Lynx Cub Payload Carrier (artist's concept)

Lynx Cub Payload Carrier Being Developed at Texas A&M

College Station, Texas – A new payload carrier promises to dramatically reduce the cost of access to space for small scientific and education payloads.

The Lynx Cub Payload Carrier was announced today by the United States Rocket Academy.  The Lynx Cub Carrier will fly on the XCOR Lynx space plane, now under construction at the Mojave Air and Space Port, and carry up to 12 experiments on each flight.

“The Lynx Cub Payload Carrier is a versatile system that installs in the Lynx cabin, behind the pilot’s seat, allowing small experiments to be carried as secondary payloads on any Lynx flight,” said United States Rocket Academy chairman Edward Wright. “The Cub Carrier can be installed and removed quickly for frequent, low-cost flight opportunities.”

Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, will fly the Lynx Cub Carrier on 10 Lynx missions beginning in late 2014 or early 2015. The Lynx Cub Carrier will also be made available to other XCOR customers, as ready-to-fly hardware or as an open-source hardware design.

“XCOR is pleased to welcome this new payload carrier to the Lynx family,” said Khaki Rodway, XCOR Director of Payload Sales and Operations. “The Lynx Cub Carrier is an ideal platform for small materials-processing, fluid-physics, life-science, and engineering experiments. University teaching and research, K-12 education, citizen science, government and industrial R&D will all benefit from the convenient simple interfaces, rapid integration, and affordability of Lynx Cub experiments.”

Lynx Cub Payload Carrier (artist's concept) internal view

The Lynx Cub Carrier is being developed by the United States Rocket Academy and the Space Engineering Research Center, part of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), with support from XCOR Aerospace. Design and fabrication are being done by Texas A&M faculty and students and TEES researchers.

“Lynx Cub payloads are based on the popular 1U, 2U, and 3U CubeSat form factors, which are de facto international standards for small scientific payloads,” said Chip Hill, Director of the Space Engineering Research Center. “The payload carrier provides physical accommodations, electrical power, and limited thermal control for Lynx Cub experiments.”

The Lynx Cub Carrier will be flight-ready in September 2013, Hill said, and will be included in the XCOR Lynx flight test program.

“For the test flights, we will load the Lynx Cub Carrier with payload simulators, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and environmental sensors,” Wright said. “While XCOR is proving out the vehicle, we’ll be gathering baseline data on the thermal environment, the acoustical environment, acceleration, vibration, etc. — data that will help guide experimenters in their payload design.”

“The Space Engineering Research Center has put together a first-class team for this development program,” Hill said. “The involvement of Texas A&M industrial and systems engineering students as key team members, under the mentorship of Dr. Justin Yates and direction of technical lead Dr. Frank Little, provides an excellent opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience with real space hardware.”

A&M student Cress Netherland said, “Developing the Lynx Cub Carrier presents a challenging and unique problem. We are extremely excited about the opportunity to apply our studies to a real world application.”

The Space Engineering Research Center, part of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station in College Station, is also a member of XCOR’s global network of payload integrators, which provides value-added services for Lynx payload developers. TEES is an engineering research agency of the State of Texas and a member of The Texas A&M University System.

XCOR Aerospace, which is developing the suborbital, fully reusable Lynx spacecraft for a variety of scientific and commercial missions, is currently headquartered in Mojave, California. The company will relocate its headquarters to Midland, Texas later this year.

The United States Rocket Academy, a non-profit educational organization that studies and promotes the scientific, military, and commercial applications of human spaceflight, is also located in Texas. Citizens in Space is the United States Rocket Academy’s flagship program.

Lynx Cub Payload Carrier development team members Prof. Justin Yates, Texas A&M industrial and systems engineering students Eric Chao, Cress Netherland, Donald Boyd and Austin Goswick.

Lynx Cub Payload Carrier development team members (left to right): Texas A&M industrial and systems engineering Prof. Justin Yates, students Eric Chao, Cress Netherland, Donald Boyd and Austin Goswick. Not shown: Charles Hill and Dr. Frank Little.

Written by Astro1 on March 28th, 2013 , Citizens in Space

XCOR Aerospace Lynx engine test

Mojave, California — XCOR Aerospace announced a first in aviation and space history, the firing of a full piston pump-powered rocket engine. This breakthrough is the foundation for fully reusable spacecraft that can fly multiple times per day, every day. It is a game changing technology that has the power to fundamentally alter the way we as a society view, visit, and utilize the abundant resources around our planet and in our solar system.

The initial portion of XCOR’s pump test program culminated in a 67-second engine run with the propulsion system mated to the flight weight Lynx fuselage. After the installation of the flight sized liquid oxygen tank, the next test sequence will extend the engine run duration to the full powered flight duration of the Lynx Mark I suborbital vehicle.

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Written by Astro1 on March 26th, 2013 , XCOR Aerospace

On Friday, NASA issued an internal memo suspending all education and public outreach activities, pending budget review.

Effective immediately, all education and public outreach activities should be suspended, pending further review. In terms of scope, this includes all public engagement and outreach events, programs, activities, and products developed and implemented by Headquarters, Mission Directorates, and Centers across the Agency, including all education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects.

The only exceptions are certain press activities: mission announcements, breaking news, and replies to media inquiries. Update: NASA Assocation Administrator for Education Leland Melvin sent out a followup memo on Friday, which exempts certain activities from the suspension. Exempted activities are:

  • Digital Learning Network activities currently scheduled
  • FIRST Robotics
  • Flight Projects (specifically ARISS, EarthKAM, Education downlinks, Zero Robotics)
  • Great Moonbuggy Race
  • Lunabotics Competition
  • Microgravity University activities currently scheduled
  • NASA Educational Technology Services (NETS)
  • NASA Internships. Fellowships, and Scholarships
  • NASA Museum Alliance
  • Science Engineering Mathematics Aerospace Academy (SEMAA)
  • Student Launch Initative and Undergraduate Student Launch Initiative
  • Summer of Innovation

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Written by Astro1 on March 25th, 2013 , Education

Very large asteroid impact, NASA artwork by Don Dixon

NASA had the opportunity to make the case for planetary defense at last week’s meeting of the House Science Committee. Unfortunately, as Jeff Foust reports, NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden (USMC-ret.) failed to make that case.

In fact, General Bolden actually pleaded with Congress not to “pour money into NEO detection and characterization,” saying “that would not be the right thing to do.”

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Written by Astro1 on March 25th, 2013 , Planetary Defense

Masten Space Systems Xaero-B VTVL rocket demonstrator

The Xaero-B is taking shape at Masten Space Systems.

Xaero-B is a replacement for the Xaero VTVL test vehicle that crashed last September. Xaero-B is not a mere copy of the original XAero, however. It incorporates numerous improvements. The payload bay is significantly larger and XAero-B is designed for higher-altitude flights (up to 6 kilometers).

Xaero-B is considerably larger as a result. Xaero was about 12 feet tall. Xaero-B will stand somewhere between 15 and 16 feet tall.

Xaero-B also sports a new boat tail that makes it look a lot like the spaceship Luna from Destination: Moon. More proof that Robert Heinlein had it right all along.

Written by Astro1 on March 25th, 2013 , Masten Space Systems

Making the Invisible Visible is a short film by Christoph Malin, parts of which are excerpted from Don Petit’s lecture on space photography techniques.

Written by Astro1 on March 23rd, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

Four experiments will fly on XCOR Lynx Spacecraft

Mountain View, California – The Silicon Valley Space Center will develop four scientific payloads to fly on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft, which is currently under construction in Mojave, California.

The payloads will fly on missions sponsored by the United States Rocket Academy’s Citizens in Space program. The payloads are part of a cooperative agreement between the Silicon Valley Space Center and Citizens in Space, which was announced today.

“The Silicon Valley Space Center is proud to support the Citizens in Space program,” said Dr. Sean Casey, co-founder of the Silicon Valley Space Center. “This is a unique opportunity to leverage the technical expertise of the Silicon Valley community in support of citizen science and the emerging suborbital spaceflight industry.”

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Written by Astro1 on March 21st, 2013 , Citizens in Space

International Space Station (ISS)

Actress/singer Sarah Brightman is still a cosmonaut in training, but her plans to visit the International Space Station may be in peril, according to an article published by RIA Novosti.

The decision is said to rest in the hands of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and NASA.

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Written by Astro1 on March 16th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

The Federal Communications Commission has issued a Public Notice to help commercial space companies obtain use of communications frequencies for launch, operations, and reentry. Unfortunately, the FCC requirements don’t seem to meet the needs of high-rate launch operations that are expected in the near future.

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Written by Astro1 on March 16th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management

Two planets: Venus and Mars from NASA images

Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars project has attracted some community feedback.

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Written by Astro1 on March 14th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Protein crystals from NASA microgravity experiments

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space has issued the following press release.

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Written by Astro1 on March 14th, 2013 , Astrobiology

Chief test pilot Col. Rick Searfoss (USAF-ret.) talks about the experience citizen space explorers can expect to have in the XCOR Lynx.

Written by Astro1 on March 14th, 2013 , XCOR Aerospace

Next Generation Beaglebone
(Austin, TX) Texas Instruments is previewing a prototype of the Next Generation Beaglebone here at South By Southwest. Faster than the first-gen Beaglebone, with more memory, but also significantly cheaper, the Next Generation Beaglebone hits the streets in April. TI hasn’t revealed pricing yet, but a TI employee hinting it would be “about half” the price of the first-gen board. [Update: The next-generation BeagleBone, now known as BeagleBone Black, has been released.]

TI employees describe the Beaglebone as “a cross between Arduino and Raspberry Pi.” If you don’t speak “embedded systems,” Arduino is a popular open-source microcontroller board to which you can connect a nearly endless assortment of sensors, motors, and effectors; Raspberry Pi is a low-cost, credit-card-sized single-board Linux microcomputer.

The takeaway message is that Beaglebone offers the powerful of a Raspberry Pi with the low-level connectivity of an Arduino. With a 720-MHz superscalar ARM Cortex-A8 processor and 3D graphics accelerator, the first-generation Beaglebone is already faster than Raspberry Pi. It’s popularity has suffered, however, due to the relatively high price ($89 versus $39 for Raspberry Pi Model B).

Raspberry Pi isn’t standing still, however. The stripped-down Raspberry Pi Model A recently went on sale in Europe and will soon be available in the US at a price of $25. So, if you’re responding to our Call for Experiments and need a low-power single-board Linux computer, there are multiple low-cost options. Many of this options will be covered at our Space Hacker Workshop in Silicon Valley on May 4-5.

Matt Richardson has posted a video on the Next Generation Beagleboard.

Written by Astro1 on March 11th, 2013 , Electronics Tags:

(Austin) Richard Garriott de Cayeaux presented an interesting chart during his talk on “The New Golden Age of Space Exploration” at South by Southwest. It shows the number of humans who have been sent into space by various space agencies:

NASA — 332
RFSA — 107
ESA — 33
CSA — 9
JAXA — 8
Space Adventures — 7
China — 6
Bulgaria — 2
Others — 19

The sixth most successful space agency, by this measure, is a private company: Space Adventures. Note that China is number seven. If suborbital companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace are successful, they may quickly exceed the 332 astronauts who have been flown by NASA.

Yet, alarmists still worry that China is about to “overtake the United States” in space, by copying projects which the United States and the Soviet Union accomplished 40 years ago.

Written by Astro1 on March 11th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Space Adventures

Solar Flare
NASA has powered down the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity as a precautionary measure due to a solar flare.

In 2003, a solar storm damaged a radiation instrument on the Mars orbiter Odyssey. NASA does not believe the radiation from this flare poses any danger to Curiosity but is being extra cautious due to recent computer problems with the $1.6 billion rover.

This shutdown illustrates the need for good space-weather forecasting for in-space operations, but space weather also affects the Earth. It will be important for future space travelers as well.

Written by Astro1 on March 7th, 2013 , Planetary Defense, Space Medicine and Safety

The Houston Airport System is officially moving ahead with plans to turn Ellington Airport, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, into an FAA-licensed commercial spaceport, according to statements by airport system director Mario Diaz as reported by the Houston Chronicle and ABC Channel 13.

Diaz made his remarks during a State of the Airports address before the Greater Houston Partnership.

“Space… just happens to be our next destination,” Diaz said. The Houston Airport System has completed a feasibility study that estimates it would cost $48-122 million to turn Ellington into a spaceport for suborbital spacecraft. An FAA license could be obtained in as little as 15-18 months, Diaz believes.

In the longer term, Diaz envisions spacecraft “skimming along the top of the world, connecting Houston with places as far and remote as Singapore in under three hours.”

The Ellington Spaceport would be “a cluster of aviation and aerospace companies can flourish and where Houston can again step forward to lead the nation in the transition from a federal to a commercial space program.” Diaz suggested that Ellington Spaceport might be a site for spacecraft manufacturing as well as operations.

Virgin Galactic was mentioned as a possible customer for the spaceport. XCOR Aerospace, which was not mentioned, plans to move its research-and-development headquarters and corporate to Midland, Texas later this year. Although XCOR plans to conduct R&D flights out of Midland, it does not have current plans for commercial service out of that facility. Basing on XCOR Lynx at Ellington field would provide scientists and citizen space explorers with good views of the Gulf of Mexico.

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Written by Astro1 on March 7th, 2013 , Spaceports Tags:

cowboy, horse, and spaceship

Several pieces of legislation affecting commercial spaceflight are on the docket of the Texas legislature this session.

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Written by Astro1 on March 6th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Space Policy and Management Tags:

European Space Agecny (ESA) / Johns Hopkins University Advanced Physics Laboratory (APL) Asteroid Impact and Deflection mission (AIDA)

The proposed Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission, currently under study by the European Space Agency and the Advanced Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, now has a target: Didymos, a binary asteroid scheduled to pass within 11 million km of Earth in 2022.

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Written by Astro1 on March 2nd, 2013 , Planetary Defense

SpaceX Dragon capsule berthing at the International Space Station

Space Exploration Technologies launched another Dragon capsule this morning, heading for the International Space Station. The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket was perfect, but the Dragon capsule has experienced some anomalies. SpaceX mission controllers have had trouble getting some of the thrusters online.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk explained the problem in a message to his Twitter followers: “Issue with Dragon thruster pods. System inhibiting three of four from initializing. About to command inhibit override.”

SpaceX now reports that vital signs on a second thruster pod are “trending positive.” When SpaceX has at least two pods restored, it will begin manuevering the capsule toward the space station. The loss of some thrusters could result a later-than-planned arrival at the space station. In the worst case, if SpaceX can’t get the second thruster pod working, the mission could be a total loss.

Some people have said that Dragon flights are becoming “routine,” but spaceflight will never be routine until we have reusable vehicles.

Expendable rocket and capsule: “We have a problem with our thrusters and can’t dock with the space station. Looks like we’ll have to abort the mission, lose the vehicle, the payload, and the $100 million customer payment. Space-station crew won’t have clean underwear for another three months. Life is tough.”

Reusable spacecraft: “We have a problem with our thrusters and can’t dock with the space station. Looks like we’ll have to return to base, call in the mechanics, and fly the mission again tomorrow. Space-station crew won’t have fresh sushi for another night. Life is tough.”

Because they don’t throw away expensive hardware, reusable vehicles can also afford more testing and redundancy. So, anomalies are less likely to occur and better tolerated when they do occur. For the most common failures, reusable vehicles are not only “fail safe” but “fail operational.” Most airline passengers are unaware of how often airliners suffer equipment failures in flight. Airliners have enough redundancy that when a piece of hardware fails, the pilots simply shut it down and report the failure to mechanics when the plane lands. Spaceflight needs to evolve to the same point.

Again, we’re just saying.

Written by Astro1 on March 1st, 2013 , Space Policy and Management, SpaceX
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