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

The NASA Enabling eXploration and Technology (NEXT) program has selected Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. to launch a group of three 3U CubeSats to a 425 km orbit in 2016. Under the $2.1M commercial procurement, NASA will become the inaugural customer for the company’s GOLauncher 2 vehicle, which is currently in development.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 30th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Nanosatellites

Sony Pictures Television is developing a new reality TV show where celebrities will compete to go into space aboard the XCOR Lynx spacecraft, according to various Hollywood websites such as Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

The series is titled Milky Way Mission and will feature ten celebrities living at an astronaut-training “boot camp.” The Dutch television network Nederland 1 has reportedly ordered an eight-episode run, which will be produced by Tuvalu Media and Simpel Media (both of which are Dutch). Sony will offer the series to international markets at the MIPCOM show in Cannes next month.

The producers are working with Space Expeditions Corporation, which is marketing the XCOR Lynx. SXC is also based in the Netherlands. The first season will feature Dutch celebrities, but the future episodes would be recast if it sells internationally.

Mark Burnett, producer of Survivor and The Voice, is reportedly seeking backers for a similar reality show, which would feature Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two.

Burnett has been floating ideas for a space-based reality show for more than a decade. In 1999, he signed an agreement with MirCorp, which had leased the Russian Mir space station, to produce a show called Destination Mir. Unfortunately, the man behind MirCorp turned out to be a tax cheat, who went to prison for failing to pay over $200 million in taxes to the US government.

Earlier this year, Citizens in Space was approached by a reality-show producer at one one of the major US networks. Unfortunately, the producer wanted us to violate some known laws of physics (we were asked to make people weightless without leaving the ground), so nothing came of the discussion.

Written by Astro1 on September 25th, 2013 , Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace

Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace recently conducted a drop test of the CST-100 capsule at Delamar Dry Lake Bed in Nevada.


Boeing is developing the CST-100 primarily to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, but Bigelow hopes to use CST-100 to transport astronauts to its own Space Station Alpha, which may be ready as soon as 2015.

Boeing built the US components of the International Space Station. It also inherited the space divisions of McDonnell Douglas and Rockwell International, which built Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle, as well as the X-15. It’s strange to hear politicians and pundits say that CCDev contractors like Boeing have no experience with manned space systems.

Written by Astro1 on September 24th, 2013 , Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing

Spaceport America

Spaceport America will take out loans for $21 million to build visitor centers at the spaceport and in the town of Truth or Consequences, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.

The visitor centers are critical to the Spaceport Authority’s business model, which predicts 200,000 visitors per year (about 550 on an average day).

The State of New Mexico included $15 million for visitor center construction in the spaceport’s $209 million budget appropriation two years ago. That money is no longer available, however, due to cost escalation (including the recent requirement to add a $7 million runway extension). The state Board of Finance has given the Spaceport Authority to seek private loans instead. The loans would be secured by mortgages against the visitor-center buildings.

Written by Astro1 on September 24th, 2013 , Spaceports

China is seeking customers for its planned space station. China Daily reports that China will “would like to train astronauts from other countries and organizations [and] welcome foreign astronauts who have received our training to work in our future space station.”

The statement is attributed to Yang Liwei, deputy director of China Manned Space Agency, during his remarks to the United Nations/China Workshop on Human Space Technology in Beijing.

“China and Russia have collaborated on astronaut training, spacecraft technology and extra-vehicular suits, and we are cooperating with our French counterparts on a variety of experiments in astrobiology and space medicine,” Yang said, “Astronauts from the European Space Agency and their Chinese peers have visited each other’s training facilities, laying a solid foundation for further communication.”

The article does not state how much China hopes to charge for trips to its stations. Chinese space officials have publicly stated that they cannot match SpaceX launch prices, and it seems unlikely that it will be able to compete with Bigelow’s Space Station Alpha, either. Instead of innovating, China is retracing the path taken by US and Soviet space programs 40 years ago, trapping their program in a high-cost paradigm.

The Chinese space station will not be ready until 2023, according to another article. It’s reported that the station interior will be “no less than 60 square meters.” Presumably, the author meant 60 cubic meters, which is the way space stations are usually measured. That would be smaller than the old Russian Salyuts, which had internal volumes of 90-100 cubic meters. It would be dwarfed by ISS, which has an internal volume of 837 cubic meters, or a single Bigelow BA-330 module, with an internal volume of 330 meters.

Written by Astro1 on September 24th, 2013 , Space Stations

Common wisdom says that space science must rely solely on the Federal government for funding. A new white paper from the International Institute of Space Commerce challenges that assumption.

The Institute has released “Innovative Models for Private Financing of Space Science Missions,” which is available as a free download.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 24th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

World War II amphibious landing

The head of the NASA Astronaut Office, US Air Force Colonel Robert Behnken, has weighed in on one-way missions to Mars.

In an article by Todd Halvorson of Florida Today, Col. Behnken said, “The one-way mission to Mars is not one I would see the Astronaut Office having a line of people signing up for.

“I think across the board the one-way mission needs to have a very high reward aspect to it: the national objective sort of award. There are many things we do in wartime situations, that we ask people to step up and accomplish for us. We need that level of reasoning from the Astronaut Office perspective.”

This reasoning is not surprising from a professional military officer, but it ignores thousands of years of human history. Human beings undertake one-way trips (what the military calls “missions”) all the time. Most of these trips are not in response to a military emergency. More commonly, they are undertaken because an individual human being or family decides to move to a new location with no intention of returning.

The settlers on the Mayflower were on a one-way mission. So were the settlers who opened the American West. Many died along the way, but no one regarded it as the equivalent of a military suicide mission.

These one-way trips were not, in general, undertaken as the result of a “national objective.” There have been forced government relocations (unfortunately), and of course, the government relocates military personnel all the time — but military relocations are usually temporary. More often, one-way trips are undertaken to meet personal or family objectives, rather than national objectives.

Connestoga wagon

NASA was created during the Cold War, for Cold War propaganda purposes. President Eisenhower wanted a civilian space agency to show the world our peaceful intent and to take the manned space program away from the military-industrial complex, which he distrusted. Ironically, he created a new NASA-industrial complex with many of the same characteristics. When President Kennedy took office, NASA’s role was greatly expanded. Eisenhower did not want a space race, which he perceived would soon rival the arms race in terms of expense. Kennedy wanted to confront the Soviets in space to show that our private-enterprise system was better than their socialist system. Kennedy never allowed private enterprise to play any significant role in Project Apollo, however. Instead, Apollo merely proved that our socialists were better than their socialists.

The Cold War is over, but Cold War reasoning remains. Remnants can be seen in Col. Behnken’s statement about “national objectives.”

NASA and other space-policy planners need to move away from “wartime reasoning” to peacetime reasoning. There is no justification for spending tens of billions of dollars to send humans to Mars, unless humans are going to permanently settle on Mars. There is no justification for spending billions of dollars to send unmanned probes to Mars, unless humans are going to follow.

The settlement of Mars (and space, in general) will entail a large number of one-way missions, by definition. Settling a new territory means people setting out on one-way trips, building new homes, and creating new lives for themselves in a new land.

Space settlement will not be accomplished as a “national objective.” If NASA tries, it will fail. History provides a useful comparison. Spain set out to colonize the New World as a national objective, under the direction and control of the Spanish Crown. Great Britain took a laissez faire approach to colonization, granting charters to private groups such as the Virginia and Plymouth companies. Spain controlled the most desirable portions of the New World, with most of the resources and milder climate. Yet, it was North America, under British control, that prospered, while the centrally planned Spanish colonies remained backward.

Colonel Behnken is correct in saying that NASA cannot undertake arduous missions except in pursuit of a national objective. NASA is the product of intelligent design. Its creators, Eisenhower and Kennedy, put that into the agency’s DNA. But not everyone has that limitation. While NASA may play a role in space settlement, it will not play the primary role.

The NASA Astronaut Office may not have a long line of people willing to sign up for one-way trips to Mars, but there are people who will line up for it. Mars One is taking in a tidy bit of money from people who are willing to pay, just to have their names on a list of possible candidates. We must stop thinking of space solely in terms of NASA. It is time to move beyond Cold War reasoning.

Written by Astro1 on September 22nd, 2013 , Space Settlement

A blogger by the name of M. Moleman, who calls himself “The Armchair Space Expert,” has published a cost analysis of NASA’s Space Launch System.

NASA Space Launch System

Moleman defends SLS against charges made by John Strickland, who believes it is unaffordable. Moleman’s conclusion is rather positive:

If we were to take SLS’s preliminary schedule of one cargo flight and one manned flight every other year, we get $1.2 billion for the cargo flight, and $2 billion for the manned one using Orion. A development cost of 12.6 billion dollars will have to be spread out over the total number of flights too, so if we use 30 flights like mister Strickland did we have to add $420 million to every flight. Over 30 flights, the average cost of SLS would be $2.02 billion per flight, though the number of cargo missions would probably end up dominating later on since most current Design Reference Missions would require more cargo then crewed flights. With a ratio of 2:1, we get a total of $1.89 billion per flight. If we take the costs of SLS only, not counting Orion, we get $1.6 billion per flight, which equals $18.000 per kilogram. Would this be expensive? Yes. Are there better alternatives out there? Absolutely. But it is nonetheless a huge improvement over the Space Shuttle, with payloads three to five times as big, much lower cost per kg to orbit, while eventually taking up less of the overall annual budget of NASA.

Unfortunately, his analysis contains a number of errors.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 19th, 2013 , Space Policy and Management

Burt Rutan has some reflections on the history of aviation with relevance to space travel:

In 1908 only ten people had flown airplanes. Then… Wilbur Wright flew his airplane in Europe… By 1912 many thousands of pilots were flying hundreds of airplane types in 39 countries. One organization alone (the Aero Club of France) had certified 2,000 pilots and recorded 10,000 passengers. By 1912 the European airplane industry had grown to 45 million dollars (nearly a billion dollars today) and three shops each had delivered more than 500 aircraft.

Compare that to 541 humans, at last count, who have flown in space: a feat that took more than 50 years to accomplish.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 18th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

DARPA Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has initiated a new program, called Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1), to develop a fully reusable unmanned vehicle that would provide aircraft-like access to space.

DARPA is seeking to develop a vehicle that can operate from a “clean pad” with a small ground crew and no need for expensive specialized infrastructure. This setup would enable routine daily operations and flights from a wide range of locations. XS-1 seeks to deploy small satellites faster and more affordably, while demonstrating technology for next-generation space and hypersonic flight for both government and commercial users.

The DARPA program manager for XS-1 is Jess Sponable, who served as DoD program manager for the highly highly successful Delta Clipper Experimental in the 1990’s. Sponable was also one of several Air Force officers selected to train as military spaceflight engineers to fly aboard the Space Shuttle in the 1980’s.

“We want to build off of proven technologies to create a reliable, cost-effective space delivery system with one-day turnaround,” Sponable said. “How it’s configured, how it gets up and how it gets back are pretty much all on the table. We’re looking for the most creative yet practical solutions possible.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2013 , Military Space

“The purpose of the space program should be pointed and singleminded: namely, the exploration, by men and women, of the rest of the Universe and the establishment of extraterrestrial colonies.” — Tom Wolfe, 1985

Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Settlement

Proposed Ellington Spaceport concept of operations

Commercial spaceflights from the proposed spaceport at Ellington Airport, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, could begin by 2018, according to a planning document presented by the Houston Airport System.

A research and business park could be operation by 2016, with visiting flights by space launch systems beginning in 2018 and Ellington-based spaceflight operations in 2020. The timeline appeared in a July 2013 presentation to the Houston City Council by Houston Airport System director of aviation Mario Diaz and senior executive for business development Arturo Machuca.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 6th, 2013 , Spaceports

Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two second powered test flight

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two has completed its second powered test flight. Virgin Galactic reports that the vehicle successfully completed all test objectives, including high-altitude deployment of its unique wing feathering system.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 5th, 2013 , Virgin Galactic

Citizen astronaut candidate Edward Wright training in centrifuge at NASTAR Center

Training, Evaluating New Medical Technology at NASTAR Center

Four citizen-astronaut candidates have completed Suborbital Scientist training at the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center, the premier aviation and space training, research, and education facility aimed at optimizing human performance in extreme environments.

Maureen Adams, Lt. Col. Steve Heck (USAF-ret.), Michael Johnson, and Edward Wright have been selected by Citizens in Space to fly as payload operators on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft.

The four citizen-astronaut candidates completed multiple centrifuge runs during the three-day training course, simulating g-forces that will be encountered during a suborbital spaceflight. They also completed altitude-chamber training at simulated altitudes up to 28,000 feet and a rapid-decompression exercise.

“This physiological training is essential preparation for the functions we will perform during our missions,” Colonel Heck said. “To perform our tasks as payload operators, we must be familiar with every aspect of the flight environment in both normal and emergency situations. I am happy to say that all of our citizen-astronaut candidates completed NASTAR training with flying colors.”

In addition to physiological training, the group conducted an evaluation of advanced biomedical sensors manufactured by Sotera Wireless, Inc. of San Diego. Edward Wright and Michael Johnson evaluated the sensors during four centrifuge runs at up to 6.2g. The evaluation was conducted under the direction of Dr. Ravi Komatireddy, a physician researcher and president of Vital Space. Steve Heck and Maureen Adams helped attach and monitor the sensors.

The ViSi Mobile device from Sotera Wireless is a next-generation, wireless vital-sign monitoring system. “We demonstrated how the Visi Mobile device might be used in a spaceflight or simulated-spaceflight environment, with no disruption or discomfort for the wearer,” Wright said. “This could open the door for using the device to collect actual data during our future training as well as operational space missions.”

Citizen-astronaut candidates prepare medical sensors for centrifuge run at NASTAR Center

“This was an initial evaluation to determine the feasibility of using the Visi Mobile device in a high-g environment,” said Dr. Komatireddy. “In the past, the most advanced medical technology came out of the space program and was spun off to the private sector. Today, that process is operating in reverse. Low-cost off-the-shelf technology like the Visi Mobile allows us to collect data that, in the past, required expensive, custom-built aerospace medical devices.”

Citizen-astronaut candidate Michael Johnson (left) prepares to evaluate biomedical sensors with help from Lt. Col. Steve Heck

In 2012, Dr. Komatireddy and colleague Dr. Paddy Barrett tested the Visi Mobile device on a Zero-G aircraft flight sponsored by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. During that flight, the device was tested in regimes ranging from 0 to 2 g. The centrifuge provided a much more extreme g-force environment. “We have now tested the Visi Mobile device through the full range of acceleration environments that will be encountered on a suborbital spaceflight,” Dr. Komatireddy said. “This is an important step toward proving the usability and usefulness of the device for future spaceflight participants.”

Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, has purchased 10 flights on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft, which it is making available to the citizen-science community. Citizens in Space plans to fly 100 citizen-science experiments and 10 citizen astronauts as payload operators.

The first five citizen-astronaut candidates have been selected and are currently in training. Greg Kennedy, director of education at NASTAR Center, has been selected as the fifth citizen-astronaut candidate. Due to his prior NASTAR training experience, Kennedy did participate in this portion of the Citizens in Space training.

Citizen-astronaut candidate Lt. Col. Steve Heck prepares for altitude-chamber training at NASTAR Center

Written by Astro1 on September 5th, 2013 , Citizens in Space

Proposed Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport

Ellington Airport, located near Johnson Space Center, just south of Houston, could become the nation’s ninth licensed commercial spaceport.

The Houston Airport System unveiled part of its vision for the future of Ellington Airport today. Conceptual renderings of a possible Spaceport have been released to the public. Renderings show a terminal facility, an aviation museum and accompanying aerospace industries. The unveiling occurred as the City of Houston prepared to host the annual meeting of the Commercial Space Federation.

Aerospace museum at proposed Houston spaceport

“This is a new and exciting sector of the 21st Century economy that carries amazing potential for growth,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker. “We believe a licensed Spaceport in Houston would not only serve as an economic generator for the city but it would also enhance Houston’s well-deserved reputation as a leader and key player in the aerospace industry.”

Houston City Council members agreed with that assessment on July 17, 2013, when they voiced their overwhelming support for the pursuit of Spaceport licensing at Ellington Airport. If the required license is secured, the Houston Airport System could move forward to establish the infrastructure and support facilities needed to accommodate enterprises such as component and composite fabrication, space-vehicle assembly, launching of micro-satellites, astronaut training, zero-gravity experimentation and space tourism.

Proposed Houston spaceport

“It’s important to realize that this type of work is already taking place today,” said Houston Aviation Director Mario C. Diaz. “This is not a conversation based on science fiction or futuristic projections. This is a conversation about how Houston can access and enhance an industry that is already well-established and growing exponentially.”

“It is gratifying to see Houston emerge as the latest applicant to join the growing network of spaceports across the country,” said Commercial Spaceflight Federation president Michael Lopez-Alegria. “The area has many attributes that appeal to commercial space entities, including geographical location that allows easy access to offshore airspace, a strong and diverse economy that provides an educated and skilled workforce, and of course a long tradition of close association with human spaceflight.”

The launches proposed for Ellington Airport would be limited to horizontal takeoff reusable spacecraft. Since receiving City Council approval, the Houston Airport System has been working through the countless details associated with the project.
Monorail train at proposed Houston spaceport

Written by Astro1 on September 4th, 2013 , Spaceports

Peggy Whitson, the former head of the NASA Astronaut Office, believes NASA’s radiation standards are too restrictive and discriminate against female astronauts.

Whitson expressed her views at a workshop on Ethics Principles and Guidelines for Health Standards for Long-Duration and Exploration-Class Spaceflights, conducted by the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine. The story was reported by

NASA limits astronauts’ lifetime radiation exposure to keep the probability of radiation-induced cancer death below 3%. The limit for NASA astronauts is higher than the limit for terrestrial radiation workers. Women are more susceptible to certain forms of cancer, however, so the limit for female astronauts is lower than the limit for male astronauts. A female astronaut can fly only 45-50% as many missions as a male astronauts, Whitson said.

Many of NASA’s astronauts are already limited by their lifetime radiation exposure. According to Col. Robert Behnken, who replaced Whitson as head of the Astronaut Office, only three of NASA’s 50 astronauts were eligible for the recent one-year mission to ISS, because of radiation limits. A mission to Mars is probably impossible within current radiation limits.

Questions for NASA

Three questions come to mind:

First, is NASA calculating the radiation risk correctly? At present, no one has good data on the biological effects of long-term low-level radiation exposure. Instead, the risks are inferred from data on the effects of short-term, high-level radiation exposure (collected from events such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki). This data is applied to low-level radiation using an extrapolation model known Linear No Threshold (LNT).

The LNT model assumes that a given dose of radiation will have the same effect regardless of the dose rate. It is a highly conservative model, which assumes the body has no way to recover from the effects of gradual, low-level radiation exposure over time. It ignores the usual principles of toxicology and much of what we know about the biological repair mechanisms. There is no scientific evidence to prove the LNT model is correct, but the government has adopted it out of an abundance of caution (the “precautionary principle”).

The LNT model has been criticized many times in the past, but environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists have resisted any attempted change. In space, however, the precautionary principle may cost NASA the chance to go to Mars.

Second, does the 3% fatality limit makes sense? The Shuttle had about a 2% fatal accident rate on each flight, as does Soyuz. Future launch systems may do better, but right now, an astronaut who flies multiple missions has a just of death that is significantly greater than 3%.

Third, is the male-female dichotomy really the best way to classify radiation risks? There’s no doubt that cancer risks differ between men and women, but gender is only one of many variables that affect cancer risks. With the development of modern genomics, we’re reaching the point where it’s possible to determine risks on a personal level based on individual genetic markers. This is part of an emerging field known as personalized medicine, which treats people as individuals rather than broad statistical groups. Inspiration Mars is looking at personalized medicine to help select crew members for its proposed Mars flyby mission. Is NASA doing the same?

These are questions which NASA needs to answer as it plans for future exploration activities.


Written by Astro1 on September 4th, 2013 , Space Medicine and Safety

Red Whittaker is developing robots that can enter and traverse the caves of the Moon.


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

Celebrity astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t think much of citizen space exploration. He delivers a three-minute broadside against it in this video by Business Insider.

“Private enterprise will not ever lead a space frontier,” Tyson declares, “not because I don’t want them to, but my read of history tells me they can’t, it’s not possible. Space is dangerous, it’s expensive. There are unquantified risks. Combine all of those under one umbrella; you cannot establish a free-market capitalization of that enterprise….

“Those that are the kinds of frontiers that the history of governments have undertaken. The first Europeans to the New World were not the Dutch East India Trading Company. It was governments funding government missions. Columbus drew the maps…”

Dr. Tyson needs to read some history books. His knowledge of Christopher Columbus, and exploration in general, seems to be based the myths told in old high-school textbooks. Columbus was not the first European to sail to the New World. Queen Isabella did not hock the crown jewels to finance Columbus. His expedition was funded by Italian bankers.

Furthermore, Columbus’s maps were terrible. He thought the world was about 18,000 miles in circumference. Most educated people believed it was about 24,000 miles. That figure had been known since the time of the ancient Greeks. Columbus did his math wrong. Any educated person could have shown that, but Columbus simply refused to admit he was wrong. He failed in his mission to reach the East Indies, and he would have perished, along with his entire crew, if they hadn’t chanced upon a completely unexpected continent where they could rest and reprovision. What does that story tell us about citizen space exploration?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 2nd, 2013 , Citizen Exploration