Phoenix Digs Deeper As Third Month Nears End

25 August 2008

The next sample of Martian soil being grabbed for analysis is coming from a trench about three times deeper than any other trench NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has dug.

On Tuesday, Aug. 26, the spacecraft will finish the 90 Martian days (or “sols”) originally planned as its primary mission and will continue into a mission extension through September, as announced by NASA in July. Phoenix landed on May 25.

“As we near what we originally expected to be the full length of the mission, we are all thrilled with how well the mission is going,” said Phoenix Project Manger Barry Goldstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


Bigelow Habitats Progressing Toward Launch; Crew Transport Issue Remains Vexing

Bigelow Aerospace Advances Work on Full-scale Space Habitat
Space News

“Bigelow said he and his team plan to have two Sundancer modules flight-ready by the end of 2011, as well as a docking node and propulsion bus system. By the end of 2012, the firm plans to have its first full BA-300 standard vessel ready for flight as well. ‘That’s regardless of whatever happens transportation-wise,’ he added, referring to the company’s ongoing search for a suitable launcher to get its hardware into orbit…

“‘The crew transportation issue is certainly challenging, and it keeps me up at night more often than my infant son … and that’s saying something,’ said Mike Gold, director of Bigelow Aerospace’s Washington office. However, there is hope, he added.”

America & ISS: What to Do? What to Do?

With U.S.-Russian relations continuing to deteriorate over the conflict in Georgia and other issues, American officials seem to have finally woken up to the potential nightmare that the Russian government could cut off U.S. access to the International Space Station.

The Russian Soyuz vehicle would be the only way to access the station if NASA goes ahead with its plan to end shuttle flights in 2010. The shuttle’s successor, Orion, might not be available for 5 years. Complicating matters even further, NASA needs a waiver from Congress in order to purchase additional Soyuz flights. A 2000 law bars U.S. agencies from signing contracts with countries like Russia that are providing support to Iran.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson says that any waiver is dead for now. “In an election year, it was going to be very difficult to get that waiver to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to an increasingly aggressive Russia,” Nelson told AFP. “Now, I’d say it’s almost impossible.”

Vincent Sabathier, a human space exploration expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, noted that Russia suddenly reduced the flow of oil to the Czech Republic after that country signed an agreement to host an American missile defense tracking radar facility on its soil.


New Mexico Update: Otera Residents to Vote on Tax Levy in November

Spaceport tax question will appear on Otero County ballot
Alamogordo Daily News

“The Otero County Commission heard a presentation and some citizen discussion prior to adopting a resolution to place a County Spaceport Regional Gross Receipts tax on the November ballot Thursday night.

“If approved, tax collections in Otero County would be combined with those already approved for collection in Doña Ana and Sierra counties to help fund construction of a launch site for commercial space vehicles in southern Sierra County. Construction for the $198 million project is to be completed in late 2010.

NASA Hypersonic Test Rocket Destroyed After Launch

NASA Destroys Rocket Shortly After Launch at Wallops Island
Hampton Roads Virginia Pilot

“An experimental rocket carrying $17 million worth of NASA experiments was destroyed early Friday morning after it veered off course soon after launch from the Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore.

“Explosive charges on the nose of the rocket were detonated by NASA about 27 seconds after the 5:10 a.m. launch.”

NASA and ATK Investigate Failed Launch Of Hypersonic Experiment
NASA Press Release

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — An Alliant Techsystems suborbital rocket carrying two NASA hypersonic experiments was destroyed by range safety officials shortly after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia Friday. No injuries or property damage were reported.

Most debris from the rocket is thought to have fallen in the Atlantic Ocean. However, there are conflicting reports of debris being sighted on land. This debris could be hazardous. People who think they may have encountered rocket debris are advised not to touch it and to report it to the Wallops Emergency Operations Center at 757-824-1300.

NASA is very disappointed in this failure but has directed its focus on protecting public safety and conducting a routine confirmation of the effectiveness of its range safety operations. NASA has a response team in the field. Alliant Techsystems, also known as ATK, of Salt Lake City, is conducting the investigation of the rocket malfunction. NASA will consult with ATK and support the investigation.

FAA’s Nield: Space Tourism to Bloom in Next Five Years

MSNBC’s Alan Boyle has a Q&A with George Nield, the Federal Aviation Administration’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation.

“I think within the next three to five years we are going to see multiple companies carrying ticket-buying passengers up to the edge of space, so they can experience the blackness of the sky and see the curvature of the earth and experience the thrill of weightlessness. That’s going to mean hundreds of launches and thousands of people every year who are now going to be able to have that experience of going to space. That’s really going to change how we think about space….

“What that’s going to mean is, after the shuttle retires in 2010, and until we start seeing the human flights of Ares 1 and Orion in 2015 or so, the U.S. government is not going to have any vehicles that they own or operate that carry people into space. But it’s likely to be a very busy time for commercial human spaceflight, both suborbital and orbital. And that means it’s going to be a busy time for the FAA, because those flights are going to be licensed by our office. So we’re going to be right in the thick of that.”

SpaceDev Signs Rocket Motor Development Contract With Scaled Composites

via Marketwire
18 August 2008

POWAY, CA– SpaceDev, Inc. announced today that it has signed a multi-year contract with Scaled Composites to assist Scaled in the development of a production rocket motor for the first commercial space vehicle designed for space tourism called SpaceShipTwo.

The vehicle is being designed by Scaled for Virgin Galactic and is part of a complete space system that also includes the recently unveiled WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. The WhiteKnightTwo aircraft will ferry SpaceShipTwo and thousands of private astronauts, science packages and payloads as the first stage of Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital space experience.

“We are thrilled to once again be part of the Scaled Composites/Virgin Galactic team and to be able to assist the team on this historic aviation and space endeavor,” said Mark N. Sirangelo, Chairman and CEO of SpaceDev. “Burt Rutan, Doug Shane and the Scaled team have yet again created an outstanding design that will be the first commercial venture to open space to large numbers of the public.”


Hypersonic Test Set to Blast off From Wallops on Friday

The next big thing in rocket power
The Virginian-Pilot

“A 5-in-1 experiment on hypersonic flight and rocket design is scheduled to launch early Friday from Wallops Island, carrying NASA and Navy payloads.

“The 10-minute flight, expected to reach 200 nautical miles in height, will end in the Atlantic Ocean. Information recorded during flight will last much longer, contributing to the development of jet-powered vehicles that can fly up to seven or eight times the speed of sound, or about 5,280 mph.”

Another Software Guy Goes into the Space Hardware Biz

Intel software-engineer-turned-rocket-designer Morris Jarvis is hoping to give tourists a ride into space beginning next year for only $30,000 apiece – much less than the $200,000 that Virgin Galactic will be charging its millionauts.

The 22-foot-long carbon fiber Hermes vehicle – set for launch from a high-altitude helium balloon – lacks only a few things to make it a reality. Such as a wind tunnel to test it in. And about $1.5 million to build a full prototype. However, six-time shuttle astronaut Story Musgrave said he was impressed with the design when he saw a mock-up on display during a recent Intel developer forum in San Francisco.

Jarvis has issued a press release with more information. There’s also a website.

Ouch…That’s Gotta Hurt!

Back in the early 1960’s, NASA conducted an unmanned test of the ejection system for its new Gemini spacecraft. The ejection seat performed perfectly; unfortunately, the spacecraft’s clam-shell hatch failed to open. The rocket-powered seat blasted right through the 2-inch thick hull plating.

Watching nearby, astronaut John Young – destined to fly the first Gemini mission with Gus Grissom – was horrified but maintained his sense of humor. “That’s one hell of a headache, but a short one!” the laconic Texan remarked.

NASA’s astronaut corps is probably feeling much the same these days following the July 31 failure of the parachute system for the agency’s new Orion spacecraft. The set-up parachute for the full-scale mock-up failed to inflate, causing the test vehicle to plunge to the desert floor at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Testing Grounds in Arizona. The vehicle, shown above, was heavily damaged.

Fortunately no one was aboard, but the failure represents yet another headache for NASA as it attempts to get the Apollo-style capsule flying. The vehicle and its Ares I and V launch vehicles are running significantly behind schedule amid reports of major development problems and cost overruns.

Buzz Answers 15 Questions

I ran into Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin last weekend while having brunch with a friend in Santa Monica. He was sitting in a nearby booth, unrecognized by any of the other patrons. We went over and introduced ourselves, spending several minutes chatting about various matters. Buzz was in a fine mood, eager to talk about several projects he’s pursuing.

At 78, Buzz hasn’t slowed down all that much. He’s been in the press a lot lately, criticizing NASA’s Constellation program and narrating Fly Me to Moon, a 3-D animated film about three flies who stow away on the Apollo 11 mission. (The movie has not been very well received by critics; Rotten Tomatoes has it at only 18 percent fresh, with 8 positive reviews and 36 negative ones.)

Below are links to a couple of interviews with Buzz in which the famous moon walker talks about the new movie, his current activities, and his views on where the space program is heading.

7 New Questions on the Future of Mars and Private Space for Buzz Aldrin
Popular Mechanics

“Q: Do we have a space race on our hands now?

A: The finish lines are entirely different. All China has to do is take a Shenzhou and join it up with a Russian propulsion stage and go around the moon and come back. Our purpose is not just to go around the moon. We need to establish a coherent, deliberate program that prepares for commercial use of lunar resources and permanence on Mars. And maybe we learn how to go to smaller places with resources not on the moon. Asteroids just may have very high value.”

8 questions for astronaut Buzz Aldrin
New York Daily News

Q: What future projects are you working on?

A: Well, I’m helping to celebrate 40th reunions of all the Apollo missions and developing lotteries for people to travel in space – like Richard Branson’s flight, but also for orbital flights. In California, I’m also developing some education programs. I’m also strongly supporting and working with oilman T. Boone Pickens and his plan for energy alternatives. I want him to include solar power on satellites in space.

Iran Joins Exclusive Orbital Club

Iran sparks US concern with satellite rocket launch

“Iran said it had sent a rocket carrying a dummy satellite into space on Sunday, triggering fresh concern in Washington that the technology could be diverted to ballistic missiles.

The launch is likely to further exacerbate tensions with the West over its nuclear drive, which Iran’s arch-foe Washington and its allies claim is a cover for atomic weapons ambitions.”

Editor’s Note: This will probably make it a bit more difficult for NASA to get an exemption to spend money on Russian Soyuz flights to the International Space Station.  U.S. law bans contracts with Russia and other nations that have been providing technical support for Iran’s nuclear program.

NASA will be heavily dependent upon Russia for transportation to the station after it retires the space shuttle in 2010. The shuttle’s successor, Orion, is not to set to fly until 2014 or 2015.

Blowing Up the Moon – or at Least a Small Part of It

Popular Mechanics has a feature story about NASA’s plans to crash a rocket into the moon in order to search for frozen water.

Early next year, the space agency will launch its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which will map the moon and its resources in unprecedented detail. The Atlas rocket also will send a small sub-satellite, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which will remain attached to the upper-stage Centaur booster. LCROSS will steer the booster toward a collision with one of the moon’s poles.

“Nine hours before impact, 24,000 miles above the lunar surface, LCROSS and the Centaur would separate. The 5,000-pound Centaur would crash into a dark crater at twice the speed of a rifle bullet, kicking up a plume of debris more than 6 miles high. Four minutes later, the heavily instrumented LCROSS would ride the plume, checking for water and relaying data to Earth until it, too, slammed into the lunar surface.”

Rosetta Spacecraft Starts Tracking Asteroid Steins


Heading toward its first target-asteroid, (2867) Steins, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft has started using its cameras to visually track the asteroid and eventually determine its orbit with more accuracy.

Rosetta started the optical navigation campaign on 4 August 2008, at a distance of about 24 million km from Steins; the campaign will continue until 4 September, when the spacecraft will be approximately 950 000 km from the asteroid.

“The orbit of Steins, with which Rosetta will rendezvous on 5 September, closing to a distance of 800 km, is only known thanks to ground observations, but not yet with the accuracy we would like for the close fly-by,” said Gerhard Schwehm, Rosetta Mission Manager based at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), near Madrid, Spain.