Investopedia has published an article by Stephen Simpson, CFA called The Reality of Investing in Space Exploration.

Simpson says, “We are finally on the cusp of real private involvement in outer space. From space station resupply vessels to space tourism to, perhaps, even off-world mining, companies like Orbital Sciences, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic seem to be serious about establishing a viable place for private industry outside our atmosphere.”

Nevertheless, Simpson says, “It is still not all that easy for investors to participate in this evolution.”

We respectfully disagree with that statement.

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Written by Astro1 on July 30th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General)

The DARPA-funded 100 Year Starship Initiative is holding a Public Symposium in Houston, Texas on September 13-15, 2012.

On a somewhat related note, there’s new data suggesting that exoplanet Gliese 581g may be the best candidate for a habitable planet so far. This brings the number of potential habitable planets discovered by scientists up to five, according to a recent press release by the Planet Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico.

Habitable Planets

The discovery of habitable planets beyond our solar system presents NASA with a once-in-an-organizational-lifetime opportunity.

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Written by Astro1 on July 27th, 2012 , Space Settlement

After 1000 days on Mars, the Spirit rover has covered an area smaller than Disney World, according to Brent Garry, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, as reported in Air and Space magazine.

The rover’s total trek covers the distance from the park’s main entrance to Space Mountain – which most Disney visitors manage before noon.

This comparison should be brought up whenever the unmanned space mafia starts to opine on the supposed greater efficiency robots.  Garry does not mention that obvious conclusion, which is perhaps too politically incorrect for the polite circles in which planetary scientists move.

We don’t have any research grants, so we can afford to speak heresy. In the long run, we believe, human exploration will win out. That’s because the debate is generally framed in the wrong terms. It’s not really man versus machine — no one has seriously proposed sending  an explorer in his skivvies. It’s man working together with machines — the best of both worlds — that will win out.

Written by Astro1 on July 26th, 2012 , Space Exploration (General)

By now, many people have seen the news story concerning former Pathfinder astronaut candidate Chantelle Rose.

We won’t comment on the arrest or pending criminal charge, of which we have no personal knowledge. Given this publicity, however, we want to clarify the status of Chantelle Rose and Teachers in Space.

Chantelle Rose was one of several astronaut candidates dropped from our Pathfinder program last year. This attrition is normal and expected in a pioneering program like ours. We have not had any contact with Chantelle Rose during the past 11 months.

In the intervening period, we have expanded our program to include informal educators, university students, hobbyists, and other citizen scientists, as well as teachers. Teachers in Space is now part of a larger program called Citizens in Space.

There has been some confusion due to statements made by the Space Frontier Foundation, an organization which we worked with in the past. The SFF has created its own education program and has attempted to blur the line between their program and ours by co-opting the name Teachers in Space  – a name we have used since 2005, predating our association with the SFF.

Statements by the Space Frontier Foundation that Chantelle Rose is a current Pathfinder astronaut candidate are not accurate.

Citizens in Space remains entirely under the control of the United States Rocket Academy. We have not transferred the ten Pathfinder spaceflights, or any other part of our program, to the Space Frontier Foundation, nor do we intend to do so, nor do we plan to work with the Space Frontier Foundation in the future. Statements to the contrary are not accurate.

The Space Frontier Foundation played no role in purchasing the suborbital spaceflights. The failure of the SFF to raise money for flights is one of the reasons for our disassociation. The SFF was supposed to be working to raise funds to purchase additional flights but never did so. We were told that one of their board members would devote herself entirely to that task. Instead, she devoted all of her time to other SFF projects. Two years later, she had not scheduled a single fundraising event or raised a single dollar for Teachers in Space.

As stated on our website, we have three Pathfinder astronaut candidates at this time: Maureen Adams, Lt. Col. Steve Heck (USAF-ret.), and a third candidate whose identity is being kept confidential for privacy reasons. As additional candidates are selected, they will be announced on this website. The Space Frontier Foundation will not be part of the selection process.

Maureen Adams and Steve Heck have agreed to continue working with the SFF on NASA-funded educational workshops for the remainder of the summer, in order to honor their commitments to NASA. They have informed the SFF of their resignation, effective with the end of the summer workshops, and requested that their names and photographs be removed from SFF websites and promotional materials.

Some of the former Pathfinder astronaut candidates, including Chantelle Rose, continue to work with the Space Frontier Foundation. The Space Frontier Foundation has misrepresented the status of those individuals. We regret the confusion this has caused. Please continue to visit www.citizensinspace.org for accurate information about our program.

Written by Astro1 on July 26th, 2012 , Citizens in Space

Dennis Wingo has published an interesting, thoughtful, and well-written piece on lunar economic development. Unfortunately, it’s marred by a false premise.

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Written by Astro1 on July 25th, 2012 , Space Exploration (General)

Ariel Waldman, founder of Science Hack Day and Spacehack.org, spoke on “Hacking Space Exploration” at the 2011 Open Source Convention in Portland, Oregon.

We’re not religious adherents to open-source ideology. We believe that both open-source and closed-source projects have their place. We do believe, however, that the potential of open source has not been sufficiently exploited for space projects.

We’re offering experimenters the chance to fly 100 open-source payloads on XCOR’s Lynx. We hope to fly additional payloads on Lynx and other suborbital vehicles in the future. The reason why we want these payloads to be open source is so other people (both citizen scientists and professional researchers) can duplicate them in the future.

There are limits to how much money a citizen-science organization can raise, but if one of our experiments is successful and catches the attention of a professional research organization, it might be repeated hundreds of times. That would increase the demand for suborbital flights, increasing the flight rate and helping to drive down costs for all payload users (including us). We think that open source and citizen science can play a key role in helping to create a virtuous cycle of cost reduction.

We’ll confess, though – helping to drive down the cost of space access, while important, isn’t our only motive. We also think that space science can be fun, and we don’t think professional researchers should have a monopoly on fun.

Written by Astro1 on July 24th, 2012 , Citizen Science (General), Innovation

Good news. We’ve cleared an important hurdle, which was placed in our path by the US government.

Ever since we announced our citizen science-challenges this spring, we’ve been telling prospective applicants to consult the XCOR Lynx Payload User’s Guide for technical details. Unfortunately, the Payload User’s Guide hasn’t been unavailable until now.

When we made our initial announcement, we expected the Payload User’s Guide to be available in a matter of days, but its release was held up by ITAR (Intenational Traffic in Arms Regulations) – the bureaucratic nightmare that is the bane of the space industry.

Today, XCOR announced that the Payload User’s Guide is available.  Electronic copies can be requested through the XCOR website.

Let the payload-development games begin.

Written by Astro1 on July 24th, 2012 , Citizens in Space, XCOR Aerospace

Aviation Week reports that Virgin Galactic is developing a liquid-propellant engine that will ultimately replace the hybrid rocket motor used in SpaceShip Two.

This report is being treated as a revelation, but it’s not really surprising. Doug Shane of Scaled Composites spoke of such a possibility at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Responsive Access to Space Technology Exchange conference back in 2006. Shane, who later replaced Burt Rutan as president of Scaled, said that changing out hybrid motors after each flight was an acceptable way of getting the suborbital spaceflight business started but they would want to switch to a “different kind of engine” at some point.

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Written by Astro1 on July 24th, 2012 , Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic

Buckner Hightower of Excalibur Almaz spoke at the Frontiers of Flight Museum on Saturday. His talk revealed some interesting details of Excalibur Almaz’s plans and current status.

Excalibur Almaz commercial lunar space station mission

Hightower said that Excalibur Almaz has completed all of its scheduled milestones under its unfunded Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Development program. As part of this work, the EADS Astrium consortium developed a service-module concept for the four Russian TKS capsules which Excalibur Almaz has purchased. Hightower said that Excalibur Almaz is prepared to step in and replace one of the primary CCDEV  partners, if unexpected difficulties arise, but EA’s primary focus is no longer on the International Space Station or Low Earth Orbit.

Excalibur Almaz is now focusing on cislunar flights. The company wants to place one of its two Salyut-class Almaz space stations in a halo orbit around the Earth-Moon L2 point, on the far side of the Moon. L2 would be the farthest human beings have ever ventured from the surface of the Earth.

The Almaz space station was originally designed as a military reconnaissance station, which could photograph the Earth and return photos with small ejectable reentry capsules. As a result, the Almaz space station has a 2-meter telescope which could be used to study the Moon and the ability to eject small landers to the lunar surface.

The station is designed for a crew of six, but Excalibur Almaz would reconfigure it for a crew of five. This configuration would allow for a three-week mission at L2.

Excalibur Almaz believes a mission to L2 could generate $900 million in revenues. That includes three seats which would be sold to sovereign government or private space explorers for $150 million apiece, delivery of satellites to L2 for $75 million apiece, delivery of small payloads to the lunar surface for $350 million apiece, and $32 million for naming rights.

Hightower believes Excalibur Almaz could perform its first L2 mission in about 30 months, after recapitalization.

It’s likely to take longer than that, in our view. Like SpaceX’s Red Dragon concept, this is a bold and exciting concept but may be a step too far at the present time. In our view, mankind needs to achieve a solid foothold in space by establishing reliable, routine, low-cost access before deep-space missions like this will still to pay off. That’s why we are focusing on suborbital missions. On the other hand, there’s no reason why both approaches can’t be pursued in parallel. Whether Excalibur Almaz succeeds or fails, it won’t harm the quest to develop low-cost reusable space vehicles and might help.

That is in marked contrast to the vision of space exploration advanced by the Lunar and Planetary Institute’s Dr. Paul Spudis, who continues to bash commercial spaceflight at every opportunity. Dr. Spudis was a member of the Aldridge Commission, which produced space-policy recommendations in support of the Bush Vision of Space Exploration. The Aldridge Commission’s final report proclaimed that human spaceflight would “remain the providence [sic] of government” for the foreseeable future. Incredibly, that report came out just a few week after Mike Melvill earned the first FAA Commercial Astronaut wings flying SpaceShip One. They say that hindsight is always 20/20 – except when it comes to government commissions, apparently. Dr. Spudis continues to exhibit the same short-sightedness today.

 

Written by Astro1 on July 23rd, 2012 , Excalibur Almaz, Innovation

NanoRacks, LLC has completed an internal investigation into the failure of some student experiments that were delivered to the International Space Station by the SpaceX Dragon in May and returned by the Russian Soyuz in July.

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Written by Astro1 on July 15th, 2012 , Citizen Science (General), NanoRacks, XCOR Aerospace

(Dallas) The United States Rocket Academy welcomed this week’s announcement that XCOR Aerospace will establish a new Commercial Space Research and Development Center in Midland, Texas.

“Texas is on the verge of becoming the Space State,” said United States Rocket Academy chairman Edward Wright. “XCOR will be the fourth company testing fully reusable suborbital rocketships in Texas.”

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Written by Astro1 on July 13th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace Tags:

XCOR Aeropspace will establish a new Commercial Space Research and Development Center Headquarters in Midland, Texas within the next 18 months. Midland Development Corporation is offering $10 million in financial incentives to assist with the move, which was announced today in Midland.

Texas Governor Rick Perry appeared at the press conference. Perry said, “This is a great day for Midland and a huge step forward for the State of Texas. Visionary companies, like XCOR, continue to choose Texas because they know that innovation is fueled by freedom. Whether on the cutting edge of biotech, communications, commerce or privatized efforts to serve the needs of the next generation of space explorers, you can find Texas at the forefront of the movement.”

XCOR will establish a new R&D center, including office space and a test facility, in a newly renovated 60,000-square-foot hangar at Midland International Airport. Renovation will begin in early 2013 and be completed by late autumn.

XCOR chief operating officer Andrew Nelson said, “We are pleased to be establishing our R&D Center in Midland, Texas, where the weather, surrounding landscape, the airport, and the local and state government environment are ideally situated for the future growth and the ultimate realization of a fully reusable orbital system. With future suborbital operational sites on the East and West Coasts of the United States and around the world, plus a manufacturing and test facility geographically separate from our R&D facility, Midland will truly be at the heart of XCOR’s innovation engine.”

The City of Midland is applying to the Federal Aviation Administration for a Commercial Space Launch Site designation, an estimated 12 to 18 months process. Upon completion of the licensing process and the hangar renovation, the XCOR presence will ramp up.

Written by Astro1 on July 9th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace Tags:

We were sworn to secrecy until the official press conference, but a local Texas reporter leaked the story this morning, so it’s now public.

cowboy, horse, and spaceship

XCOR Aerospace is coming to Midland, Texas.

The CBS 7  news story is here.

For any Yankees who don’t know, Midland Texas is home to the Commemorative Air Force Airpower Museum and the CAF’s annual Airsho (yes, that’s spelling correctly), which may have an interesting new act in the near future.

Written by Astro1 on July 6th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace Tags:

Some independent thoughts about suborbital markets on the Fourth of July.

fireworks

Tuesday night we watched the Kaboomtown fireworks show at Addison Airport. The ground-launch fireworks were impressive (it’s rated as one of the top five pyrotechnic displays in the United States, according the Travel Channel), but we noticed the greatest reaction at the start of the show, when fireworks were launched from a B-24 flying above the field.

At least, we believe it was the B-24. It was too dark to clearly discern the outlines of the aircraft, and there were no loudspeakers in our area to provide narration.

This led us to think about the possibility that someday, in the not too distant future, we might see fireworks launched from a suborbital spacecraft, and to muse on the form such a display might take.

The most practical display might not be actual fireworks at all. After all, fireworks explosions 50 miles up would be quite small as viewed from the ground, and there would be “boom” at all. Not very much fun. But in the past, scientists have used sounding rockets to create artificial auroras by releasing trimethyl aluminum into the upper atmosphere or exciting the upper atmosphere with electron beams. An artificial aurora might be an interesting complement to a ground-based fireworks show. Of course, the suborbital spacecraft could also launch fireworks on the way up or on the way down, while still close enough to the ground for an effective display.

Fireworks might seem like a frivolous use of suborbital spaceflight, and certainly no one would go to the expensive of developing a spacecraft for this purpose. But once suborbital spacecraft exist, operators will no doubt find all sorts of niche applications and customers like this.

Of course, this type of entertainment display requires a suborbital spacecraft that’s capable of launching and landing at night. The suborbital spacecraft now under development are designed for operation under daytime VFR conditions. There’s no point in adding the complexities of night-time and all-weather operation at this time. Once suborbital spacecraft are flying on a regular basis, though, it’s only a matter of time before someone decides to do the extra development of the avionics and procedures required for night operations. (There will be scientific payloads that want to fly at night as well.) Perhaps the NASA Flight Opportunities program, which has been funding enhancements to suborbital vehicles for scientific missions, will decide to take an interest at some point.

Written by Astro1 on July 4th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General), Innovation

Masten Space Systems’s XAERO recently completed a record flight to 444 meters (1457 feet) above ground level. XAERO is the first Masten vehicle with an aeroshell, which will allow flights to high altitude. Masten is currently conducting envelope-expansion tests to verify the new aerodynamics.

Written by Astro1 on July 4th, 2012 , Masten Space Systems
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