X Prize Updates: BT Provides Operating Funds; Diamandis Gets All Steve Austiny

The X Prize Foundation has secured $7 million in operating funding from British Telecom (BT), Cosmic Log’s Alan Boyle reports. Founder Peter Diamandis tells Boyle the funding allows the non-profit to broaden its programs beyond its current U.S.-centric focus.

Diamandis had some kind words for John McCain’s proposal for a $300 million battery prize. He also talked extensively about plans for future prizes, including ones in health care, environment, and human genetic engineering. One idea involves involves giving the handicapped what they’ve always dreamed of: a chance to play the world’s most frustrating sport.

“Also in life sciences, we’re looking at human longevity, and what we internally call ‘the bionic man,’ the challenge to give a quadriplegic the ability to play a round of golf,” Diamandis said.

BT and the X PRIZE Foundation Team Up to Inspire World-Changing Innovations
X Prize News Release

Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE Releases Statement in Response to Senator McCain’s Proposed $300 Million Battery Prize
X Prize News Release


Falcon 1 Launch Delayed a Month as Musk’s Shifting Explanation is Contradicted

SpaceX has delayed the scheduled third test flight of its Falcon 1 launch until at least the end of July amid conflicting reports amid conflicting reports from founder Elon Musk as to why…..

SpaceX pushes back target date for next Falcon 1 launch
Spaceflight Now
23 June 2008

“Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., said the U.S. Army range at Kwajalein Atoll will be busy with other activities for the next month.

“‘Launch is no sooner than late July to early August,’ Musk said. ‘We will use the time to do additional checkouts.’

Minute Defect Delays SpaceX’s Falcon 1 Launch Again
30 June 2008

A tiny weld defect discovered in one of the Falcon 1’s engine nozzles as the rocket was being readied for a late June launch contributed to Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) decision to postpone its third attempt to put the rocket into orbit by at least a month…

“One Kwajalein official told Space News the range would be open and available throughout July with no launch activity on the schedule ‘unless there’s a black program going on that I don’t know about.’

“[Army Missile Command spokesman John] Cummings confirmed that the range would remain open throughout July, but said he did not know whether it is available to SpaceX sooner than July 29. ‘We haven’t looked because they did not ask for it,’ he said.”

Phoenix Finds Wonderland and Snow White, But Where are Alice and the 7 Dwarves?

27 June 2008

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander scraped to icy soil in the “Wonderland” area on Thursday, June 26, confirming that surface soil, subsurface soil and icy soil can be sampled at a single trench.

Phoenix scientists are now assured they have a complete soil-layer profile in Wonderland’s “Snow White” extended trench.

By rasping to icy soil, the robotic arm on Phoenix proved it could flatten the layer where soil meets ice, exposing the icy flat surface below the soil. Scientists can now proceed with plans to scoop and scrape samples into Phoenix’s various analytical instruments. Scientists will test samples to determine if some ice in the soil may have been liquid in the past during warmer climate cycles.

It’s another encouraging step to meeting Phoenix mission goals, which are to study the history of Martian water in all its phases and determine if the Martian arctic soil could support life.

Cassini Begins Teen Years With Brand New Mission, Bitchin’ Attitude


PASADENA, Calif.—NASA’s Cassini mission is closing one chapter of its journey at Saturn and embarking on a new one with a two-year mission that will address new questions and bring it closer to two of its most intriguing targets—Titan and Enceladus.

On June 30, Cassini completes its four-year prime mission and begins its extended mission, which was approved in April of this year.

Among other things, Cassini revealed the Earth-like world of Saturn’s moon Titan and showed the potential habitability of another moon, Enceladus. These two worlds are primary targets in the two-year extended mission, dubbed the Cassini Equinox Mission. This time period also will allow for monitoring seasonal effects on Titan and Saturn, exploring new places within Saturn’s magnetosphere, and observing the unique ring geometry of the Saturn equinox in August of 2009 when sunlight will pass directly through the plane of the rings.

“We’ve had a wonderful mission and a very eventful one in terms of the scientific discoveries we’ve made, and yet an uneventful one when it comes to the spacecraft behaving so well,” said Bob Mitchell, Cassini program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We are incredibly proud to have completed all of the objectives we set out to accomplish when we launched. We answered old questions and raised quite a few new ones and so our journey continues.”


Happy Birthday, Suborbital Tourism: Now, Will Ya Go Fly Some Actual Tourists Already?

Alan Boyle helps the space tourism industry celebrate its fourth “birthday” with a piece over at MSNBC. Or, more accurately, he marks the anniversary of Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites ushering in the “age of privately developed spaceflight” with the first suborbital flight of SpaceShipOne.

Boyle reviews the progress since that date, noting the only predictable thing is the industry’s unpredictability. Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital tourist flight is still about two years away, which is more or less where it was back in June 2004.

For his part, Rutan professes to have been so caught up building SpaceShipTwo that he plum forgot about the whole anniversary thing until Boyle reminded him. This folksy “ahh shucks” response may be designed to minimize the four years that have passed since that historic flight. Or things are so far behind schedule that he genuinely did forget.

Whatever the case, the legendary designer is not as active as he once was in Scaled Composites, which is now fully owned by defense colossus Northrop Grumman. Rutan, who is still recovering from open heart surgery in February, stepped down as the company’s president earlier this month. Sources who have seen him give speeches in recent months report that he has a tendency to meander off topic into tangents, a sign of how much the surgery has affected him.

Meanwhile, Space.com’s Tariq Malik looks at a couple of upcoming space tourism events: Virgin Galactic’s scheduled July 28 rollout of its WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, which will haul SpaceShipTwo aloft; and Space Adventures’ October launch of publicity shy Richard Garriott, who will be the latest billionaire to use the taxpayer-funded International Space Station as an orbiting hotel.

Parabolas: In Space, No One Can Hear You Beg; the Russians are Going (and so is Garriott)

Weaver Makes Bid for Space Travel

Actress Sigourney Weaver is begging Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson to let her be next celebrity to venture into space.

Weaver says, “I’d love to go (to space). Sure, if I had the opportunity. I read somewhere that I was going… I apparently was on the passenger list. I was apparently on the invitation (from Branson).”

Six Russians to Take First Virgin Galactic Space Ride in 2010
RIA Novosti

Six Russians are to be the initial clients of the world’s first space travel agency, Virgin Galactic, which is to launch suborbital passenger flights in 2010.

Igor Kutsenko, who runs an advertising firm in Moscow, told a Virgin Galactic news conference in the Russian capital that he and his business partner, Sergei Tyaglov, had bought tickets 18 months ago, and that he had also reserved tickets for his parents, both in their fifties.

Options for Space Tourists
Andrei Kislyakov
RIA Novosti

What we have here is a typically Russian paradox: although this country was the first to try out space tourism, it has failed to develop it further, letting other countries reap the fruits of this endeavor.

Furthermore, the ways in which Roskosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) has been trying to branch out into tourism has no benefits for our national space program.

Way Later than 2001, Space Odysseys are Under Way
Helen Anders
American Statesman

“I grew up assuming all of us would go into space,” [Richard] Garriott says. Then he found out he had poor eyesight. Too bad, the family doctor told the youngster; you can’t be an astronaut.

“That’s when I realized,” Garriott says, “if I’m going it will have to be outside NASA.”

Staying Grounded – Literally and Otherwise

Hey everyone.

Sorry I haven’t been posting much. I’ve been traveling on the East Coast. And, as so often happens when I’m jammed on aircraft with hundreds of people and barely breathable air, I managed to acquire a nasty head cold. So, I’ve been a tad under the weather.

Phoenix Update: Scientists OD on Chemical Data

26 June 2008

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander performed its first wet chemistry experiment on Martian soil flawlessly yesterday, returning a wealth of data that for Phoenix scientists was like winning the lottery.

“We are awash in chemistry data,” said Michael Hecht of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead scientist for the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA, instrument on Phoenix. “We’re trying to understand what is the chemistry of wet soil on Mars, what’s dissolved in it, how acidic or alkaline it is. With the results we received from Phoenix yesterday, we could begin to tell what aspects of the soil might support life.”

“This is the first wet-chemical analysis ever done on Mars or any planet, other than Earth,” said Phoenix co-investigator Sam Kounaves of Tufts University, science lead for the wet chemistry investigation.

About 80 percent of Phoenix’s first, two-day wet chemistry experiment is now complete. Phoenix has three more wet-chemistry cells for use later in the mission.


Astronaut Selection Proceeds in U.S., Canada

National Astronaut Recruitment Campaign Closes in One Week
CSA Press Release

The Canadian Space Agency reminds Canadians that the National Astronaut Recruitment Campaign closes on June 26, 2008, with only one week remaining for candidates to apply to be considered for the Canadian Astronaut Corps.

By May 2009, two candidates taken from this process will be selected and begin their training to represent Canada in future space exploration missions, including long-duration spaceflights on the International Space Station. Among their tasks, astronauts will help assemble and maintain the Station and conduct scientific and industrial research enhancing the quality of life on Earth.

“The National Astronaut Recruitment Campaign is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Steve MacLean, CSA Chief Astronaut. “Anyone who is interested and who meets the minimum qualifications is strongly encouraged to apply. The CSA will conduct a thorough review to select the best candidates, and we hope to have the broadest possible pool of applicants.”

Since the Campaign launched on May 22, approximately 4,000 applications have been submitted. Approximately 20 % of all applicants to date are women.

U.S. Air Force Nominates 114 for Astronaut Program
USAF Press Release

The Air Force Astronaut Nomination Board has forwarded 114 nominations to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for consideration in the pilot and mission specialist categories. The board was held May 13 to 15 and the medical screening panel was held May 20 to 22. More than 200 noninees were considered. 

Forty-eight names were forwarded in the astronaut pilot category while 66 names were forwarded in the mission specialist category. Candidates from that pre-selection are then evaluated by NASA, with the highest-qualified individuals invited to Johnson Space Center, Houston, for interviews this fall.

Airmen selected by NASA will be detailed to the JSC astronaut office for a one-year candidacy program. They will enter the basic astronaut training program, contributing to the design, development and testing of the Ares launch and the Orion crew exploration vehicles. In addition, they will participate in planning for future human operations on the moon.

The Air Force nominees will compete with those nominated by the other services and civilian applicants. NASA selections are expected to be announced to the services in May 2009.

Phoenix Update: Ice Chips Evaporate at Landing Site

Dice-size crumbs of bright material have vanished from inside a trench where they were photographed by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander four days ago, convincing scientists that the material was frozen water that vaporized after digging exposed it.

“It must be ice,” said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it’s ice. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can’t do that.”

The chunks were left at the bottom of a trench informally called “Dodo-Goldilocks” when Phoenix’s Robotic Arm enlarged that trench on June 15, during the 20th Martian day, or sol, since landing. Several were gone when Phoenix looked at the trench early today, on Sol 24.

Also early today, digging in a different trench, the Robotic Arm connected with a hard surface that has scientists excited about the prospect of next uncovering an icy layer.

The Phoenix science team spent Thursday analyzing new images and data successfully returned from the lander earlier in the day.

Studying the initial findings from the new “Snow White 2” trench, located to the right of “Snow White 1,” Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, co-investigator for the robotic arm, said, “We have dug a trench and uncovered a hard layer at the same depth as the ice layer in our other trench.”

On Sol 24, Phoenix extended the first trench in the middle of a polygon at the “Wonderland” site. While digging, the Robotic Arm came upon a firm layer, and after three attempts to dig further, the arm went into a holding position. Such an action is expected when the Robotic Arm comes upon a hard surface.

Meanwhile, the spacecraft team at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is preparing a software patch to send to Phoenix in a few days so scientific data can again be saved onboard overnight when needed. Because of a large amount a duplicative file-maintenance data generated by the spacecraft Tuesday, the team is taking the precaution of not storing science data in Phoenix’s flash memory, and instead downlinking it at the end of every day, until the conditions that produced those duplicative data files are corrected.

“We now understand what happened, and we can fix it with a software patch,” said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. “Our three-month schedule has 30 days of margin for contingencies like this, and we have used only one contingency day out of 24 sols. The mission is well ahead of schedule. We are making excellent progress toward full mission success.”

Oceaneering Suited NASA’s Needs Better than Hamilton Sundstrand, ILC Dover

NASA Eyed Management In Spacesuit Selection
Frank Morring, Jr.
Aviation Week & Space Technology

NASA picked a team headed by Oceaneering International Inc. (OII) to build its next-generation spacesuits because it felt the team’s systems engineering and management plans are more likely to get the job done than those proposed by veteran suitmakers Hamilton Sundstrand and ILC Dover.”

Harris will build next-generation space suit radios
David Hubler
Washington Technology

“Harris Corp. will provide the radio communications and navigation system for NASA’s next-generation spacesuit under a seven-year contract with a potential value of $58 million.”

NASA Awards Contract for Constellation Spacesuit for the Moon
Press Release
Paragon Space Development Company

Space Business Forum: More Money, Less Bureaucracy Needed

7 Expert Answers for How Big Business Will Spend Cash in Space
Joe Pappalardo
Popular Mechanics

Of all the tons of fuel that drives modern space flight, cash is the most critical. That was the stark reality brought front and center on Wednesday at the first-ever Space Business Forum in New York, where leading rocket scientists, military officers and even hedge-fund managers crunched the numbers to illuminate the future of the space industry. From the European influence on suborbital tourism to why the Air Force doesn’t trust private rockets, and from the increasingly outsourced business model at NASA to a place for that other “green” movement, here’s a news analysis of where the power lies.

Challenges Ahead for New Space Investors
Tariq Malik

“New startups hoping to make their mark on the space industry still face high entry barriers just to cover their initial costs, investors said Wednesday.

“The high cost and risks associated with new commercial ventures, as well as the bureaucratic government hoops they have to jump through, provide substantial barriers for nascent companies aiming for space, experts said during the 2008 Space Business Forum here presented by the Space Foundation, a non-profit advocacy organization.”

XCor Begins Building Airframe, Continues Rocket Tests

XCOR Begins Lynx Build
Rob Coppinger
Hyperbola Blog

Coppinger has photos of XCOR’s Lynx high-altitude tourism vehicle, now being assembled at the company’s facility in Mojave, Calif.

XCOR Rocket Engine to Continue Flight Testing
Rob Coppinger
Flight Global

XCOR Aerospace is by July to restart flight testing its XR-4K14 1,500lb-thrust (6.67kN) liquid oxygen/kerosene engine and the aircraft it propels, the Rocket Racing League’s X-Racer…The XR-4K14 is the predecessor to Xcor’s single-stage-to-suborbit Lynx vehicle’s 5K18 engine and it will have changes made to its piston driven pump’s drive gas consumption before flight testing resumes.

Students to Become Cassini Scientists, Study Saturn’s Moon Rhea


Four students have won the Cassini Scientist for a Day contest, with most choosing Rhea, Saturn’s second-largest moon, as the best place for scientists to study using NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

Contest participants had to choose one of three target areas for Cassini’s camera: Saturn’s moon Enceladus, Rhea, or a section of Saturn’s rings that includes the tiny moon Pan. The students had to write an essay explaining why their chosen snapshot would yield the most scientific rewards, and the winners were invited to discuss their essays with Cassini scientists via teleconference.

The essays were judged by a panel of Cassini scientists, mission planners, and the education and outreach team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

This year’s winners are located in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Michigan. Their essays were chosen from 197 essays written by fifth-to-twelfth-grade students across the United States.


Space Angels Network Announces Founding Members


Space Angels Network, LLC, a national network of seed- and early-stage investors focused on aerospace-related ventures, announced today its initial group of “Founding Members”—individual accredited investors with significant experience in aerospace ventures.

Founding Members include:

“Since our Founding Members form the core of our organization by actively helping with strategic advice, deal flow, and membership recruitment, we sought individuals with extensive experience in both angel investing and also aerospace ventures,” said Guillermo Söhnlein, founder and managing director of Space Angels Network. “They play a critical leadership role in screening deals, conducting due diligence, and negotiating terms. We value their time and commitment, and we look forward to working with them as we grow our community of aerospace-focused accredited investors.”