One Down, One to Go! NASA’s GRAIL-A Spacecraft Enters Lunar Orbit

Update: Both GRAIL spacecraft are safely in orbit. A very Happy New Year for NASA.

NASA PR — PASADENA, Calif. — The first of two NASA spacecraft to study the moon in unprecedented detail has entered lunar orbit.

NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)-A spacecraft successfully completed its planned main engine burn at 2 p.m. PST (5 p.m. EST) today. As of 3 p.m. PST (6 p.m. EST), GRAIL-A is in a 56-mile (90-kilometer) by 5,197-mile (8,363-kilometer) orbit around the moon that takes approximately 11.5 hours to complete.

A Message from New SSI CEO Gary Hudson

Dear Senior Associates and Friends of SSI,

SSI has a long history and a solid legacy, based on the vision of Professor Gerard K. O’Neill and his colleagues. With over a dozen SSI conferences completed, along with research into a number of technologies important for space settlement, the Institute is well positioned to play an important role as a key primary international entity that will create the ways and means of true space settlement. This is an appropriate goal to honor Professor O’Neill’s vision.


Brazil Sends Students to Study Rocketry in Ukraine

Editor’s Note: Brazil took a small, but significant, step this month in building up its domestic space capability by sending 10 aerospace engineering students to study in Ukraine.

The two nations are working on a joint project to launch the Ukrainian Cyclone-4 rocket from Brazil’s Alcantara Launch Center.

The foreign exchange program is part of a much larger national program, Science Without Borders, that aims to educate scientists, engineers, technicians and others overseas to build up Brazil’s technical capabilities and competitiveness.

A report from the Brazilian Space Agency on the aerospace education exchange follows after the break.


Elon Musk Tweets on Chinese Space Ambitions, Catherine the Great’s Horse

Musk is referring to an urban legend — apparently spread by cheese-eating, upper-class French surrender monkeys — that Catherine was crushed to death while trying to make love to a stallion. (In reality, she died in bed of a stroke at age 67.)

Although his choice of Twitter topics is odd, Musk’s selection of reading material is not. Massie is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs.

Oh, I see he also made some comments about the Chinese and the state of rocketry which seem reasonable enough and I’m sure have no connection to his other topic.

NewSpace Pioneer Gary Hudson Appointed Space Studies Institute CEO

A note from Space Studies Institute Chairman Lee Valentine:

SSI’s distinguished board of Senior Advisers continues to expand, and increasingly plays a strong role in deciding our future direction. After a meeting of Senior Advisers and Professor Dyson in July 2011, we decided to restructure SSI’s dual Board of Governors and Board of Directors to a single, smaller and more active Board of Trustees.

On December 16, 2011, the Board of Governing Members adopted new by-laws to accomplish that goal, and elected three Trustees: Professor Freeman Dyson, Gary C Hudson and myself. I continue as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Gary was elected to serve as President and CEO.

The full message is reproduced after the break.


Extraordinary Photos From Inside Russia’s Energomash Rocket Plant

Exterior view of Energomash engine test facility. (Credit: Lana Sator)

Russian blogger Lana Sator has posted an album of extraordinary photos  taken inside of the Energomash rocket plant in Moscow — shots she took during five secret, nocturnal visits to the facility with her friends over several months. She says that they sneaked in through a gap in the fence and encountered not a single security guard as they wandered through the plant at will.


Are Celebritynaut Lovebirds Katy Perry, Russell Brand About to Auger In? Updated

Katy Perry (Credit: Nikotransmission)

It looks as though Virgin Galactic celebritynauts Katy Perry and Russell Brand may be ready to pull the old ejection ring on their 14-month old marriage.

[Update: It’s official! Brand has filed for divorce citing….wait for it….irreconcilable differences. Another showbiz marriage you thought would last forever and ever torn asunder.]

Media reports indicate the couple, set to fly together into space aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, spent Christmas 7,000 miles apart after a massive argument that saw the formerly happy couple lobbing the proverbial f-word at one another. (And we’re not talking “frankfurter”.)

Perry, 27, took off for the Hawaiian island of Kauai (which, I can personally attest, is lovely this time of year), while her British funnyman husband, 36, spent the holidays at a far less tropical seaside town of Cornwall, England.


China Expands Space Power Through International Cooperation

As the Chinese space program has grown more powerful, the nation is steadily increasing its bilateral and multilateral cooperation with other nations and international bodies. A white paper on China’s space program released by the government today provides a summary of some of the more prominent cooperative activities.

Although China’s international outreach does not seem to be as broad as NASA’s activities, the emerging space power has forged links with most of the world’s major space powers, including Russia, ESA and individual European nations. It also has bilateral agreements with Brazil, Ukraine and Venezuela.

Cooperation with the United States has been frozen because of a Congressional ban on any such discussions. The restriction remains in place in the current budget, but the law includes a provision allowing discussions to go forward if NASA can certify that there is not a threat of revealing sensitive security information.

Excerpts from the white paper follow after the break.


New Russian Space Czar Hits Ground Running

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

Hardline Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the Kremlin’s new defense and space czar, has hit the ground running this week as he attempts to turn around Russia’s failure-prone space sector.

Rogozin has ordered Roscosmos to produce a report analyzing its recent string of launch failures and to develop a master plan through 2030. The space czar also announced the creation a personnel reserve to deal with a shortage of space workers, and he warned trespassing bloggers to stay off the nation’s strategic space installations — or else.

[UPDATE: View the photos of the bloggers’ nocturnal visits to Energomash here.]


China Lays Out Ambitions for Human Spaceflight, Lunar Exploration

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

The Chinese government has issued a white paper outlining its space plans for the next five years. Highlights include:

  • sending the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft to “achieve unmanned or manned rendezvous and docking” with the Tiangong-1 space station;*
  • launching space laboratories, human spacecraft and space freighters into orbit;
  • making major breakthroughs in key space station technologies;
  • conducting studies on a preliminary plan for landing astronauts on the moon;
  • launching orbiters, landers, rovers and sample return missions to the moon;
  • developing new launch vehicles, including one capable of putting 25 metric tons of cargo into low Earth orbit;
  • completing construction of the Hainan space launch site and making it operational; and
  • strengthening its work on space debris monitoring and mitigation.

* I had previously thought that the next two Shenzhou missions (9 and 10) would have crews, but the white paper indicates that at least one of the flights might be automated. The automated Shenhou-8 docking mission appeared — publicly, at least — to have gone off without a hitch, so I’m not sure why they would need to repeat the flight. Curious.

Excerpts from the white paper follow after the break. I have rearranged the order of the subjects covered to place the most interesting material at the top, but I have not altered any of the text.


SpaceX, ORBCOMM Rejigger Launch Schedule

Falcon 9 launch. (Credit: Chris Thompson)

ORBCOMM/SpaceX PR — FORT LEE, N.J. & HAWTHORNE, Calif.– ORBCOMM Inc. (Nasdaq: ORBC) and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) today announced the launch schedule for ORBCOMM’s second generation (OG2) satellites. The updated plan includes launching the first OG2 prototype satellite on the first Cargo Re-supply Services (CRS) mission in mid-2012, followed closely by an additional launch of two OG2 satellites into a high inclination orbit as a secondary payload in late 2012. In early 2013, SpaceX plans to launch eight to twelve OG2 satellites, and the remainder of the constellation of 18 OG2 satellites is expected to be launched in 2014. All launches are expected to be on Falcon 9 rockets.


NASA Awards Near Space Corporation Funding to Advance Titan Balloon Research

Titan Balloon A Flagship class Titan Explorer mission is conceived with montgolfiere (hot air balloon) to circumnavigate the surface of Titan at jetliner altitudes, but allow occasional descents to the surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NSC PR — TILLAMOOK, OR  — Near Space Corporation (NSC), a leading innovator of terrestrial and planetary exploration balloon technology, has received a Phase Two NASA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) award to fund work that will help enable future airborne exploration of Saturn’s moon Titan.  NSC’s winning proposal was among 85 selected from a total pool of 428 submissions.


Silicon Valley Space Business Roundtable Adds 2 Members

The Silicon Valley Space Business Roundtable has added two new organizational members: Taksha University and Boreal Information Technologies.

Taksha University

Founded as Taksha Institute in 1976, Taksha University is a dynamic, not-for-profit, independent institution of higher learning, engaged in research projects and education activities. Our teaching staff consists of carefully selected, highly qualified instructors who offer a wide range of experience and talent to meet the varied needs of our community, as well as serving professionals in academia, healthcare, government service, industry and business, and other walks of life.


Russia Closes Out Tough Year With Successful Soyuz Launch

Russia successfully launched a Soyuz-2.1a rocket with a cluster of six Globalstar-2 communications satellites aboard today, closing out a 13-month period that has seen seven launch failures.

Roscosmos reports that the Fregat upper stage fired as planned and that the six satellites separated cleanly. The spacecraft are owned by Globalstar and were built by Thales Alenia Space.

On Dec. 23, a Soyuz-2.1b failed after its Fregate upper stage malfunctioned, resulting in debris raining down on Siberia. Over the past 13 months, Russia has experienced six launch failures that left eight satellites either destroyed or stranded in Earth orbit. A seven launch failure occurred during a test firing of a new ICBM in September.