Monthly Archive for May, 2008

Spaceports: Florida Makes Pitch to Orbital, Baikonur Agreement Reached, and NM Moves Ahead


Orbital Sciences Corp. seems to be taking its time in making a decision about where it will launch its new Taurus II rocket. WNDT-TV reports that officials at Wallops Island on are anxiously awaiting a decision on whether Orbital will stay in its home state of Virginia or go south to Florida.

Meanwhile, 20 members of Florida’s Congressional delegation have released a statement urging Orbital to locate its new launch facility at the Kennedy Space Center.

In other news:

  • Russia and Kazakhstan have signed an agreement concerning joint cooperation in space exploration and the continued use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
  • Officials in New Mexico are moving ahead with plans to create a tax district to support development of Spaceport America.

Discovery Blasts Into Orbit Carrying Japanese Module


The Space Shuttle Discovery blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, beginning a two-week trip to delivery the last major scientific laboratory to the International Space Station.

The shuttle will deliver the second part of Japan’s Kibo module to the station. Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide is part of the seven-member crew led by Navy Cmd. Mark E. Kelly.

The shuttle’s external tank did shed some foam insulation, with at least one piece hitting the shuttle. NASA officials say this is not a worrisome issue at this point. Astronauts will fully inspect the shuttle for damage later in the mission.

For more complete coverage, you can visit any of the websites below:

NASA Official STS-124 Mission Site
Florida Today

Spacehab to Conduct Research on ISS; Salmonella Vaccine Model to Fly on Discovery


Spacehab and NASA announced an agreement on Friday to use the International Space Station for research and development aimed at creating commercial products on Earth.

“The finalization of this agreement unlocks an entirely new market for us,” said Thomas Pickens III, chairman and CEO of the Webster, Tex.-based company. “The ability to utilize the unique microgravity environment for industrial processing purposes is expected to revolutionize a myriad of industries. We believe the utilization of the ISS as a national lab will have a significant social and economic impact and shows great promise of saving lives and providing thousands of new jobs in the coming years.”

The work will be done by Spacehab’s BioSpace Technologies subsidiary, which also has partnered with Space Florida to develop multiple vaccine models aboard ISS. The Space Shuttle Discovery will carry a salmonella model when it is launched to the orbiting laboratory. The experiment flew aboard the last shuttle flight in March.

“We’re establishing a space-based, biotech corridor that stretches from the International Space Station to the Space Life Sciences Lab at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center,” Steve Kohler, president of Space Florida, said in a press release.

“Validating a model for vaccine development on this mission opens the door to help people live healthier lives, build a new industry related to pharmaceutical development, and drive diversity in aerospace economic development,” Kohler said.

Mars: The Great Salt Planet?



As Phoenix settles down to begin its search for organic compounds on Mars, a new study indicates that the oceans that once covered Mars were far too briny to support life as we know it.

“Our sense has been that while Mars is a lousy environment for supporting life today, long ago it might have more closely resembled Earth,” Andrew Knoll, Fisher Professor of Natural Sciences and professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Harvard, said in a press release.

“But this result suggests quite strongly that even as long as four billion years ago, the surface of Mars would have been challenging for life. No matter how far back we peer into Mars’ history, we may never see a point at which the planet really looked like Earth,” he added.

“This doesn’t rule out life forms of a type we’ve never encountered,” Knoll says, “but life that could originate and persist in such a salty setting would require biochemistry distinct from any known among even the most robust halophiles on Earth.”

The study, done in collaboration with scientists at Stony Brook University, was published in the journal Science (subscription required). Harvard University has a summary of the study here, as does Sky & Telescope.

Did Execs at EADS Get Greedy?


Ex-EADS Chief Forgeard Charged With Insider Trading
Bloomberg News

“Noel Forgeard, the former co-chief executive officer of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., was charged with insider trading for selling shares before disclosing production delays on Airbus SAS’s A380 jet…

“Forgeard was forced to quit his post at EADS two years ago after news that problems with cabin wiring would delay the 525- seat A380’s introduction led the shares to fall 26 percent. As many as 17 other executives at EADS and its Airbus unit are under investigation in a related civil case.”

ESA Evaluating Candidates for 105- and 520-Day Mars Mission Simulations


Mars500 Habitat
Mars500 Habitat (Credit: ESA TV)


Last week, 32 talented candidates gathered at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, with the hope of becoming part of a unique study that will act as a platform for human exploration of the Solar System. The study, called Mars500, is a ground-based simulation of a mission to Mars and back.

Two of the candidates, together with four Russian volunteers, will be sealed in an isolation chamber for a total of 105 days starting in October. This is followed by the full isolation period with another two European candidates, which lasts for 520 days starting early in 2009. Part of the chamber simulates the spacecraft that would transport them on their journey to and from Mars and another part will simulate the landing module that would transfer them to and from the Martian surface.

Continue reading ‘ESA Evaluating Candidates for 105- and 520-Day Mars Mission Simulations’

Canadian Scientists Celebrate Phoenix Landing, Mourn Loss of Colleague


There was great joy north of the border among scientists who have contributed to the successful Mars Phoenix mission. Yet, the celebration was mixed with sadness over the loss of a colleague who never got to see it.

U of A device to measure wind on Mars successfully lands – University of Alberta Press Release
“University of Alberta scientist Carlos Lange is thrilled that an instrument he invented, a wind sensor called the Telltale, has successfully landed on Mars. This is the first time Canadians have been involved with an interplanetary mission and Lange, a mechanical engineering professor, spent four years in preparation for this mission.”

Canadian Technology on MarsToronto Star
“A milestone for Canadian planetary science passed Wednesday when a highly sophisticated weather device aboard the NASA Phoenix lander successfully transmitted its first messages from Mars.”

Canadians feel loss of Mars mission scientistToronto Star
“Clinking glasses as they celebrated the triumphant touchdown on Mars of the Phoenix lander Sunday evening, York University professor Jim Whiteway and his team missed the one person who should have been there.

“Diane Michelangeli was the lead researcher behind the innovative Canadian-built meteorological station on the Phoenix, before she died of cancer last year – less than a month after the station was launched. Team members still feel the loss.”

Phoenix’s Robotic Arm Deploys; Mars Express Captures Sound of Lander’s Descent


Controllers in Pasadena began deployment of the Mars Phoenix’s 8-foot robotic arm on Thursday, a day late because of a communications glitch with a relay satellite. The arm will dig in the Martian permafrost, scooping up soil for analysis by instruments on the lander. NASA officials report that arm deployment went well and that the spacecraft is in great shape.

ESA’s Mars Express caught the sounds of the spacecraft’s descent into the atmosphere on Sunday. Listen to this amazing audio here.

A few other Phoenix-related stories you might have missed:

A Second Chance at MarsThe Space Review
“Mars can be a hostile world, and getting spacecraft to that planet has never been an easy task. However, as Jeff Foust reports, the recent successful landing of Phoenix demonstrated that sometimes even on Mars there are second chances.”

Science ‘rock star’ gets lively welcome at UAArizona Star
“‘We’ve got the science of our dreams laid out for us,’ the leader of the University of Arizona’s Phoenix Mars Mission said as he returned home Monday afternoon to a throng of cheering colleagues. Asked if he feels like a rock star, mission leader Peter Smith broke into a little air guitar at the campus celebration, singing a line from The Doors: ‘C’mon baby, light my fire.'”

Continue reading ‘Phoenix’s Robotic Arm Deploys; Mars Express Captures Sound of Lander’s Descent’

Russia’s Khrunichev Purchases Majority Interest in U.S.-based International Launch Services



McLEAN, Va., May 29, 2008 — ILS International Launch Services Inc., a world leader in launch services for commercial satellites, announced today that Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center acquired the shares of ILS owned by majority shareholder, Space Transport Inc. Financial details were not disclosed. The transaction was completed today.

ILS holds the exclusive worldwide rights to market and sell commercial launch services on the Proton launch vehicle, built by Khrunichev, as well as the Angara vehicle under development. ILS provides satellite customers with a complete array of services and support, from contract signing through on-orbit delivery.

ILS will remain a U.S. company, incorporated in Delaware, and subject to U.S. regulations. ILS headquarters is in Northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C.

Continue reading ‘Russia’s Khrunichev Purchases Majority Interest in U.S.-based International Launch Services’

Parabolas: Virgin on a Roll, Human-Rated ATVs, and Japanese Spaceplanes


Rob Coppinger takes a look at developments in human spaceflight over at his Hyperbola blog, including:

  • Virgin Galactic’s plan to roll out its White Knight carrier aircraft in about two months’ time;
  • EADS-Astrium’s proposal for an ATV-derived capsule, with photos of a mockup unveiled at the Berlin Air Show (the BBC also has a story);
  • a six-person capsule being jointly studied by Europe and Russia for possible launch on the Zenit;
  • Mitsubuishi Heavy Industries‘ reusable space plane roadmap;
  • a proposal for ESA to assist European companies in developing space tourism.

In related news, Virgin Galactic and the National Space Society have announced a new Space Ambassadors program. The program will train people to go forth and spread the word about the great benefits of space exploration, NSS and Virgin Galactic in their communities. One lucky ambassador will get to fly into space aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Virgin and NSS have not decided how the winner will be chosen.