known as the Taurus II is now named Antares, as reported on
The company said it followed past practice to use Greek-derived celestial names for its launch vehicles.
"We are transitioning to the Antares identity primarily because a launch vehicle of this scale and significance deserves its own name, just like Orbital’s Pegasus, Taurus and Minotaur rocket programs that have come before it," said David Thompson, Orbital's president and CEO.
Antares will launch unmanned Cygnus cargo carriers to the space station from Wallops Island, Va., under a $1.9 billion contract.
A launch pad hot firing of the rocket's engines is planned early next year, followed by a test launch in the first quarter and a demonstration flight to the station in the second quarter before operational missions begin for NASA. featured some interesting coverage of the impending demise of Comet Lovejoy, a newly discovered comet that was expected to  be destroyed when it arrives at its perihelion, the closest approach to our sun, sometime around 7 p.m. EST on Dec. 16. Click here for story and pictures from
Finally, it appears the Russians have lost hope on recovering their Phobos-Grunt probe, once tasked with landing on the Martian moon Phobos on an ambitious soil return mission, now stranded in earth orbit and out of contact with ground officials. reported a Russian Space official said the mission must be considered a failure. Click here to read the full story at

NASA Changes Crew Transport Development Funding

NASA has changed their funding processes in the development of a new commercial crew transport system to hold off on the need to drop competing firms due to a sharp reduction in their 2012 budget request.
Instead of issuing a formal Request for Proposals next week, which would have led to the space agency signing a contract by June with at least two private aerospace developers, NASA will now enter into Space Act agreements to continue to foster other potential crew transport systems.
A NASA Associate Administrator told that the change stems from reduced funding, and the difficulties of entering into a fixed price contract in light of reduced funding for the development process:

NASA's Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said due to funding uncertainties, “it is really tough to lock into a firm fixed price contract with the number of providers that can keep us moving forward.
NASA received $406 million for its commercial crew program in 2012, significantly less than the amount President Barack Obama had asked for. If the agency had continued with its original plan for a formal contract, the uncertainty over funding - particularly in future years - could have: limited the number of companies selected or forced the contract to be repeatedly renegotiated based on funding changes.
The Space Act allows NASA "to carry more providers through this period," Gerstenmaier said. "We would like to carry two providers as a minimum or actually more. ... We think competition is a key piece."
NASA used a Space Act agreement for its commercial cargo program, and originally the private companies vying to win the commercial crew contract urged NASA to continue this. However, NASA argued that contracts allow the agency greater control and greater involvement in dictating what kind of system it needs.
Gerstenmaier said the agency still believed that was the case. Under a Space Act, "there is some potential risk at the end of this doesn't ensure we get exactly what we need coming out the other side." But he said it was the best case scenario due to the funding uncertainty, and noted the companies have seen NASA's requirements so they know what the agency is looking for.
Gerstenmaier also confirmed that they were now looking at a launch in 2017 - a year later than initially planned.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stratolaunch system a SpaceShipOne on Steroids

Aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan is thinking big in his latest venture with Microsoft co-founder and SpaceShipOne partner Paul Allen, announcing earlier this week that they were again teaming up to develop the largest aircraft ever built as an airborne launch platform for a SpaceX powered rocket which may begin flight tests in 2015.
The creation of Huntsville, Ala. Based Stratolaunch Systems was heralded as a possible gem in the Florida Space Coast region’s crown as Allen acknowledged that one of the few runways able to support the mammoth flying launcher exists in as the former Shuttle Landing Strip at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. If built, the launch aircraft would have twin fuselages and six 747 capable turbofans and a wingspan of 385-feet – twice as wide as a 747 aircraft and longer than the main truss of the International Space Station.
The design resembles an oversized version of the White Knight carrier aircraft for Virgin Galactic’s  SpaceShipTwo, another Rutan design. Senator Bill Nelson urged Florida Governor Rick Scott to reach out to Stratolaunch through the state’s aerospace economic development agency Space Florida. It may not be that far a reach given the area’s skilled employee resources and the numerous other space oriented businesses in the area. Some of the promotional materials released by Stratolaunch depict the aircraft operating from Kennedy Space Center and show the Vehicle Assembly Building in the background. reported:
(Stratolaunch)  CEO Gary Wentz, a former chief engineer at NASA, said only that the company was “in discussions” about potential launch sites.
NASA officials confirmed KSC is one of those sites.
“We’re pleased to be considered as a potential operations site for this new launch system,” said Allard Beutel, a Kennedy spokesman. “We don’t have any agreements in place, but we’re hoping (the center) can prove to be an economical partner for Stratolaunch Systems and others in this growing space industry.”
The technology involved would include a rocket component to be developed by space upstart SpaceX, which is independently developing its own cargo carrier and commercial crew transportation system, the Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket.
Scaled Composites, the company Rutan founded, will build the aircraft in a hangar under construction in Mojave, Calif., the site of early test flights. Recently retired, Rutan will provide guidance from Stratolaunch’s board.
SpaceX will build a shorter, lighter version of its Falcon 9 rocket in Hawthorne, Calif., including a first stage powered by four or five Merlin engines. Dynetics of Huntsville will design the mating and integration system.
The concept video shows the carrier aircraft pitching upward at altitude before dropping a booster equipped with tail fins. The rocket engines then light to continue the journey to space while the plane returns to its runway.
Spacecraft specifications weren’t confirmed, but pictures suggest it is based on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which is being upgraded to fly up to seven people.
No costs were disclosed Tuesday, but Allen said he expected to invest “an order of magnitude” more than the SpaceShipOne effort, which reportedly cost $25 million.
We’ve linked to the coverage at where additional resources include videos and photos from the announcement on Tuesday.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

SpaceX Dragon set for first commercial cargo delivery to ISS in February

If all goes as planned SpaceX will again make history in early 2012, flying the first commercial cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station. NASA announced on Friday that California based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, is set to launch their Dragon capsule from Cape  Canaveral on Feb. 7.
That flight would come one year and one day after SpaceX became the first private aerospace developer to successfully launch, orbit, and safely recover a private spacecraft. The upcoming mission will send an unmanned Dragon capsule to the I.S.S. where it will be berthed to the station using a robotic arm. The capsule will be ferrying supplies but due to the test aspect of the flight, it will not be carrying any mission critical items, NASA stated.
A NASA press release stressed that Feb. 7 is a target date, but could be subject to change.
According to the Huffington Post:
"Pending all the final safety reviews and testing, SpaceX will send its Dragon spacecraft to , bring rendezvous with the International Space Station in less than two months," said NASA's No. 2, deputy administrator Lori Garver. "So it is the opening of that new commercial cargo delivery era."
NASA has turned to industry to help stock the space station now that the space shuttles are retired, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in this startup effort. The station currently is supplied by Russian, European and Japanese vessels.
SpaceX's Dragon capsule will fly within two miles of the space station, for a checkout of all its systems. Then it will close in, with station astronauts grabbing the capsule with a robotic arm. The Dragon ultimately will be released for a splashdown in the Pacific. None of the other cargo carriers come back intact; they burn up on re-entry.
If the rendezvous and docking fail, SpaceX will try again. That was the original plan: to wait until the third mission to actually hook up with the station and delivery supplies. SpaceX wanted to hurry it up.
SpaceX – run by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk – is one of several companies vying for space station visiting privileges. It hopes to step up to astronaut ferry trips in perhaps three more years. In the meantime, Americans will be forced to continue buying seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
"Every decision that we make at SpaceX is focused on ... taking crew to space," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said Friday at a forum in Seattle about NASA's future. She said the company is "thrilled" at the prospect of delivering cargo to the space station early next year, and noted that the company is shooting for 2014 with astronauts.
Congress has appropriated $406 million for the commercial crew effort for 2012, considerably less than NASA's requested $850 million.
"It is nevertheless a significant step," Garver said at the forum, televised by NASA. She said NASA is evaluating whether it can speed up when U.S. companies "deliver our precious astronauts to and from the space station."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Space Tourists Put Their Soyuz Capsules on Display

Thanks to a little serendipity and the generosity of two of the first space tourists, visitors to aerospace museums on both coasts will soon be able to check out their Russian Soyuz capsules side-by-side with a space shuttle.

Initially millionaire space tourist Greg Olsen loaned his Soyuz TMA-6 spacecraft to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York for public display in mid-November. This week Charles Simonyi took a similar step, telling officials at the Museum of Flight in Seattle that he too would be loaning his Soyuz TMA-13 to the museum, where it will be housed in their newly dedicated "Charles Simonyi Space Gallery." Simonyi’s Soyuz won’t be on display just yet though as it is presently still in Russia.

The "Charles Simonyi Space Gallery," a new 15,500 square foot annex will also house a 120-foot-long Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT), a full scale but wingless orbiter mockup that was used to train astronauts for 30-years. The FFT was retired by NASA along with the shuttle fleet earlier this year.

In New York, Olsen’s Soyuz was hoisted onto the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid for display, just as the flying test orbiter Enterprise will be when it arrives in Manhattan sometime next year. Enterprise, a atmospheric approach and landing test vehicle, will be housed on the carrier’s flight deck under a protective cover. The Intrepid plans to eventually move Enterprise into a proposed new museum facility to be built in an empty lot across from where the carrier is currently berthed on the Hudson River.

The museum annex in Seattle was originally built in anticipation of the award of one of the retired shuttles, but plans were revised when Seattle was not selected as a host city. Simonyi, a Seattle area native and the creative force behind Microsoft Office, donated $3 million of the total $12 million cost of the annex, was the fifth person to pay his way into space and the only voyager to make the self-funded trip twice. He first flew to the space station onboard the Soyuz TMA-10 in April 2007, and the capsule he is loaning to the museum returned him to earth after his second two-week flight in April 2009.

According to

"This imposing new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery could not have become a reality without Dr. Simonyi's continued support for the Museum of Flight and his vision about what our future can hold," Museum of Flight president and CEO Doug King said in a statement. "While we are grateful for his monetary contribution, we truly named the gallery in honor of Charles to recognize his commitment to aerospace education and his tireless enthusiasm for inspiring the next generation of space explorers."

In addition to the capsule, Simonyi is also providing the museum with his spacesuit and a "space toilet," among other memorabilia he kept from his two missions. Those items, together with other space artifacts — including the centerpiece full-scale shuttle trainer — will be used by the museum to exhibit how astronauts train for their missions and how the knowledge gained during the first 50 years of spaceflight has helped prepare for future missions farther into the solar system.

"The naming of the space gallery is a great honor for me and for my family," Simonyi said Thursday. "I have the highest regard for the Museum of Flight and now that we are at the threshold of a great expansion of civilian space flight, I fully support the museum's efforts to engage the public on the issue of space exploration with a focus on civilian space: past, present and future."

Olsen’s Soyuz from his October 2005 flight  arrived on the aircraft carrier on Oct. 18, and was made available for public viewing a month later on Nov. 14. Olsen told

"I hope the exhibit at the Intrepid will not only spotlight the great engineering at the core of Russia's space program, but also inspire kids to pursue their own dreams and to never give up," Olsen said.

Friday, December 09, 2011

$5000 D.I.Y. Moon Launch Proposed

Dreaming of building your own moon rocket? If a team of space enthusiasts succeeds in their goal of developing a crowd-funded rocket kit you may be able to send a 3-lb. payload from your backyard to the moon for about $5,000.

While it’s not advisable (or humane) to begin training your child’s hamster for the rigors of a space voyage, it would be entirely possible to send a loved one’s ashes or some family mementos to the lunar surface – perhaps ending the vicious holiday cycle of re-gifted fruitcakes  for years to come.

Before that can happen, the team from Lunar Robotics needs to raise $25,000 to develop a do-it-yourself kit for a 4-to-6 foot rocket that could be launched through use of a weather balloon. In recent years space and photography enthusiasts have been pushing the boundaries of amateur space flight by using weather balloons and camera equipped smart phones to snap pictures from the edge of outer space.

Going beyond earth orbit could be the next logical progression according to an article in InnovationNewsDaily:

"If I go to a private person, they're going to turn it into a commercial product, and that's fine," said Philip Pierce, a software engineer with Lunar Robotics. "But I want an open project so that anyone can modify it and use it. Who knows, maybe someone can scale it down to $3,000."
The team is looking for $25,000 through Kickstarter to test out its rocket idea by launching about one rocket per month between now and December 2012. If it proves successful, it can begin offering the $5,000-moon-rocket kits that would allow anyone to launch a 4-to-6-foot rocket to the moon carrying any 3-lb. payload.
That development cost is considerably cheaper than the $250,000 Lunar Robotics was originally counting on for its Google Lunar X Prize bid, because the team no longer has to worry about contest rules such as having a big-enough rocket to land a robot on the lunar surface. Still, it wants to prove the concept works before selling any kits.
"Part of the testing is that we have to send something to the moon to show that it's possible," Pierce told InnovationNewsDaily. "But we also have to test different fuels and make sure components work in space with temperature extremes and radiation."
The team is considering using an off-the-shelf solid fuel already used by large hobbyist rockets; a mixture of ammonium dinitramide with a binder of glycidylazide polymer. That mixture contains an own oxidizer which would allow the rocket to continue to burn even without oxygen in space, and would be safer than the potentially explosive use of a liquid fuel.
InnovationNewsDaily reported:

Launching the rocket into space from its balloon is expected to be as easy as "fire and forget," but a simple ham radio aboard the rocket could beam telemetry data back to the human user on the ground. True to the DIY spirit, the team also plans to use mostly commercially available parts for building the rocket.
"Ideally, the goal is for everything to be off-the-shelf or as close to off-the-shelf as possible," Pierce explained. "Anything that's not could be manufactured with a 3D printer or CNC machine."
Time has begun running out for the Kickstarter project's goal of reaching $25,000 by Dec. 14. But even if the crowd-funding approach falls through, Pierce and his fellow engineers hope to find some sort of new private funding so the DIY kit can appear on future holiday wish lists.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

SpaceX Sees Opportunity To Grab Space Taxi Contract

Officials at Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) see the massive budget reductions in NASA’s commercial crew program as an opportunity to clinch the competition to develop a commercial space taxi. NASA had requested a commercial crew budget of $850 million for the fiscal year which began on Oct.1, but received only $406 million instead.

This raises the possibility that either the number of companies being funded in the commercial crew development program would be trimmed, or that competing companies would be unable to meet their intended development schedules given the reduced funding.

In order to benefit from the funding shortfall, SpaceX would need to conduct a successful trial flight with berthing at the international space station during their next text flight of the Falcon 9 – Dragon X spacecraft, presently slated for an early 2012 launch.

NASA had hoped to use their original commercial crew budget of $850 to continue development work on two or more space taxi designs, in hopes of breaking Russia's post-shuttle monopoly on station crew transportation before the end of 2016. According to, the reduced funding might result in several of the competing companies being cut. NASA had been funding development work at SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Blue Origin. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told Space News he thinks the reduced funding may give his company an edge over aerospace giant Boeing:

“I always expected that for the next phase, NASA would down-select from four [companies] to two and that the two would probably be Boeing and SpaceX. Given the lower funding for commercial crew, I’m not sure if NASA still intends to down-select to two or not. If they down-select to one, I think we’ve got a better than even chance of beating Boeing because of the maturity of our spacecraft,” Elon Musk, SpaceX chief executive and chief technical officer, said in an interview with Space News.

“We will have flown to the space station probably twice by the time the commercial crew decision is awarded, and the design of our spacecraft is very similar between cargo and crew, so I think from a risk standpoint, SpaceX is the lowest risk and will be the most proven path to success for commercial crew,” Musk said.

Before selection is made, SpaceX, which debuted its Dragon cargo capsule during a test flight last December, plans to fly a demonstration mission to the station. It also may have flown the first of 12 supply runs already purchased by NASA under a related program. “From a SpaceX standpoint, we’re ready to go in December, but we have to coordinate that with NASA and any other missions that are going to the space station. What I’ve heard through the grapevine is that NASA is maybe aiming for a February launch,” Musk said. “We’re not going to launch until we’re ready and until NASA thinks we’re ready.”

SpaceX currently employs about 1,600 people, including about 70 in Florida. The company is looking for a second launch pad at either Cape Canaveral Air Force Station or one of the space shuttle launch pads at Kennedy, and expects its Florida payroll to include about 1,000 people within four to five years, depending on NASA and other awards. “I’m highly confident that the commercial space industry will employ more than the government space industry ever did,” Musk said.

The company is awaiting NASA technical reviews for its second demonstration flight.

Monday, December 05, 2011

NASA Bids Farewell to Last Shuttle Commander

Astronaut Chris Ferguson who commanded the last shuttle mission will be leaving NASA this week after 11-years with the agency and three trips into space.
Ferguson, a retired U.S. Navy captain, commanded shuttle Atlantis on STS-135, the 135th and final mission of the space shuttle program. STS-135 launched on July 8, 2011 and was originally scheduled to land on July 20, 2011, but the mission was extended an additional day to July 21, 2011.
The four person crew was the smallest of any shuttle mission since STS-6 in April 1983, and utilized hardware that was originally designated for a contingency rescue mission for previous shuttle flights. The mission's primary cargo was the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Raffaello, along with a Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier (LMC), delivering more than 10,000 Lbs. of cargo to the International Space Station.
Ferguson will be joining the private sector, although a NASA press release did not state where he will be working in the future.

According to Florida Today:
"Chris has been a true leader at NASA," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement, "not just as a commander of the space shuttle, but also as an exemplary civil servant, a distinguished Navy officer and a good friend. I am confident he will succeed in his next career as he brings his skill and talents to new endeavors."
Ferguson also flew on a station assembly mission in 2006 and a flight that equipped the outpost for a doubling to six of its rotating resident crews. Prior to training for the final shuttle flight, Ferguson served as deputy chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
"Chris has been a great friend, a tremendous professional and an invaluable asset to the NASA team and the astronaut office," said NASA Chief Astronaut Peggy Whitson said in a statement. "His exceptional leadership helped ensure a perfect final flight of the space shuttle, a fitting tribute to the thousands who made the program possible."

Saturday, December 03, 2011

China adds link to GPS alternative system

China’s quest for an independent satellite navigation system moved another step closer to reality with the successful launch into geosynchronous orbit on Friday morning of a Beidou, or Compass satellite. That satellite completed the basic structure of the indigenous Beidou network and also set a record for annual Chinese space launches.
Launching from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province aboard a Long March-3A rocket, it was the tenth satellite in the network which is intended to break China’s dependence on the worldwide GPS system. The Beidou system is expected to be completed by 2020, Chinese space officials said.
Dec. 2, 2011. China successfully launched into space the tenth orbiter for its independent satellite navigation and positioning network known as Beidou, or Compass System here early Friday. It was also the 153rd launch of the Long March carrier rockets.
According to China’s Xinhua News Agency:
The basic structure of the Beidou system has now been established, and engineers are now conducting comprehensive system test and evaluation. The system will provide test-run services of positioning, navigation and time for China and the neighboring areas before the end of this year, according to the authorities.
More satellites will be launched before the end of 2012 for the Beidou network, and its coverage area will be expanded with upgraded services. The global satellite positioning and navigation system will be completed in 2020 with 30 satellites orbiting the earth. Started in 2000, the Beidou satellite navigation system is designed to break China's dependence on the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).