Texas Governor Rick Perry devoted almost a full minute to commercial spaceflight during his State of the State Address.

Companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and XCOR Aerospace are helping to make Texas the Space State.

Written by Astro1 on January 31st, 2013 , Blue Origin, Commercial Space (General), SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace Tags:

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting body docked to Internation Space Station

The addition of Lockheed Martin to the Dream Chaser team is interesting in a number of ways. The commercial human spaceflight market is no longer limited to new companies and small players. All of the major US aerospace companies now have a foot in the door. Boeing is developing the CST-100 crew capsule under NASA’s CCDev program. Northrop Grumman owns Scaled Composites, which is building the SpaceShip Two prototype and also a partner in Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch. Orbital Sciences is also a partner in Stratolaunch. And Lockheed Martin is now partnering with Sierra Nevada to help develop the world’s first manned orbital lifting body.

Dream Chaser will be the first time a lifting body has carried humans into space, but the new partnership builds on decades of lifting-body experience from the Martin side of Lockheed Martin. Martin Marietta, one of Lockheed’s heritage companies, built the X-24A lifting body for the US Air Force in the  late 60’s and rebuilt it as the X-24B in the early 1970’s. The X-24B had a new shape, derived from wind-tunnel testing, which promised greatly improved lift/drag at hypersonic speeds. Both lifting bodies used the same Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-13 rocket engine, an evolved version of the XLR-RM-5 that propelled Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 through the sound barrier in 1946.

Martin Marietta X-24B lifting-body experimental test vehicle (USAF/NASA)

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Written by Astro1 on January 31st, 2013 , Lockheed Martin

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser launch from Florida Kennedy Space Center

On Wednesday, Sierra Nevada Corporation held a press conference to make a major announcement concerning the development of its development its Dream Chaser lifting body. The question-and-answer session also revealed interesting facts about Sierra Nevada’s plans for Dream Chaser, which are not limited to the International Space Station.

The major topic of the press conference was Sierra Nevada’s new partnership with Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. Lockheed Martin, it was announced, will build the composite structure for the Dream Chaser flight test article at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. The structure is being built under the $212.5 million Space Act Agreement which Sierra Nevada recieved under the NASA Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Program. Lockheed Martin will also serve as a certification partner to help Sierra Nevada achieve NASA’s certification requirements for carrying crew to the International Space Station.

During the question-and-answer session, Mark Sirangelo said the destination for Dream Chaser is Low Earth Orbit, not just the International Space Station. Sirangelo is Sierra Nevada’s corporate vice president and head of Space Systems.

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Written by Astro1 on January 31st, 2013 , Lockheed Martin, Sierra Nevada

Another science experiment from NASA astronaut Don Petit, which could serve as a starting point for developing a suborbital experiment.

Written by Astro1 on January 31st, 2013 , Microgravity

Another one of Don Petit’s Saturday Morning Science experiments. We hope this videos provide inspiration for experiments you would like to fly on our suborbital flights.

Written by Astro1 on January 29th, 2013 , Microgravity Tags:

A microscope is a potentially useful piece of hardware for microgravity experiments. There’s a wide range of small USB microscopes on the market, at price points from under $100 to several hundred dollars. Unfortunately, these microscopes are generally designed to use a Windows or Macintosh computer for data capture, which is a problem for our purposes.

Information on Linux compatibility for these microscopes is hard to come by. Fortunately, Adafruit sells a USB microscope which they have worked out the Linux compatibility for.

Linux compatibility means the microscope could be used with a small single-board Linux computer such as the $40 Raspberry Pi or the slightly more expensive but more powerful BeagleBone, either of which will fit within the CubeSat form factor.

The Adafruit USB microscope sells for $80, so it’s not a high-end microscope by any means, but it may be good enough for many purposes. It is probable that other USB microscopes can be made to work with Linux as well. For right now, this is a start.

Written by Astro1 on January 29th, 2013 , Microgravity Tags:

NASA astronaut Don Petit performs a simple microgravity experiment using Alka Seltzer aboard the International Space Station.

This experiment could easily be duplicated on a suborbital flight. One possible variation on the experiment might use dry ice instead of Alka Seltzer as a carbon dioxide source.

Written by Astro1 on January 29th, 2013 , Microgravity Tags:

Dr. Justin Wilkinson of NASA’s Crew Earth Observations Office narrated this stunning compilation of images from LEO.

That’s right, LEO. Low Earth Orbit. Where Carl Sagan and Bob Zubrin told us there’s nothing worth seeing. The place we “have to get out of.”

For the record, only 530 people have flown in space. More than 3,100 have climbed Mt. Everest. 220 of those climbers have died in the attempt. In recent years, the fatality has declined to “only” four percent. Higher than Soyuz or the Space Shuttle.

Yet, some would tell us that astronauts in LEO are not explorers and there’s nothing worth seeing Out There.

Related: Astronaut Don Petit talks about photo techniques he used aboard the International Space Station in this video.

Written by Astro1 on January 28th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

On February 15, an asteroid half the size of a football field will fly past Earth, only 17,200 miles above our planet’s surface.

This is the first time an object this large has been seen so close to Earth since NEO sky surveys began in the 1990’s.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 was discovered by amateur astronomers at the La Sagra Observatory in Spain on February 22, 2012. Orbital calculations show there’s no danger of 2012 DA14 actually hitting Earth, but it’s a pity we don’t have a quick-reaction sortie vehicle or tug that could get into position for a close look as it whizzes by. Such a vehicle would have a wide range commercial and military applications; the occassional rare science opportunity like this would be just an added bonus.

The Virtual Telescope Project will be holding a live coverage event starting at 22:00 Universal Time (5:00 PM EST, 2:00 PM PST) on February 15.

Written by Astro1 on January 28th, 2013 , Astronomy, Planetary Defense

This video shows a simple fluid experiment aboard NASA’s DC-9 Weightless Wonder aircraft.

In 1996, fluid mechanics scientist, Dr. Mark Weislogel, performed 50 water-balloon experiments during a four-day flight campaign aboard the DC-9 at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. More information on the experiments is available at http://spaceflightsystems.grc.nasa.gov/WaterBalloon and at http://microgravity.grc.nasa.gov/balloon/HS.HTM.

Although these flights are commonly described as “zero gravity,” that is not strictly accurate. Because of limitations on the precision of the parabolic trajectory, occupants do experience some residual gravity. The preferred term is “microgravity,” although that is not strictly accurate, either.

The residual gravity experienced on the best parabolic flights is typically +/-0.2g. So, technically, these should be called centigravity flights. No one uses that term, though, so don’t do it unless you want to sound like Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory.”

Because they fly above atmospheric disturbances, suborbital spacecraft will be able to achieve microgravity levels that are more than 100 times better.

Here’s another water-balloon video. This one was shot by astronaut Don Petit aboard the International Space Station:

Written by Astro1 on January 28th, 2013 , Microgravity

Dave Masten, CTO Masten Space Systems

Masten Space Systems, one of the leaders in VTOL rocket development, has announced the availability of postgraduate fellowships.

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Written by Astro1 on January 27th, 2013 , Masten Space Systems

Astronauts 4 Hire is a private company that intends to provide a pool of trained payload specialists for suborbital spaceflights. The following video shows some of their current training activities.

Written by Astro1 on January 27th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Commercial Space (General)

The following video is a recent interview with Dr. Helen Sharman, who became Britain’s first astronaut and the first woman to visit the Mir space station in 1991. Dr. Sharman spent 8 days in space, launching aboard the Soyuz TM-12 capsule on 18 May 1991 and returning aboard Soyuz TM-11 on 26 May 1991. (Note: This is a lengthy interview, running for a bit over one hour.)

Dr. Helen Sharman was a 26-year-old researcher studying flavor chemistry for the Mars candy company when she applied for Project Juno in 1989.

Project Juno was the first step in a gradual transition from the old paradigm of government space programs to the new paradigm of citizen space exploration. The project, which gegan in 1989, was a joint venture between the Russian government (which was seeking to reach out to the West as part of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost) and a consortium of private sponsors including British Aerospace, Memorex, Interflora, and ITV. By the time the flight occurred in 1991, the Russian government had taken a larger role than expected due to the consortium’s failure to raise the full amount of money that was anticipated.

One vestige of the old government paradigm can be seen in the way the astronaut candidates were treated: e.g., being involuntarily sequestered in a Russian hospital for two weeks while redundant medical tests were performed. Space medicine is an indispensable discipline which plays a necessary role in ensuring the safety of human spaceflight, but the amount of power given to flight surgeons in government space programs has been a frequent source of conflict.

Sharman and her backup, British Army Major Timothy Mace, were required to spend 18 months in Russia training for the spaceflight. This was later reduced to six months for clients of Space Adventures, which has sent citizen explorers to the International Space Station eight times since 2001.

Space Adventures has managed to wring more concessions out of the Russian Space Agency than the Juno consortium did, but those are still half measures. Truly commercial spaceflight depends on the development of commercial vehicles, which is still in progress.

Another portion of the interview worth noting is Dr. Sharman’s description of the landing incident. Such incidents have been fairly common in the Soyuz program; they are one of several data points which disprove the myth that Soyuz, unlike Shuttle, has had a 100% safety record.

Written by Astro1 on January 27th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

DARPA Membrane Optic Imager Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE)

Hollywood loves to imagine military systems with all sorts of capabilities that do not exist in the real world. One of their favorites is the satellite that’s able to hover over a target and rely high-resolution images back to a ground station on Earth.

This is not possible in the real world because current imaging satellites are in Low Earth Orbit, move on fixed flight paths, and see only a small part of the Earth at any given time.

That’s not to say that warfighters wouldn’t like to have something resembling those fictional abilities. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on January 26th, 2013 , Military Space

The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency produced this video as a status update on the DARPA Phoenix program.

The Phoenix project is developing technologies to harvest valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites for reuse. DARPA seeks to demonstrate the ability to create new space systems onorbit at greatly reduced cost by reusing apertures and antennas from decommissioned satellites in a graveyard or disposal orbit.

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Written by Astro1 on January 25th, 2013 , Military Space

Merger of two neutron stars, a source of short-duration gamma-ray bursts

A cosmic catastrophe may have occurred in our part of the galaxy less than 1300 years ago. A similar event today could have damaging effects on our technological civilization.

A new paper by astronomers Valeri Hambaryan and Ralph Neuhӓuser at the University of Jena, Germany suggests that a short-duration gamma-ray burst from the merging of two stellar remnants may have caused an intense blast of high-energy radiation that hit the Earth in the 8th century. The paper, A Galactic short gamma-ray burst as cause for the 14C peak in AD 774/5, is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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Written by Astro1 on January 23rd, 2013 , Planetary Defense

The New Mexican standoff has ended. Legislators have reached a compromise to resolve a liability that threatened to turn Spaceport America into a ghost town.

The issue hinges on liability waivers for spaceflight participants, who fly under the FAA’s doctrine of “informed consent.” The state needs to pass legislation to ensure that those waivers will stand up in court. This is similar to liability protection which the state provides for other industries, such as skiing and horseback riding, where the participant accepts a risk.

New Mexico has existing legislation that protects space-vehicle operators from lawsuits by spaceflight participants, but the existing legislation does not extend to vehicle and part manufacturers. That is a big concern for Virgin Galactic, which recently acquired 100% ownership in The SpaceShip Company, making it the manufacturer as well as operator. Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant at SpacePort America, and there was concern that Virgin might pull out if the law was not extended to cover manufacturers.

Adding to New Mexico’s woes is the fact that other states, such as Texas, have already passed liability legislation that covers manufacturers.

New Mexico lawmakers have been trying to pass a more comprehensive spaceflight-participant liability bill since 2011, but their efforts have been blocked by the lobbying of trial lawyers.

Yesterday, it was announced that the two sides had reached a compromise which will allow legislation to pass this year. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the new bill will allow lawsuits against manufacturers but impose a cap on damages. In return, Virgin Galactic would extend its lease on facilities at Spaceport America, which is currently set to expire in 2018.

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Written by Astro1 on January 23rd, 2013 , Spaceports, Virgin Galactic

The history of space launch is replete with rockets that never left the drawing board. One of the most famous of these unbuilt rockets is the Sea Dragon, a true giant which dwarfed even the mighty Saturn rockets of its day.

Robert Truax / Aerojet General Sea Dragon rocket concept with aircraft carrier for scale

The Sea Dragon was the brain child of the US Navy’s rocket pioneer Captain Robert Truax (by then retired), who played a key role in projects such as the Polaris missile, Viking sounding rocket, and Thor IRBM. Working at Aerojet General in the early 1960’s, Truax led a design study of the concept under a NASA contract. A final report was presented in January 1963.

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Written by Astro1 on January 20th, 2013 , Space History

Florida Today reports on a NASA press conference about SpaceX’s Merlin engine problem. NASA says the engine is good to go for the next ISS mission, with certain precautions, but engineers still have not located a specific cause for the failure.

“Investigators think that extra testing may have contributed to a pressure chamber breach,” [NASA ISS program manager] Mike Suffredini said….

Suffredini said engineers had reviewed a huge amount of data but not produced a specific smoking gun,” which he said is not uncommon when investigating systems cannot be recovered.

The next engines in line to fly have been inspected thoroughly, and none has been tested beyond the levels needed to certify them for flight.

Emphasis added.

It sure is nice to bring your engines back home with you, rather than dumping them into the ocean, isn’t it?

That’s hardly news to anyone in the aviation industry. A&P mechanics hate it when a pilot who doesn’t bring part of the airplane back with him.

Still, common wisdom in the space business says expendable vehicles must be cheaper and easier to develop. After all, Von Braun did it that way!

We’re just saying.

Written by Astro1 on January 19th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), SpaceX

There’s no question that exoplanets are the hottest topic in astronomy right now. Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society reports that 30% of all papers presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting this month were on exoplanets. Unfortunately, current telescopes do not permit exoplanet researchers to go beyond what Dr. Geoff Marcy calls “census taking.”

A 100-meter space telescope would revolutionize the field of exoplanet research. It would also be useful in other areas of astronomy, of course.

The Keck Institute for Space Studies is funding the development of an innovative concept for building such a telescope from self-assembling components. This technique would eliminate the need for development of a large and very expensive new rocket.

Written by Astro1 on January 19th, 2013 , Innovation

Boeing CST-100 capsule docks at Bigelow Aerospace space station

Stewart Money at Innerspace has some additional details from the NASA/Bigelow press conference. This part is particularly interesting:

Bigelow announced that the transport price to the station, would be $26.25 million aboard a SpaceX Dragon, or $36.75 million aboard a Boeing CST-100. The 40% price difference is almost certainly due to the much higher cost of the Boeing’s Atlas V launch vehicle, as compared to the SpaceX Falcon 9. The gap could become even more pronounced if Congress ultimately removes the large annual subsidy going to United Launch Alliance in the form of the Launch Capability Contract which is currently on the order of nearly $100 million per flight at current rates.

If this is true, we wonder how Boeing plans to make money. It’s hard to believe that many customers would voluntarily pay $10.5 more for what is essentially the same service.

This might explain why Boeing is reportedly investing very little of its own money in the CST-100. Given a price disadvantage like this, they might not have any customers beyond NASA.

On the other hand, it’s possible Boeing might consider switching the CST-100 to the Falcon 9. Boeing has previously said that CST-100 is booster agnostic. Last year, Boeing said the CST-100 would fly on either the Atlas V or ATK Liberty (the rocket formerly known as Ares I). Liberty is also likely to be a very expensive rocket, besides being vaporware at the moment.

Written by Astro1 on January 18th, 2013 , Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, SpaceX

Space Shuttle Challenger liftoff

Pixar’s restaurant critic Anton Ego noted that in many ways, the work of a critic is easy. “We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

The Space Shuttle has been the target of negative criticism for a long while. Some of that criticism is fair and valid. There’s no doubt that the Shuttle failed to live up to many of its original goals. Some of it is not fair or valid: the claim that the Shuttle was more dangerous than capsules like Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, for example.

Rational people might have expected the criticism to abate after 2004, when President George W. Bush declared the Shuttle program to be a dead horse. That did not happen. Instead, Shuttle bashing became more vehement as the end of the program drew near. It continues still to this day.

Much of the criticism is politically motivated. Many critics contend that the Shuttle’s record proves the folly of trying to build a reusable launch vehicle in the future. In their view, expendable rockets and capsules are the only way man was meant to go into space. That criticism is unfair for two reasons. First, the Shuttle was not a fully reusable launch vehicle. It was a hybrid of reusable and expendable components, and most of its failures can be linked directly to the expendable parts of the system. Second, the Shuttle accomplished far more in its lifetime than the critics would have us believe.

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Written by Astro1 on January 18th, 2013 , Space History

US Air Force Academy FalconSAT-7 space telescope CubeSat tested aboard microgravity aircraft "G Force One"

Here’s another example showing the utility of human-tended experiments on parabolic flights for technology development. This time, it’s low-cost CubeSat hardware.

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Written by Astro1 on January 16th, 2013 , Innovation, Nanosatellites Tags:

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module for International Space Station

New details about the $17.8-million Bigelow Expandable Activity Module for ISS were revealed today.

According to Irene Klotz at Reuters, the inflatable module will weigh 3,000 pounds. It will measure 13 feet long and 10.5 feet in diameter. This is about the same size as the free-flying Genesis I and II modules, which Bigelow already has in orbit, but a slightly different shape.

NASA has not yet formed definite plans for how astronauts will use the new module, which will be delivered in mid-2015 by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Bigelow is interested in using the module to study how the presence of crew affects an inflatable module.

The module will be installed on the International Space Station’s Node 3. NASA has already purchased the Falcon flight for the module, according to Leonard David at Space.com.

Clark Lindsey at New Space Watch reports that the module will be delivered on the eighth flight of the SpaceX Dragon capsule using the capsule’s unpressurized cargo section.

In another interesting development, Bigelow has named the seven sovereign customers who’ve expressed interest in leasing space aboard a future Bigelow commercial space station. Bigelow has preliminary agreements with the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Sweden and the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, according to Reuters.

According to another report by Leonard David, Bigelow expects to have two BA 330 modules ready for construction of Space Station Alpha by late 2016. The Bigelow 330 is a much larger module, weighing 43,000 pounds with a diameter of 22 feet and length of 31 feet.

Bigelow Aerospace previously announced that it plans to charge sovereign customers $23 million for a 30-day stay aboard a Bigelow space station. That price includes space transportation, astronaut training, and consumables. Boeing hopes to supply transportation to the station using its CST-100 capsule, as shown in the following video.

Written by Astro1 on January 16th, 2013 , Bigelow Aerospace, Space Stations