Monday, March 31, 2008

NASA press briefing on Ares 1 questions on Thursday

An oscillation and vibration problem thought to be inherent in the design of the Ares 1 booster, scheduled for full weight testing next year, is "fixable," according to reports. NASA will conduct a press "teleconference" briefing on Ares 1's "tiger team" findings, at 1630 UT, Thursday, April 3.

According to Aviation Weekly:

"Scott (Doc) Horowitz, a four-time shuttle veteran who later headed NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate as Ares I development was getting under way, said March 28 that the tiger team assembled to address the problem has found it tractable in a way that shouldn't impede the Ares I preliminary design review coming up this summer.

"Early estimates of the scope of the problem were overly conservative," Horowitz said. "Instead of threatening the health of the crew and damage to some vehicle hardware, the actual vibration levels generated as the solid-fuel first stage burns out can be handled with relatively straightforward mechanical fixes."

"You can mitigate this throughout the whole vehicle," Horowitz said. "You can do it on the top of the first stage. You can do it on the interstage. You can do it by the orientation of the tanks. When you get up to the CEV and service module, then you can put shock absorbers in the seats."

Horowitz, now an independent aerospace consultant whose clients include ATK, the Ares I first-stage contractor, and a "greybeard" advisor to NASA through the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, served on the tiger team that reviewed the thrust oscillation issue after it arose last fall.

Garry M. Lyles, the senior NASA engineer who headed that review panel, is scheduled to brief Congress on his findings" this week.

Concerns raised recently about the design for the rocket planned for launching NASA's next manned space vehicle and successor Orion were raised about whether the vehicle's design may not withstand vibrations Shuttle astronauts have come expect when the Solid Fuel Booster first stage of the Ares 1 design burns out and may be easily mitigated, by small changes throughout the vehicle.

NASA's announced Monday Thursday's teleconference participants will, "discuss findings from the Ares I thrust oscillation focus (tiger) team. The team has been studying possible vibration concerns in the early designs of the new crew launch vehicle NASA is designing as part of the Constellation Program."

Participants at the Ares 1 teleconference are expected to include Rick Gilbrech, associate administrator, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington; Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate; Steve Cook, manager, Ares Projects, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville and Garry Lyles, associate director for technical management, also at Marshall.

The teleconference also will be audiocast live at begining at 1630 UT, Thursday, April 3.

Jules Verne ATV tests ISS approach

On course for Wednesday docking, Jules Verne tests tight maneuvering near ISS

NASA The Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle is approaching the International Space Station today for its “Demo Day 2″ practice maneuvers. It will have moved to within 12 meters of the Zvezda Service Module in a rehearsal for docking on Thursday.

Jules Verne reached closest point to the station around 16:38 UT today, at which time it was commanded by the crew to retreat to a point 20 meters away. From there it executed an automated “escape” command, to depart the station for its three-day phasing prior to final approach and docking around 14:41 Thursday, April 3.

During its first approach Saturday, the ATV fired its engines several times to bring it approximately two miles from the station. Once in position, the Jules Verne conducted thruster firings and other systems tests before it pulled back into a phasing orbit.

Host of ET Mods cancelled

NASA has reportedly cancelled a host of planned Shuttle External Tank modifications based on intensive ET study during the period of resummed flight following the Columbia catastrophy.

The change in plans is not related to delays in the delivery of new ETs, delivery of the first built completely after Columbia and already changing the Space Shuttle's accelerating planned flight schedule.

Modifications beyond those already made, scheduled in a second phase of ETs to be built for the last flights of the program, set to end in 2010, are now thought unnecessary.

Whether the modifications will be included in the slightly larger External Tank for Ares V and the smaller upper stage liquid Oxygen and Liquid Hydrogen tank booster on Ares I, set to begin testing in 2009, to be carried aloft using by a similarly enlarged Solid Rocket Booster design, is not yet known.

Assessing the practicality of scramjet-powered, single-stage aerospaceplanes

Unlike NASA, not everyone has abandoned the Single-Stage to orbit concept.

To be fair, even NASA hasn't, though political and engineering pragmatism forced the Agency to set aside funding for X-33 and other similar grand designs in favor of expendable boosters, leaving scram-jet's basic engineering to work with experimental remote-controlled aircraft in 2001.

They've enjoyed successes and mixed results in the Australian outback, for example.

As seen above, the thousands of people who've downloaded Martin Schweiger's open-sourced and free Orbiter Simulator program are well-aware of the possibilities of an intimate relationship between scram-jets in future SSTO hybrids.

But are such concepts practical?

In what may be one of the best summaries of the true state of the art, The Space Review published an article by Mike Sneed today that examines this "Holy Grail" of low-cost access to orbit and examines the scram-jet hybrid concept.

Read : "Assessing the practicality of scram jet-powered, single-stage aerospaceplanes," HERE.

LunaTrex talks to Space Fellowship about Google Lunar X-Prize

Space Fellowship News
"During the Google Lunar X-Prize Team announcement Pete (Bitar) said that LunaTrex didn’t just want to go the Moon but they wanted to create an affordable, repeatable and sustainable space business. They also plan to create mini competitions to do certain elements of what they are doing. I contacted Pete and he was very open in answering my questions. My questions were broken down into four categories, Ion Propulsion, the Rover, the Rocket and lastly a General category."

ESA's Jules Verne ATV: Go for ISS docking, live coverage

Sorry, it's just an ESA simulation, but based on a multitude of previous Ukranian Kurs dockings, this is perhaps a good simulation of what viewers world wide can expect when Jules Verne, ESA's unmanned ISS supply ship and space truck concept test vehicle make its first automated docking, April 3.

"Journalists wishing to watch these manoeuvres from one of the above-mentioned sites are asked to kindly complete the linked accreditation form and fax or email it to the Establishment of their choice."

NASA The Expedition 16 crew members aboard the International Space Station continued their preparations to receive Europe’s new unpiloted resupply ship, the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV).

At 2 a.m. EDT, Thursday, the ATV fired it engines, bringing it out of a parking orbit and putting it into position to make its first demonstration approach to the station. During its first approach, which is scheduled for Saturday, the ATV will fire its engines several times to bring it approximately two miles from the station. Once in position, the ATV will conduct thruster firings and other systems tests before it pulls back into a phasing orbit.

The ATV is scheduled to make its final approach and dock to the International Space Station mid-day, Thursday, April 3.

To prepare for the ATV, the crew members completed rendezvous and docking training exercises, simulating the craft’s final approach in case they may be called upon to override the ATV’s automatic docking controls and abort the approach.

(ESA) - After several days spent in a parking orbit 2000 km ahead of the ISS, Jules Verne ATV is now ready to join up with the International Space Station. This first docking attempt can be followed live on 3 April 2008 from 15:30 CEST onwards from one of the European participating centres.

One hour and 6 minutes after lift-off of the Ariane-5 ES launcher from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on 9 March 2008 at 05:03 CET, Jules Verne ATV was placed in a circular orbit at 51.6° relative to the equator. At that point in time, the Guiana Space Centre transferred mission authority to ESA’s ATV Control Centre located at the CNES site in Toulouse. Jules Verne ATV was then positioned 2000 km from the ISS while awaiting US Space Shuttle Endeavour’s return to Earth on the night of 26 to 27 March.

In the next few days, the CNES and ESA operational teams, supported by the teams of the ATV prime contractor, Astrium, will carry out manoeuvres aimed at positioning the ATV near the ISS and beginning the final approach phase.

The two main manoeuvres (Demoday 1 and Demoday 2), currently scheduled for 29 and 31 March, are intended to demonstrate the ATV’s ability to dock entirely safely with the ISS and, in particular, to perform an escape manoeuvre commanded by the ISS crew when Jules Verne is just 12 metres away from the station.

The docking of Jules Verne ATV is scheduled for 3 April at 16:41 CEST. The final decision on whether to proceed with this manoeuvre will be taken by the ISS Mission Management Team in consultation with the European partners only 24 hours before the operations. For this first attempt, ESA and CNES will be organising live transmission of the event from the ATV Control Centre at CNES in Toulouse to the various European sites.

The ATV Control Centre at CNES in Toulouse will act as focal point for media in France and will be home to experts who will be on hand for interviews and background information.

Journalists wishing to watch these manoeuvres from one of the above-mentioned sites are asked to kindly complete the linked accreditation form and fax or email it to the Establishment of their choice.

For more information and updates on Jules Verne ATV, including live streaming of Demoday 2 on 31 March (video feed courtesy NASA TV) and the first docking attempt on 3 April see:

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Summary: External Tank delivery fallout

The launch of STS-124 has rescheduled for May 31, in the wake of delays in deliveries of the post-Columbia ET's.

Nevertheless, NASA reports Orbiter conditions "will not be adding to the problem. Early psot-flight assessments of Endeavour show "a clean orbiter."

Obama's Empty Space Program

Trying to pen Senator Obama's space policy has been described as "trying to keep a jellyfish on your fork." Two more posting by Jeff Foust, also from Space Politics, discuss the "Wyoming Statement," and the Senator's statement about NASA no longer being inspiring, and in need of "a reorienting of priorities."

Whether the Senator is likely to be friendly to commercial and private space remains unanswered:
Jeff Foust
More on Obama's Wyoming Statement

"I exchanged emails today with Greg Zsidisin, who was not only at the Obama rally yesterday in Casper, Wyoming, but asked Obama the question about space policy that was mentioned in the previous post. Greg told me exactly what he asked Obama..."

Obama: NASA 'no longer associated with inspiration

“I grew up on Star Trek,” Obama said.
“I believe in the final frontier.”

Two other Heads-Ups from Foust

Also from Space Politics and authored by Jeff Foust:

...have been posted more than worth reading and pondering:

Upcoming Hearings:

As Congress returns from recess next week, the House Science and Technology Committee has a couple of relevant hearings scheduled. On Wednesday morning, April 2, the research and education subcommittee is holding a hearing on “International Science and Technology Cooperation” with the following witnesses scheduled:

  • Dr. John Marburger, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Dr. Arden Bement, Director, National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Dr. Nina Fedoroff, Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary, U.S. Department of State
  • Mr. Jeff Miotke, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Science, Space and Health, Bureau of Oceans and International and Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • Mr. Michael O’Brien, Assistant Administrator for External Relations, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

On Thursday morning, April 3, the space subcommittee is holding a hearing titled “NASA’s Exploration Initiative: Status and Issues”, with the following witnesses:

  • Dr. Richard Gilbrech, Associate Administrator, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, NASA
  • Ms. Cristina T. Chaplain, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management,
    Government Accountability Office
  • Dr. Noel Hinners, Independent Consultant
  • Dr. Kathryn Thornton, Professor of Department of Science, Technology and Society & Associate Dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science, University of Virginia
Both hearings are certainly vital for those wanting to assess the how both Majority Democrats and Minority Republicans intend to present their respective space agendas to the American people in the pivotal election ahead.

And more from Jeff Foust on the departure of Alan Stern,NASA's former head of the Science Mission Directorate

Entitlement Commitment Scuttles VSE?

Jeff Foust reports from Space Access ’08 conference in Phoenix on Friday.

Charles Miller, on the board of directions of the Space Frontier Foundation, made a presentation supposing federal commitments to millions of the Baby Boom demographic expected to retire and begin collecting Social Security, prescription drug subsidies, etc. These fiscal commitment don't just threaten the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) but to bankrupt the federal government, unless the children of the nation's expanding boom are willing to pay 85 percent of their earnings in taxes.

What Miller discussed, according to Foust, are alternatives there might be to maintain American space exploration as we face the very real possibility of the reduced percentage of GDP taxpayers will be willing to fund. Two possibilities exist, of course. Either expand the economy along the lines already proven possible in the 20th Century and/or limit regulation and expand incentives to the commercial space industry.

Foust's excellent summary from Space Politics can be read HERE.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

BoingBoing on the Chariot

"Monster-Trucking on the Moon"

BoingBoing, "A Directory of Wonderful things," reviews a New York Times report offering still more ink on the demonstration of NASA's lunar surface, human-operated heavy lift carrier.

"New York Times writer John Schwartz took a joyride in a new NASA lunar vehicle that sounds like it ought to come with a Garth Brooks CD"

Read more HERE.

PropelX seeks X-Prize at EBC Silicon Valley

TechInsights, a division of United Business Media, announced earlier this week PropelX, another prospective contender for the Google Lunar X-Prize, is in the running.

PropelX has a website up, and a press release offering up some excellent clues where prospective team leader Brian Beckius, owner of North Star Machining, and his PropelX team are headed.

The Embedded Systems Conference Silicon Valley, at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California, April 14-18 will host PropelX and a myriad other prospects and vendors.

“Beckius will be demonstrating the team's moon rover while officially announcing their entrance into the Google Lunar X Prize and their team name,” according to TechInsights.

“The PropelX Team will also be meeting with parties interested in helping the team achieve their quest for the $20 million prize.”

"The rover on the moon project is heavily dependent on embedded systems,” Beckius said. “Since this is a volunteer project, we thought it was only right to unveil it at the world's most influential conference on embedded systems. Our expectation is that we will be able to attract new volunteers and network with interested companies at the ESC."

On it’s thin website, PropelX calls for teams members and investors for its proposed project and TechInsights directs those interested to view a YouTube demonstration of its mock-up lunar rover. Website graphics and Flicker hosted photographs show Beckius’ team in action.

Tranquillity Base from Kayuga (Selene)

Hat's up to Unmanned Satellite Forum: The ever enterprising Bad Astronomer and Universe Today team has given us a heads up of another HD video from 100 kilometers (65 miles) over Statio Tranquillitatis - the otherwise nondescript southwestern Sea of Tranquillity and landing site of Eagle, the Lunar Module of Apollo 11, where Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin "first set foot upon the Moon, July 21, 1969."

The image has yet to be posted to the English language JAXA site and is labeled very approximately above. North is approximately 20 degrees or less (upper right from center). The landing site of Surveyor 4 and beyond the impact site of Ranger 8 are out of the wide field of view, as are some of the more obvious landmarks labeled to mark "U.S. 1," the path toward landing from the east.

Although the descent stage inside the only 100 meter area trodden on by Aldrin and Armstrong are not readily visible (at least to my eye, and pulled up 1000x), one can only hope there is more to come. And hope continues to rise of the potential of the Japanese explorer's maturing abilities after the release on March 12 of similarly high-resolution video stills, but more distant images of the Taurus-Littrow landing site, in the "shadow of Mount Hadley," of Apollo 17's landing site.

Kaguya (Selene) is still undergoing it's first comprehensive survey from polar orbit.

It is also possible the lower stage of Apollo 17 was just barely resolved by Hubble in UV surveys of the Apennines and bright Aristarchus crater region in 2001.

From the original release on JAXA's Japanese language site and in the image replicated and reduced with inset added above there is an obvious and reflective churning of the surface of similar size to the actual size and location of the crew's two hours of surface activity, four decades ago, raising concerns for the preservation of this most historic site on Earth's Moon and those first footprints.

Friday, March 28, 2008

LCROSS/LRO: Lunar Divining Rod

A still taken from a Japan's lunar orbiter Kayuga (Selene) high-definition video looking back toward Earth as the robot orbits north and away from the Moon's south pole and approximately 100 kilometers above the Farside. Antarctica is at the "top" of the Earth from Kayuga's perspective, with Malapert Mountain directly below. Standing on the mountain Earth bobs and weaves a figure "8" and appears to bounce on the horizon while sun and stars whirl around an observer's head each Lunar Day.

Deep abyssal crater Shackleton is clearly seen lower right center.

Malapert - part of the rim of massive Aiken Basin, an ancient depression, the greater part of which takes up an incredible part of the lunar Farside - we know, thanks to Goldstone's radar data, is higher than previously understood, and a narrow patch along Malapert's long and relatively thin highest "point" is exposed to the sun perhaps ninety-five percent of the time.

"Eternal Peaks of Sunlight" are few if non-existent at the Moon's south pole, and yet Malapert, long contender for an early manned station, may rise a peg or two more in value, being always in line-of-sight of both Earth to the north Nearside and the South Polar Region "behind."

Shackleton's depths, as it turns out, are far deeper than imagined, but are also known now to be exposed to a brief sweep of sunshine after all, for at least thirty hours or so perhaps once each "day." Nevertheless, along a sixty degree wedge inside it's deep interior slopes there appears to be a mere crescent of lunar acreage that is, indeed, in perpetual darkness, and thus a prime target for the the search for cometary debris in the form of water, and the studies planned for LCROSS / LRO, a new and important unmanned NASA mission.

Hat Tip to RedOrbit

Bright gray, crater-pocked mountains taller than Mount McKinley. Abyssal craters that could swallow several Grand Canyons whole.

Recent radar maps of the Moon's southern pole revealed a dramatic, jagged landscape that astronauts could someday call home. But unfortunately, these radar images didn't provide any new information about something that would make living at the lunar pole much easier: frozen water.

New evidence on whether water ice exists at the Moon's poles will have to wait for a robotic probe called Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter or "LRO." Currently, engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center are receiving the individual, hand-delivered scientific instruments and integrating them into the satellite, which is scheduled to launch by the end of the year.

The agency's Vision for Space Exploration calls for sending people back to the Moon by 2020 and later establishing a manned lunar outpost. LRO is the first of a series of robotic probes that will gather critical data about the Moon's topography, radiation environment, temperatures, and chemical makeup that NASA scientists need to plan the manned missions.

During LRO's year in orbit around the Moon, the probe will give scientists unprecedented data on whether water ice lies hidden somewhere on the lunar terrain.

Most of the Moon is bone dry. Its surface temperature can exceed 100 °C during the lunar day, which quickly boils any exposed water or ice, and lunar gravity is too weak to keep evaporated water from floating off into space. Frozen water, if it exists, lies only in abyssal craters 2.5 miles deep. Some places in these craters are constantly in shadow year round, so temperatures there plunge to about -400 degrees F (-240 C). That's cold enough to keep water frozen even on the Moon.

Having ice to mine nearby would provide much more than just a ready source of drinking water. Lunar homesteaders could use the water to grow plants for food. Splitting water molecules with electricity from solar panels would produce oxygen to replenish the outpost's air. It would also produce hydrogen gas, an excellent rocket fuel that could power the astronauts' return vehicle. (The fuel for the Space Shuttle's main engines is liquid hydrogen.)

Tantalizing hints from past robotic orbiters suggest that these craters might harbor as much as a cubic kilometer of water ice. The Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions of the 1990s both found indirect evidence of water—or some other hydrogen-bearing compound—in the craters at the Moon's poles. Unfortunately, the data left room for uncertainty.

"It's the job of LRO to pin that down," says Alan Stern, head of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

But confirming the existence of ice from an orbit 50 km above the surface will be tricky. Four of LRO's scientific instruments will look for different signs of the presence of ice. If all four instruments point to ice in the same location, that would make a compelling case that ice does exist, says NASA's Richard Vondrak, project scientist for LRO. "I expect that LRO will really answer the question of whether there's water ice at the pole once and for all," Vondrak says.

The easiest way to check if ice exists in those deep craters would be simply to look. But without the diffuse light of a bright blue sky and white clouds, shadows on the Moon are far crisper and darker than shadows here on Earth.

To peer into these inky-black craters, LRO will use a different light source: starlight. One of the instruments aboard LRO can actually "see" the starlight reflected off the lunar surface. That's because this instrument, called Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP), detects ultraviolet light. Distant stars are relatively bright in a certain range of UV wavelengths. And as an added bonus, water ice creates a characteristic imprint in the spectrum of the reflected UV light—a spectral "fingerprint" that can help confirm the presence of water.

Also, a laser aboard LRO will briefly illuminate spots on the lunar surface. The purpose of the laser pulses is actually to map the contours of the lunar surface, but the sensor—called Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA)—will also measure the brightness of the reflected laser light. If the reflections from permanently shadowed craters are slightly brighter than elsewhere, it could mean that ice crystals are present there.

Ice crystals in the lunar soil would have another interesting effect: they would absorb neutrons.

The Moon is awash in high-energy cosmic rays from deep space, and as these particles strike the lunar surface, they create neutrons that stream back out into space. LRO will carry a neutron detector called the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND). If LRO flies over a large patch of icy soil hidden in a dark crater, LEND would record a dip in the number of neutrons radiating from below.

And as a final check, LRO will carry a thermometer of sorts called Diviner. This instrument will map the wide variations in temperature at the lunar surface, including the permanently shadowed craters. Even if the other three instruments all suggest that ice is present in a crater, Diviner must also show that it's cold enough there to keep the ice from evaporating away.

If LRO does find ice lurking in those cold, dark craters, it could be the most dramatic feature yet of an already breathtaking moonscape.

SpaceShipTwo: Behind the Scenes

May 2008
By Joe Pappalardo

In a nondescript hangar in California’s Mojave Desert, workers at Scaled Composites are assembling SpaceShipTwo, the first spacecraft expressly designed for tourists. The company, which is owned by engineer Burt Rutan, is also building the four-engine plane that will ferry the spaceship to 50,000 ft. After SpaceShipTwo is released from the mother ship, the six passengers will be treated to a Mach 3 burn, straight up, propelled by a mix of nitrous oxide and solid fuel. Then, once the ship crests at 361,000 ft., passengers can float to the windows and gawk for a few minutes before returning to Earth. Spaceship test flights may start in 2009.

See more HERE.

U. Arizona racing for the moon, $20 million

UA's UWIRE "Powered by the Content Generation"

by Ashley Waggoner Arizona Daily Wildcat
The University of Arizona is in the midst of a $30 million international contest to get a spacecraft on the moon.

The UA was included among the first 10 teams announced last month to be participating in the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition, the first private robotic mission to the moon.

The UA’s Team Astrobotic is a partnership of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Carnegie Mellon University and the Raytheon Co.’s Tucson-based Missile Systems. Its funding is being provided by UA research funds.

The team consists of 30 students who are working with the spacecraft design and 20 engineers and managers. Each team is required to go to the moon, travel on its surface for at least 500 meters and send photos or video back to Earth.

UA students comprising the technical team will “purchase the rocket, build a landing platform and the rover and also build the cameras and antennae needed to send images back to earth,” said Dante Lauretta, a deputy team leader and an associate professor in planetary sciences.

Full Story from Arizona Daily Wildcat

Thursday, March 27, 2008

SpaceX Conducts First Three-Engine Firing of Falcon 9

McGregor TX - Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) conducted the first three-engine firing of its Falcon 9 medium to heavy lift rocket at its Texas Test Facility outside McGregor, on March 8, 2008. At full power the engines generated over 270,000 pounds of force, and consumed 1,050 lbs of fuel and liquid oxygen per second. This three-engine test again sets the record as the most powerful test yet on the towering 235-foot tall test stand. A total of nine Merlin 1C engines will power the Falcon 9 rocket.

The test series continues with the addition of two engines for a total of five, then finally the full compliment of nine engines. With all engines firing, the Falcon 9 can generate over one million pounds of thrust in vacuum - four times the maximum thrust of a 747 aircraft.

"The incremental approach to testing allows us to closely observe how each additional engine influences the entire system," said Tom Mueller, Vice President of Propulsion for SpaceX. "This ensures that we obtain as much data, knowledge and experience as possible as we approach the full nine engine configuration. To date we have not encountered any unexpected interactions between the engines."

The Merlin 1C next generation liquid fueled rocket booster engine is among the highest performing gas generator cycle kerosene engines ever built, exceeding the Boeing Delta II main engine, the Lockheed Atlas II main engine, and on par with the Saturn V F-1 engine. It is the first new American booster engine in a decade and only the second American booster engine since the development of the Space Shuttle Main Engine thirty years ago.

The first Falcon 9 remains on-schedule for delivery to the SpaceX launch site at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, Florida, by the end of 2008.

From SpaceX

The Falcon launch vehicle family is designed to provide breakthrough advances in reliability, cost, flight environment and time to launch. The primary design driver is and will remain reliability, as described in more detail below. We recognize that nothing is more important than getting our customer’s spacecraft safely to its intended destination.

Like Falcon 1, Falcon 9 is a two stage, liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (RP-1) powered launch vehicle. It uses the same engines, structural architecture (with a wider diameter), avionics and launch system.

Length: 54.3 m (178 ft)
Width: 3.6 m (12 ft)
Mass (LEO, 5m fairing): 325,000 kg (716 klb)
Mass (GTO, 4m fairing): 323,000 kg (713 klb)
Thrust (vacuum): 4.4 MN (1 M lb)

ODYSSEY MOON becomes Charon, ferryman over the River Styx

San Diego – Odyssey Moon Limited, a commercial provider of lunar transportation products and services, announced today that it has reached a commercial launch services agreement with Celestis, Inc., the pioneer and global leader in Memorial Spaceflight. The agreement provides for payload capacity aboard Odyssey Moon’s lunar missions for placing memorial flight capsules and modules in lunar orbit or on the Moon.

In 1999 NASA requested Celestis to assist the colleagues and loved ones of renowned astronomer Dr. Eugene Shoemaker in placing a portion of his cremated remains aboard the NASA Lunar Prospector mission. On July 31, 1999, at the completion of the Lunar Prospector’s mission, the spacecraft was intentionally impacted into the Moon’s South Pole, making Dr. Shoemaker the first human inhabitant to be laid to rest on another planet.

Read the announcement of their Commercial Launch Agreement HERE.
(Adobe Reader .pdf)

Endeavour Returns, 15 days, 18 hours

STS-123 Mission Stats

Landed: Wed., March 26, 8:39 p.m. EDT
Landing Site: Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Mission Elapsed Time:
15 days, 18 hours, 11 minutes, 3 secs

Official Landing Times
Main gear touchdown: 8:39:08 p.m. EDT
Nose gear touchdown: 8:39:17 p.m. EDT
Wheels stop: 8:40:41 p.m. EDT
Total miles: 6.6 million

With a 16-day mission and a smooth landing safely behind them, Commander Dominic Gorie and his crew have departed the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Riding in the same silver Astrovan that drove them to Launch Pad 39A more than two weeks ago, they headed back to their crew quarters for further medical checks and a reunion with their family members.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New Scientist: NASA Chariot Demo

XCOR unveils suborbital LYNX

Mike Massee/XCOR

– A small California aerospace company today unveiled a new suborbital spaceship that will provide affordable front-seat rides to the edge of space for the millions of people who want to buy a ticket.

The company, XCOR Aerospace, of Mojave, CA, announced that its two-seat Lynx suborbital spaceship will carry people or payloads to where they will experience weightlessness and see the stars above and the Earth and its atmosphere below. This will launch XCOR into the emerging space tourism market, estimated at over a half-billion dollars.

The Lynx will offer affordable access to space for individuals, researchers and educators,” said XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. “Future versions of Lynx will offer ever-improving capabilities for scientific and engineering research and commercial applications.

The spaceship, roughly the size of a small private airplane, will first take off in 2010 and will be capable of flying several times each day.

“We have designed this vehicle to operate much like a commercial aircraft. Its liquid fuel engines will provide the enhanced safety, durability, reliability and maintainability that keep operating costs low,” Greason said. “These engines will also minimize the impact of these flights on the environment,” Greason added. “They are fully reusable, burn cleanly, and release fewer particulates than solid fuel or hybrid rocket motors.”

“Lynx will be the ‘Greatest Ride Off Earth,’” said XCOR test pilot, former pilot astronaut and Space Shuttle commander, Col. Rick Searfoss (USAF-Ret.).
“The acceleration, the weightlessness, and the view will provide you with an experience that is out of this world. And the best part of it all is that you’ll ride right up front, like a co-pilot, instead of in back, like cargo.”

XCOR has nine years’ experience developing reliable, reusable and non-toxic rocket propulsion systems and has already built and flown two different rocket-powered vehicles. The firm designed, built and flew a rocket propulsion system on its record-setting EZ-Rocket aircraft. The XCOR team then developed a more powerful engine with an advanced pump-fed fuel system for a larger aircraft now being flight-tested for a commercial customer.

“The Lynx builds on our track record in rocket-powered vehicles,” Greason said. “By addressing profitable near-term markets, the Lynx will strengthen the financial and technical foundation for increasingly capable future spaceships for suborbital and orbital markets.”

“XCOR’s mission is to radically lower the cost of spaceflight, because affordable access to space for everyone means far more than breathtaking views and the freedom of weightlessness,” said Greason. “It means unlocking the material and energy resources and economic opportunities of our solar system for our children.”
Click here to view an animation of the Lynx.

XCOR Aerospace is a California corporation located in Mojave, California. The company is in the business of developing and producing safe, reliable and reusable rocket engines, rocket propulsion systems, and rocket powered vehicles.

What better view?

Physics professor Jacqueline Hewitt, director of MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Science, stands behind a prototype of a radio telescope array. A team she leads has been chosen by NASA to develop plans for such an array on the far side of the moon. Photo / Donna Coveney MIT

NASA is treating the idea seriously enough to set aside $12 million in its stretched budget to examine the possibility of an array of radio telescopes to be situated on the dark side of the Moon.

Facing away from earth and its excessive broadcast noise, the telescopes would take advantage of the Moon's lack of an atmosphere to listen for ultra-low frequency radio waves from the midst of the universe.

The better listening conditions would improve the chances of picking up radio waves which may help astronomers in their quest to uncover the evolution of the universe.

The proposal, first suggested by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), consists of an number of telescopes over an area of 2 square kilometres which would be constructed by robots. Scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) will now study how best to take the idea and turn it into a practical working telescope.

Among the concepts to be studied will be the Dark Ages Lunar Interferometer (DALI), the so-called "Dark Ages" interval between the Big Bang and the formation of the stars.

"Probing the Dark Ages presents the opportunity to watch the young universe evolve," says Dr Joseph Lazio, with the Washington DC-based Naval Research Laboratory, which is sharing a US$500,000 NASA grant with MIT for another lunar observatory.

Apollo 16 tool auctions at $30,000

What would they pay to stand on Malapert?

DALLAS — The combination of Snoopy and outer space proved irresistible to one eager bidder, who tendered the winning offer for the most expensive item sold Tuesday at an auction of air and space artifacts.

An online bidder paid $41,825 for a checklist that astronauts used aboard Apollo 10 during rendezvous and mission maneuvers on its lunar module, nicknamed Snoopy, said Kelley Norwine, a spokeswoman with Heritage Auction Galleries. The checklist also contains an original signed sketch of Snoopy by Charles Schulz, the creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip.

A first-time bidder from New Hampshire spent nearly $70,000 buying two items: a bracelet containing 11 silver medallions that were in space on different Apollo missions and a ring bearing the family crest of the Richthofen family, whose most famous family member was better known as World War I flying ace "The Red Baron."

A pair of needle nose pliers used on the Apollo 16 lunar module sold for more than $33,000, while the space suit patches from Buzz Aldrin's Gemini 12 space suit were sold for nearly $30,000.

The item with the most expensive minimum required bid went unsold. No one offered to pay the minimum price of $161,325 for a foot-long aluminum scoop used by astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell to pick up moon dust on the 1971 Apollo 14 mission.

China approves 2nd-phase lunar probe program

BEIJING - China's State Council, the cabinet, has approved the country's second-phase lunar probe program, the Beijing Times reported on Wednesday. It cited Luan Enjie, the director-in-chief of the China Moon-orbiting Program.

"We are organizing people to make detailed plans for the program," Luan told a conference on Tuesday.

He also said that investment in the second phase would exceed that for the first lunar probe but didn't give specific figures, the Times said.

China successfully launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, in October. The cost for that project was about 1 billion to 1.4 billion yuan (about 143 to 200 million US dollars).

The launch of Chang'e-1 is the first step in China's three-stage moon mission, which also includes the launch of a lunar rover for a soft landing and a second rover that is to collect lunar soil and stone samples for research.

Many Chinese universities and scientific institutes are developing their own rovers, according to Luan, who said: "The final product will combine the merits of all these rovers."

China plans to land a probe on the moon in 2013, Ye Peijian, the chief designer of Chang'e-1, said earlier this month.

Altair: Expanding for the 10m shroud

Rob Coppinger

Flight: Global (Hyperbola)
Below are my expanded notes from my Thursday 20 March interview with Altair project office deputy manager, Clint Dorris. I haven’t included everything. There were a couple of facts that came up that warrant further investigation for stories on

NASA received more than 30 proposals for the lander study. Industry should provide their own concepts. We’re onto next design cycle, LDAC-2 for safety features. The minimum functionality lander [already arrived at] may not have global capability.

Altair project is embracing the [Ares V cargo launch vehicle] 10m shroud for the lander, the primary impact being on structures, we can widen and squat the descent module. Doesn’t change subsystems but gets the deck closer to the surface.

Biggest challenge is getting the payload to the moon. We are justifying every functionality and system we add so we do not have to strip down the design later and then buy back functions.

We think it could drive a different safety paradigm, where you don’t assume that two tolerance means its safe.

The Lunar Architecture Team's (LAT) work will impact LDAC-2.

Our design can be indifferent to that [what cargo demands LAT needs]. If we are maximising that capability then we are giving them everything we can with the lander configuration that meets three missions, sortie, outpost and cargo.

The cargo lander has 14,000kg capability to the surface right now, so the regolith mover or the habitats have to fit that 14,000kg.

The [contract winning] companies have been given a one page lander requirements document. It is what the Altair project office team had at the beginning.

Industry is out of phase by one cycle but they are going to evaluate LDAC-1 and propose changes while project office is working on LDAC-2, which is to add safety features to the lander.

We want a scalable, point of departure design to be the outcome of LDAC-2 and industry input.

Dorris didn’t recall the JSC/MSFC Phase b cost estimate. The project office asked JSC and MSFC engineering for pre-Phase A, Phase A and Phase B work estimates, along then lines of how NASA has always done business.

The lander is exclusively a US responsibility but there has been interest from European companies.

We have looked at a drop stage. So have some of our industrial partners. [Boeing has and one of its designs is the embedded image in this posting.]

“Concept I’ve seen more frequently [from industry] is it [the drop tank] would perform [Lunar orbit insertion] burn and then it would drop off. It’s not complete ruled out.”

But when you get to a detailed design they tend to see the drop tank dropped.

Although the study announcement asked how would companies perform the work, during some conversations with industry some wanted to bring drop tank to the table.

Apollo Sages – it has been fantastic. I would like an independent technical assessment by the government and contractor sages. We had a question and answer session with three to four Apollo astronauts. None of them were present at the design review stage.

We are addressing the LOX/LH2 boil off issue. Amount of [Earth orbit] loiter time affects whether it is a problem or not. Looking at a similar mechanism to Ares V EDS, a passive capability, it is still in the trade zone.

Landing areas and scavenging hydrogen issues are in the trade space for surface systems people.

SpaceDev to Develop Technologies for NASA Lunar Operations

Contract Award Builds on SpaceDev Cover Systems Heritage

SpaceDev, Inc. (OTCBB: SPDV) announced that it has been awarded a contract for the development of next-generation seal technologies for instrument covers. The Phase 1 Small Business Innovative Research contract is scheduled for a 6-month period, during which SpaceDev plans to perform feasibility studies for seals capable of repetitive use while maintaining integrity even in the presence of severe abrasive environments such as lunar dust. These seal technologies are intended to enhance performance and enable increased mission capabilities for future lunar operations such as rovers, robotic systems, on site resource utilization and science experiments.

"This contract builds upon our heritage developing cover systems and seals for important spacecraft such as the Chandra and Spitzer space telescopes," said Mark N. Sirangelo, SpaceDev's Chairman and CEO. "Once developed, they are expected to provide a key solution set to harsh environments that presented significant operational issues during the Apollo missions. Although our initial efforts are focused on NASA's lunar requirements, we expect these products to translate over to future Mars and terrestrial applications as well."

About SpaceDev

SpaceDev, Inc. is a space technology/aerospace company that creates and sells affordable and innovative space products and mission solutions. For more information, visit

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

NASA contracts for lunar lander study

More on Lander Design Study...

By Rob Coppinger
Flight: Global

NASA has awarded a total of $1.5 million in contracts to five companies for a 210-day independent evaluation of NASA's in-house lunar lander design concept that delivers four astronauts to the Moon's surface.

NASA's concept, developed by its Johnson Space Center-based Altair project office, is currently the 711-A, which is described as a "minimum functional" design that has three variants for sortie, cargo and crewed outpost missions.

With a 45,000kg (99,000lb) target mass, bounded by its Ares V cargo launch vehicle booster's expected capablities, the lander uses: the Low Impact Docking System a single liquid oxygen- and hydrogen-fuelled 18,600lb-thrust (82.7kN) Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL-10 derivative engine for the descent a single 5,500lb Monomethyl hydrazine, nitrogen tetroxide ascent engine and a cruciform truss structure to fit the Ares rocket's previous 8.4m (27.5ft) shroud, which is now 10m.

"These studies will provide valuable input for developing a sound set of requirements," said NASA's Constellation programme manager Jeff Hanley.

The companies will propose safety improvements and recommend industry-government partnering arrangements. The contract winners are Seattle-based Andrews Space, Boeing, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Northrop Grumman and Odyssey Space Research, located in Houston, Texas. The maximum award any of the companies has received is $350,000.

Dexter vs. HAL

Nancy Atkinson
As Endeavour departs from the International Space Station on Monday, the space shuttle crew leaves behind a two-armed robot, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), which the astronauts affectionately refer to as Dextre.

Any reference to robots in space brings to mind other famous, albeit fictitious, machines that have interacted with humans on board a spacecraft. And, with the recent passing of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, one famous machine named HAL particularly comes to mind, especially when you factor in that Dextre is what’s called a “telemanipulator.” Any chance the space station crew needs to worry about the robot lurking right outside their hatch?

Read more HERE.

Endeavor undocks, heads home

Re-entry wednesday night
The US space shuttle Endeavour began its trek home to Earth Monday after a record five successful spacewalks and 12 days at the International Space Station where astronauts installed Japan's maiden ISS laboratory.

With the installation Japan gained a foothold on the orbital outpost alongside the United States, Russia and Europe, whose laboratory Columbus was delivered to the station in February.

"Endeavour, we have physical separation" of the two crafts, a NASA official said on a live US space agency broadcast of the undocking that took place some 211 miles (340 kilometers) above the Indian Ocean.

Departure of the shuttle and its seven-member crew was delayed 29 minutes to 8:25 pm EDT (0025 GMT Tuesday) following "minor tweaking" to a faulty solar panel latching device, NASA said.

The device, known as a Beta Gimbal Assembly, lets solar wings on the space station tilt along an axis toward the sun to maximize solar energy use, but the assembly on the station's main portside truss did not close correctly and needed to be reset.

After separation, shuttle co-pilot Gregory Johnson took the shuttle on a slow-motion flyaround of the ISS to allow astronauts to document exterior conditions of the station before heading back to Earth.

Endeavour commander Dominic Gorie late Sunday described the 16-day mission as an all-around success.

"We've done awesome," Gorie said.

"Every spacewalk was a win, every robotic op (operation) was a win. We've got a couple more to go with the undocking and the landing, but we've got a great winning team."

The shuttle is scheduled to return to Kennedy Space Center, Florida on Wednesday.

Two astronauts from Endeavour -- mission specialists Robert Behnken and Mike Foreman -- on Sunday attached a 50-foot sensory boom to the outside of the space station.

ISS flight director Dana Weigel said the spacewalk, often referred to by NASA officials as an EVA, or an extra-vehicular activity, had set a new record.

"This was five EVAs, which was more than we've done on any station mission," Weigel said.

Endeavour launched on March 11. Its mission at the ISS is the longest ever.

The spacewalkers also successfully installed an experiment on the outside of the European Space Agency's laboratory, which the astronauts had failed to complete during the third spacewalk on March 17.

The Endeavour mission's main tasks were to install the first part of the Japanese Kibo lab, a micro-gravity research facility that will be the station's largest module when completed in March 2009.

"At this moment, the people of Japan are very excited about the module," said Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takao Doi, who is to return to Earth on board Endeavour. "It is going to open up a new era for Japan in the space program."

He added that it remained to be seen how Japanese culture would adjust to the realities of ISS.

But in the meantime, "we like the food a lot," quipped space station commander Peggy Whitson.

European Space Agency astronaut Leopold Eyharts of France, who is returning to Earth after about two months aboard the ISS, said he was ready for the trip back home.

"I'm trying to exercise regularly, but I'm quite confident because a couple of months is not so much," Eyharts told reporters.

Astronauts also tested new repair techniques for the shuttle's heat shield. NASA has been testing different in-space repair techniques on the shuttle's protective layer since a crack in Columbia's heat shield caused it to explode while re-entering Earth's atmosphere in 2003, killing its seven-member crew.

Astronauts have also assembled the Canadian-made Dextre robot, which is designed to undertake maintenance operations on the space station that until now required a human touch, and reduce the need for risky spacewalks.

The robot's human-like upper torso swivels at the waist, and its arms were designed with seven joints to provide it with maximum versatility. Umbilical connectors provide power and data connectivity.

Manipulated by joysticks inside the ISS or from ground control on Earth, the 1.56-tonne Dextre will conduct operations such as replacing small components on the station's exterior.

NASA wants to complete construction of the ISS by 2010, when its three-shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Robots look to the moon

Dawn Wang - The Tartan

Carnegie Mellon faculty and students have been hard at work building a robot, called “Red Rover,” that they anticipate will land on the surface of the moon before 2012.

Carnegie Mellon has partnered with technology company Raytheon and the University of Arizona under Astrobotic Technology, Inc., a company formed by Carnegie Mellon professor William “Red” Whittaker. Under Whittaker’s leadership, the team seeks to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

Whittaker is the Fredkin Research Professor of Robotics at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute and the founder of the Field Robotics Center and the Robotics Engineering Consortium, both at this university. He is also the Chairman and CEO of Astrobotic Technology, Inc. and oversees the project within and outside of Carnegie Mellon.

Most recently, he led the Tartan Racing team that won the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge’s $2 million prize with their car, Boss.

In an interview posted on the video-sharing website YouTube, Whittaker spoke of the philosophy behind what he deems a truly successful project.

“In any successful mission, if you haven’t done everything, you haven’t done anything,” he said. Whittaker has now focused his attentions on the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is an international competition to land a robot on the moon, allow it to move 500 meters over the lunar surface, and transfer images and data back to the Earth.

Monetary prizes will be given to the winners — $20 million and $10 million respectively for the first and second to land on the moon, if accomplished by 2012. The prizes are only valid until 2014, at which point the prize amounts drop to $15 million and $5 million apiece.

The X PRIZE aims to promote commercial space exploration, funded projects into privately funding ventures.

As universities such as Carnegie Mellon are becoming more technologically advanced, the process of expanding these innovations to commercial enterprises beyond the university becomes increasingly complex, according to Michele Gittleman, a project manager in the Field Robotics Center.

“That’s why we have a tech transfer office — so that the big ideas can make it out of the university and into the world so the entrepreneurs can run with them,” Gittleman said.

Gittleman recognized the intensity it takes to build a robot to land on the moon.

“You have to really want it to win.... you have to have the passion to stick it out,” she said. The X PRIZE has caused excitement and commotion not just in the world of robotics and technology, but also within the Carnegie Mellon community.

In addition to a group of faculty, the majority of the students working on the project are at the masters and Ph.D. level. However, a number of undergraduates are also involved in the project.

Astrobotic Technology’s new role as a spin-off of the university, rather than a separate company, allows for more student involvement on the project.

First-year mechanical engineering major Ray Barsa has already started contributing to the robotics project. He is one of the select group of undergraduates involved in the project, and as a first-year his position is especially rare.

Barsa is currently enrolled in the graduate level class Advanced Mobile Robot Development, which he decided to take after hearing about Carnegie Mellon’s X PRIZE team. His role covers working on mobility systems for “Red Rover.”

“Driving a robot on the moon is probably one of the biggest engineering challenges.... I’ve learned so much from the class .... [It] forces you to learn on your own, and there’s so many resources available,” Barsa said.

“I just feel really lucky to be part of the class .... I had hoped to work on projects like that one day, and it’s incredible to be working on them already [as a first-year],” he added.

John Thornton, a research engineer in the Field Robotics Center working on the project, echoed Barsa’s enthusiasm.

“It’s happening in our own backyard.... It’s incredible to be part of something bigger than all of us,” he said.

Thornton said Carnegie Mellon students already have the right combination of technical prowess, passion for excellence, and world-class research resources needed to get to the moon.

“Now we just throw all that in a pot, stir it up, and see what comes out,” he said. “A robot that wins the first prize of $20 million wouldn’t be so bad.”

Students interested in being part of the project can e-mail John Thornton at

To the moon: Northrop Grumman aims for a big hit with lunar satellite

By Muhammed El-Hasan, Staff Writer
Long Beach Press-Telegram

  • » Timeline for manned moon bases
  • » NASA uses Antarctica to test moon gear

  • NASA's plan to establish permanent manned bases on the moon may hinge on the results of a "suicide mission" by a spacecraft that resembles a 6-foot-diameter sewer pipe.

    The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite is scheduled to launch this autumn in search of ice on the moon that would help astronauts sustain long-term stays on the lunar surface.

    In the process, the spacecraft dubbed LCROSS will smash into a dark crater that has never seen sunlight at the moon's south pole.

    Northrop Grumman Space Technology is building and testing the satellite at the company's Space Park campus in Redondo Beach.

    "Ours is a suicide mission. When we impact, we don't survive," said Stewart Moses, Northrop's director of space science and exploration for civil missions. "The vast majority of our spacecraft are built to last a very long time. Suicide missions are not very common."

    LCROSS differs from most other space missions in another major way: The satellite was an afterthought that will piggyback on another lunar mission.

    In early 2006, NASA decided to use a larger-than-planned rocket for a mission called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, which would circle the moon to map the giant globe's surface.

    The new rocket, known as the Centaur, can carry about 2,000 more pounds. NASA announced that it was seeking ideas for a secondary mission to coincide with the LRO.

    Northrop proposed LCROSS, and NASA accepted.

    "We came up with this idea of impacting the surface of the moon," Moses said. "The idea is that one way to find out if there's ice on the moon is to slam something really heavy and hard on the moon. With the right instruments, we're looking to see if there's ice or other interesting materials left by comets other than the dirt that makes up the moon."

    The idea arose from a 1999 NASA lunar mission that observed neutrons coming from the moon's north and south poles, a possible sign of water.

    When the Centaur rocket is launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, LRO will separate and begin its mission circling the moon.

    LCROSS and the Centaur's upper stage will enter an egg-shaped orbit around the Earth and moon for about three months.

    When the moon is in the optimal position, the Centaur rocket will detach from LCROSS. The rocket will then lurch toward the moon at 6,000 mph as LCROSS follows a number of minutes behind.

    Centaur will smash into a south pole lunar crater, causing a miles-high plume of moon dust. LCROSS will fly through that plume, taking pictures and sending them back to Earth.

    Then LCROSS will smash into the crater, causing another giant plume that will be examined by LRO, observatories on the Earth and even amateur astronomers.

    Unlike most of Northrop's satellite programs, LCROSS runs on a small budget. The total contract is valued at $79million, with $56 million as Northrop's share. That's far less expensive than Northrop's typical spacecraft contract that can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Furthermore, the development schedule demanded break-neck speed, with little time to create innovations that usually take years to perfect.

    "We have to not only build this for much less cost than a normal spacecraft (but) we have to do it in two years," said Stephen Carman, Northrop's project manager for LCROSS.

    Instead of building a whole new spacecraft from scratch, Northrop engineers took an ESPA Ring, which is a large "pipe" with six holes around it. Typically, the ring is used to mount spacecraft that are being launched into space.

    For LCROSS, the ring became the spacecraft. Sensors and other equipment were simply bolted onto it.

    In addition, the ESPA Ring will be sturdy enough for LRO to sit on it during launch and before separation.

    Northrop engineers went on a shopping spree to buy all the components and systems they needed for LCROSS.

    "These are all off-the-shelf items," Moses said. "We couldn't invent anything new, which is what we usually do in our missions."

    NASA may use the speed and low cost of LCROSS as a blueprint for future missions, said Dan Andrews, project manager for LCROSS at NASA Ames Research Center near Sunnyvale.

    Because LCROSS is being built so quickly and on the cheap, without the usual redundancies and large workforce, the spacecraft is classified as a highest-risk mission, known as Class D.

    LCROSS remains on schedule and within its budget. A successful mission could lead NASA to try more such Class D missions. That would mean the space agency could use the resulting savings to launch additional missions, Andrews said.

    "Because LCROSS has demonstrated it is very successful in being on time and on budget, people are starting (to notice)," Andrews said.

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    Women in Aerospace: "Big Deal?"

    The First Human to return to the moon, or to walk on Mars, might be a woman.

    This shouldn't be a headline, but it certainly would shake up many on Earth. While Anousheh Ansari visits the Library of Congress on Wednesday in support of Women in Aerospace, making another pass overhead the western hemisphere during that 90 minute breakfast will most certainly be the International Space Station, and Expedition 16 commander Dr. Peggy Whitson of Idaho.

    I watched Eileen Collins, the first female commander in the now-long history of the Shuttle program, as she piloted STS-93 Columbia through a night re-entry over Texas after overseeing a successful deployment of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory in July 1999.

    All of Texas was alerted to the event by local media, and those, like me, who went outside and looked up at the right time on that hot July evening were not disappointed by sight of the long trail of orange-red sparkling plasma Columbia left behind all the way across the clear sky.

    My daughter Valerie, born only five weeks after the Challenger disaster, wasn't particularly inspired, it seemed to me, no matter how I tried to remind her of the "novelty" of a woman at the controls of the most complex machine ever built. Instead, I only showed my age, I now know. Dr. Whitson, Collins and I are old enough, however, to remember the first time a female voice announced "this is your captain" over the intercom of a commercial airliner.

    Are women in space a big deal any longer?

    You can answer that question with a qualifying question in return. Simply ask yourself, are there any Russian women cosmonauts, or any Chinese women taikonauts? Is America's lead in equal opportunity for women in space a product of affirmative action of a lifting of barriers? Admittedly, it's been both, certainly, and that's a hard thing for one opposed in principle to affirmative action to admit. In the case of NASA, no better working example may exist, and the women who've been put farther ahead in line have shown brains, skill, and personality in particular which may even put some of them ahead of males. For long and also stressful missions they may be better at adaptation.

    Women certainly have proven themselves in America's Astronaut Corp, and Dr. Shannon Lucid, still, as of this writing,
    the United States' single mission space flight endurance record holder (MIR 1996), is still CAPCOM overnight, knitting something for her grandchildren, no doubt, as she relays messages and tucks Shuttle crews into their sleeping bags from the front row at Mission Control in Houston.

    Privately, particularly during the weird and aimless days of the 1990's at NASA there were whispers of the slots on board MIR being less than choice assignments, but that was never with regard to Dr. Lucid's gender. The buzz was more of such assignments being for loners and drinkers with no family life. (Though British American Michael Foale's flights would seem to put such talk to rest, I think.)

    In Texas on the starry night of July 27, 1999, the spectacular event was the headline and not the gender of Columbia's commander. I remember any mention of Columbia being flown by a woman was overshadowed by Chandra and then the "firery re-entry" of the Orbiter being visible throughout Texas, both before and after reports went to press.

    And as Dr. Whitson winds up her second six month tour in space, there's certainly no outward sign of any internal Astronaut Corp grumbling nor apparently any ink being wasted on her accomplishments by the planet's Press Corp.

    Instead, Dr. Whitson's EVA December 18, 2007 marked the highest cumulative spacewalk time ever any women, and at the mention of her surpassing the record EVA time only just recently set by Lt. Commander Sunita L. Williams, USN, Dr. Whitson was reported to have been tickled, revealing at least some internal Astronaut Corp competition after all, among the women, perhaps.

    If you've watched any of the post-EVA activity on NASA-TV at the end of any of the five STS-123 spacewalks performed this past week, you may have gotten a rare glimpse of Dr. Whitson's experience at work. No one knows how to relieve an exhausted spacewalker of a bulky spacesuit faster, using both her hands and feet, and multi-tasking the routine in a way impossible around the training tank. Camille Paglia could write reams of prose about it, a working dance unique to space.

    Be that as it may, the women among the ground teams were definitely in the news this past week. Dauna Coulter, science writer for NASA, spread some ink "on dead trees" in Huntsville's Times answering profile questions, and she mentioned only as almost an afterthought the all-female controller day, last week, watching over the MER Opportunity, not yet parked for the Martian winter and a 100 million miles away. How the fifty-five percent of Americans who happen to be women (and I thank God for it) might still not have achieved parity with the Good Ol' Boys, at NASA the "glass ceiling" isn't any longer an appropriate metaphor.

    On the Job with Dauna Coulter

    Huntsville Times

    Job title: Science writer

    Where: Schafer Corp., 7057 Madison Pike

    Number of employees: 64 in Huntsville; 471 nationwide

    Job description: "My principal responsibility is writing articles for a Web site called Science@NASA, managed by the Science and Missions Systems Office as part of Marshall Space Flight Center. On the Web site we communicate NASA science to people from all walks of life, writing in a clear, compelling, creative style. NASA does a lot of work that benefits society and people don't know about it. I also write for the Marshall Star and do other communications-related work."

    Best perk: "I get to talk with scientists and engineers who are so brilliant and so excited about their research or projects. It's fun to talk to people so passionate about their work, and I get to try to capture that excitement in my writing while explaining complex material in conversational terms. I get to learn so many interesting things."

    Ambition: "To get better at doing what I'm doing: explaining complex material, writing in a clear, compelling, creative way."

    Best advice received: "Lay your troubles on the altar. There are so many things in life we don't have any control over; we just have to give it over to a higher power and go with the flow."

    Best advice to give: "When it comes to work, I'd say don't be afraid of change. As we get older we tend to want to stay in our comfort zone; it can stop you from growing. When it comes to life, I'd say rescue a dog. Some of my happiest times are hiking with my five dogs. They're a good path to peace and happiness."

    It's a bad day when: "I'm not able to spend as much time interviewing and writing, and I have to do some of the mundane things that are part of the job."

    It's a good day when: "I get e-mail from readers who compliment me on something I've written. It's nice to think I've helped somebody learn something new."

    Role model: "Jesus. You can't argue with the way he teaches us to live. Who can argue with love thy neighbor as thyself?"

    Working on: "Today I sat in with a lunar scientist on an uplink done by an all-woman team to the rover on Mars. I got to see how they plan on what to have the rover do next. I recently interviewed a scientist about his research into lunar dust, and soon I'll get to write an article about how gravity waves in the atmosphere can intensify tornadoes. I get to cover a wide variety of topics."

    50,000 Aim For Moon

    Sunday Daily Mail

    Without going into details about the various pluses and minuses of a fascinating debate over in the U.K. about devoting resources, once again, to training astronauts, here's a piece in today's Sunday Daily Mail. Clearly, you can tell word has reached the street.

    AROUND 50,000 would-be astronauts are expected to apply for just eight jobs in the European space programme - and a chance of a moon landing.

    At least 25,000 Brits are expected to apply - though the UK does not support manned space flights.

    New recruits are needed as the current crop of astronauts will be too old when the European outfit sends NASA's space shuttle replacement Orion back to the moon by 2020.

    The gruelling year-long selection process includes interviews, medicals, fitness and psychological tests.

    Foreman and Behnken complete productive fifth and final STS-123 ISS spacewalk

    Associated Press - Marcia Dunn

    Endeavour's astronauts embarked on the fifth and final spacewalk of their mission Saturday, this time attaching a 50-foot inspection pole to the international space station for use by the next shuttle visitors.

    Michael Foreman and Robert Behnken floated out the hatch late in the afternoon as the linked shuttle and station soared more than 200 miles above the Pacific. They spacewalked the night away, successfully accomplishing all their work.

    "You're the gladiator, Mike," astronaut Richard Linnehan called from inside, playing a five-second sound clip from the 2000 film. "You both are."

    The shuttle astronauts used the laser-tipped inspection boom at the beginning of their 16-day mission and again Friday night to check for any damage to their spaceship. It's become a routine safety procedure ever since the 2003 Columbia accident.

    Discovery won't have room for a boom when it flies in May; the Japanese Kibo lab is so big it will take up the entire payload bay. So Endeavour's astronauts left theirs behind.

    Foreman and Behnken hooked an extra-long power cord to the inspection pole, to keep its lasers and cameras warm for the next two months, then secured the boom to the outside of the space station.

    With the boom work quickly completed, the spacewalkers turned to less pressing chores. They inspected a jammed rotating joint that has restricted the use of a set of solar wings for months, and finally succeeded in hanging some scientific experiments to the European lab, Columbus.

    Behnken was unable to hook the experiments to Columbus' hull during spacewalk No. 3 earlier in the week because of some sort of interference. He got the connector pins in this time, using a hammer.

    As for the jammed rotating solar joint, it's filled with metal shavings because of grinding parts.

    NASA has been trying since last fall to figure out what is broken and how best to fix the joint. Spacewalking astronauts inspected the joint several times before and even collected samples of the steel grit for analysis back on Earth. But five covers had yet to be removed, and that's where Foreman focused his efforts. He photographed what appeared to be a pit in the joint.

    "You're doing great with that camera, Mike. We're going to hire you to do my cousin's bar mitzvah," astronaut Garrett Reisman radioed from inside.

    Saturday night's spacewalk, which lasted six hours, was the last major space station job for Endeavour's crew. The shuttle arrived at the orbiting complex March 12, delivering the first section of the Kibo lab and a Canadian robot with 11-foot arms that is designed to assist future spacewalkers.

    Endeavour is scheduled to undock from the space station on Monday night and land back at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday night. The shuttle will have spent 12 days at the station — the longest shuttle visit ever. It was the most spacewalks ever performed — five — during a joint shuttle-station flight.