A group of New Mexico legislators led by Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Demming) is warning that the $200-million Spaceport America “could become a ghost town, with tumbleweeds crossing the runways” if critical liability legislation is not passed.

The New Mexico legislature has passed a liability law that protects space-transportation operators such as Virgin Galactic, but the bill does not cover vehicle manufacturers and part suppliers. That omission puts New Mexico “at a terrible disadvantage” relative to Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia, Smith said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on December 30th, 2012 , Spaceports

In the near future, a trip into space may be comparable in cost to a high-end hunting trip. Big-game hunters now spend up to $125,000 to bag a single male lion in Africa.

That compares to the $97,000-$200,000 which companies like XCOR and Virgin Galactic plan to charge for a suborbital flight.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on December 29th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

An interesting comment from Dr. Gerry Harp, who recently succeeded Dr. Jill Tarter as director of the Center for SETI Research:

This endeavor is not as long a shot as people think. The technology is growing exponentially, especially signal processing, as computers are getting faster. Every six years our search speed is increased by a factor of 10. It’s not like we’re looking at star after star after star at the same rate.

This example shows that, contrary to certain “space cynics,” Moore’s Law of exponential growth can apply in space research.

Unfortunately, many space programs are still stuck in a pattern of slow (or even negative) arithmetic growth, due to political decisions that have kept NASA wedded to last-generation technologies and systems like Orion and JWST.

Written by Astro1 on December 28th, 2012 , Astrobiology, Astronomy

The Smithsonian Institution, the nation’s largest collection of museums, says Americans should stay home. They do not need to travel to Washington, DC and should not plan to visit any of the Smithsonian’s museums.

Okay, they didn’t really say that — but that’s what they would say if they were intellectually consistent.

A recent post on the Smithsonian’s blog makes a Politically Correct argument that Americans should not travel into space:

But why must our species continue to advance? Do we really want to keep growing? I believe that the physical limitations and boundaries of our planet, if not insurmountable by our technology, might be worth respecting. I also believe we should employ our brilliance as a species in figuring out how to live sustainably on this planet, and I would argue that it’s not our business to plunder the natural resources of any other worlds unless we can at least learn to manage and preserve our own—a challenge at which we are failing.

If the Smithsonian wants to stop our species from advancing, putting an end to space travel is a start, but the Smithsonian can do more than that. It should recommend that Americans avoid visiting educational institutions like the Smithsonian. The physical limitations and boundaries of their home states, if not insurmountable by technology, might be worth respecting. Instead of “plundering” the resources of any other states, shouldn’t Americans stay home and use their brilliance to live sustainably in their own towns and villages?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on December 28th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration

In one of his last public appearances, Neil Armstrong spoke about the X-15 rocketplane at the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Palo Alto last February. It was appropriate that Armstrong, one of the pilots who flew America’s first suborbital spacecraft, got to meet the developers who are building America’s next generation of suborbital spacecraft. RIP, Neil.


Written by Astro1 on December 28th, 2012 , Space History

Courtesy of Science Bob.


Written by Astro1 on December 27th, 2012 , Education

SpaceX’s reusable first-stage test vehicle (Grasshopper) completed a 29-second, 12-story test hop on December 17, 2012 at the company’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.


Grasshopper rose 131 feet, hovered and landed safely on the pad using closed-loop thrust-vector and throttle control. The test marks a significant increase over previous hops which took place earlier this fall. Grasshopper flew to 6 feet in September and 17.7 feet in November.

Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage, Merlin 1D engine, four steel landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure.

Written by Astro1 on December 26th, 2012 , SpaceX Tags:

Space is not just the final frontier. It’s the citizen-science frontier. Thanks to rapid advances in technology, it’s now possible for citizen scientists to build high-quality space-science hardware with off-the-shelf components.

Interest in citizen science and participatory exploration has exploded in recent years. New technologies are making it easier for private citizens  to become involved in the scientific process. More and more, the professional scientific community is recognizing the importance of contributions made by dedicated amateurs. Citizen scientists are discovering exoplanets and dinosaurs, monitoring climate and endangered species, and helping to map the human genome.

The development of low-cost reusable suborbital spacecraft will be the next great enabler, allowing citizens to participate in space exploration and space science.

Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, is riding this new wave of citizen science citizen space exploration.

XCOR Lynx with Atsa Suborbital Observatory space telescope

For the first phase of our project, we have acquired an initial contract for 10 suborbital spaceflights with one of the new space transportation companies — XCOR Aerospace. This represents, to the best of our knowledge, the largest single bulk purchase of suborbital flights to date. We will be making payload space on these flights available to citizen scientists and to professional researchers who play by our open-source rules. We expect to fly up to 100 small experiments in our initial flight campaign. For information on submitting payloads, see our Call for Experiments.

Citizens in Space will also select and train 10 citizen astronauts to fly as payload operators. We have three astronaut candidates already in training. We’ll be recruiting seven more over the next 12 to 24 months.

For more information on our program, click here.

As we move from short-duration stays in space to long-duration expeditions to permanent settlement, human factors become more important. In the early days of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, NASA was more concerned with providing basic nutrition than making food palatable. The food supplied to astronauts aboard ISS is much improved, but no one would mistake it for gourmet or home cooking.

As space travel becomes more routine, space cuisine will no doubt become more elaborate and more closely resemble the meals humans are used to on Earth. In this short film, a French animator gives his take on what space settlers might like to see.

[vimeo 41235461 w=700]

Written by Astro1 on December 22nd, 2012 , Space Settlement

Generation Orbit small-satellite airborne launch system (GO Launcher)

Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. has announced a strategic partnership with Space Propulsion Group of Sunnyvale, California to continue development of the company’s airborne small-satellite launch system, known as GO Launcher.

Generation Orbit and Space Propulsion Group plan to develop new launch systems offering suborbital and orbital launch services to commercial, government, and academic customers.

Space Propulsion Group has spent the last decade designing, developing, and manufacturing paraffin-fueled hybrid rockets. SPG has ground-tested six 22-inch diameter, flight-weight LOX/paraffin motors, with the latest test taking place in July 2012.


Generation Orbit chief operating officer A.J. Piplica said, “GO and SPG have been developing a working relationship to bring a dedicated launch capability to the micro- and nanosatellite community. With that relationship now formalized, our synergistic development plans are starting to take shape.”

Space Propulsion Group president and chief technology officer Arif Karabeyoglu said, “SPG’s advanced hybrid rockets deliver very high performance while retaining the affordability, safety and simplicity vital to the next generation of small launch vehicles. Combined with Generation Orbit’s innovative approach to air launch, advanced hybrids are a perfect fit for developing a cost effective and responsive launch capability for small satellites.”

Written by Astro1 on December 21st, 2012 , Nanosatellites

After many years of complaints by the space industry, the United States government is finally moving close to reform on space export-control regulations.

ITAR, or International Traffic in Arms Regulations, was originally intended to control international arms shipments. Unfortunately, the regulations have been applied to space vehicles, satellites, and related technologies that are dual-use or purely civilian in nature.

The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets are reporting that the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, just passed by the House and awaiting action in the Senate, would reverse some of the harshest changes to ITAR regulations that have been made in recent years. The bill would give the President more flexibility to determine how satellites and related technologies are regulated. That flexibility was taken away by Congressional action in the 1990’s. [Update: The bill has now been passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.]

This action is welcome news for Citizens in Space. “Related technologies” could be interpreted to include some of the suborbital experiments which will be flown by Citizens in Space. Although we do not plan to export any technology, the current regulations recognize a wide variety of discussions and interactions with foreign nationals as “deemed exports” which are subject to ITAR regulation and require prior State Department approval. This has raised serious questions about the ability of foreign nationals to participate in Citizens in Space by building experiments for our flights.

The news of potential ITAR reform has been greeted enthusiastically by industry groups including the Commercial Space Federation, the Aerospace Industries Association, and the Space Foundation.

Stuart Witt, chairman of the Commercial Space Federation and manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port, said “It is exciting to see progress on export reform at such an important time for the industry. Removing unnecessary regulations will allow companies to spend their valuable resources on testing and developing their technologies, allowing the U.S. to retain its leadership as an innovator. We hope progress in this area will encourage the removal of manned suborbital spaceflight systems from the US Munitions List. These vehicles have innumerable civilian uses, and should be on the Commerce Control List, where many dual-use technologies with predominantly civilian uses are already regulated.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on December 21st, 2012 , Space Policy and Management

Moon lunar surface from orbitTwo Google Lunar X-Prize teams are merging. Moon Express has announced an agreement with Huntsville-based Dynetics to acquire the Rocket City Space Pioneers team.

The agreement allows Moon Express to leverage the work of RCSP and its partners: Dynetics, Teledyne Brown Engineering, Andrews Aerospace, Draper Laboratory, The University of Alabama in Huntsville, Von Braun Center for Science & Innovation, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Moog, Huntsville Center for Technology, and Analytical Mechanics Associates.

The agreement also allows for the transition of RCSP team leader Tim Pickens to the role of chief propulsion engineer for Moon Express. Pickens was the lead propulsion designer for Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004.

Both Moon Express and RCSP/Dynetics were selected for NASA lunar data-purchase contracts in the fall of 2010. The contracts are potentially worth up to $10 million each.

Moon Express was also selected by NASA for a Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data contract, worth up to $10 million, in 2010. The ILDD program pays companies for access and insight into commercial lunar plans.

Moon Express, based at the NASA Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley, is considered one of the leading contenders to win the $30-million Google Lunar X-Prize. Forbes magazine called Moon Express one of the 15 “Names You Need to Know” in 2011. Leadership is relative, however. None of the Lunar X-Prize teams have been burning up the track and skeptics are beginning to doubt that the Google Lunar X-Prize will be won before the prize money expires. So, this merger must be viewed as a positive sign. Perhaps, with their greater resources, the combined team will start to get some traction.

Written by Astro1 on December 20th, 2012 , Lunar Science Tags:

Dr. Jason Reimuller of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado spoke at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting on Monday.  In a session on “Exploring Geoscience Frontiers with Low-Cost Access to Space,” Dr. Reimuller talked about his plan to study polar mesospheric clouds (also called noctilucent clouds) with funding from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.

Dr. Reimuller’s experiment plan calls for a week-long campaign with multiple flights of the XCOR Lynx spacecraft operating from a high-latitude launch site. Elmendorf AFB, Alaska and Kiruna, Sweden are possibilities. Reimuller plans to conduct one initial flight from Mojave to gather baseline instrument data prior to the high-latitude deployment.

The first year’s campaign, flying on the Lynx Mark II, would use a Canon EOS-30D camera with a linear polarizer as the primary instrument. In later years, the Lynx Mark III would carry a dedicated external observatory.

XCOR Lynx with Atsa Suborbital Observatory space telescope

Reimuller considers the ability to fly multiple times per day to be a key advantage for reusable suborbital spacecraft. Based on past experience with aircraft experiments, he believes the ability to tweak an instrument and refly within two hours is important.

Reimuller doesn’t expect to use the full capacity of the Lynx every day, however. Instead, he expects there will be some flights available for other researchers who want to piggy-back onto the high-latitude deployment.

Would there be takers for those flights? Certainly. We spoke to another atmospheric researcher later in the day who told us about her own requirement for high-latitude missions. In fact, we would likely take advantage of such an opportunity ourselves. Once our High Altitude Astrobiology experiment is successfully demonstrated, we will want to repeat the experiment at various geographic locations, including multiple latitudes.

Written by Astro1 on December 4th, 2012 , Atmospheric Science, XCOR Aerospace