Private Space Explorer Reaches Orbit!

September 30, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Guy Laliberte took flight today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA rocket bound for the International Space Station.  A few minutes later, he and his flight crew Jeff Williams and Maxim Suraev reached orbit safely and began their 2-day trek to the station, due to arrive on Friday. It will take that amount of time to maneuver themselves into the same orbit as ISS and to gradually approach from behind.


Clowning around before launch. Image credit: Associated Press


Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, joins the crew of Expedition 21 of the ISS as the seventh private explorer. Some call him a space tourist. Some have dubbed him the first space clown. But whether you prefer one of those designations or another, his mission is far from trivial.

That mission is two-fold. The first is his stated mission: to promote his One Drop Foundation during a broadcast on Oct. 9, seeking to raise awareness of the threat to global water supplies. From his first contact with Virginia-based Space Adventures, the private company that coordinated his flight, he made it clear that there was a purpose behind his desire to go into space. He wants to make a difference for people here on Earth.

His other — perhaps unintended but no less important — mission is to help reshape people’s perceptions of and attitudes towards human space flight. There was a time when it was but an elite few lucky enough to contemplate a journey into space. And though that time has passed and the final frontier is now accessible to nearly anyone as a consequence of the Space Industrial Revolution, perceptions still linger that the realm of black sky is but a flight of fancy, a science fiction fantasy for all but a hand full of super men.

But Guy Laliberte is not a professional astronaut. He’s not a scientist or an engineer. And it’s a safe bet he doesn’t consider himself superman. No, he’s an artist and entrepreneur. Self made and with a deep sense of purpose, he’s exactly the kind of guy to show the rest of us that space is truly for everyone. 

On October 9th he’ll broadcast his “poetical social” performance from the space station. “I start with the simple idea of reading a poem, which will involve characters like the sun, the moon and a drop of water,” he explains. “Those characters will then engage in a discussion, which will take the form of a little poetic story that we will read to the population of earth.” 

As we move steadily towards the first colony in space, Guy gives us a glimpse of the human side of that story. Perhaps he’ll come back for an encore on the first lunar settlement.

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LCROSS Impact Target Changed

September 30, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Mon, 28 Sep 2009 02:26:48 PM EDT

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. — NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission (LCROSS) based on new analysis of available lunar data, has shifted the target crater from Cabeus A to Cabeus (proper).

The decision was based on continued evaluation of all available data and consultation/input from members of the LCROSS Science Team and the scientific community, including impact experts, ground and space based observers, and observations from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), Lunar Prospector (LP), Chandrayaan-1 and JAXA’s Kaguya spacecraft. This decision was prompted by the current best understanding of hydrogen concentrations in the Cabeus region, including cross-correlation between the latest LRO results and LP data sets.

The general consensus of lunar experts led by the LCROSS science team is that Cabeus shows, with the greatest level of certainty, the highest hydrogen concentrations at the south pole. Further consideration of the most current terrain models provided by JAXA’s Kaguya spacecraft and the LRO Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) was important in the decision process.The models show a small valley in an otherwise tall Cabeus perimeter ridge, which will allow for sunlight to illuminate the ejecta cloud on Oct. 9, and much sooner than previously estimated for Cabeus. While the ejecta does have to fly to higher elevations to be observed by Earth assets, a shadow cast by a large hill along the Cabeus ridge, provides an excellent, high-contrast, back drop for ejecta and vapor measurements.

The LCROSS team concluded that Cabeus provided the best chance for meeting its mission goals. The team critically assessed and successfully advocated for the change with the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program (LPRP) office. The change in impact crater was factored into LCROSS’ most recent Trajectory Correction Maneuver, TCM7.

During the last days of the mission, the LCROSS team will continue to refine the exact point of impact within Cabeus crater to avoid rough spots, and to maximize solar illumination of the debris plume and Earth observations.


Live! From The Moon!

September 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

On Friday, October 9, 2009, NASA’s Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) will impact the lunar south pole in search of water ice.  NASA and the Newseum have partnered to host a complimentary, public event to celebrate the occasion.

The event will be held at the Newseum, located at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001. NASA officials, including NASA’s Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver, the media, congressional and  industry stakeholders and hopefully you, will assemble to view live coverage of the LCROSS impact on the Newseum’s multi-story video screen.

The program will begin at 7:00 a.m. (doors will open at 6:30 a.m.) LCROSS is scheduled to impact the moon at approximately 7:30 a.m. Light refreshments will be served.  This event is open to the general public free of charge.

If you have questions about the LCROSS event at the Newseum or wish to R.S.V.P., email Maria Furr at by Monday, October 5, 2009.

More information about the LCROSS mission as well as images, video, and animations can be found at


DragonEye Delivers Safe Docking Capability

September 26, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Hawthorne, CA (September 25, 2009) – Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announces the successful demonstration of a proximity sensor, called DragonEye, on NASA’s STS-127 shuttle mission. DragonEye launched aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on July 15th, 2009, and was tested in proximity of the International Space Station (ISS) in preparation for future visits by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

With the help of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office, DragonEye, a Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensor, has undergone flight system trials aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour in preparation for guiding the Dragon spacecraft as it approaches the ISS. The DragonEye LIDAR system provides three-dimensional images based on the amount of time it takes for a single laser pulse from the sensor to the reach a target and bounce back, providing range and bearing information from the Dragon spacecraft to the ISS.


Image credit: SpaceX

DragonEye will make its operational debut on the final flight of the Dragon spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, where the spacecraft will demonstrate the ability to berth with the ISS.

Developed in just 10 months from concept to final hardware, DragonEye was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on February 16th, 2009, for integration with the Space Shuttle Endeavour, successfully completing all of NASA’s payload safety milestones.

Using flight data gathered onboard Space Shuttle Endeavour, DragonEye was able to detect the ISS and track it through various approach and departure maneuvers. Upon Endeavour’s return, the DragonEye system was returned to SpaceX, where flight data from the sensor was retrieved and is currently under evaluation.


Image credit: SpaceX


“The verification and functionality of SpaceX’s DragonEye are a testament to the unique government-commercial partnership created by NASA’s COTS program,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President, SpaceX. “SpaceX appreciates NASA’s support with DragonEye and is proud to be a part of a program that is shaping the future of American spaceflight.”

Together with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle, the Dragon spacecraft is under contract with NASA to provide cargo resupply to the ISS when the Space Shuttle retires. This contract includes 12 flights between 2010 and 2015, with a guaranteed minimum of 20,000 kg of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to be carried to the ISS. SpaceX is the only COTS contender that has the capability to return cargo to Earth.




A Thaw In The Long Cold Winter of Lunar Exploration

September 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

When the Apollo program ended in the early seventies so did the national emphasis on lunar research and exploration. But after nearly 4 decades, the long, cold winter of lunar research would appear to be over. The flurry of missions being flown to the moon over the past few years is turning out to be more than a flash in the pan and is turning up more and more evidence that our  nearest neighbor in space is not nearly so desolate as once thought. And that evidence is sure to lead to more research and discoveries.

Carle M. Pieters, Principle Investigator for the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard the Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe, and his team of lunar scientists published an article yesterday in the journal Science in which they conclude that the data they collected suggests the formation and retention of water on the lunar surface. They conclude that the formation of water on the moon, “may provide an ongoing mechanism [my emphasis] for delivery of these volatile elements to cold traps in the polar permanently shadowed regions. Perhaps most importantly, harvesting the lunar regolith for volatiles now becomes a serious option for long term human activities.”


Image source: NASA

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Brown University


Some scientist have postulated that the likely source of any water to be found on the moon would be the impact of water-carrying comets. If this is the only delivery mechanism, it means that water is rare since such impacts are rare in areas where the water would not immediately be lost to space. On the other hand, a feeding mechanism would mean that water may be relatively abundant in places cold enough to trap it. And we saw only last week that such places exist at the poles when scientists for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) reported finding areas where the sun never penetrates in which they recorded temperatures colder than distant Pluto.

Yes, it’s been a banner week for lunar science, and there’s yet another bit of interesting news. Scientists from NASA and Case Western Reserve University have begun flight testing components for a device they’ve designed to extract of oxygen from lunar regolith. This generator will lift the gas from silicon dioxide and metal oxides in the soil. The plan is to build it into an overall system that includes a rover for digging and delivering moon soil into a hopper where sifters would separate particles by size, collecting those that can be converted and delivering them to a reactor. Inside the reactor, they’re mixed with hydrogen and heated to about 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. The end product: oxygen.

The engine of ingenuity is picking up speed, and the tools and processes we’ll need to establish a base on the moon are steadily coming online. Right before our eyes we’re witnessing a turning point in history. It’s an exciting time to be alive.




Tantalizing Clues

September 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

The coldest place in the solar system ever detected isn’t where you would expect it to be. Instead of the farthest reaches from the sun, it turns out to be right on our own celestial back porch: the south pole of our own moon. And aside from the mere curiosity of such a place being so close, there’s another aspect to this region that raises a greater scientific interest that could lead to tangible, commercial benefits.

David Paige of UCLA and a scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is reporting tantalizing clues that water ice may exist on the moon. These “cold traps” as they are called — craters, cracks and crevasses that remain in permanent shadow from the sun — are candidate sites in the search for water ice. 

Faustini.sffCrater Faustini at upper right is located on the lunar south pole and was measured to be colder than distant Pluto. Image source: NASA

As I’ve been reporting in an ongoing series of articles, the discovery of water on the moon would represent a huge leap forward in plans to establish first a base followed by a colony on the moon. It would vastly reduce of the cost and simplify the logistics of human operations there. Every pound of cargo transported to the moon costs in fuel spent, and at 8 pounds per gallon with thousands of gallons needed, the transport of water would represent a large expenditure. Remove that load by living off the land, as it were, and the feasibility of the venture takes a sharp upturn.

Water can be extracted from the regolith (dirt) any place on the moon by heating it to about 800 degrees Celsius, causing solar wind implanted Hydrogen to react with oxides in the soil to produce water. In his book Return To The Moon, Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist Harrison Schmitt states that a metric tonne of water can be extracted from two tonnes of Hydrogen. It’s a viable method for creating water on site from available resources, but it is far preferable to find it available for extraction without the need for processing. That’s why so much effort has been made by missions such as Lunar Prospector, SMART-1, Chandrayaan-1, Selene and now LRO and LCROSS.

The temperature measurements made recently by LRO indicating the presence of many cold traps in the south polar region are a very encouraging sign. At the temperatures being measured, water, Methane and other volatile chemicals can be frozen and trapped, there for the taking. 

We’re also seeing areas never before imaged at such high resolution, Paige says. There are some who claim: “The moon. Been there, done that.” But they’re wrong. What many do not realize is that lunar exploration and discovery essentially ceased after the end of the Apollo program, not to be taken up again for almost 3 decades. Most of the moon is still mysterious to us, and there is so much yet to discover, so much to appeal to our sense of wonder and urge for exploration. Our nearest neighbor in space holds untold opportunities and not only for scientific discovery but for those adventurers among us wanting to go — I’ll say it — where no man has gone before. It’s a place reachable and attainable to our current technology. Even Virginia-based Space Adventures is working on plans to offer a flight around the moon for paying passengers. Been there? Done that? Hardly!


Closing In On Lunar Impact

September 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Last month the flight operations teams of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft attempted to carry out a bi-static radar experiment aimed at detecting water ice on the lunar south pole, but the experiment failed when the two spacecraft were unable to reach the proper alignment with one another. A week later, the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft failed due to overheating. Now the hope for finding lunar water lies with Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS – see The Quest To Find Water On The Moon, June 26, SpaceTalkNOW).

Image courtesy NMSU/MSFC
Image courtesy NMSU/MSFC

On Wednesday, the science team made their selection of the impact site: the Cabeus-A crater in the lunar south polar region. The science team made this selection based on factors such as proper debris plume illumination for visibility from Earth, a high concentration of hydrogen, and mature crater features such as a flat floor, gentle slopes and the absence of large boulders. Data from the recent Japanese Kaguya and Indian Chandrayaan-1 missions were also used in making the decision as well as from LCROSS’s companion spacecraft, LRO.

Many amateur astronomers are planning on watching the impact, now set to occur at 4:30 am PDT on Friday, October 9, 2009. A telescope with an aperture size of 10 to 12 inches should be sufficient for watching the event.

Should water be detected during this unique mission, the impact on near-term exploration will be utterly profound! It will mean that it’s possible to live off the land, as it were, and in doing so, dramatically reduce the cost of a lunar base; So much so, in fact, that the venture will fall squarely within the capability of the private sector. A cry of “There’s water in them thar hills!” will touch off a Moon Rush not unlike the California Gold Rush of the mid 1800s, because there are limitless resources that can be mined from the moon, not the least of which is a substance called Helium-3, which holds tremendous promise as a fuel for a fusion (not to be confused with fission) reactor capable of delivering cheap, clean energy. And that’s not only my opinion.

Apollo 17 astronaut, geologist and former congressman Harrison Schmitt cites in his book Return To The Moon: Exploration, Enterprise and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space (with Foreword by Neil Armstrong), the enormous potential of Helium-3. He refers to its “commercial viability” and the fact that it “represents an environmentally benign means of helping to meet an anticipated eight-fold or higher increase in energy demand by 2050.”

And speaking of a moon rush, 22-year veteran of the computer, academic and space communities Dennis Wingo lays out in his book Moonrush: Improving Life on Earth with the Moon’s Resources the bounty that the moon possesses if we have the wherewithal to go there and collect it.

In just 24 days we may be witness to one of the most momentous occasions in history. Like the California Gold Rush that began on January 24, 1848 and which resulted in the settlement of that area and the making of many fortunes, a Moon Rush will have a similar effect on our generation. The passing of New Year’s Eve 1848 would undoubtedly have brought far more fanfare for James W. Marshall and the forty-niners that were to come had they any inkling of what lie ahead. And here we stand at a similar moment in time, and like those folks a century and a half ago, we go to bed with our heads filled with the concerns of the day, unaware of the vast potential just around the next bend. For us, it has not yet been written into the pages of history and may well elude us, but just in case, I’m reserving a bottle of champagne.

January 24, 1848

Chinese To Fly Their Own Space Station

September 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

The Chinese don’t do anything quickly. They’re known for taking slow, measured steps toward any goal they set, including space. What’s more, they are not given to making extravagant claims, so when their former chief commander and manned space program designer Gu Yidong said Tuesday in the Chinese Sina News that they intend to launch a series of space laboratories in the 2010-2015 time frame, we can take it seriously.


Credit: Sina News Service, Beijing
Credit: Sina News Service, Beijing


China has been making steady progress in manned space flight. Last September they conducted their third manned mission into space when they launched mission Command Zhai Zhigang, Descent Module Pilot Jing Haipeng and Orbital Module Pilot Liu Boming aboard the Shenzhou VII spacecraft into low earth orbit. The highlight of the flight was their first extravehicular activity (EVA) conducted by Zhigang and Boming.

The Shenzhou VII flight began phase two of a three-phase program called Project-921. Phase 3 will culminate in the first, full-scale Chinese space station by 2020.

Their next step is to place the eight-ton laboratory module Tiangong I or “Heavenly Palace I” into orbit, now scheduled for launch late next year. Following that will come two more stations: the Tiangong II and Tiangong III. These orbiting laboratories will purportedly be used as testbeds for the Chinese to develop docking technology, cargo transfer and resupply operations, life support technology and gain knowledge on human physiological response associated with long-term space exposure.

Some of this next-generation space hardware will be launched from the Wenchang Launch Center, currently under construction on Hainan Island off the southern coast of China in an area separating the South China Sea from the Gulf of Tongking. 

If Ouyang Ziyuan, a research professor at the Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, gets his way, China won’t stop at low earth orbit. In a book titled Academicians Envisaging The 21st Century, he presents an essay in which he promotes the idea of a lunar colony replete with experimental factories and farms, and in which its inhabitants gradually develop a moon city and realize the dream of a self-sufficient “Earth village” by 2020. Former Director of the China National Space Administration Luan Enjie and chief designer of Chinese rockets, Long Lehao, have given speeches describing how China will venture on to the moon and Mars. Once they have Project 921 Phase 3 on orbit and operating, they will have more than enough momentum to carry them on to those destinations.



Private Citizen Prepares for Trip To Space

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

In a global online press conference, Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil announced details of his planned Poetic Social Mission.  Guy will become Space Adventures’ seventh private spaceflight client when he launches to the International Space Station on September 30.

credit: One Drop Foundation
credit: One Drop Foundation

The October 9 global broadcast event titled “Moving Stars and Earth for Water” will feature artists performing in 14 cities around the world, with Guy joining from space.  Artists and personalities involved include U2, Shakira, Peter Gabriel, and former US Vice President Al Gore.  The event is designed to support the One Drop Foundation, and draw attention to the importance that access to clean water has for the planet and Earth’s population. 

During his 12-day stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Laliberté’s unique social/humanitarian mission will have one clear purpose: to raise humanity’s awareness of water-related issues.

Traveling has always been a part of Laliberté’s life, and he has been researching the possibility of space travel since 2004. That being said, the timing and purpose needed to be right.

This is the time… The first Poetic Social Mission in Space is a symbolic moment for Laliberté. After 25 years, Cirque du Soleil will be introduced to Russia, the country where Laliberté is training for his voyage and from where the Soyuz TMA-16 rocket will launch him and the Expedition 21 crew into space. The timing could not be more appropriate!

The purpose is also clear… Laliberté’s mission in space is dedicated to making an impact on how water, our most precious resource, is protected and shared. And he will be applying tools he has used so well for most of his life to bring about change: arts and culture.

Information about our world’s water-related issues will be conveyed using a singular poetic approach. The messages he will transmit from the ISS will build awareness for ONE DROP Foundation initiatives, its objectives and dream of “Water for all, all for water.” 


XCOR’s Lynx Rocket Test Program Reaches Milestones

September 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

September 02, 2009, Mojave, CA:  XCOR Aerospace announced today that it has reached several significant milestones in the 5K18 rocket engine test program. This is the engine that powers XCOR’s Lynx suborbital spacecraft.  The engine can be seen running in several newly released videos including a video demonstrating the very stable “shock diamond” pattern visible in the engine’s supersonic exhaust. 

5K18 LOX Kerosene Rocket Engine: credit XCOR

5K18 LOX Kerosene Rocket Engine: credit XCOR

“Like all of our rocket engines, this engine has demonstrated the ability to be stopped and re-started using our safe and reliable spark torch ignition system”, said XCOR CEO Jeff Greason.  “The basic cooling design has also been completed and the engine is able to run continuously at thermal equilibrium.  With those milestones reached, the 5K18 test program is now moving forward into a second phase of tuning and optimization, in which we will also greatly increase our cumulative run time.”

Data and test results from the Lynx engine program are being used by XCOR and certain customers to develop a deeper understanding of operationally responsive spacelift procedures. These procedures can then be applied to future rocket powered vehicles.  XCOR and its customers now have important information that will aid in the development of the unique requirements of operationally responsive high performance manned and unmanned rocket systems.  

Testing of the 5K18 rocket engine is continuing in parallel with several other key Lynx system components, including wind tunnel testing at AFRL facilities and development of the Lynx pressure cabin at XCOR’s main facilities in Mojave, CA.

“These additional firings and milestones continue to demonstrate XCOR’s ability to deliver safe and truly innovative rocket propulsion technology that will one day revolutionize space access by enhancing readiness levels for flight from years to days or even hours, and driving down costs and increasing safety by orders of magnitude”, said XCOR Chief Operating Officer, Andrew Nelson.

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 powered vehicles, propulsion systems, advanced non-flammable composites and other enabling technologies for responsive private space flight, scientific missions, upper atmospheric research, and small satellite launch to low earth orbit. Its web address is:  Advanced ticket sales have already commenced at


SpaceX Closes In On Mission To Intn’l Space Station

September 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commercial Space Flight 

Hawthorne, CA  (September 1, 2009) – Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announces delivery of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Communication Unit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in preparation for launch on Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-129.  The unit will be delivered by Atlantis to the International Space Station (ISS) and integrated in preparation for SpaceX’s future flights to the orbiting laboratory. 

Developed by SpaceX, in collaboration with NASA, the unit allows for communication between the ISS, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, and ground-based mission control.  The system also allows the ISS crew to monitor an approaching or departing capsule. As part of NASA’s COTS competition, SpaceX will conduct flights of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, culminating in Dragon berthing with the ISS and then returning to Earth.

The unique public-private partnership created through the COTS program will allow SpaceX’s Dragon to serve as a replacement for cargo transport to the ISS when the Space Shuttle retires.  Upon completion of the COTS requirements, SpaceX will begin to fulfill the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, awarded by NASA in late 2008. The contract includes 12 cargo flights between 2010 and 2015 and represents a guaranteed minimum of 20,000 kg to be carried to the ISS.  Dragon will deliver pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS and return pressurized cargo back to Earth.

“SpaceX is pleased to have delivered the two-way communication system to the Cape in preparation for flight to the ISS,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President, SpaceX.  “The unit had to pass NASA’s strict ISS safety standards and reviews, demonstrating our progress under the COTS program and laying the groundwork for future F9/Dragon flights to resupply cargo and possibly crew to the ISS when Shuttle retires.”

Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for launch no earlier than November 12, 2009, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A.

For more information about the Falcon family of vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft, please visit


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