Thursday, October 30, 2008

Reviving 'The Road Not Taken'

NASA's Lunar Chariot sports concept pressurized crew cabin, looking more and more like the vision the agency had for Earth to Moon to Mars architecture before President Nixon and Congress committed to the Space Shuttle and cancelled Apollo missions 18, 19 and 20 in 1972.

After the first manned Moon landings, NASA had a vision that did not include a Space Shuttle. Unfortunately, Congress and President Richard Nixon had a vision for the agency that did not include four percent of what was then known as the Gross National Product. The long term development of the Hubble Telescope and a reusable manned Space Shuttle designed around the telescopes dimensions won out. Nine years later Apollo 16 veteran John Young and Bob Crippen few Columbia around the world. Another eight years would pass, and in 1989 what proved to be a myopic HST was deployed. Both were originally promised for the 1976 Bicentennial.

By 1986, though the cost of each Space Shuttle mission already exceeded the production costs of a single Saturn V (in 1970 dollars), NASA continued to pressure it's logistics network to fulfill the long-overdue promise of an admittedly remarkable vehicle. The result was the Challenger disaster, and the deaths of seven extraordinarily skilled and courageous astronauts.

It would take nearly twenty-two years after its initial launch and the distruction of Columbia in February 2003 to prove, as innovative as the Space Shuttle had become and remained thirty years after its conception (and usurpation of Apollo) that the vehicle would never be more than an highly experimental and inherently dangerous low-earth orbital spacecraft.

As to the Road untaken in 1972, an examination of the European Space Agency's ATV immediately calls to mind a similarly multipurpose Space Tug, envisioned as integral to the upper stage of the Saturn boosters just as the ATV is now designed to be integral to the Arianne V launched from Kourou.

Also included in those pre-Shuttle notions was a pressurized crew vehicle much like the concept cabin, combined with the versital MIT-NASA-Naval Research Laboratory Chariot chassis.

Nearly thirty years after putting all it's heaviest cargoes of eggs in the Space Shuttle basket, NASA is retracing it steps and returning to the fork in the road Congress abandoned with the end of Apollo, taking the best of what's been learned from a decades-long experiment with the Shuttle imprisonment.

Hopefully, this time Congress will hold steady to the course.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A "Hold" on the "the Vision?"

Former Congressman and House Science and Technology chairman Bob Walker (R-PA) is warning the outlook for Ares is "Grim." Now a lobbyist, Walker reported to his clients, the commissioners of Brevard County, Florida, Tuesday, emergency spending measures to bail out the federally-mandated sub-prime mortgage industry may put NASA's first civilian rocket since 1981 on the chopping block.

While NASA's immediate fate has enjoyed the attentions of both major presidential campaigns in 2008, Democrats in Congress are determined to add another $300 billion "stimulus package" to new federal debt that may total $1,490 billion before the new administration takes office January 20.

Walker reports Ares is "on the chopping block," one week before the debut of the Ares 1-x test booster, November 4. Instead, he reports plans are being drawn up for the Agency to support a continued manned support for ISS with military boosters.

The fate of Constellation may not be the decision of the next president, whomever is elected president next Tuesday. Congress is, after all, a "creature of Congress," and while congressional leaders Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) were generous in funding for the present federal Fiscal Year, with a full Billion beyond what NASA and the White House requested, cut backs are almost certain, perhaps before that period expires in October 2009.

On back ground, the friendliness of NASA and agencies like the FAA toward what has been considered a vital part of America's future space exploration timeline, private and commercial contributions to space station and low-earth orbit support is also in question. Democrats, likely to be in control of the 111th Congress, are determined to cut military spending, for example, particularly on new weapons systems, by as much as one-quarter, to fund expanded social spending.

Supporters of the Direct v.2.0 concept, using existing military-grade boosters received a report one week ago from NASA they say is, "deeply flawed." Direct advocates, lead by Steve Metschan of TeamVision Corp are preparing a response.

According to the Direct website, "DIRECT is an alternative approach to launching missions planned under NASA's new mandate: The Vision for Space Exploration (VSE).

"DIRECT would replace the separate Ares-I Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) and Ares-V Cargo Launch Vehicle (CaLV) with one single "Jupiter" launcher, capable of performing both roles.

"This change to NASA's architecture completely removes the costs & risks associated with developing and operating a second launcher system, saving NASA $19 Billion in development costs, and a further $16 Billion in operational costs over the next 20 years.

"DIRECT's single launcher system would use existing Space Transportation System (AKA the Space Shuttle) facilities and hardware to lift over 45 tons (in basic configuration) up to more than 100 tons (with an Upper Stage)."

Whether money will be available for an accelerated alternative, whatever it might be, on a timeline that now may extend NASA timetable for a return to the Moon well into the 2020's in unknown.

The default on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac home loans, mandated by the Community Investment Act of 1977, has sent shockwaves through the global economy. Congressionally authorized bailout of banks to prevent their failing in September has ushered in a period of federal austerity just as congressional Democrats had hoped to expand support and mandates for "affordable housing."
Read more from the Orlando Sentinel HERE.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Spudis flies with Chandrayaan

Noted planetary geologist Paul Spudis has been named as Principal Investigator for one of two American instruments on their way to the Moon on-board Chandrayaan 1.

The Indian Space Research Organisation's (IRSO) Lunar orbiter passed a 150,000 km Earth orbital apogee, Sunday, already higher than any spacecraft launched by India. Eight nations are participating in a suite of eleven remote sensing instruments on Chandrayaan's mission.

Chandrayaan 1 was successfully launched from Sriharikota, on the southeastern coast of the Sub-Continent, October 22.

Spudis is the immediate-past director of the USRA's NASA-chartered Lunar and Planetary Science Institute in Houston.

Spudis is now PI for the team, headed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Research Laboratory and the Naval Research Laboratory, that designed and built the Mini Synthetic Aperture Radar (MiniSAR), imaging radar to map the Lunar poles. MiniSAR will map the permanently-shadowed abyssal craters and valleys at the highest lattitude, in search of water ice and other volatiles.

"This has been a controversial area of investigation for the last decade," explained Lunar and Planetary Institute Director Dr. Stephen Mackwell, "The inclusion of the MiniSAR instrument in the Chandrayaan-1 mission will allow us to collect information on these deposits by mapping them from an instrument in lunar orbit - a first in the exploration of the moon."

U.S. missions Clementine (1994) and Lunar Prospector (1998) both detected the unique signature of Hydrogen, in and around both Lunar poles, with Neutron detectors designed to separate elemental signatures resulting from the spillation of Cosmic Rays breaking about on and immediately below the Moon's surface.

The public release, last week, of images inside Shakelton Crater, taken from the Terrain Camera on-board Japan's Kaguya reportedly eliminated the likelihood of ice at the Lunar poles, but most planetary scientist were not surprised by the images. Few were expecting any water ice there to be immediately visible, in the form of snow or a frozen pond. Most believe what volatiles or water ice there might be at the Lunar poles to be buried or well-mixed with dusty regolith.

Hydrogen and other "volatiles" cannot freely range on the lunar surface, and since the Apollo Era the Moon has been considered among "the driest places in the Solar System."

The Moon's "exosphere," however, has since been interpreted as very dynamic, rather than static. The constant rain of cometary water ice and charged particles are thought to literally shatter and bounce all over the Moon, some of it coming to rest in the dusty "Cold Traps," permanently shadowed from disbursing by proton-packed Solar Wind.

Over a four and a half billion year history, the Moon's manifest history of impacts large and small is thought to have gathered many tons of volatiles in these Cold Traps.

NASA's Long-term plans call for a semi-permanent manned presense on the rim of Shackleton Crater, overlooking the 20 mile wide, permanently darkened interior, where some portion may have naturally stored the stuff that both life and rocket fuel are made of.

Spudis, as both a scientist and director, has been closely associated with Lunar and Martian science for thirty years. An penultimate "multi-tasker," Spudis has probably forgotten more about the Moon than most NASA directors will ever know.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Armadillo Aerospace wins Round One of the Lunar Lander Challenge

Armadillo Aerospace won the Level One portion of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, flying at Las Cruces International Airport on October 25 and earning the $350,000 in prize money.

While they made an attempt to win Level Two on Saturday, Armadillo was unable to pull off a double victory, leaving $1.65 million worth of prize money on the table.

According to, “The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is over for the day. John Carmack and his Armadillo Aerospace team have declared no more flights today. They have run into a problem with their vehicle that needs significant testing - issues that must be addressed before flight can be resumed.”

Lunex and ILEWG organizes Young Lunar Explorers event at the LEAG-ICEUM-SRR conference

The Lunar Explorers Society (Lunex) and ILEWG are organizing this year’s Young Lunar Explorers (YLE) event together with the department of Physics & Space Sciences at Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), which will be held in conjunction with the LEAG-ICEUM-SRR conference at Cape Canaveral.

On Sunday October 26th at 10 pm in the FIT observatory there will be a night sky viewing. The observatory boasts the largest telescope in Florida, and there will be an opportunity to look at both the Moon and other objects of interest in the sky. Everyone is welcome.
Read the News Release HERE.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chang'e 1's Lonely First Year

As much as we tease JAXA about its slow but, admittedly spectacular "dribble" of data, the challenge to at least the spirit of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, and open access to datasets from scientific space exploration, nothing can compare with the absolute block on data, if any, being shared by the Chinese National Space Agency of results from over a year of Lunar orbital survey just completed by Chang'e 1.

A television video was released yesterday highlighting animated notions of the mission, along with news that the probe's consumables allow for at least a one-year extention of the secretive mission. CNSA has reported twice that Chang'e survived the shadowed periods of two terrestrial eclipses, along with their intention to send a lander to the Moon in 2012. So far, though CNSA has also claimed it is their intention to "map every inch" of the Lunar surface, they have released only one or two photographs.

While the Japanese have at least released spectacular value-added Terrain Camera tours of Tycho and orbital imagery from Kaguya's on-board HDTV camera, said by a man who should know, Senator Harrison Schmitt, to be "the closest thing to being in orbit since I was in orbit," JAXA's refusal to release raw data has been frustrating.

Compared to China, however, JAXA's open access has been positively breathtaking. The most noted photograph reportedly taken by Chang'e was proven authentic, despite some controversy that it was merely a reproduction of images taken by NASA's Lunar Orbiters. Nevertheless, the year of silence, amidst happy reports of the probes determined activity, has lead me to speculate that Chang'e may have suffered a breakdown.

Either Chang'e is disabled, or China simply refuses to show off more than the first configuration glimpses. Their continued bragging of the probes excellent health is falling on deaf ears. It might as well not exist at all.

Pomerantz announces GLXP Summit, Lander Challenge video, and highlights posted

The dates and location for the December Google Lunar X PRIZE Team Summit have been fixed as December 15-16, in Mountain View, CA, USA.

More details will be provided later, but the event will focus on discussion of the Guidelines and Master Team Agreement, as well as helping all of our teams find success fundraising. We will only have limited space available for our meetings, so please plan on bringing only two representatives per team—and only registered teams, not LOI signatories or the general public, will be invited.

Yesterday, the X PRIZE Foundation and NASA awarded a $350,000 prize to Armadillo Aerospace for winning Level One of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Today, Armadillo will attempt to win Level Two, which would bring them an additional $1,000,000 in prizes. I hope that Armadillo can serve as an inspiration to all of you—opening the champagne and awarding some money was a lot of fun, and I look forward to doing it again soon, hopefully with one of you! The Lunar Lander Challenge will be webcast live today at

Photos from yesterday are available online at:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kaguya unveils Shackleton's Depths

Chuck Wood and his LPOD can be counted on to let the English-speaking world know when JAXA shows off the latest goodies from Kaguya, now well into its second year in Lunar orbit. It's not unusual for research institutions to block open access to "raw" data from their planetary probes. The Japanese, however, apparently have two conflicts that keep the world waiting for monthly dribbles of images from Kaguya.

Just published to the Japanese language portion of the Flash Kaguya Image Gallery is the interior of Shackleton crater, positioned on the edge of the Lunar South Pole, the site chosen for what eventually may be NASA's permanent (or semi-permanent) manned Moon base, more than a decade from now.

Kagyua's representatives at the 39th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, last March, according to Chuck, "very briefly flashed on the screen an image from their Kaguya spacecraft of the interior of Shackleton crater. This was remarkable because the rim of Shackleton is at the lunar south pole and the crater floor is in perpetual darkness."

Among conflicts for JAXA are its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 to release data from remote sensing of other planets and its commercial agreement with Japanese state television, with whom it honors a prior claim. A second conflict is nationalistic, and JAXA's habit of releasing (months after its availability) its monthly dribble first on its Japanese language site, and sometimes weeks later on the English language portion.

Of course, no obligation requires the Japanese to release "new" data in English at all. Since Chuck Wood and others keep a watch on the Japanese language site, it makes little difference. Nevertheless, a comparison with raw images NASA-JPL delivers to the web from Phoenix and the MRO missions, and Cassini, is a stark demonstration of the differences in philosophy.

Perhaps JAXA and NHK's habits of releasing to the public processed images first in Japanese is pay back for NASA's not publishing in Japanese at all. More likely, however, the timing of this release of images revealing a part of the last unmapped portion of the Moon is meant to remind the world of Kaguya's long vigil, that ISRO's Chandrayaan, now climbing to a similar station in Lunar orbit, is an upstart.

If so, the pending arrivals of both the Chandrayaan and NASA's LRO/LCROSS missions are welcome news to those of us who continue to be impressed with Kaguya and it's obvious technical capabilities.

The Japanese could use the competition.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ISRO Overview of Chandrayaan Mission

In its fourteenth flight conducted from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota this morning (October 22, 2008), the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO’s) Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV-C11, successfully launched the 1380 kg Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft into a transfer orbit with a perigee (nearest point to Earth) of 255 km and an apogee (farthest point to Earth) of 22,860 km, inclined at an angle of 17.9 deg to the equator.

After a 52 hour count down, PSLV-C11 lifted off from the Second Launch Pad at SDSC SHAR at 06:22 Hrs Indian Standard Time (IST) with the ignition of the core first stage. The important flight events included the separation of the first stage, ignition of the second stage, separation of the payload fairing at about 116 km altitude after the vehicle had cleared the dense atmosphere, second stage separation, third stage ignition, third stage separation, fourth stage ignition and fourth stage cut-off.

PSLV-C11 is the uprated version of ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle in its standard configuration. Weighing 320 tonnes at lift-off, the vehicle uses larger strap-on motors (PSOM-XL) to achieve higher payload capability. PSOM-XL uses 12 tonnes of solid propellants instead of 9 tonnes used in the earlier configuration of PSLV. PSLV is a four stage launch vehicle employing both solid and liquid propulsion stages. PSLV is the trusted workhorse launch Vehicle of ISRO. During 1993-2008 period, PSLV had fourteen launches of which thirteen (including today’s launch) are consecutively successful. PSLV has repeatedly proved its reliability and versatility by launching 30 spacecraft (14 Indian and 16 for international customers) into a variety of orbits so far.

Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, designed and developed PSLV. ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU) at Thiruvananthapuram developed the inertial systems. The Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), also at Thiruvananthapuram, developed the liquid propulsion stages for the second and fourth stages of PSLV as well as reaction control systems. SDSC SHAR processed the solid propellant motors and carried out launch operations. ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) provided telemetry, tracking and command support.

Chandrayaan-1 is India’s first spacecraft mission beyond Earth’s orbit. It aims to further expand our knowledge about Earth’s only natural satellite – the moon. With well-defined objectives, Chandrayaan-1 mission intends to put an unmanned spacecraft into an orbit around the moon and to perform remote sensing of our nearest celestial neighbour for about two years using eleven scientific instruments built in India and five other countries.

The primary objectives of Chandrayaan-1 are:

To place an unmanned spacecraft in an orbit around the moon
To conduct mineralogical and chemical mapping of the lunar surface
To upgrade the technological base in the country
Chandrayaan-1 aims to achieve these well-defined objectives through high-resolution remote sensing of moon in the visible, near infrared, microwave and X-ray regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. With this, preparation of a 3-dimensional atlas of the lunar surface and chemical and mineralogical mapping of entire lunar surface is envisaged.

PSLV placed the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft into a highly elliptical Transfer Orbit (TO) around the earth. Later, through a series of highly complex manoeuvres, the desired trajectories will be achieved. After circling the Earth in its Transfer Orbit, Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft will be taken into more elliptical ‘Extended Transfer Orbits’ by repeatedly firing its Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) in a pr-determined sequence. Subsequently, the LAM is again fired to make the spacecraft to travel to the vicinity of the moon.

When it reaches the vicinity of the Moon and passes at a few hundred kilometers from it, its LAM is fired again so that the spacecraft slows down sufficiently to enable the gravity of the moon to capture it into an elliptical orbit.

Following this, the height of the spacecraft’s orbit around the moon is reduced in steps. After a careful and detailed observation of the orbit perturbations there, the orbital height of Chandrayaan-1 will be finally lowered to its intended 100 km height from the lunar surface. Moon Impact Probe will be ejected from Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft at the earliest opportunity to hit the lunar surface in a chosen area.

Later, cameras and other scientific instruments are turned ON and thoroughly tested. This leads to the operational phase of the mission. This phase lasts for about two years during which Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft explores the lunar surface with its array of instruments that includes cameras, spectrometers and SAR.

The Payloads: There are 11 payloads (scientific instruments) through which Chandrayaan-1 intends to achieve its scientific objectives.

They include five instruments designed and developed in India, three instruments from European Space Agency (one of which is developed jointly with India and the other with Indian contribution), one from Bulgaria and two from the United States.

The Indian payloads of Chandrayaan-1 are:

Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC), a CCD camera that maps the topography of the moon, which helps in better understanding of the lunar evolution process.

Hyperspectral Imager (HySI), another CCD camera, is designed for mapping of the minerals on the lunar surface as well as for understanding the mineralogical composition of Moon’s interior.

Lunar Laser Ranging Instrument (LLRI) provides necessary data for accurately determining the height of lunar surface features.

High Energy X-ray Spectrometer (HEX) is designed to help explore the possibility of identifying Polar Regions covered by thick water-ice deposits as well as in identifying regions of high Uranium and Thorium concentrations.

Moon Impact Probe (MIP) demonstrates the technologies required for landing a probe at the desired location on the moon. It is also intended to qualify some of the technologies related to future soft landing missions.

The six international payloads of Chandrayaan-1 are:

Chandrayaan-1 Imaging X ray Spectrometer (C1XS), an ESA payload and jointly developed by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory of England and ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore, intends is to carry out high quality mapping of the moon using X-ray fluorescence technique for finding the presnce of Magnesium, Aluminium, Silicon, Iron and Titanium distributed over the surface of the Moon.

Smart Near Infrared Spectrometer (SIR-2), another ESA payload, developed by Max Plank Institute of Germany, aims to study the lunar surface to explore the mineral resources and the formation of its surface features.

Sub kiloelectronvolt Atom Reflecting Analyser (SAR), the third payload from ESA, is built by Swedish Institute of Space Physics and Space Physics Laboratory of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Tiruvananthapuram. The aim of this instrument is to study the surface composition of the moon and the magnetic anomalies associated with the surface of the moon.

Radiation Dose Monitor (RADOM), a payload developed by Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, aims to characterise the radiation environment in a region of space surrounding the moon.

Mini Synthetic Aperture Radar (MiniSAR) is one of the two scientific instruments from the USA and is from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and Naval Air Warfare Centre, USA through NASA. MiniSAR is mainly intended for detecting water ice in the permanently shadowed regions of the lunar poles up to a depth of a few meters.

Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) is an imaging spectrometer from Brown University and Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the US through NASA, is intended to assess and map lunar mineral resources at high spatial and spectral resolution.

The Spacecraft: Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft weighed about 1380 kg at the time of its launch and is a 1.5 m cuboid with a solar panel projecting from one of its sides. The spacecraft is powered by a single solar panel generating electrical power of 700 W. A Lithium ion battery supplies power when the solar panel is not illuminated by the sun. To make Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft to travel towards the Moon, its Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) is used. Liquid propellants needed for LAM as well as thrusters are stored onboard the spacecraft. Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft’s Dual Gimballed Antenna transmits the scientific data gathered by its eleven scientific instruments to Earth.

Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft was built at ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore with contributions from Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) and ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU) at Tiruvananthapuram, Space Applications Centre (SAC) and Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad and Laboratory for Electro-optic Systems (LEOS), Bangalore.

The Ground Segment: The Ground facilities of Chandrayaan-1 perform the important task of receiving the health information as well as the scientific data from the spacecraft. It also transmits the radio commands to be sent to the spacecraft during all the phases of its mission. Besides, it processes and stores the scientific data sent by Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.

ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) had a lead role in establishing the Ground Segment of Chandrayaan-1 with contributions from ISAC and SAC. The Ground Segment of Chandrayaan-1 consists of:

Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN)
Spacecraft Control Centre (SCC)
Indian Space Science Data Centre (ISSDC)
The Indian Deep Space Network receives the data sent by the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. Besides, it sends commands to the spacecraft at a power level of upto 20 kilowatts. IDSN consists of two large parabolic antennas – one with 18 m diameter and the other 32 m diameter – at Byalalu, situated at a distance of about 35 km from Bangalore. Of these the 32 m antenna with its ‘seven mirror beam waveguide system’, was indigenously designed, developed, built, installed, tested and qualified. The 18 m antenna can support Chandrayaan-1 mission, but the 32m antenna can support spacecraft missions well beyond Moon.

The Spacecraft Control Centre, located near the ISTRAC campus at Peenya, North of Bangalore, is the focal point of all the operational activities of Chandrayaan-1 during all the phases of the mission.

The Indian Space Science Data Centre forms the third element of Chandrayaan-1 ground segment. Also located at Byalalu, ISSDC receives data from IDSN as well as other external stations that support Chandrayaan-1, stores, processes, archives, retrieves and distributes scientific data sent by Chandrayaan-1 payloads to the user agencies.

IBN Video of ISRO Chandrayaan Launch

Chandrayaan 1 is off

All systems nominal, as ISRO's PSLV-C-11, carrying India's first Lunar spacecraft is in an excellent Earth Orbit, in preparation for TLI. "A textbook mission," according to Sriharikota.

Chandrayaan 1, was launched this morning from Sriharikota north of Chennai.

The US returns to lunar exploration aboard Chandrayaan-1, which is carrying two NASA instruments in its payload.

Speaking minutes after the successful liftoff from the spaceport off the Andhra Pradesh coast, about 80 km north of Chennai, Chairman of the ISRO, G. Madhavan Nair described the moment as "historic."

"India has started its journey to the moon. The first leg has gone perfectly. the spacecraft has been launched into orbit."

The 44.4-metre-tall 316-metric tonne rocket, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV C11), had a textbook launch at 00.20 a.m., (UT), placing Chandrayaan-1 into its scheduled transfer orbit around Earth within 18 minutes, as planned.

Nair pointed out that the launch had gone off perfectly despite heavy rain in and around the spaceport for the last four days. "We've been fighting the odds for the last four days," he said. But the weather relented by Tuesday evening, and there no rain when the launch took place in a cloudy morning sky.

From its geostationary transfer orbit, Chandrayaan 1 will use its on board liquid apogee motor and a series of complex maneuvers will take it to lunar orbit - November 8.

India's mission to the moon is the world's 68th. Of them, 64 have been launched by the US and the former USSR.

China and Japan launched their respective Chang'e 1 and Kaguya (SELENE) in September and October 2007, while ESA launched the SMART technology test platform that orbited the Moon from November 2004 until September 2006.

Because of a launch window conflict, NASA delayed the beginning of the LRO/LCROSS missions until at least February.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Guardian discovers 3He

Someone doing a wee bit of research at The Guardian has discovered the abundance of Helium 3 thought be be present on Earth's Moon, and is, for some reason, speculating that the impending launch of India's Chandrayaan Lunar Orbiter may set off a Lunar "Land Grab."

The abundance of 3He on the lunar surface has, of course, long been estimated to be very extensive, relative to Earth; a result of solar wind ionization over ~4.527 Billion Years.

Russia, China, Japan and India have each announced a strong interest in future lunar exploration based on their hopes of harvesting 3He as the "fuel of the 21st Century" for nuclear fusion. Scientists in China recently tied the probable stores of 3He to deep and "optically mature" regolith fines, mostly on the Lunar Near Side. Evidence points toward a relative abundence of 3He in the equatorial Ocean of Storms and Sea of Tranqullity, resting place of perhaps 70 percent of the Moon's 3He/4He.

Theoretically, the abundance of 3He for fusion power (and Thorium for heat and fission power) could sustain a Gold Rush and colonization of Earth's Moon. NASA and the National Academy of Science, however, are cautiously encouraging a fuller exploration of the Moon "while relatively pristine, before extensive human activity."

On the Moon, and also within a dusty exosphere, that is more dynamic than previously proven, there is etched a history of the whole solar system. NASA is anxious to protect that history before even minor amounts of human activity inevitably make it harder to fully understand, its context spoiled by ballistics and footprints, let alone tractor-pulled factories.

The technology for utilizing the potential of 3He as fuel, for still-problematic fusion, is still a some time away. Just the logistics of harvesting lunar regolith, for heavier elements implanted by cosmic rays and for far lighter elemental ionic Helium awaits far more extensive investigations of the Moon, and also solutions to problems like lunar dust and human and robotic survival.

American scientists have speculated 100 tons of cargo could yield rocket fuel from cold-trapped super ice believed to rest in permanently-shaded depths at both the Lunar North and South Poles. It isn't very difficult to speculate on what damage might be done if rakes and mobile processing factories begin scraping wide expanses of the Near Side "seas" for elements valuable and rare on Earth.

While the Moon has no known "environment" (or protected species), its Africa-sized land area is also believed to hold important clues to the history of the solar system, even pieces of Earth older than any known rocks yet discovered on the Earth itself. NASA is encouraging international cooperation both to sustain lunar exploration and to make that exploration comprehensive and deliberate.

Then there's the dust, the smallest, sub-micron-sized particles where 20 percent of the Moon's 3He is thought to be implanted. Lunar dust may be both the solution and the problem ahead of comprehensive Lunar exploration, abrasive to seals and equipment, perhaps toxic, and almost certainly migratory, leviated when ionized and exposed to the long trailing tail of Earth's magnetosphere and deposited like rain when the charging breaks down.

Far from barren, cosmic elementals may be deposited in widely disbursed microscopic deposits.

The Guardian may just be discovering these facts, but lunar and planetary scientists are way ahead of them, and already jealously guarding the need to decypher the Moon's pristine recording of billions of years of history before foot prints and pick axes can spoil that important science.

'Chandrayaan could spark lunar land grab'

India's lunar mission could spark off a land grab on the Moon, a British paper speculated on Tuesday. (From India Today, Oct. 21) The Chandrayaan (Lunar Orbiter) signals the "possibility of a race for mineral wealth on the lunar surface", particularly helium-3, The Guardian newspaper reported.

While planet Earth was believed to have only 15 tonnes of helium-3, the Moon is thought to contain up to five million tonnes.

The report quoted Udupi Ramachandra Rao, former director of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), as saying that the Moon might have "enough (helium-3) to produce energy for 8,000 years".

The head of China's lunar exploration project had told the China Daily in 2006 that "each year three space shuttle missions could bring enough (helium-3) for all human beings across the world".

The paper said current ISRO officials are, however, tight-lipped over the prospects of a race for lunar minerals.

Monday, October 20, 2008

MPS Spectrometer to travel on Chandrayaan

Eight nations are contributing experiments to India's Chandrayaan Lunar Orbiter, including the United States, Russia (LEND, also to fly on LRO) and Germany. PhysOrg spotlights a vital remote sensing spectrometer, SIR-1, shown above as integrated into Chandrayaan in Bangalore, last month.

India’s first mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, is scheduled to take off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the south-eastern coast of India, Tuesday, October 21, at 20.50 USET. The German science and technology contribution to the mission comprises an infrared spectrometer designed and built by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Katlenburg-Lindau. The spectrometer will play a fundamental role in the production of the first high-resolution global mineralogical map of the Moon.
Read more HERE.

Korean mock-up launcher unveiled

Engineers of Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) and Korean Air assemble the ground test vehicle (GTV), a mock-up of the KSLV-1 rocket, at KARI’s assembly complex in Goheung, South Jeolla Province. / Korea Times

The Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1, the country’s first launch vehicle that will carry a satellite into orbit, has been unveiled at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla Province.

KSLV-1 consists of the upper part, which will be loaded with Science and Technology Satellite no.2, and the lower part, which will carry KSLV-1 from ground into space after launch. The 7.7m-high upper part was completed recently by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute with its own technology. The 25.8m-high lower part will be made in Russia and imported around January next year.

The KSLV-1, an experimental rocket unveiled last Thursday, is identical with the vehicle that will be launched into space next year in terms of design and performance. Cho Kwang-rae, chief of KARI's space launch vehicle project, said, "We plan to finish tests on the ground by February next year using an experimental rocket. We'll use four to five mock-ups of the lower part of the rocket for testing."

Chandrayaan Countdown Begins

The 52 hour countdown prior to launch of India lunar orbiter Chandrayaan 1 is underway. Launch is presently set for Wednesday morning (UT) at 0050, or 8:50 PM U.S. Eastern Daylight Time, Tueday evening.

Waterless Concrete, Just add S to Regolith

Dr. Houssam A. Toutanji of the University of Alabama at Huntsville, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is a true innovator in the ancient arts of public works. Applying his skills to the dry, dusty and radiation-baked lunar surface, he now certain shelter and cost savings can be harvested in situ on the Moon, mixing waterless concrete.

A report three years ago from UAH on Toutanji's work, said, "He has spent his research career studying the characteristics of concrete, including the last four years researching the possibility of making concrete on the moon. During those four years, he has had a share of scientists telling him that he was wasting his time — America would never go back to the moon. A wide grin spreads across his face. "Those are the same scientists who are calling me, emailing me and asking me about my research today," he said.

Another three year later, Toutanji has apparently made some breakthroughs, publishing an article, according to Science Daily, "that will demonstrate a concept of creating concrete structures on the lunar surface without the use of water."

Traditional concrete comprises a binder — cement and water — mixed with aggregates. While some parts of the Moon may have water, that resource may be more valuable for astronaut’s consumption rather than building structures.

His research shows that those astronauts can turn to a new type of waterless concrete that uses lunar soil as the aggregate and sulfur as a binding agent. Years of work must be paying off. In the recent past, Toutanji expressed concerns about sublimation, the slow deterioration of materials mostly from rapid thermal expansion and contraction and radiation-induced space weathering.

Toutanji was co-author in 2007 of an article along with Dr. Richard N. Grugel, a geological engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. According to the abstract, Toutanji & Grugel wrote:

Melting sulfur and mixing it with an aggregate to form “concrete” is commercially well established and constitutes a material that is particularly well-suited for use in corrosive environments. Discovery of the mineral troilite (FeS) on the moon poses the question of extracting the sulfur for use as a lunar construction material. This would be an attractive alternative to conventional concrete as it does not require water. However, the viability of sulfur concrete in a lunar environment, which is characterized by lack of an atmosphere and extreme temperatures, is not well understood. Here it is assumed that the lunar ore can be mined, refined, and the raw sulfur melded with appropriate lunar regolith to form, for example, bricks. This study evaluates pure sulfur and two sets of small sulfur concrete samples that have been prepared using JSC-1 lunar stimulant and SiO2 powder as aggregate additions. Each set was subjected to extended periods in a vacuum environment to evaluate sublimation issues. Results from these experiments are presented and discussed within the context of the lunar environment.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

IBEX launched by Pegusus XL from L-1011

Off to map the Heliosphere

NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft has been launched via an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL launch vehicle on Sunday, after it was released by its L-1011 carrier aircraft at around 1:44pm EDT.
From NASA With all the interest surrounding SpaceX’s Falcon I launch vehicle of late, many forget that Pegasus was the world’s first privately developed space launch vehicle. Its maiden 1990 mission marked the first all-new, unmanned space launch vehicle developed in the US in more than 20 years.

Other landmarks included the Pegasus being the first winged vehicle to accelerate to eight times the speed of sound, and the first air-launched rocket to place satellites into orbit, using its carrier aircraft as an ‘air breathing reusable first stage.’

The three-stage Pegasus is used by commercial, government and international customers to deploy small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit.

With the aerodynamic lift generated by its unique delta-shaped wing, Pegasus typically delivers satellites into orbit in a little over 10 minutes, which it has done 39 times before - making it the world’s leading small launch vehicle.

At T+78 seconds, the Orion 50S XL first stage motor burns out ahead of a ballistic coast period prior to shedding its wings and expended first stage. The Orion 50 XL second stage will then fire at T+93 seconds for the push to orbit, burning out at T+2 mins, 47 seconds.

Following a short coast phase, the Orion 38 third stage motor ignites at T+5 mins, 14 seconds for 68 seconds to deliver the IBEX spacecraft into a temporary 125-mile circular parking orbit.
IBEX is then “spun up” to 60 rpm at T+7 mins, 47 seconds, ahead of spacecraft separation at T+8 mins, 22 seconds, marking the 40th mission success for Pegasus.

Orbital’s L-1011 aircraft picked up the integrated Pegasus XL vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Californian last week, before the duo arrived at the Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein.

NASA’s IBEX satellite blasted off today to begin its mission to map the outer reaches of the solar system. The spacecraft was launched from an L-1011 over the South Pacific and will soon settle into a very high-altitude Earth orbit, where it will study how ions in the solar wind interact with the plasma from interstellar space.

Scientists hope that IBEX will tell us more about the shape of the solar system’s protective “bubble”, which is created by the solar wind and shields us from harmful galactic cosmic rays.

Over the past four years the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft have both crossed the termination shock and sent back spectacular data on this region. However, as IBEX principal investigator David McComas explains, these data tell us only about the specific points at which the spacecraft crossed the termination shock. “It’s like having two excellent weather stations that provide detailed reports of the weather in their areas, but not having the satellite data that tell you how the weather fronts are changing,” he says. “For this global view we need IBEX.”

IBEX, being one of NASA’s small, low-cost Explorer missions, was launched from the underside of an aircraft, climbed to ~ 200km above Earth’s surface, at which point a PAM rocket fired and sent IBEX into a high–altitude orbit.

‘Designing Chandrayaan was like writing lyrics to a set tune’

More kudos for M Annadurai

Chennai, Oct 19 (IANS) While building India’s first moon craft, Chandrayaan project director Mylswamy Annadurai was reminded of his engineering college days when he wrote lyrics to the tunes of his classmates.

At that time he used to write poetry - some were published in the college magazine.

‘One of the many challenges in building the spacecraft is to accommodate the six overseas pre-built payloads. We had to design the spacecraft accordingly - sort of writing lyrics to a tune,’ 50-year-old Annadurai told IANS from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, 80 km from here.

The man who will go down in space annals as the designer of India’s first moon orbiter was born in the small village of Kotavadi in Pollachi district of Tamil Nadu. He graduated from the Government College of Engineering, Coimbatore, and did his Masters at PSG College of Technology in the same city.

Now Annadurai is a veteran at the India Space Research Organisation (ISRO), having joined it in 1982.

‘ISRO offers the good freedom even to freshers,’ he said, citing his own experience when he suggested software modelling of ISRO satellites.
Read more HERE.

Excitement in Asia as Chandrayaan countdown begins

From Asia Minor to Djakarta, chatter about India's scheduled launch of the second full-scale lunar orbiter in a year in increasing daily. If NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter had been launched in the same time frame, as originally intended, it's doubtful the excitement would have been muted. India's confidence is justified.

Even Tehran is taking notice, picking up on the AFP story.

India's unmanned lunar mission ready for launch

Tehran Times SRIHARIKOTA, India (AFP) -- India is making final preparations for its first mission to the moon, officials said over the weekend.

Lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 will be launched on October 22 by a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Sriharikota space centre in the country's south. “All checks on the vehicle have been completed. The vehicle is now ready to receive the satellite,” T. Subba Reddy, manager of the second launch pad, told reporters in Sriharikota. The mission will involve three stages -- the lift-off from the space centre, raising the spacecraft into the lunar orbit and a series of experiments in the next two years.

A team of meteorologists will start monitoring the weather six days ahead of the launch. “The launch vehicle is rain-proof. Only a cyclone can pose problems,” range safety officer V. Krishnamurthy said. India will share the data collected during the mission with other countries. “This is an exploratory mission in search of the mineral, geological and chemical characteristics of the lunar surface,” M.Y.S Prasad, associate director of the launch centre said. The space craft will conduct a lunar orbit at a distance of 385,000 kilometres (240,000 miles) from Earth.

The Dusty Lunar Trail

The iconic grime-invaded image of Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan, last man to walk on the Moon, snapped by Lunar Module Pilot Dr. Harrison Schmitt, Dec. 1972, and as recently restored from an original slide (AS17-145-22224HR). Cernan's expression seems somewhat laconic, so oon after re-entering the LM Ascent Stage for the final time, home on the Moon for three very full days. It was the end of their third and final EVA.

Soon after, however, the true extent of just three strolls and road trip, especially with an excited geologist along (the only scientist to walk on the Moon) can be seen in a lighter moment Schmitt captured here.

Cernan's experience, after spending more time on the Moon than any other human, is still repeatedly cited in scholarly papers as scientists grapple with the abrasive, perhaps even toxic, nature of Cernan's "invasive" lunar dust.

"The dust was very difficult to work in," Cernan later said, during debriefing, "and was a big hinderance. It obscured your vision if you let it get on your visor. It was almost like a dew or mist because it clung to everything. It got on every movable service. It got in the suits, and when we got out of our suits in the spacecraft in between EVAs, it got into the pours of our skin and got under our fingernails. And it didn't just get on the outside parts of our nails and get them dirty but, literally, it got down between the skin and the nail. It took three months for lunar dust to grow out from under our nails. It infiltrates." (Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, ALSJ, Apollo 17 Journal).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Schmitt leaves NASA Advisory Council

Michael Braukus NASA Washington -NASA Advisory Council Chairman Harrison "Jack" H. Schmitt announced Thursday he was leaving the council. Fellow council member Kenneth Ford will succeed him as chairman effective immediately. The NASA Advisory Council provides advice to the NASA administrator on important program and policy matters related to the U.S. space program.

"My service as chairman of Administrator Mike Griffin's advisory council has been one of my most rewarding professional experiences," Schmitt said. "The members of the council represent the finest and most diverse group of advisors that could be assembled, and I am greatly indebted to them for the stimulating interaction and productive deliberations we have had during the last three years. The administrator, NASA and the nation have been well served by their dedication and hard work, and I am certain that even more productive activity will take place under the guidance of the new chairman, Ken Ford."

The council consists of experts from various fields offering knowledge of the multitude of functions within the agency. Council recommendations and advice are critical to the agency's timely strategic and tactical decisions about NASA's mission.

"Sen. Schmitt has provided invaluable advice and leadership for over three years as Chair of the NASA Advisory Council," Griffin said. "He was instrumental in reformulating the NAC to fulfill its proper role as NASA's primary external advisory group. The experience he has brought to the NAC as a scientist, astronaut and former U.S. senator has been of tremendous value to me in helping to manage the agency. I am deeply grateful for both his long friendship and his commitment of service to NASA and the nation."

Schmitt has served as chair of the NASA Advisory Council since November 2005. Under his leadership, the council developed and submitted more than 100 recommendations to the NASA administrator in the areas of aeronautics, audit and finance, exploration, human capital, science, and space operations. These recommendations significantly contributed to NASA's implementation of the agency's new space exploration plans.

Schmitt also was the primary advocate behind the council's February 2007 workshop that produced 35 recommendations covering exploration science, lunar science, lunar-based science, and other research enabled by the emerging exploration architecture for returning humans to the moon by 2020. The workshop was a key part of the council's obligation to advise the administrator about science associated with the nation's return to the moon while making its findings directly available to NASA's exploration and science directorates. Schmitt also led the council's initiative to build a strong relationship with the National Institute of Health and other entities for the utilization of the International Space Station as a national laboratory.

Schmitt is a geologist, former NASA astronaut and former U.S. senator. He and his Apollo 17 crewmate, Eugene Cernan, were the last two people to walk on the moon.

Kenneth Ford has been a member of the NASA Advisory Council since June 2007, serving on the Exploration Committee. He is founder and director of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a statewide not-for-profit research institute of the state university system of Florida. The institute features world-class scientists and engineers investigating a broad range of topics related to building technological systems that are aimed at amplifying and extending human cognitive and perceptual capacities.

In January 1997, NASA asked Ford to develop and direct its new Center of Excellence in Information Technology at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. He served as both associate center director and director of the Center of Excellence. Ford was awarded the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal in July 1999.

Ford is the author of hundreds of scientific papers and six books. His research interests include artificial intelligence, cognitive science, human-centered computing, and entrepreneurship in government and academia. He earned a Ph.D. in computer science from Tulane University. Ford is a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and was the 2008 recipient of the Robert S. Englemore Memorial Award for his work in artificial intelligence.

In 2005, Ford was appointed to the Air Force Science Advisory Board. President George W. Bush nominated Ford to serve a six-year term on the National Science Board in October 2002.
For more information about the NASA Advisory Council, visit:

2008 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, Oct. 24-25

"Nine rocket-powered vehicles will compete for NASA’s $2 million, 2008 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, Oct. 24-25.
The goal is to accelerate development of commercial Lunar Landers capable of bringing payloads or humans back and forth between lunar orbit and the lunar surface. NASA of course would expect to use some of the technology developed at the Challenge. Full Story."
(The LLC will be closed to the public)

Friday, October 17, 2008

FAA Approves Rocket Races

In what may be a major boost to the private business component NASA now believes essential to the success of American space exploration, the Federal Aviation Administration has approved 20 venues for long-anticipated Rocket Racing. has the story: Rocket-powered racers received the go-ahead this week from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to soar at over 20 venues across the United States.

This certification marks the first time ever that the FAA has approved a production-scale rocket-powered aircraft for exhibition flights, the Rocket Racing League announced on Tuesday.

The league formed in 2005 to promote aerial NASCAR-style racing, and currently has a roster of six teams under title sponsor DKNY, a New York City-based men's sportswear line that is also backing the Bridenstine Rocket Racing Team headed by former U.S. Navy jet pilot Jim Bridenstine.

An earlier debut of the rocket-powered racers used a liquid oxygen and kerosene engine designed by XCOR Aerospace. However, the DKNY Bridenstine Rocket Racer that received recent FAA approval for public demonstrations is equipped with liquid oxygen and alcohol engines produced by Armadillo Aerospace.

"I would like to personally thank the FAA for their assistance through this process," said Granger Whitelaw, Rocket Racing League co-founder and CEO.

Read more HERE.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Global Topography and Gravity of the Moon Revealed by KAGUYA

Antarctica and the southern hemisphere disappears behind Mount Malapert
and the Lunar South Pole, Nov. 2007, from the HDTV camera on-board
"Kaguya," Japan's Lunar orbiter. Abyssal Shackleton Crater slips
behind the probe's path northward over the Moon's farside.

The elusive shape of the "lunoid," the shape, density and complexity of the mass of Earth's Moon, scientists claim, has finally been mapped. In an oral presentation to the 40th annual meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences, American Astronomical Association, Dr. Sho Sasaki made announcement on behalf of JAXA and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

"The Japanese lunar explorer KAGUYA (SELENE) was launched successfully on September 14th, 2007. KAGUYA has two small spin-stabilized subsatellites, Rstar (OKINA) and Vstar (OUNA) for gravity measurement. We can track the three satellites by new methods: 4-way Doppler tracking between the main satellite and Rstar for the far-side gravity and multi-frequency differential Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) tracking between Rstar and Vstar. The global lunar gravity field with unprecedented accuracy can be obtained.

"Through more than 6 months, precise gravity field including most of farside was obtained. The farside gravity field shows significant improvement from the previous model. Many circular features corresponding to impact structures are clearly identified. Some of the circular gravity anomalies in the free-air gravity apparently disappear in Bouguer anomaly map; the surface topography is a dominant source of free-air gravity anomalies and large impact structures are supported by lithosphere, which would lead to the difference of thermal history between nearside and farside.

"A possible cryptomare candidate (a circular gravity anomaly without topographic signature) was also found.

"KAGUYA has a laser altimeter (LALT). The first precise global topography data with range accuracy 5 meters have been produced by LALT. In the polar regions where CLEMENTINE did not cover, topographic features in the shadowed area are newly discovered.

"Solar illumination condition was calculated, and the region whose solar illumination rate is higher than 90% is very limited.

"Lunar mean radius is 1737.15 (±0.01) kilometers and the COM-COF offset is 1.94 kilometers. The amplitude of the power spectrum of topography spherical harmonics is larger than that of the previous model, at Love Number greater than 30.

"From the gravity and topography data, we obtain the distribution of the crustal thickness on the Moon. We also estimate the correlation between gravity and topography and localized admittance values. Gravity and topography observation of KAGUYA will continue until early 2009."

India and Russia ink Rover Agreement

Already looking beyond the impending launch of Chandrayaan 1, a week from today, New Dehli's Economic Times and Srinivas Laxman rounds up ISRO's busy, newly ambitious planned activities from Chandrayaan 2 and beyond:

Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, will build the lunar rover and India plans to launch Chandrayaan 2, based on an agreement signed in 2007 and recently updated, sometime "between 2010 and 2012."

While development of lunar exploration probes takes less time than similar missions to Mars, for example, plans for the Russian re-entry into the New Space Race remain a little vague:

The rover will weigh between 30 and 100 kg, depending on the kind of landing - a hard or soft one - it will execute on the lunar surface . It will have a one-month life span and operate predominantly on solar power.

Keeping in mind the additional payloads in the spacecraft that could increase the launch weight, the rocket for the second mission will be the three-stage Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The current version of the rocket can carry payloads of up to two tonnes while the new version - GSLV Mk3 - can fly with payloads weighing four tonnes. The data from the rover will be transmitted to the orbiting spacecraft, which, in turn, will send it to the ground station at Byalalu near Bangalore.

Carnegie Mellon tests Scarab on Mauna Kea

As reported in late summer, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, in partnership with NASA, is preparing for rigorous testing of its Scarab lunar lander on the Big Island of Hawai'i.

"Scarab was designed and built for NASA's Human Robot Systems program by Carnegie Mellon. It serves as a terrestrial testbed for technologies that would be used to explore craters at the moon's southern pole, where a robot would operate in perpetual darkness at temperatures of minus 385 degrees Fahrenheit. The rover features a novel rocker-arm suspension that enables it to negotiate sandy, rock-strewn inclines and to lower its 5 ½-foot by 3-foot body to the ground for drilling operations. Scarab weighs 400 kilograms (about 880 pounds) and can operate on just 100 watts of power."
Read more HERE.

India and China enter the game

And while were on the subject, Dwayne Day of The Space Review has an excellent read on the present state of the new, multi-lateral Space Race, more specifically the emerging, steady state of both the Chinese National Space Agency and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Read Dwayne Day's article HERE.

Chandrayaan's 11 Payloads

Yes, ISRO is still aiming for an October 22 launch from Sriharikota of its first lunar payload, Chandrayaan 1, bringing to fruition more than a decade of planning. So confident is the Indian Space Research Organisation in Chandrayaan's eventual success, rivaling Japan's Kaguya, now beginning it's second year on lunar orbit, it has announced plans of a manned mission as early as 2014.

Hat Tip to and Subhankar Kundu for outlining the eleven instrument payloads onboard, including the work of eight international partners.

Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC): TMC A CCD camera that has been developed by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).It will map topography in both near and far side of the Moon and prepare a 3-dimensional atlas with high spatial and altitude resolution. This will help in understanding the lunar evolution process as well identify regions for detailed study.

Hyper Spectral Imager (HySI): HySI is a CCD camera that has been developed by ISRO. It will obtain spectroscopic data for mineralogical mapping of the lunar surface and improve existing data. It will also study the mineralogical composition in deep crater regions of Moon’s interior.

Lunar Laser Ranging Instrument (LLRI): Developed by ISRO, this payload will provide data for determining the accurate height of lunar surface features. It will also aid in determining the global topographical field of the Moon and also generate an improved model for the lunar gravity field.

High Energy X-ray Spectrometer (HEX): ISRO developed High-Energy X-ray spectrometer is designed to explore the possibility of exploring polar regions covered with thick water and ice deposits. It is designed to primarily study and identify regions of thorium and uranium deposits.

Moon Impact Probe (MIP): The only probe to actually land on the Moon, it will demonstrate the technologies required to land a probe at a desired location on the moon. It will also qualify technologies required for future soft landing missions and explore moon from a close range.MIP has also been developed by ISRO.

Chandrayaan-1 X-ray Spectrometer (C1XS): The scientific objective of the C1XS instrument is to carry out high quality X-ray spectroscopic mapping of the Moon. Chandrayaan-1 X-ray Spectrometer (C1XS) is realized through ESA with collaboration between Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK and ISRO Satellite Centre, ISRO. Part of this payload is redesigned by ISRO to suit Chandrayaan-1 scientific objectives.

Near-IR (NIR) Spectrometer (SIR-2) : SIR-2 is developed by the Max-Plank-Institute for Solar System Science, through the Max-Plank Society, Germany and ESA to analyze in unprecedented detail the lunar surface in various geological/mineralogical and topographical units.Sub Kev Atom reflecting Analyser (SARA): SARA is realized through ESA, in collaboration with Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Sweden and Space Physics Laboratory, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, ISRO. The aim of this instrument is to study the surface composition of the moon, the way the moon’s surface reacts with the solar wind and magnetic anomalies associated with the surface of the moon.

Radiation Dose Monitor Experiment (RADOM): RADOM Payload is from Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. RADOM will qualitatively and quantitatively characterise the radiation environment in a region of space near the moon. Provide an estimate of the dose map around Moon at different altitudes and latitudes.

Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar (MiniSAR): Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar (MiniSAR) is from Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University and Naval Air Warfare Centre, USA through NASA. The main aim of this payload is to detect water ice in the permanently shadowed regions on the Lunar poles up to a depth of a few meters. This radar mapper will allow viewing of all permanently shadowed areas on the Moon, regardless of whether sunlight is available or the angle is not satisfactory.

Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3): Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) payload is from Brown University and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA through NASA. This spectrometer will assess and map lunar mineral resources at high spatial and spectral resolution to support planning for future, targeted missions. It will also help in characterising and mapping lunar materials in context of moon’s early geological evolution.

Hunan U's Lunar Rover

The People's Daily shows the handiwork of Hunan University students demonstrating "a major engineering project fr the moon exploration program, as reported by Changsha Evening News.

"Based on the thought of four-wheel, three-axis, the diamond-shaped lunar vehicle adopts four-wheel mobile system and realizes the functions of commonly used six-wheeled mobile system."

Monday, October 13, 2008

ISS Expedition 18 lifts off

The Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft, carrying Expedition 18 Commander Michael Fincke, Flight Engineer Yury V. Lonchakov and American spaceflight participant Richard Garriott, launched Sunday, Oct. 12 from the Baikonur.

The three crew members are scheduled to dock with the International Space Station on Tuesday, Oct. 14.

Fincke and Lonchakov will spend six months on the station, while Garriott, son of Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott, will return to Earth Oct. 24 with two of the Expedition 17 crew currently aboard the International Space Station.

Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Chandrayaan prepares for Oct. 22 launch, "come rain or shine"

Perhaps the latest slight increase in the trickle of data from JAXA's Kaguya was prompted by the impending countdown of Chandrayaan 1 on-board the ISRO's polar launcher, to remind the lunar science community that Kaguya has been orbiting the Moon for more than a year.

Regardless, interest in Asia in on the increase, with more and more stories from the region repeating the news that Chandrayaan 1 is still on track for launch on Wednesday, Oct. 22.
Read a detailed account in The Hindu HERE.

Another spectactular set of Kaguya Images

Once again appearing first on JAXA's Japanese language site, and, as always, weeks ahead of appearing on it's English site (as Chuck Wood at LPOD and others have noted) Japan's JAXA/NHK has finally released another series of HDTV stills from it's on-going Kaguya Lunar orbiter.

Included among these is another spectacular full-earthrise video from low overhead the rugged North Pole region, with a near Full Earth "upside down" over the seasonally well-lit north. And, this this time from a distance, Kaguya looks back at the dark South Pole valley rimmed by staggering Mount Malapert and featuring abyssal Shakleton Crater slipping silently away, under a setting Earth.

Another Terrain Camera reconstuction, perhaps not as spectacular as that done of breathtaking Tycho, is featured, taking the viewer on a close up journey into Taurus-Littrow Valley, the playground of Captain Gene Cernan and Dr. Harrison H. Schmitt of Apollo 17, the last men to walk on the Moon, nearly thirty-six years ago.

Alas, the Command Module Orbital Cameras of the mission took more detailed photographs, though the halo of the Descent Stage is where one thinks it ought to be, if you know where to look. The TC is computer generated, and has been used to varify camera angles taken from the surface.

An overhead of Fra Mauro, and the landing site of Apollo 14 is available, showing the rich flows and geology explored by Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell in 1971, south of Copernicus.

Zipped full screen video is available, well worth the download time, as it was at Tycho. And speaking of Tycho, a further enhanced and color version of the Tycho Tour was released, as well, though it hardly compares to the TC's stark black and white of the terraced walls and magnificent central peak still available at the site.

Along with other new regional shots from this past summer (click for close up of the above HERE, without captions) reminds lunar scientists of the renewed interest in areas on the Near Side, among them one especially chosen for its apparent smooth and flat "featurelessness," the southwestern interior of the Sea of Tranquillity.

The renewed interest, of course, are studies linking the implantation of Helium 3, the purported fuel of future fusion, of which the Moon abounds, and those oldest of exposed "fines" of regolith coincident with high optical maturity and the presense of iron oxide, according to studies. 3He appears to favor the smoothest and oldest seas of the Moon's Near Side, most especially the central Oceanus Procellarum southwest of Aristarchus Plateau, and, of all places, the whole of the Sea of Tranquillity.

Popular Science: Another Look at The Chariot

The Chariot - Yet another look. (PopSci - Blow it Up): Spacesuit engineer Dustin Gohmert takes the 4,400-pound Chariot prototype (the final design will weigh about half that) for a spin at Johnson Space Center. It has a top speed of 12 mph. NASA/JSC

Friday, October 10, 2008

South Atlantic Anomaly affecting Fermi/GLAST

The South Atlantic Anomaly, a congenital dip of the life-protecting geomagnetic field affecting low-earth orbiting space craft, including the International Space Station.

A new study shows mission time for GLAST, the "Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope" renamed after Enrico Fermi in August is been strongly affected by its regular passes in orbit through the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA).

Fermi delivered a spectacular and unprecedented in its detail First Light of the Gamma Ray sky in August, and is designed to detect tale-tale streams of highly energetic particles that precede a Gamma Ray Burst.

GRB's are Titanic explosions from the Dark Ages of cosmic history that flash intensely and then rapidly fade from view, nearly as old as the Universe. Fermi is designed to interrupt its mission to turn and rapidly study these still-mysterious phenomena in response to the sudden flash of highly energetic Gamma Rays known to herald an arrival of a visible counterpart since early in the Space Age.

Fermi's general mission is to study the Gamma Ray sky, most, but not all, of which appears to originate from within the edge-on disk of our own galaxy.

GRB's have been detected in every area of the sky, however, without any optical counterpart until spaceborne telescopes began to gradually increase their manuverability and sensitivity in recent years. Opinions differ whether GRB's result when super-massive proto-stars in the early universe collapsed or if they result from binary neutron stars or blackholes falling onto one another.

The energy released is of great interest because, given their great distances, it is estimated each GRB release nearly as much energy as is known to exist in the entire present visible universe, all in a very brief moment, relatively speaking.

Fermi's mission is being perturbed by another long-observed phenomena, the anomalous dip on Earth's Magnetic Field lines over the South Atlantic.

This dip in Earth's magnetic field consistently brings highly charged particles trapped within the Van Allen Belts closer to Earth enough to affect spacecraft in low Earth orbit, including the International Space Station.
Twice each day, the ISS, in it's orbit inclined relative to the equator by 51 degrees, the station passes through this unusually low "hot zone."

The particles trapped along these field lines are also triggering GRB sensors on the watch for Gamma Ray Bursters, giving mission planners headaches and robbing scientists of valuable viewing time.

C. R. A. Augusto, C. E. Navia, and K. H. Tsui of the Instituto de Física in Brazil detail the phenomena in a paper published in Physics Review, Oct. 7.

What's on Stage? In London, it's Lunar Sea

Rather than following a plot, Lunar Sea is an experience of the moon through visual imagery and the employment of dancing and gymnastic skills aided by a few carefully chosen props. While the first half, named ‘Sea of Tranquility’, could leave some observers bewildered as they search for a story in the strangely wonderful though perhaps repetitive shapes, the second half, ‘Bay of Seething’ makes up for it as the shows’ overwhelming charm becomes apparent and one learns to take it for exactly what it is; an amazing feat of imagination and skill.
More from "What's on Stage"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

ISRO: Manned Lunar Mission in 2014

Plans to use GSLV instead of PSLV for the project.

Even as it gets set for its first unmanned mission to the moon on October 22, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is busy making preparations for a manned mission to the moon in 2014. The proposed budget for the manned mission is around Rs 1,000 crore.

ISRO plans to use its Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) for the manned mission because their Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is not capable of launching a load of over 1,500 kilograms. Even as the proposal is pending clearance, Isro is in the process of identifying the team for the mission. “Our chairman is very keen on the project getting approval. He has asked us to come out with complete proposals internally,” said MC Dathan, director, Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC), Sriharikota Range.

On the proposal, he said a commission had done a preliminary study and the report had been submitted for approval of the Space Commission. “The commission has cleared the proposal and it has been submitted to the government. A high-powered committee is studying the report. It is expected to be cleared in about two months,” he added.

On training the crew, Dathan said, “The Indian Air Force has the capability. But we plan to develop a full-fledged training facility in Bangalore.”

Read the story from the Business Standard

Alan Bean continues artistic journey

Alan Bean always had a creative streak: As a child, tinkering with his model airplanes until they became perfect little replicas of the real thing, and later, proposing aircraft paint designs during his military career.

After he became an astronaut, he took evening art classes as his pilot training allowed. But once he left NASA in 1981 after 18 years, Bean began his artistic career in earnest, mining his own memories to capture images of faraway worlds.

One of an elite dozen astronauts who have walked on the moon, Bean the artist found a new mission: To share his explorations through his paintings, capturing splendours of the moon that are difficult to express in words alone.

They're not like Earth paintings. They don't look like Earth paintings," Bean said. They're paintings from another world."

Bean's art is on display at the LBJ Library and Museum at the University of Texas and coincides with the museum's exhibit To the Moon: The American Space Program in the 1960s.

Bean, 76, was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 12 in November 1969 when he became the fourth person to step foot on the moon. The mission was man's second lunar landing, and scenes from that trip -- along with depictions of fellow astronauts' moon visits and occasional fantasy elements tossed in -- comprise Bean's collection of paintings.

He was training to become a space shuttle commander when he decided to leave NASA, where he helped set 11 world records in space and astronautics.

I said, 'You know, there's a lot of young men and women around here that can fly this shuttle as good as I can or better. Maybe if I left the space program, which I dearly loved, and painted some of my experiences that I could leave a legacy for future generations that somebody might care about,'" Bean said.
Read more from the AP HERE.

AGI Preferred Partner for Lunar X-Prize

The X PRIZE Foundation announced today that it has selected AGI, producer of analysis software for land, sea, air, and space, as an official "preferred partner" for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. Preferred partners offer discounted services to the teams competing in the $30 million international competition. The Google Lunar X PRIZE challenges privately-funded teams to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to Earth. Under this partnership, AGI has agreed to provide each team with nearly $200,000 worth of complimentary software and engineering services. There are currently four other X PRIZE Foundation preferred partners: Space Exploration Technologies (Preferred Launch Partner), SETI Institute and Universal Space Network (Preferred Communications Partners), and Space Florida (Preferred Launch Site).
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