US military equipment in Iraq

The US military is scrapping $7 billion of equipment in Iraq because the cost of bringing it home exceeds the equipment’s value.

This should be a lesson for space development. A resource is not a resource unless you can afford to extract it and move it where it needs to go.

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Written by Astro1 on June 27th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

Planet Labs, a startup company founded by NASA engineers who worked on the PhoneSat project, has announced plans to launch a flock of 28 nanosatellites for remote sensing.

Planet Labs Dove-1 remote-sensing satellite test image

Flock 1 will be launched as a secondary payload on an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares mission headed for the International Space Station in 2014. Planet Labs (formerly known as Cosmogia) successfully launched two test satellites, Dove-1 and Dove-2, on an Antares test flight and a Soyuz mission in April 2013.

Like NASA’s PhoneSats, Planet Labs’ Dove satellites are built from low-cost non-traditional aerospace parts. Operating a large number of very-low-cost satellites will allow Planet Labs to provide remote-sensing data with unique coverage and cadence. Instead of the traditional model of point-and-shoot imaging with targets chosen by high-paying customers, Planet Labs will have an always-on imaging platform with broad coverage and frequently updated imagery. The CubeSat satellites will be placed into 400-kilometer circular orbits, where they will provide 3-5 meter resolution imaging of the Earth from the equator to 52 degrees (approximately the latitude of London, England or the Falkland Islands).

The scale of the imaging does not compromise privacy but allows monitoring of deforestation, agricultural yields, and natural disasters. The company intends to use an open-data model so that everyone from ecologists to citizen journalists will be able to track changes on the planet.

Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures said, “Planet Labs will create an entirely new data set, with both humanitarian and commercial value. We’ve become used to having imagery of the entire Earth. What we haven’t yet understood is how transformative it will be when that imagery is regularly and frequently updated.”

O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is one of several venture-capital firms that recently invested $13 million in Planet Labs.

Another investor is Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which also invested in Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). Steve Jurvetson, managing director of DFJ said, “We’re seeing unprecedented innovation in the space industry, starting with SpaceX lowering the cost of access, and now with Planet Labs revolutionizing the satellite segment.” Jurvetson also serves on Planet Labs’ board of directors.

Written by Astro1 on June 27th, 2013 , Nanosatellites, Planet Labs

Mercury, America’s first manned spacecraft, had a solid-fuel rocket motor on a tower attached to the capsule’s nose for launch escape.  If the booster rocket malfunctioned the solid fuel motor would pull the spacecraft and its occupant to safety.  Before Mercury carried a human pilot into space, the launch escape system had to be thoroughly tested under the most extreme conditions anticipated.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on June 25th, 2013 , Space History

[Note: Somehow, this article was accidentally posted under June, even though it’s really from August. Because several people have already linked to it, we’ve left a copy at this location, as well as the correct location here.]

Renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle gives this defense of ocean exploration. The space community should also pay attention.


Dr. Earle is the former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and currently explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society. She has led more than 60 research expeditions and spent over 7,000 hours underwater. Dr. Earle has set women’s depth records in a hard-shell diving suit (1,250 feet) and a submersible (3,300 feet), as well as leading a team of female researchers during an extended underwater stay in the Tektite II habitat in 1970.

No one denies that Sylvia Earle is an explorer.

Yet, there are people in the space community who insist that astronauts (especially citizen astronauts) are not explorers. Ben McGee discussed this in his recent treatise. “Particularly amongst the old guard of space science,” McGee says, “‘exploration’ is reserved for those pushing the frontier in higher orbits, cislunar space, trips to near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and beyond.” In other words, almost no one.

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Written by Astro1 on June 22nd, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Uncategorized Tags:

Swiss Space Systems high-speed intercontinental transport spaceplane

Swiss Space Systems, which recently announced its plans to develop a small satellite launcher, has unveiled more ambitious plans.

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Written by Astro1 on June 18th, 2013 , Swiss Space Systems

US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III

Jim Hillhouse, the founder and editor of the Americaspace blog wrote:

We have a gov’t owned rocket rather than a commercial rocket for the same reason we don’t have United Airlines or FedEx as a replacement for the Air Mobility Command. It’s bad policy to hinge a national goal, in this case beyond Earth exploration, on the whims of commercial companies whose loyalties are to its shareholders, not the American people. You say that’s a problem. I disagree.

As it turns out, Mr. Hillhouse is ill-informed. The great bulk of US military logistics (over 80%) is performed by commercial carriers. The military even maintains a Civil Reserve Air Fleet program under which it can commandeer commercial aircraft in case of a national emergency. There are over 1300 airplanes in the CRAF.

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Written by Astro1 on June 17th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

Much is being made of Wang Yaping, who is described as “China’s first teacher in space.”

The Chinese space program is all about public relations and scoring “firsts.” Yet, no one seems to ask if this claim is accurate.

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Written by Astro1 on June 16th, 2013 , Education, Space Exploration (General)

Space Hacker Workshop (left), XCOR Lynx Spacecraft Over Texas (right)

Space Hacker Workshop to Take Place in Dallas

Space isn’t just for governments and large corporations.

Citizen scientists and hardware hackers will learn how to do “space on the cheap” at a two-day Space Hacker Workshop in Dallas. Participants at the workshop will learn how they can build and fly experiments in space, and even fly in space as citizen astronauts, through the Citizens in Space program.

The Space Hacker Workshop takes place July 20-21 at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field. The workshop is sponsored by Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, and SpaceGAMBIT, an international collaboration of citizen scientists operating through makerspaces, hackerspaces, and community groups.

Citizens in Space has purchased 10 flights on the XCOR Aerospace Lynx spacecraft, now under construction at the Mojave Air and Space Port, which will be made available to the citizen-science community.

“We’re looking for 100 citizen-science experiments and 10 citizen astronauts to fly as payload operators,” Citizens in Space project manager Edward Wright said. “The Space Hacker Workshop will provide participants with information and skills needed to take advantage of our free flight opportunities.

“This is an opportunity for citizen scientists to develop and test new technologies in space, to collect microorganisms from the extreme upper atmosphere, to experiment with new processes for creating new materials; and do many more cool things.”

Space is no longer the exclusive domain of NASA and university scientists. A previous Space Hacker Workshop in California attracted a standing-room crowd of men and women from every walk of life. High-school students sat next to medical doctors and astrobiologists. Tinkers and hobbyists worked alongside engineers and physics professors, a heart surgeon, and a NASA astronaut.

“These are the makers of space,” said one participant at the California workshop. “This event is about making and doing, rather than talking and talking.”

“Thanks to modern technology, citizen scientists can build and fly fully functioning space experiments for a few hundred dollars or less, ” Wright said. “With components available at Radio Shack or Fry’s Electronics, citizen scientists can build instruments and experiments with more power than a NASA satellite from a few years back. ”

The Space Hacker Workshop will provide hands-on exposure to a variety of microcontrollers, sensors, imaging systems, and other components. With these components, participants will learn how to design and build microgravity, fluid-physics, life-science, and engineering experiments. Each paid participant will receive a hardware package to take home after the workshop.

A representative of XCOR Aerospace will be on hand to discuss the Lynx spacecraft. Experts from NASA and industry will discuss the research professional scientists have done in the past, prospects for new research on low-cost suborbital spacecraft such as Lynx, and opportunities for citizen scientists to build on the shoulders of NASA giants.

Three citizen-astronaut candidates will also be on hand, to discuss the Citizens in Space astronaut selection and training process.

Admission for the event is $129 at the door. Super Early Bird tickets are available now for $79. Tickets are limited and the event may sell out. Online registration is available at

Written by Astro1 on June 13th, 2013 , Citizens in Space, Events

Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two cutaway showing payload racks

Virgin Galactic has taken delivery of its first payload racks from NanoRacks, LLC. The racks will help Virgin prepare for scientific payloads from NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program and other customers.

Flight Opportunities has chartered a dedicated flight for its first science campaign on SpaceShip Two. The flight is scheduled for summer 2014, if the SpaceShip Two flight-test program is finished by then.

According to Virgin Galactic and NanoRacks, the standard racks will provide up to 108 cubic feet of payload volume. The racks support form factors used by NASA aboard the International Space Station, including middeck lockers and cargo transfer bags, and common standards such as server racks. Racks also allow experiments to be positioned for viewing through SpaceShip Two’s 17-inch windows.

Written by Astro1 on June 10th, 2013 , NanoRacks, Virgin Galactic

On June 3, 1965, Edward H. White II became the first American astronaut to “walk in space” when he opened the hatch of Gemini 4 and floated alongside the spacecraft for 22 minutes. For the first time, an American was protected from the harsh environment of space by only a few layers of fabric. Extravehicular activity (EVA), or walking in space, was one of the major objectives for the two-man Gemini flights. White wore a space suit produced by the David Clark Company in Worcester, MA.

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Written by Greg Kennedy on June 9th, 2013 , Space History

Lt. Col. Dan Ward (USAF) has written an article on Lessons Defense Could Learn From NASA (specifically, the Faster, Better, Cheaper missions of he Goldin era).

NASA could also learn some lessons from itself.

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Written by Astro1 on June 7th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference

The 2013 meeting of the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, which concluded on Wednesday, showed signs that the conference is maturing.

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Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Citizen Science (General), Events

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver surprised attendees (including some NASA employees) during her keynote address to the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference on Monday.

Garver, who addressed the conference via videolink due to travel restrictions, revealed changes to the NASA Flight Opportunities Program which buys rides for payloads on commercial suborbital spacecraft (as well as sounding rockets, balloons, and parabolic aircraft).

At present, the Flight Opportunities Program (run by the Office of the Chief Technologist) is limited to technology experiments, leaving science payloads out in the cold. Garver acknowledged that NASA “could do more” and promised a new joint solicitation, from the Space Technology Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate, that would cover both technology and science payloads.

Garver said NASA would hold a workshop at the Smallsat Conference in August to start educating the scientific community about opportunities to fly science payloads on suborbital flights.

The big surprise came when Garver said NASA does “not want to rule out paying for research that could be done by an individual spaceflight participant — a researcher or payload specialist — on these [suborbital] vehicles in the future.”

Until now, NASA has had a strict policy which prohibited the Flight Opportunities Program from paying for human-tended experiments on suborbital flights. This policy has frustrated many researchers who want to fly payloads on crewed vehicles such as the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two and XCOR Lynx.

The exact interpretation of Garver’s words is still a mystery. Not ruling something out does not necessarily imply that it will be allowed. “In the future” is a vague timeframe. There’s also the question of whether “paying for research… done by an individual spaceflight participant” includes paying to fly the individual’s ride as well. The NASA Flight Opportunities people were as surprised and confused as anyone, since they were not briefed on the policy change or Garver’s remarks beforehand. There was cautious optimism, however, among conference attendees.

Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Policy and Management

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performing microscopic survey of NanoRacks protein crystal samples aboard International Space Station (ISS)

NanoRacks LLC is pleased with the results of a protein-crystal growth experiment recently conducted aboard the International Space Station by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

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Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , NanoRacks

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Red Dragon capsule landing on Mars

Last year, there were rumors that Space Exploration Technologies would soon conduct an initial public stock offering (IPO). If there was any truth to those rumors, those plans have apparently been put on the shelf. Any IPO plans are long-term and tied to Mars settlement, according to today’s tweet from SpaceX founder Elon Musk:

No near term plans to IPO SpaceX. Only possible in very long term when Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly.

Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Space Settlement, SpaceX

NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden (USMC-ret.)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has explained his recent comment that NASA is not going back to the Moon. In the process, he demonstrates a certain myopia:

I have never said the United States is not going back to the lunar surface. I just said that in the foreseeable future, given the budget that NASA currently has and given where we are and what we need technologically if we’re going to go to Mars, then it will not be the United States that leads an expedition to the lunar surface…. If somebody else is going, we will provide our engineering expertise and the only condition is that I be allowed to send an astronaut as a part of the crew.

Note to General Bolden: The United States does not consist solely of NASA. It is quite possible that “someone else” could be an American.

Written by Astro1 on June 4th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)