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.


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.'”


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.


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.

Overview Group to Form Overview Institute to Promote Overview Effect (to Save Earth)


More than 20 renowned experts in the fields of space, science, media, and humanitarian services have joined forces to raise public awareness of the Overview Effect, a term used to describe the experience astronauts have when seeing Earth firsthand from outer space, and the resulting sense of unification that is brought on by this unique perspective.

On May 31st, at the National Space Society’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., these individuals, formally known as The Overview Group, will issue a joint declaration calling for the formation of an Overview Institute to promote awareness of the Overview Effect. The potential cultural impact of the Overview Effect is expected to become increasingly significant as space tourism begins.

The Overview Group includes: Dr. Edgar Mitchell (Apollo Astronaut, sixth man on the moon), Dr. Barbara Marx Hubbard (author and President of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution), Frank White (author of the Overview Effect), Douglas Trumbull (Oscar Award winning Special Effects Supervisor of 2001: A Space Odyssey), Dan Curry (Emmy Award winning Visual Effects Supervisor for Star Trek), and George Whitesides (Executive Director of the National Space Society). A panel composed of several Group members will make the presentation. The moderator will be Keith Ferrell, former Editor of Omni Magazine.


Meanwhile, Back on Planet Terror…

Things seem to be going well with NASA’s Phoenix lander, which touched down near the planet’s North Pole on Sunday. Controllers in Pasadena are reporting a few minor issues, the most serious being a communications problem with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that delayed the uplink of commands for movement of Phoenix’s robotic arm.

In the meantime, NASA has been releasing stunning images from the mission (images credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona). The image below shows the surface, part of a solar panel, an American flag, and a mini-DVD from The Planetary Society containing names, science fiction stories, art and other materials for future Martian explorers.

The photo below shows an overhead shot of the lander taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The orbiter also captured this stunning image of the spacecraft parachuting down to the surface, showing part of the “seven minutes of terror” Phoenix enduring during entry. This is the first time such an event has been ever captured on film.

Griffin: NASA in “Incredible Turmoil,” But Must Fight On to Victory

Only days before his agency faced down the dreaded Galactic Ghoul at Mars, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin gave a rather dour assessment of his organization’s current status to a Washington Space Business Roundtable luncheon.

According to an account over at Jeff Foust’s Space Politics blog, Griffin said this is a “time of incredible turmoil” due to the:

  • pending retirement of the space shuttle, which will cause mass layoffs;
  • upcoming change in presidential administrations; and,
  • failure of Congress and the President to agree on a new budget.

Apparently, none of the chaos engulfing NASA results from any bad decisions by Griffin, although the administrator did acknowledge the severe budget and schedule pressures affecting NASA’s shuttle replacement, Constellation. The system may not be ready for human flights until five years after the shuttle is retired and may need billions in additional funding.

On this, Griffin’s basic message was something akin to the USC Trojans fight song: Fight On. “When the going gets tough, let’s not reoptimize for low Earth orbit,” Griffin said.

Well, perhaps this isn’t quite as inspiring as the USC fight song, penned in 1922 by dental student Milo Sweet as his entry into the Trojan spirit contest. So, if this will help boost morale of anyone at NASA experiencing incredible turmoil, here’s the USC Marching Band performing Fight On. Just substitute “NASA” for “‘SC”, “space agency” for “alma mater,” and make it gender neutral. And maybe try to make it rhyme.

PopSci’s DIY Guide to X’ing Your Way to the Moon

Popular Science has an interesting DIY guide to how you – YES, YOU – can win the Google Lunar X Prize. It seems that all you need is a little bit of moxie, a rover that can survive extreme temperatures, a launcher, and…oh yes…somewhere between $20 to $100 million.

Simple, really. All too easy.

All kidding aside, it’s a really cool story that breaks down the major components that one needs succeed in winning the $20 million prize. There are quotes from Odyssey Moon CEO Bob Richards, Astrobiotic’s Red Whittaker, and other competitors.

Meanwhile, has a story on four additional teams that have joined the great race. The teams include Advaeros, out of Malaysia; JURBAN, which is focused teaching disadvantaged students to build robots; and STELLAR, a North Carolina group headed by Dick Dell. There is also a mystery team, which apparently has no connection to Scooby-Doo’s outfit, Mystery, Inc.

Goodbye Ghoul – Hello Mars!

Defying the nettlesome Galactic Ghoul, NASA successfully set down its Phoenix spacecraft on the Martian surface on Sunday. The lander, which will search for evidence of life, touched down near the planet’s north pole at 4:38 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

Just before 7 p.m., controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena burst into applause as the first pictures from the lander were relayed from the surface via the Mars Odyssey orbiter. The images showed the Martian horizon, deployed solar arrays, and a landing pad. Early telemetry indicates that the spacecraft landed on a flat surface and is in good shape. The spacecraft’s robotic arm, which will scoop up soil for analysis, appears to be deployed properly.

This marks the sixth successful landing on Mars in seven attempts for the American space agency, raising NASA’s on-Mars percentage to 85.7.

JPL – Main Center Site – Check Here for Updates
– Live Streaming Coverage
Mars Phoenix Blog