Tag Archives: space

19 Jun

New senate bill pushed by Republicans aimed at slowing or stopping SpaceX in favor of… pork

This is fucked up:

“Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has put his thumb on the scale. He has added language to the Senate bill that will make it a lot harder for commercial space companies—like, say SpaceX—to launch humans into space. He’s basically adding a layer of government to the requirements for commercial companies, making them account for costs and pricing.

Oddly, this sort of accounting is already in place with contractors like Boeing—which, shockingly, is a big player with SLS, and which has a large plant in Alabama, Shelby’s home state—but is not in place in companies like SpaceX and Sierra Nevada. This means that the newer startup companies will be put at a disadvantage against the older government contractors.

Bottom line: Shelby’s addition makes it easier for SLS to get built, and harder for commercial companies to build their own vehicles to send humans into space (and, importantly, can do it far, far cheaper than SLS can). That means we’ll have to rely on the Russians more for the time being.”

(Via NASA funding: New Senate bill will keep us relying on Russians for rides to space..)

The continued attempts to block competition in space access by the party that supposedly should champion it is pretty sad. They’ve already pared back investment and pushed back the timelines of cheap rides to orbit by 2-3 years by cutting funding for the COTS program.

16 Jun

I’m over at the Tor-Forge blog, talking about the Caribbean’s forgotten space program

Buckell canon2

“I’m in Barbados doing research, and I’m standing under a 100 caliber barrel. The thing looks big enough to crawl into, but not quite. And the barrel just keeps going and going. Big enough that I have to trudge through the wet grass a ways to get some perspective on the whole thing. This cannon is so damn big it has a structure around the barrel to keep it rigid. It’s mounted on a concrete pad the size of an office building’s foundation. And there’s this huge space for recoil: a dark pit that I don’t want to fall down into, because it’s filled now with stagnant water.

I’m on the coast of Barbados, so there’s a pleasant, salty wind kicking up that’s cutting the heat as I walk around the 119 foot long barrel. It’s pitted with exposure to the corrosive ocean, but still majestically aims off over the Atlantic crashing against the low cliffs not too far away.

I was born in Grenada, an island further to the west of Barbados, both of us at the southern tip of the sweep of the Caribbean as it curves down toward South America. Only Trinidad and Tobago lie between Venezuela and us. And all that time growing up, I had no idea that a lost, but no less major and fascinating chapter of humanity’s early attempts to get into orbit lay just one island over from me.”

(Via Hurricane Fever and the Caribbean’s Forgotten Space Program | Tor/Forge Blog.)

I had to keep the essay a little short, so I could talk about how Karen Lord and Robert Sandiford were really important in getting me there. Again, thanks to them both for taking me to see this amazing piece of history last summer.

28 Mar

Holy crap: there’s a giant planet far out beyond where the comets are made… maybe

This is so sense-of-wonder amazing to me. A bunch of researchers found a large object out there beyond Pluto. Which is cool. But after analyzing it they think its orbit hints at something really, really big out there.

Hold on Chewie, that ain’t no moon:

“Intriguingly, Sheppard’s team also found a strange alignment when they looked at the orbits of 2012 VP113, Sedna and 10 other objects that lie closer to the sun. ‘It was a big surprise to us,’ he says.

One explanation for the alignment could be the tug of a rocky planet that is 10 times the mass of Earth that orbits the sun at 250 AU, the team calculate. That world would be cold and faint – and would push and pull at the closer objects like a distant but powerful puppeteer.”

(Via New dwarf planet hints at giant world far beyond Pluto – space – 26 March 2014 – New Scientist.)

You know what’s cool? I’m a grown ass dude and every few years my whole understanding of the solar system gets readjusted as we learn more.


27 Jan

Yutu rover down for the count



“As sunset approached, something seems to have gone wrong with the Yutu rover. In order to survive the lunar night, Yutu positions itself with one solar panel angled toward the direction of the rising sun. Then it folds down the mast that carries its color camera and its high-gain antenna into its body. Then the other solar panel is folded over the deck like a lid, insulating the interior and the mast, which are kept warm with a radioisotope heating unit. According to various reports online, it sounds like something in this sequence did not execute properly, although the reports are unspecific so I’m not sure yet what happened.”

(Via Bad news for Yutu rover | The Planetary Society.)

24 Sep

DARPA’s space plane project


Interesting. DARPA projects have a way of coming true.

“Key XS-1 technical goals include flying 10 times in 10 days, achieving speeds of Mach 10+ at least once and launching a representative payload to orbit. The program also seeks to reduce the cost of access to space for small (3,000- to 5,000-pound) payloads by at least a factor of 10, to less than $5 million per flight. “

(Via DARPA trying to make a Mach 10+ unmanned spaceplane that can fly ten times in ten days.)

What is most intriguing to me is that we know have Elon Musk’s SpaceX working on a reusable rocket. DARPA. The British SABRE project. We have three private space companies working with NASA’s commercial crew transport program (SpaceX, Orbital, and DreamChaser).

There’s a lot of concurrent activity going on. Which is encouraging.

10 Sep

Space Farming: The Final Frontier

I’m very curious about this, and hope to see more space farming happening. Also, Diary of a Space Zucchini!

“Growing food in space helps solve one of the biggest issues in space travel: the price of eating. It costs roughly $10,000 a pound to send food to the ISS, according to Howard Levine, project scientist for NASA’s International Space Station and Spacecraft Processing Directorate. There’s a premium on densely caloric foods with long shelf lives. Supply shuttles carry such limited fresh produce that Gioia Massa, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA, says astronauts devour it almost immediately.

Levine and Massa are part of the team developing the Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE) program, set to hit the ISS later this year. This December, NASA plans to launch a set of Kevlar pillow-packs, filled with a material akin to kitty litter, functioning as planters for six romaine lettuce plants. The burgundy-hued lettuce (NASA favors the ‘Outredgeous’ strain) will be grown under bright-pink LED lights, ready to harvest after just 28 days.

NASA has a long history of testing plant growth in space, but the goals have been largely academic. Experiments have included figuring out the effects of zero-gravity on plant growth, testing quick-grow sprouts on shuttle missions and assessing the viability of different kinds of artificial light. But VEGGIE is NASA’s first attempt to grow produce that could actually sustain space travelers.”

(Via Space Farming: The Final Frontier – Modern Farmer.)

25 Aug

Almost drowning in outer space

This is terrifying to read. The astronaut’s own write up of what it was like to almost drown in outer space:

“As I move back along my route towards the airlock, I become more and more certain that the water is increasing. I feel it covering the sponge on my earphones and I wonder whether I’ll lose audio contact. The water has also almost completely covered the front of my visor, sticking to it and obscuring my vision. I realise that to get over one of the antennae on my route I will have to move my body into a vertical position, also in order for my safety cable to rewind normally. At that moment, as I turn ‘upside-down’, two things happen: the Sun sets, and my ability to see – already compromised by the water – completely vanishes, making my eyes useless; but worse than that, the water covers my nose – a really awful sensation that I make worse by my vain attempts to move the water by shaking my head. By now, the upper part of the helmet is full of water and I can’t even be sure that the next time I breathe I will fill my lungs with air and not liquid. To make matters worse, I realise that I can’t even understand which direction I should head in to get back to the airlock.”

(Via EVA 23: exploring the frontier | Luca Parmitano.)

19 Aug

Will the ISS really last beyond 2020?


There was a lot more hinting about letting private companies run experiments to see if they could find out things in microgravity that would lead to more reasons to keep it up there, but that never quite materialized. I can see why the Russians want to do one of their own.

I’d be curious to see what could be done with Bigelow Aerospace, SpaceX and NASA, which is why I’ll be paying close attention to what Bigelow’s module does once NASA mounts it on the ISS for a test.

“The debate over how long to pay for the International Space Station is something that has long loomed over the program, one expert said.

‘This is a little bit like smoker’s cough. It’s something that nobody wants to notice,’ said John Logsdon, professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

An expert in space policy and history, Logsdon said his bottom line is that ‘the odds, in my view, are heavily against the continuation of the station post 2020.’

Logsdon told SPACE.com that he did not think it likely that either Japan or Europe have any enthusiasm to pony up money for the ISS after 2020.

‘That presumes that there’s no major breakthrough,’ Logsdon said, referring to any potential discovery on the station that turns out to have either great scientific or economic value.

Looming in the background of the space station’s future beyond 2020 is talk by Russia of starting a second-generation space station on its own, Logsdon said.

‘And of course you have the Chinese station in the same time period,’ he added.”

(Via Can the International Space Station Really Last Beyond 2020? | Space.com.)

10 Aug

Europa or bust!


I really think getting a probe on Europa is the next big thing for planetary science:

“Most of what scientists know of Jupiter’s moon Europa they have gleaned from a dozen or so close flybys from NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1979 and NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the mid-to-late 1990s. Even in these fleeting, paparazzi-like encounters, scientists have seen a fractured, ice-covered world with tantalizing signs of a liquid water ocean under its surface. Such an environment could potentially be a hospitable home for microbial life. But what if we got to land on Europa’s surface and conduct something along the lines of a more in-depth interview? What would scientists ask? A new study in the journal Astrobiology authored by a NASA-appointed science definition team lays out their consensus on the most important questions to address. “