Archive for the ‘ Space News ’ Category

Kennedy Space Center Space Shuttle Launch 2nd to Last

Space Shuttle Discovery

NASA image: Space Shuttle Discovery transport to launch pad

The November 1st Space Shuttle Discovery launch is expected to be the second to last shuttle launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Slated for a launch time of 4:40 pm EDT, shuttle mission STS-133 will supply the International Space Station (ISS) with a MultiPurpose Logistics Module (MPLM), the Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4), and spare components.

This is the last mission for Discovery before being retired. Workers at the space center and their family members watched the shuttle’s last rollout. Discovery was moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy late last night and arrived at the launch pad early this morning. The 3.4 mile journey was made, on top of a crawler-transporter, at a speed of less than 1 mph.

Six astronauts will be aboard Discovery on its 39th, and final flight. Unless an extra Atlantis Space Shuttle flight is approved by congress, mission STS-134, scheduled for February 26, 2011, utilizing Space Shuttle Endeavour will be the last mission before the entire shuttle fleet is retired.

NASA will purchase seats aboard Russian space vehicles until commercial enterprises such as Boeing create space transportation that can safely send astronauts to the ISS. NASA has been given direction by President Obama to focus on engineering spacecrafts that can reach a near Earth object (neo) such as an asteroid and a distant destination, possibly Mars.

Boeing Receives $1.24 Billion Extension of Space Station Contract

International Space Station (ISS)

International Space Station (NASA image)

Boeing announced in a press release that NASA awarded the company a contract extension for sustaining engineering at the International Space Station (ISS). The extension begins October 1st and continues for five years, into 2015.

The sustaining engineering that Boeing will provide for the ISS will include software and hardware support for the U.S. segment of the space station and support for common software and hardware utilized by international partners.

Joy Bryant, Boeing Vice President and Program Manager for ISS, said that “Boeing’s knowledge of the International Space Station allows us to safely fly and operate the station to 2015, setting the stage to enable ISS operations until 2020, and potentially extend operations through 2028. We are partnering with NASA to ensure the health of the station’s many subsystems in order to pave the way for ground-breaking science and research aboard the laboratories on station in the years ahead.”

Boeing will perform the work at several locations including Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL., Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Al., and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.

The services that Boeing will also provide include:

  • management of ISS subsystems
  • analytical integration and flight support
  • on-orbit engineering support
  • monitoring and trending system performance
  • anomaly resolution, specialty engineering, and oversight of ongoing maintenance

During the course of the contract extension Boeing will purchase spare components and modify currents systems.

Boeing Space Taxi for Astronauts and Space Tourists

Crew Space Transportation (CST-100)

Artist rendering of Boeing's proposed Crew Space Transportation (CST-100) spacecraft. (Boeing image)

On Wednesday, Boeing announced that it will become a competitor in the fledgling space tourism market.

The company is vying for a government contract that will allow it to ferry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). To do so, Boeing is building the Crew Space Transportation capsule (CST-100), which will contain more seats than needed by NASA. The space agency expects to send astronauts to the ISS in groups of four. The CST-100 will contain seven seats leaving the three remaining seats to be occupied possibly by commercial entities, education-based organizations, governments with no current access to space or private citizens with the desire to be space tourists. Boeing has teamed up with the company Space Adventures, which will coordinate the sale of the available seats.

In an interview with Discovery News, Eric Anderson, the Chairman of Space Adventures stated that “The marketplace has not been constrained by the number of people who wanted to go [to space]. It’s been constrained by access to orbit.

Of course fare on board the capsule is not for those on a tight budget. Unlike the relatively inexpensive $200,000 price tag of a suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, orbital flights on the CST-100 are expected to be priced at something near $40 million dollars. This puts Boeing’s price structure inline with space flights on board a Russian Soyuz rocket. Both Boeing and Space Adventures believe that flights on board the capsule could begin as early as the end of 2015.

Kepler Telescope Finds a Cash of Exoplanets

Planets Orbiting 55 Cancri

Planets Orbiting 55 Cancri - Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On June 15th, The Kepler team at NASA announced that the space based telescope found a veritable cash of potential exoplanets. The team released information on more than 300 of the objects, many of which could turnout to be false-positives. The expectation is that some of these would be planets will actually be, for example, twin stars orbiting each other in close proximity.

The Kepler telescope was designed to search for Earth-like planets in other solar systems. Kepler’s findings total more than 700 possible exoplanets, but NASA will not make public information about the remaining 400 objects until February of next year. The Kepler team will be researching those objects through the summer in hopes that at least one turns out to be an alien Earth.

Approximately 156,000 stars were surveyed for evidence of orbiting planetary bodies in the constellations of Lyra and Cygnus.

Virgin Galactic Completes Second Test Flight

SpaceShipTwo completed its second captive test flight yesterday. The space craft was powered and pressurized from WhiteKnightTwo, the twin fuselage plan that carries SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude. The test flight was used to evaluate pressurization, avionics performance, electrical systems, approaches and post-flight cold soaked systems testing. The flight lasted 4.7 hours during which time SpaceShipTwo reached an altitude of 51,000 feet.

The first captive carry test flight took place on March 22, 2010

Space Tourism Gets Cheaper

Space AdventuresCan’t afford the $200,000 ticket price of a Virgin Galactic suborbital space flight? For a mere $102,000, you can enjoy up to 5 minutes of weightlessness after rocketing to a destination 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface. The ticket price includes cancelation insurance at the cost of $4000. The complete experience will include a few days training and pre-flight preparation.

Space Adventures has teamed up with Armadillo Aerospace to provide low cost suborbital space flights. The latest offering is in addition a $100 million lunar mission, orbital spaceflights, a spacewalk package, and zero gravity flights.

Armadillo Aerospace was founded in 2000 and has completed over 100 flight tests utilizing over a dozen different vehicles.

President Obama Proposes 2011 NASA Budget

President Obama proposed a budget increase of 6 billion dollars for NASA over 5 years starting in 2011. At the same time, he officially ended the Constellation program, which would have produced the Ares I and Ares V rockets for manned Moon missions. “We’ve already been to the Moon” the President stated in his 28 minute speech from the Kennedy Space Center.

After the expected retirement of the space shuttle fleet later this year, U.S. astronauts will hitch rides into space on Russian Soyuz rockets for an unspecified period of time. The administration’s plan is to invest in private sector space tourism companies that are currently researching and developing rockets. Currently none of the companies have a rocket that is designed, or in the works, that is capable of sending a crew of astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The cost of shuttling astronauts to and from the ISS on Soyuz rockets is expected to have a cost that is somewhere in the range of 55 million dollars per astronaut.

The idea of scrapping a manned Moon landing has drawn the ire of those such as the second man to set foot on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, who think that future Moon landings and manned outposts are necessary steps toward reaching Mars.

President Obama’s space exploration plans include traveling to a near earth object such as an astroid and development of rockets that will eventually propel astronauts to Mars.

Russia Leaves Space Tourists Behind For Now

Soyuz Rocket

Soyuz Rocket: Image Credit - NASA/Bill Ingalls

Russian officials announced that they will suspend ferrying space tourists to and from the International Space Station (ISS). This is due in part to the retirement of the United States space shuttle fleet that is expected to occur toward the end of this year. Russia will be the sole country transporting personnel and supplies to the ISS. The crew of the ISS will increase to 6, which means that Russia will need to commit all of the seating available on its Soyuz rockets to professional astronauts.

It may take a few years, at the earliest, for the United States to produce a spacecraft that is launch ready. The Constellation program, which includes building the Orion rocket, has been slated for termination in President Obama’s 2011 fiscal year NASA budget. If there is no change in the cancellation of the program, the next group of American spacecrafts capable of reaching the space station may come from burgeoning commercial space tourism enterprises.

NASA Astronaut Makes First Tweet From Space

TJ Creamer NASA Astronaut

Astronaut T.J. Creamer, Expedition 22 flight engineer in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station, January 4, 2010.

While Captain James T. Kirk seemed to be very comfortable sending messages by way of his hand held Communicator, NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer is just as comfortable tweeting…from outer space. In a move that was literally out of this world, Creamer became the first person to tweet from a location other than the planet Earth.

Through his Twitter account (Astro_TJ), he sent the following tweet from the International Space Station (ISS) on January 22, 2010:

“Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station — the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s”

Until now, NASA astronauts had no internet (world wide web) access. They would have to email Twitter messages to Mission Control, in Houston, and someone would transfer the messages to their Twitter accounts. The ISS crew can now utilize a laptop that has a remote desktop connection to a computer on the ground for private internet access. The astronauts are subject to the same internet usage guidelines that government employees must abide by here on Earth.

National Geographic Aims High With Space Tourism Documentary

The 20th century saw the likes of inventions such as the airplane, the rocket engine, the computer and the space shuttle. Through the course of natural progression, it seemed to be inevitable that the early 21st century would usher in space tourism. And starting this spring, the National Geographic Channel will air the activities of pioneers in the space industry during a 4 part series.

Sir Richard Branson will be followed by cameras as his company, Virgin Galactic, tests its spaceship, the VSS Enterprise, and prepares it for the first passengers of his low earth orbit (LEO) space tourism company. Branson and aerospace engineer Burt Rutan are trying to create a company (and business model) that will shuttle 50,000 passengers into space over a 10 year period.

According to, the series will be produced by Darlow Smithson Productions, producers of such documentaries as 9/11: Phone Calls from the Towers and Miracle of the Hudson Plane Crash.