Weekly Space Blog 6/13

Orbital ISS Launched Delayed again

The ORB-2 Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed again due to the on-going investigation into an AJ26 engine failure last month during testing.  The Antares rocket which launches the Cygnus spacecraft uses two of the AJ26 engines on the first stage to orbit.

The new No Earlier Than (NET) date is July 1st, we will prove additional news when available on the launch date/time.

SLS design change could delay first crewed mission

NASA has decided to change the version of the second stage that will be used on the EM-2 crewed mission.  Originally slated to be the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) stage that will be used on EM-1 they have now elected to use the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) stage that was originally scheduled to debut on EM-3.  Due to this and the NASA Safety Office and Astronaut Office’s requirement that the upper stage complete at least one mission before any crew and be carried on it could mean that EM-3 becomes the first crewed mission for SLS in 2023.

An alternate option may be to add an additional flight between EM-1 and EM-2 which would be used to prove the EUS therefore allowing EM-2 to be the first crewed flight, however additional funding would be needed to achieve that.  At present there are no future details as to the overall impact of the SLS schedule with primary focus on the EM-1 flight in 2017.

Progress M-21M undocks

This week the Progress M-21M spacecraft completed it’s mission to the ISS with a successful undocking and later burn up in the atmosphere.  The cargo vehicle spent 144 days at the station having delivered almost 2,400 pounds of supplies it was then loaded with trash that was no longer needed.  European Astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted the picture below of the Progress burning up in the atmosphere to conclude it’s orbital mission.

ProgressM21M

Rosetta Update

The ESA Rosetta spacecraft completed two big burns this week as it entered the final phase of its approach to the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after almost a decade journey.  Unlike when it a spacecraft approaches a planet Rosetta will not be able to use the gravity of the comet to get into orbit but instead will need to execute a series of burns to precisely match the orbit.

It is currently approaching at a speed of 17,000 kpd (kilometers per day) and is currently less than 300,000 kilometers away. Over the next month and half it will continue to refine the orbit.

For more information in the Rosetta mission check out the page here.

Two new exo-planets found around Kapteyn

A team of Astronomers have discovered two new planets around a nearby red dwarf star Kapteyn, which is about 13 light years away in the southern constellation of Pictor.  One of the planets Kapteyn c is considered to be too cold for life because of it’s distance from the star.  However Kapteyn b is within the habitable zone and therefore could have liquid water on the surface.  The planet is estimated to be 5 times the mass of earth, and has an orbital period of 48 days.

Boeing CST-100 News

This week Boeing showcased their CST-100 spacecraft which is one of the spacecraft that is competing for the Commercial Crew contract to deliver astronauts to the ISS.

The spacecraft will be launched by an Atlas 5 rocket and once in orbit will dock to the space station to deliver up to seven people to the station.  During the return the spacecraft will utilize airbags when it lands.

Boeing also indicated that further progress on the CST-100 would depend on them getting a contract from NASA in the CCtCap process which is currently on-going.

AAA Needed on Mars for Curiosity Rover

Rover Wheel DamageThe Mars Curiosity Rover which has been roaming around on Mars for almost a year is starting show ware and tare from the journey so far.

Originally expected to take a year to get to the base of Mt. Sharp the rover is currently half way there and clearly showing signs of damage from the un-yielding rocks as it moves over the surface.

Hmm wonder what the call out charge would be for AAA to replace the wheel, sign me up for that trip.

Russia plans Biggest Rocket since 1960s

The chief of the Federal Space Agency in Russia, Oleg Ostapenko said this week, while visiting Crimea, that they would need to build a super-heavy rocket capable of lifting between 80 to 85 tons to earth orbit in order to realize it’s lunar ambitions.

100 Million Planets may Harbor Complex Life in Milky Way

Scientists from the University of Texas have released findings based on the “first plausible assessment of complex life in the universe using empirical data.”  The findings estimate that there could be as many as 100 million planets in our galaxy that may harbor some form of complex alien life.  The article also says that our galaxy is one of approximately 500 billion in the universe.

The full article can be found here.

Author Note: The estimate of galaxies in this article seems to be very high a factor of 2.5-5 times higher than most other articles or current estimates.

Trillion Dollar Market

This week Planetary Resources released a video, explaining why they believe fuel from asteroids will create a Trillion Dollar market in the future.  Currently satellite operators have to pay for total weight of the spacecraft, including any fuel needed for the life of vehicle.

Check out the video here.

Smoke detected on ISS Tuesday, crew were not in danger

This week smoke was detected on the ISS, in the Zvezda Service Module, requiring flight controllers to initiate emergency procedures to isolate the modules ventilation system while the source of the some was identified.   The crew were never in any danger and the problem was quickly determined to be a heater that was used for water reclamation.  The heater was deactivated, a fan and filter was then setup to clear the smoke.

Kepler Candidate List updated

The NASA Kepler project updated the number of Kepler candidates and confirmed planets from 3,845 to 4,254. There are now up to one hundred potentially habitable worlds in the Kepler candidates, 30 matching the conservative definition of a potentially habitable.

HEC_All_Distance

Pluto and Charon news

Pluto has often been considered a binary planet with its largest moon Charon, it now seems that they may both also share a thin atmosphere.  While it is impossible to detect the atmosphere using ground based technology the New Horizon’s spacecraft that is current racing towards Pluto will have the ability to detect it.

We will know more in 2015 after the flyby has been completed and the data is back on earth.

Check out the fall article here.

In a separate article researchers suggest that if cracks are found in the surface of Pluto that could indicate that the interior was once warm enough to sustain an underground ocean.

Check out the full article here.

Dream Chaser News

Sierra Nevada Corporation who are building the Dream Chaser spacecraft that is competing for the contract to fly astronauts to the ISS this week announced a new partnership with Craig Technologies, a Cape Canaveral based company.  The company will be responsible for the design engineering and manufacture of Dream Chaser.

The full press release can be found here.

3D Printer heading to ISS on next SpaceX mission

The 3D Printer developed by Made In Space has passed the final certification by NASA and will now be launched to the ISS on the next SpaceX mission in August.  The printer was originally planned to launch on the SpaceX 5 mission but having completed all the milestones needed ahead of schedule they will now only need to wait until then to see the printer in action.

Once on the station a series of tests will be run to verify the ability to created printed parts in a micro-gravity environment.

The full press release can be found here.

Rumor: Google and Virgin Galactic in talks

England’s Sky News has reported that Google and Virgin Galactic have been in talks for months regarding a potential investment by Google.  While no deal has been finalized it is believe to be a part of Google plans to launch a fleet of satellites to provide Internet access to the whole planet.

The full article can be found here.

SpaceX’s Orbcomm Launch delayed again

The launch of six Orbcomm satellites on a Falcon 9 has been delayed again, originally scheduled for Thursday this week after previous delays the date was changed to Sunday after a problem was found with one of the satellites.

While the problem with the satellite appears to have been resolved Orbcomm have decided to perform additional testing to verify the issue has been fully addressed.  In order to complete the analysis the June 15 launch date is no longer achievable and they are working with SpaceX to identify a new launch date.

NASA’s Maven spacecraft is 100 days away from Mars

The NASA Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft which launched last November is now 100 days away from arriving at Mars.

Check out the mission here.

Weekly Space Blog 5/23

SpaceX Dragon completes successful mission

Last Sunday at 3:05pm the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully completed it’s CRS-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a splashdown in the Pacific ocean.

Dragon CRS-3 SplashdownLaunched on April 18th aboard a Falcon 9 rocket the Dragon spacecraft, carrying nearly 5,000 lbs of supplies and payloads including two in the un-pressurized trunk, the craft was deployed to orbit following the successful launch.  On April 20th the craft was captured by the station’s robot arm and berthed allowing access to the cargo.  On Sunday the craft was unberthed from the station carrying 3,500 lbs or cargo.  After successfully backing away from the station, later in the day the craft was commanded executed de-orbit burn which concluded with the splashdown.

This was the longest orbital mission so far for Dragon at 29 days, 23 hours and 40 minutes.

Photo credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News
Photo credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News

On Tuesday the spacecraft arrived at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California where time-sensitive cargo was off-loaded and handed over to NASA, the spacecraft will now travel to the test facility in McGregor, Texas where the rest of the cargo will be off-loaded and handed over to NASA.

On Wednesday it was reported that during the landing there was some water seepage into the spacecraft after the landing, however it doesn’t appear that this caused any issues with the experiments on board.  However due to this event NASA will require resulting from an investigation by SpaceX and any changes needed to avoid this happening again before the next Dragon flight will be approved.

Aerojet Rocketdyne to provide upper-stage propulsion for RELS

Aerojet Rocketdyne announced on Monday they had received a contract to supply six RL10C-1 engines, with an option for six additional engines.  These engines will by used by the third stage of the revolutionary air-launch system being build by Stratolaunch Systems Corporation (SSC).

The three stage rocket being developed will be dropped from a carrier aircraft when it reaches the desired altitude, once released the rocket will begin it’s power flight into orbit.

The full article can be found here.

Russia, China sign Space Exploration Agreement

Following on Russia’s announcement that they don’t extend operation of the International Space Station after 2020.   This week they have signed an Space Exploration agreement with China instead.

Even more reason for the US to move away from dependence on Russia to get into space.

The full article can be found here.

NASA Commercial Crew Program News

Each of the partners in the Commercial Crew Program made progress in the latest press release from NASA.

Boeing – Completed most in-depth evaluation of software planned to operate the CST-100 spacecraft.

SNC – Put models of it’s Dream Chaser spacecraft through rigorous wind tunnel tests to help refine the final design.

SpaceX – Conducted an integrated critical design review to demonstrate major hardware and software elements of the Dragon/Falcon 9 vehicles.

The full release can be found here.

Three private Moon Lander concepts on NASA short list

Recently NASA selected three private Moon Lander concepts for non-funded agreements as part of the agencies quest to land robotic craft on the moon.

The companies Astrobotic Technology Inc, Masten Space Systems Inc and Moon Express Inc will now proceed to the next stage of negotiations for Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative.

The full press release can be found here.

True Cost of SLS, Orion Unclear

The Government Accountability Office report on the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft indicates that NASA has masked the true cost of being the pair by neglecting to say what the system will cost to build for each flight.

So far there are only two missions slated for the combined vehicle and the estimated cost through 2021 is $22 billion.

While I believe NASA needs to have a crewed vehicle for deep space missions it would be interesting to see what SpaceX or another commercial company could create for $22 billion.

For more information check out the full article here.

New Cameras to Probe Planets beyond our Solar System

Two new camera’s designed to image Jupiter class planets orbiting other stars and their atmospheres have been brought online.  The European Southern Observatories Very Large Telescope camera Sphere saw first light on May 4, and the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at the Gemini South Observatory has reported back on data gathered from it’s first light.

The full article including video can be found here.

Planet formation in the constellation of the Wolf

Dust and gas around the star HD142527, as seen by ALMA in red and respectively green.
Dust and gas around the star HD142527, as seen by ALMA in red and respectively green.

Japanese researchers announced the discovery of a site of planet formation around a young star in the Lupus Constellation in the southern sky, it’s name is Latin for wolf.

The researchers found a proto-planetary disk around the star HD142527 and the dust appears to be concentrated in the upper part of the ring.  The observations where made using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA).

The full article can be found here.

Elon Musk receives Award

This week Elon Musk received the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award during the 22rd annual International Space Development Conference, after receiving the aware he talked further about the progress that SpaceX was making towards a permanent base on Mars and also more on the re-usable rocket tests.

The full article can be found here.

New Regulations Govern Private Human Space Flight

The FAA have issued regulations establishing requirements for crew and space flight participants involved in private human space flight.  The new rules maintain the FAA’s commitment to protect the safety of the public.

The full article can be found here, including a PDF of the rules.

SLS Moves One Step Closer

SLSmechanismNASA and ATK moved a step closer to the 2017 launch of the first SLS this week with the completion of a significant structural test of the booster’s main attachment mechanism.  The article tested was a major load-bearing structure known as the skirt.

The full article can be found here.

 

Opportunity Rover News

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The Mars Opportunity Rover has returned this Martian Vista from the ridge line of Endeavour Crater

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover spent several months exploring portions of Murray Ridge. Since reaching the local high point on the ridge line from which this panorama was taken, the rover has proceeded southward to reach an exposure of aluminum-rich clay detected from orbit.

Full panorama can be found here.

Construction of Insight Begins

InSightConstruction has begun on the new Mars lander Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) is scheduled to launch March 2016 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This will be the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from California. The mission will provide NASA with information toward their goal of sending a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Meet Quaoar, the Planetoid Beyond Pluto

Most people know of Pluto which for a long time was the 9th planet before being demoted, however there are many more objects beyond the last planet Neptune that many may not be aware off.

The following article introduces one of those objects a planetoid in the outer edges of our solar system called Quaoar.  Discovered in 2002 it heralded a new age in Astronomy, this and a few other worlds being discovered caused the International Astronomical Union to form a new classification system for planets, planetoids and dwarf planets.

The full article including artist concepts of the object can be found here.

Boeing and Samsung to Evaluate Mobile Technology for New Spacecraft

This week Boeing and Samsung announced a collaboration on ways to incorporate the latest mobile technology into Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft.

Under the agreement they will start to identify how mobile technology can be used to improve CST-100 crew and mission operations.

Seeing how rapidly Samsung brings to market new devices it will be interesting to see how this works out and what technology is added to the CST-100.

The full press release can be found here.

SpaceX launch of Orbcomm Satellites targeted for June 11th

SpaceX has re-aligned the next launch to No Earlier Than (NET) June 11th.  The delay were caused by a Helium leak in the first stage that was found during fueling for the Static Fire Test.

This leak was a different location to a leak that delayed the CRS-3 mission, although further details were not available it seems likely that it was around the Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessels (COPV) which are used to pressurize the vehicle.

It is not clear yet if the issue has been repaired but SpaceX are working towards this date and a new Static Fire will be performed at some point before then.

The Planetary Society responds to coverage of ISS statements by Russia

The Planetary Societies Blogger Casey Dreier posted this week a response to all the coverage of the ISS suitation since Russia made statements regarding the status of the station.

Firstly there were two issues in the statements, one relating to the RD-180 engines which has been covered previously and the second relating to the station.

In summary the current operation plan for the station runs until 2020, NASA with the approval of the White House proposed to extend this until 2024, however as of yet none of the other partners had actually signed onto this new plan.  However it was originally thought that Russia were interested in the extension however since the tensions over Ukraine that no longer seems to be be case.

However given that there are over six years left in the current operational plan there is nothing to say the situation won’t change again.

Casey’s full blog article can be found here.

Space station’s Sphere’s use Google smartphone tech

The free-flying Spheres modules on the International Space Station will now be aided by Google’s Project Tango to assist the crew in mundane tasks.  Project Tango is a smartphone project by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group which tracks the 3D motion of the device and create a 3D model of the environment around it.

The Spheres modules short for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites has been tested on the station since 2003 and with this latest upgrade will be able to perform more functions.

The Spheres project was originally inspired by Star Wars.

SpaceX DragonFly test vehicle revealed

In further SpaceX news this week details of the DragonFly test vehicle became available.  The vehicle will be tested at SpaceX’s McGregor facility and consists of a 7 ton Dragon capsule equipped with eight SuperDraco thrusters, an integrated trunk and up to four landing legs.  The vehicle will be put through a series propulsive landing tests to validate the design and to enable future Dragon vehicles to perform a land based landing.

Further details and a demonstration video can be found here.

Antares AJ-26 engine fails during test

One of the Aerojet AJ-26 main engines for the Antares rocket suffered extensive damage during a test firing at the Stennis Space Center this week.  Before the engine’s can be used for an actual launch they are test fired to verify everything is working correctly.

At present it is not known if this failure will have any impact on the June 10th launch of an Antares carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on it’s next visit to the ISS.

 

Weekly Blog 5/9

This week in Space News

SpaceX launch of Orbcomm OG2 satellites delayed

The planned launch of six commercial communications satellites for Orbcomm has been delayed.  The planned static fire test on Thursday was called off after SpaceX ran into technical trouble during the countdown.  The static fire test was rescheduled for Friday but was stopped while the rocket was being fueled.  SpaceX announced that the OG2 satellites and rocket was in a safe condition and would be rolled back to the integration facility.

At present a new launch date/time is not available.

Judge rules Russian engine purchases can continue

Judge Susan G. Braden has reversed the injunction she issued in the case that SpaceX filed against the ULA Block Buy.  While SpaceX didn’t explicitly request action to stop ULA buying the engine’s this was the first action taken by the count after the filing of the case.  This follows letters submitted to the court from the Treasury and State departments stating that NPO Energomash was not subject to the sanctions.

Curiosity drills into Martian sandstone

This image recorded by Curiosity's mast-mounted camera shows the drill site at Windjana.
This image recorded by Curiosity’s mast-mounted camera shows the drill site at Windjana.

This week Curiosity successfully drilled into Martian sandstone.  The rock dubbed “Windjana” was selected for the drill site.  Over the next couple of weeks the rover will collect samples of the fine grained samples into a pair of research instruments.

This is the first time Curiosity has drilled into Sandstone, having samples Mudstone previously in 2013.

 

Russian spy satellite launched by Soyuz

This week a Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launched a clandestine payload from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.  Likely a Kobalt-class imaging satellite for the Russian Military.

Station crew members prepare to return home

Three of the station residents have entered their last week aboard the orbiting complex.  Commander Koichi Wakata, Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio and Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will be returning to earth May 13th inside their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft having spent 187 days onboard.

Former Astronaut Kent Rominger answer questions on Twitter

This week Astronaut Kent Rominger who now works for ULA answered questions on Twitter during a #SpaceChat session.  Among the questions asked was one from us regarding SLS

Kent_Twitter_Question

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally

This week I signed up for an online Astronomy course which includes time controlled several robotic telescopes around the world.  Below are a couple of images I have processed so far as part of the course.

If you are interested in leaning more check it out here.

Weekly Space Blog 12/14

A lot has been happening this week in Space

ISS Coolant Failure
This week one of the two coolant systems on the station shutdown when a component reached a preset temperature limit.  While not posing an immediate danger to the crew on-board the shutdown did require that NASA shutdown non-critical systems on the station to ensure that nothing overheated.  Engineers are still determining what needs to be done to resolve the problem which may include a spacewalk.

Proton Launches Mobile Broadband Satellite
Last Sunday a Proton rocket lifted off from Kazakhstan carrying a powerful broadband communication satellite for London based Inmarsat, this launch marks the beginning of a next-generation fleet for the company.

Brazilian Satellite lost
A joint Chinese/Brazilian satellite was lost this week when the Long March 4B rocket failed to deploy it to the correct orbit, initial reports heralded the launch as a success but were quickly replaced with the launch failure notification.  The $250m earth observation satellite was the fourth in a series of joint adventures between the Chinese and Brazilian governments.

NASA Curiosity News
The Curiosity Rover continues to return fascinating news from the red planet.  Recent results from the ancient lakebed that it is exploring show that Mars could have been habitable in the past.  The rover is now looking for areas where erosion could have uncovered layers of martian soil that could contain organic components.

In related news NASA announced that the rover had fired it’s laser more then 100,000 times while on the planet surface.

Mars One sending Lander to Mars
Mars One who made news last year when they announced they planned to settle people on Mars by 2023 were in the news again this week.  They announced plans with Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd to develop and launch a privately funded lander to explore Mars.  Check out the full press release here.

Gaia Spacecraft enclosed in Soyuz fairing
The European Space Agencies Gaia spacecraft moved a step closed to it’s 12/19 launch this week as it was enclosed in it’s Soyuz launch fairing.  For more information on the mission check out the mission page here, we will post more information on the mission next week assuming a successful launch.

Launch pad 39A news
The commercial leasing of launch pad 39A moved a step closer following a decision by the Government Accounting Office regarding a protest by Blue Origin about the agencies fairness in the search for a long term tenant.  The launch pad currently costs NASA approximately $100,000 a month to maintain, as they no longer need the pad for future NASA missions and 39B will be used for SLS this money can be better used within the agency.

Following the GAO decision NASA announced on Friday that it has selected the SpaceX proposal and will now begin negotiations with the company regarding the lease of the launch complex. During the negotiation process NASA are not allowed to released any further information. Once the deal has been finalized we will post any additional information that is made available.

Jupiter Moon Water Geysers

An artist's illustration of Jupiter's icy moon Europa, with a water geyser erupting in the foreground while Jupiter appears as a backdrop. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest Europa may have water plumes like Saturn's moon Enceladus. Image released Dec. 12, 2013. Credit: K. Retherford, Southwest Research Institute
An artist’s illustration of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, with a water geyser erupting in the foreground while Jupiter appears as a backdrop. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest Europa may have water plumes like Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Image released Dec. 12, 2013.
Credit: K. Retherford, Southwest Research Institute

This week scientists announced that Jupiter’s moon Europa may erupt with fleeting water plumes that are more then 20 times the height of Mount Everest.

If confirmed scientists believe these could provide a way of detecting signs of life in the underground ocean that is believed to be under the thick ice of the moon.  Due to it’s proximity to Jupiter scientists believe that the core of the moon is hot enough to maintain a liquid ocean via thermal vents just like in the depth’s of earth’s oceans that surprised scientists when they discovered a vast variety of life.

To learn more about the Jovian moon, scientists analyzed ultraviolet images of Europa taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in November and December of 2012 as well as older images taken by Hubble in 1999. They concentrated on finding hydrogen and oxygen, the elements that make up water.

First Orbital Cargo Mission to launch
Orbital’s first mission under there Commercial Cargo resupply contract is preparing to launch next week 12/18.  Roll out to the launch pad is expected on Monday once any last minute items have been loaded into the Cygnus spacecraft.  Orbital are currently contracted for eight flights to the station.

Morpheus Lander first free flight successful
A prototype lander that could be used for future missions to an asteroid or other planetary object completed it’s first free flight test this week.  Following a number of tether tests to ensure all systems worked the vehicles was shipped to Kennedy Space Center so that it could begin free flight tests.  The first test occurred this week and accomplished it’s goals, check out the video of the flight here.

Titan Flyover
This week NASA released a new video based on data from the Cassini spacecraft that shows a flyover of the lakes on Titan.  Check out the full release and video here.

China’s Lunar Rover scheduled to land today
The Chang’e-3 Lunar Rover is scheduled to land on the moon today, we will post more information next week once it is available on the success or failure of the landing and any other news from the event.

Interesting Articles in the News
Elon Musk on Colonizing Mars
Understanding Mars’ Past and Current Environments
Opportunity Ascending Solander Point at Endeavour Crater

Weekly Space Blog 11/16

Beyond Earth: Removing the Barriers to Deep Space Exploration round table
This week NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier moderated a panel discussion to consider the challenges facing the U.S. space exploration program.

Panelists include:
• Julie Van Kleeck, Vice President, Space Programs, Aerojet Rocketdyne
• Charlie Precourt, Vice President & General Manager, ATK Space Launch Division
• John Elbon, Vice President & General Manager, Boeing Space Exploration
• Jim Crocker, Vice President & General Manager, Civil Space, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company

The discussion started with talk about the current progress on various aspects of Human Exploration including the importance of the International Space Station as a proving ground for technologies that will be needed for missions into deeper space.

The discussion then turned to talking about the environment between the Earth and Mars, at present we are Earth Dependent and stuck in Low Earth Orbit, between us and Mars is a proving ground that will enable us to improve upon the technologies that are already in development. Beyond that we enter into the Earth Independent zone where we need to be able to survive without a quick escape route back to Earth. Julie Van Kleeck talked about the importance of taking small steps as we expand out to Mars, “We can’t just strap it all on a single rocket and go to Mars, we need to be sure that when we get there we can land and explore.” She went to explain that the goal was to become a space-faring race.

They then talked about the progress of the SLS/Orion systems and the various missions that are coming up for the system. The first flight of Orion is less than a year away now and progressing well, the test vehicle has now been powered on and tests have started, the heat shield is in final testing and will be shipped from Boston soon. Boeing’s John Elbon also stated that SLS is currently 5 months ahead of schedule and below budget. Current estimates show that the expected $ per pound for SLS is the same as the current CRS contracts with SpaceX and Orbital*.

During the discussion it became clear that current manufacturing techniques were definitely making a big difference in the construction of both Orion and SLS and were speeding up the process while reducing the costs.

A video of the panel is available here.

* Would need to see further data to validate this statement.

MAVEN – Next Mission to Mars
MAVEN Mission LogoNext week the NASA’s next Mars Orbiter will begin it’s ten month journey to the red planet aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, the vehicle is expected to enter orbit in late September 2014.

So what is the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission and what will we learn?
The orbiter has two primary functions, firstly it will perform scientific investigations of the Martian atmosphere and it’s interactions with the Sun. Secondly it will act as another relay for the rovers currently operating on the surface of the planet, this function is currently handled by the existing orbiters Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter both of which have been in orbit for at least seven years.

What science will MAVEN do?
The spacecraft has been designed to explore the planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. Scientists will use MAVEN data to determine the role that loss of volatile compounds—such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and water—from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, giving insight into the history of Mars atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability.

For further information on MAVEN check out the mission page here.

Station crew return safely to Earth
Following a busy four days on the International Space Station which included the arrival of three new crew members, a spacewalk and the departure of three crew members the TMA-09M spacecraft landed safely in Kazakhstan, returning Fyodor Yurchikhin, Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg to conclude their six month mission on-board the station.

Unlike previous missions where the departing crew would have landed before the next crew members launched the roles were reversed so that the Olympic Torch could be carried to the space station and returned in a timely manner.

India Mars Mission glitch
The Indian Mars Missions failed to change it’s orbit as expected this week due to a shutdown of the main engine sooner than expected. Following a review of the data mission controllers were able to perform an additional engine firing place the craft back in the correct orbit to allow it’s journey to the red planet to proceed.

Why is Commercial Crew Important?
During the Beyond Space (check name) panel discussion earlier this week one of the speakers mention that he had recently been to the Baikonur Cosmodrome to watch a Soyuz launch and commented on the fact that at present there are only two options for getting crew into space, neither of which was American.

While the main discussion at this panel was around the SLS and Orion vehicles being created by NASA I think that we need to take a different approach and consider why Commercial Crew is just as if not more important than the government owed option.

If we look at the airline, car, train industries there are multiple manufacturers of vehicles that are used to transport people, having multiple companies creates competition which has the result of lowering costs but also with the correct regulation improves safety. Take for instance the car industry the manufacturers pride themselves on the safety ratings their cars achieve.

The same would eventually apply to Commercial Crew, with more companies involved in the manufacturer and launch of crewed missions there will be more options available to both government and commercial companies to launch into orbit. As Julie Van Kleeck said during the panel discussion we need to take the steps necessary to becoming a space-faring people, this will not happen if we only have government launchers and crewed vehicles.

At present there are three clear leaders on the commercial crew field Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX each of who are operating under Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreements with NASA to build commercial crewed vehicles.

There are other companies working on crewed options including Virgin Galactic, XCor and Blue Origin most of these are currently focused on sub-orbital craft.

The future for crewed missions is looking brighter each day, especially when you consider that SpaceX has made it very clear there long term goals are to land crewed missions on Mars.

SpaceX CRS-3 to carry Spacesuits
The next SpaceX mission to the station will be utilized to carry a new Spacesuit to the station as well as return a broken suit. Originally the plan was to return the suit that Luca wore during his aborted spacewalk, however after careful troubleshooting the astronauts on the station were able to repair that suit using parts that were delivered to the station with recent cargo and crew arrivals.

At present there are four suits on the station only three are usable, the other is the one that will be returned allowing engineer’s on the ground to diagnose and resolve the problem.

At present the launch of CRS-3 is tentatively scheduled for 2/11/14, however that date may change depending on the actual launch of two other SpaceX missions scheduled for the end of this year, the next of which has just been delayed from 22nd Nov to 25th.

NASA Celebrates Successful end of COTS
This week NASA celebrated the completion of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), the program that helped fund Orbital Sciences and SpaceX in the development of the Cygnus and Dragon spacecraft was successfully concluded following a successful demonstration mission by the Cygnus spacecraft last month. Check out a video from NASA here.

NASA also announced that on Nov 19th they will be issuing a final Request for Proposals for the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract. This contract is to ensure competing companies can meet NASA safety requirements for Crewed Missions and is expected to conclude with actual manned flights to the International Space Station before 2017.

Weekly Space Blog 11/9

India’s first Mars Orbiter Mangalyaan launched successfully
This week India successfully launched their first Mars Orbiter called Mangalyaan, the spacecraft was launched by a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket (PSLV) from India’s launch site, Satish Dhawan Space Center.  If all goes well the spacecraft is due to arrive in Sept 2014 and will make India only the fourth nation to explore the red planet.  There are five instruments on board to study the atmosphere and surface.

8+ Billion Goldilocks Planet’s in Milky Way
Astronomers using data from NASA have estimated that within just the Milky Way there are potentially 8.8 Billion planets within the Goldilocks zone of their star and also about the right size for life to survive.  For more information check out the full article here.

The “Goldilocks” zone around a star is where a planet is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water. Illustration by Petigura/UC Berkeley, Howard/UH-Manoa, Marcy/UC Berkeley.
The “Goldilocks” zone around a star is where a planet is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water. Illustration by Petigura/UC Berkeley, Howard/UH-Manoa, Marcy/UC Berkeley.

Station Crew increases to Nine
For the first time since the last Shuttle Mission to the station there are currently more than six crew members on the station, with the arrival of Mikhail Tyurin, Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata, aboard there Soyuz TMA-11M a busy week of activities has begun, which will include a spacewalk and three crew members departing the station.

As well as bringing the new crew to the station the Soyuz also carried a replica of the Olympic torch which will be taken outside today during a spacewalk. Upon completion of the spacewalk the torch will then return to earth with Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano who are scheduled to depart tomorrow on their TMA-09M spacecraft..

Olympic Torch Relay on ISS
The nine crew members currently aboard the space station representing four different countries America, Russia, Japan and Italy performed an improvised Olympic Torch relay on the station this week. They each took turns to float through the station before passing the torch to the next crew member.

MAVEN spacecraft attached to Launch Rocket
Getting a step closer to it’s November 18th launch the MAVEN spacecraft has now been attached to it’s launch rocket. Assembly of the Atlas 5 rocket was completed with the attachment of the spacecraft and will now undergo final checkouts and testing in preparation for the launch. Next week we will be focusing primarily on the MAVEN mission.

ESA Satellite to re-enter earth’s atmosphere
The European GOCE satellite which has been in orbit since March 2009 is due to re-enter sometime on Sunday evening and while most of the craft will burn up harmlessly as it enters there is the possibility that some smaller pieces will fall down to the surface. As the spacecraft doesn’t have re-enter engines it is not possible for the scientists to determine exactly where any pieces may fall.

NBC to broadcast first Virgin Spaceflight
This week Virgin Galactic announced that NBC would be broadcasting the first commercial flight of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle which will be carrying Richard and his two adult children Sam and Holly. There will be a prime-time special the day before the flight as well as a live three hour show during the actual launch.

And finally
One of my roles is to help maintain the web site for the Mars Foundation, this week we launched a new version of our site. Check it out here.

Weekly Space Blog 11/2

We are back after a rather long delay due to upgrading to Windows 8.1 and losing everything that was installed on the machine :(…

Cygnus completes COTS demo mission
The Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft completed it’s final test mission under the C.O.T.S program with a fiery end during re-entry to earth’s atmosphere.  Following a week delay because of an issue during the initial attempt to dock the rest of the mission was very successful with all the cargo being offloaded and trash that was no longer needed being placed in the vehicle.  Orbital are now gearing up for the first of eight Commercial Resupply mission’s under the $1.9 billion contract awarded by NASA, currently scheduled for the end of the year.

ATV-4 completes mission
The fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle Albert Einstein completed it’s mission to the ISS this week, having delivered seven tonnes of cargo to the complex and having been docked for four months the vehicle un-docked from the Russian Zvezda module and like the Cygnus vehicle will meet a fiery end when it re-enters the atmosphere later today.

Soyuz TMA-09M relocated
In preparation for the next manned crew to arrive at ISS the Soyuz TMA-09M which brought Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano was moved from the Rassvet mini-research module to the port freed up on Zvezda following the ATV un-docking.

Typically three members of the current crew leave the station and land before the next three members of the crew launch, however because of the Olympic torch event coming up next week this will be the first time since the last Shuttle mission where more than six people will be on the station at the same time.

Next Station Crew arrive in Kazakhstan
In preparation for their launch to the ISS the next crew consisting of Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, American astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome for their flight on Nov 7.  They will spent the next week preparing for their mission, and following a six hour flight will dock to the station.

The crew will be carrying a replica of the Olympic Torch which will be handed off to Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky who will then take it outside the space station during a space walk on Nov 9.  The torch will then return with Yurchikhin, Nyberg  and Parmitano when they depart the station Nov 10 and will then be used during the opening ceremonies at the Sochi games in Feb 2014.

Dream Chaser crash lands
During it’s first free flight test the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser performed perfectly right up to the point where the landing gear deployed, for some reason the left landing gear did not deploy, which caused the vehicle to skid off the runway.

However during the flight Sierra Nevada were able to gather a load of very valuable data from the instrumentation on the craft and verify that it could fly autonomously.  During the landing the craft detected the problem with the landing gear and was able to keep the left wing in the air as long as possible before it finally dropped causing the craft to to skid off the runway.  Sierra announced after the accident the the internal structures in the vehicle had not been damaged during the accident and they were confident it could fly again if need to further validate the design.

Orion spacecraft powered up
The first Orion spacecraft that will fly in space was powered up for the first time this week.  The vehicle which is currently scheduled to fly some time between Sept 18 and Oct 18 2014 was activated to allow testing on the main control computers to begin.

MAVEN readied for launch
NASA’s next mission to Mars the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft is just 16 days away from launch, NASA held a press conference this week to discuss the mission and it’s goals.  Check out the conference here, we will have more news next week.

First Earth-sized Rocky Exoplanet Found
This week astronomers announced the discovery of Kepler-78b a earth sized rocky planet orbiting Kepler-78, however the planet orbits every 8.5 hours making it far too hot to support life.  For more information on the new discovery check out the full article here.

ooKepler-78b

Most Distant Galaxy Discovered
This week astronomers announced the discovery of the most distant galaxy found so far.  The galaxy is seen as it was just 700 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only about 5 percent of its current age of 13.8 billion years.

Artist's Rendition: Galaxy z8-GND-5296
Artist’s Rendition: Galaxy z8-GND-5296 (©UC RIVERSIDE)

NASA sets Data Transmission record
One of the payloads on the LADEE spacecraft is a Laser Based communication system, during testing NASA set a record of 622 megabits per second. Laser based communications will significantly increase the amount of data that can be transmitted between spacecraft and the ground.

Weekly Space Blog 9/28

This week in space…

Soyuz Launched to ISS
This week saw another Soyuz launch to the space station on board the Soyuz TMA-10M were Russian Cosmonaut’s Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy as well as NASA Astronaut Michael Hopkins.

Following a flawless countdown the three launched at 4:58:50 pm EDT, eight minutes later they were in orbit and heading towards a four orbit, six hour rendezvous with the station.  The crew docked a few minutes earlier than scheduled at 10:45 pm EDT and once all the leak checks were completed entered the space station at 12:34 am EDT to begin there extended stay aboard the station.

Due to their involvement in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games ceremonies the crew will leave after the TMA-12M has docked, this will be the first time since the Space Shuttle retired that there will be more than 6 crew members on the station at one time.

Cygnus berthing delayed
The berthing of the Cygnus spacecraft was delayed last Sunday due to a technical glitch with how the spacecraft interpreted GPS data received from the station.  Initially the plan was to back off from the station while Orbital worked on the problem and then attempt again on Tuesday.  However after further discussions with NASA it was decided to wait until after the Launch and Docking of the Expedition 37 crew members.  The berthing has been rescheduled to this Sunday 9/29, assuming everything goes to plan the Cygnus spacecraft will be captured by the Expedition 37 crew and berthed to the station.

SpaceX launch scheduled

Falcon 9 v1.1 on  Vandenburg Launch Pad at Sunset
Falcon 9 v1.1 on Vandenburg Launch Pad at Sunset

Elon Musk CEO and CTO of SpaceX confirmed that the first launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 has now been scheduled for Sunday 9/29 assuming no further problems are found and the weather co-operates.  This will be the first time the longer version of the rocket, the Merlin 1D engines and a fairing will be used.  In addition this is the first launch from the Vandenburg launch site for SpaceX and the first to dedicated to deploying a satellite.

If all goes to plan SpaceX will also try to re-light one of the Merlin 1D engines as the first stage approaches the ocean to test out some of the re-usable technologies that are planned for later flights and would allow the first stage to land back on earth and be used again for a future flight.

Elon himself stated that there is a high chance that something could go wrong with all the changes in this mission.

Dragon Launch Delayed
The next CRS launch to the ISS has been delayed to February 2014 to allow SpaceX time to complete modifications to the Dragon spacecraft to increase the cold storage cargo capacity.  This will almost triple the amount of scientific cargo that can be carried up to and back from the space station.

Space Dino – Nyberg creates Dino on ISS

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg's stuffed toy dinosaur floats on the International Space Station. She made the doll for her son using materials she found on the orbiting outpost. (NASA)
NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg’s stuffed toy dinosaur floats on the International Space Station. She made the doll for her son using materials she found on the orbiting outpost. (NASA)

This week Karen Nyberg a US Astronaut currently serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS) released a picture of a Dinosaur she created while in space.

Among the personal items she took to the station were needles, thread and some material, however The Dinosaur was created mainly from a velcro like material found in Russian food containers on the station.

She created the Dinosaur for her son, however he will have to wait a little longer before receiving the gift as Karen will remain on the station until November 11, and UPS/FedEx don’t currently offer delivery services to/from the ISS.

Water on Mars – Curiosity
This week NASA announced that the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument on it’s Mars Rover Curiosity had discovered water in soil samples that it had analyzed.  During the analysis for the soil it was determined that about 2% of the sample contained water.

Laurie Leshin, Dean of Science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institiute said “About 2 percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically.”

The SAM instrument takes samples of soil scooped up by the Rover’s arm and then heats it to 835C, SAM then uses several different processes to identify the chemicals found in the sample.

For further information about the discovery check out the full article here.

And Finally
Well that’s all for this week, for more Space News check out the Deep Astronomy YouTube channel.

Have fun and as Tony Darnell says “Keep looking up”

Weekly Space Blog 9/21

Another amazing week in space…

Cygnus Successfully Launched
Antares_LaunchWith the exception of one issue with the fuel system that caused a slight delay in the launch time Orbital successfully launched there Antares Rocket with the Cygnus spacecraft.  The Cygnus is currently on route to the International Space Station and once a number of demonstration steps have been completed successfully is due to berth with the station tomorrow.

Once the vehicle has been unloaded the ISS crew will load items that are no longer needed, after about 30 days at the station it will unberth.  Unlike the Dragon spacecraft the Cygnus cannot return back to earth but instead burns up during re-entry.

Latest reports show the the spacecraft has successfully fired it’s main engine’s to alter it’s course to the station, a number of the tests are performed close to the station to verify that the approach and capture can be aborted if needed.  Once all the tests are passed NASA and Orbital will have a final go-no-go poll before the craft enters the keep out zone around the station so that it can be captured by the crew using the station arm.

SpaceX Static Fire Test Update
The first static fire test of the new Falcon 9 v1.1 showed up some anomalies, due to this SpaceX attempted another test this week which was successful.  However due to the delay’s caused by needing the second test launch of the new version has been delayed until 9/29 to accommodate ICBM tests at the launch site.

Atlas 5 launch successful
A secure communications satellite was launched from the cape this week by an Atlas 5 for the U.S. Air Force.  This was the first of two large launches on the same day on the U.S. East Coast, the second was the Orbital launch of Cygnus seven hours later.

Next Station Crew Soyuz Integrated
The Soyuz TMA-10M vehicle was integrated with it’s Launcher this week in preparations for the launch of Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA, Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy, both with Russia’s Federal Space Agency on 9/26.  The next major milestone in this preparations will be roll out to the launch pad expected on Monday 9/23.

Deep Impact Update
Following a month of attempts to re-establish contact with the now silent spacecraft NASA to announced that the mission is over.  Engineer’s suspect that the vehicle lost stabilization control and was no longer pointing it’s Solar Array’s at the sun causing the battery’s to run out.  The vehicle was tremendous successful having completed all of it’s primary mission objects as well as returning approximately 500,000 images of different space objects.

Space Alien Claim
This week a scientist if Britain claimed to have evidence of Alien Life taken from sample obtained from the upper atmosphere.  The story got quite a lot of traction on some new media however was very quickly debunked.  The same scientist has made similar claims in the past and each time has proven to be wrong because there has never been scientific evidence to back up his claims.

Life on Mars Update
Hope’s of finding life on Mars faded a little this week when a study by the Mars Curiosity Rover detected only trace amounts of Methane in the atmosphere.  Of course if Mars One or other’s get there way this will change in the next couple of decades as human’s will visit the planet and bring with them microbes and other forms of life.

India Mars Mission spacecraft revealed
mangalyaan-mars-orbiter-isro-india-lgThe week India unveiled it’s first Mars Spacecraft expected to launch later in late October or early November.  The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced that the vehicle will have five scientific instruments on-board designed to conduct various experiments while orbiting the planet.  The vehicle is expected to arrive at the planet in September 2014 following a 9 month cruise.

Boeing Tests CST-100 Thrusters
This week Boeing announced that it has completed a series of tests of the thrusters that will be used on the CST-100 Spacecraft when in orbit.  In combination with Aerojet Rocketdyne the thruster manufacturer the tests assessed how the thrusters performed in different scenarios as would be expected in space operations.  This is a significant step forward in the design of the spacecraft which is designed to talk crew into LEO.

Chinese Space Station final days
The Chinese Space Agency announced that their first Space Station Tiangong was entering it’s final month’s of operation before a fiery re-entry into earth’s atmosphere.  Tiangong hosted two different crews during it’s lifetime and brought the Chinese one step closer to having a permanent presence in space.

And Finally
While not related to Space I wanted to share the news from Elon Musk that Tesla are currently looking for Engineer’s to work on autonomous driving option for the Tesla Model S car.  According to Elon they plan to use 360 deg flush mounted camera’s and radar which will require lost of image processing capabilities.  Anyone interested should email autopilot@teslamotors.com, the team will report directly to Elon.

 

Weekly Space Blog 7/13

Another week has come and gone and the stories continue to flow in, this week we have a number of exciting stories plus four Kickstarter projects related to space.

Bold New Plan for first SLS/Orion Launch
This week NASA managers announced the new plan which would see the first uncrewed mission named EM-1 travel to 40,000 miles beyond the moon.  Due to the change in the mission it will not take approximately 25 days to complete, with 18 of those used for the travel time and the rest performing tests at the destination point.  For more information check out the full article here.

Curiosity on the Move
The Mars Rover Curiosity has begun it’s epic drive to Mt. Sharp, expected to take the next year to complete the rover is making a 5 mile journey to a spot which will allow it access Mt. Sharp’s lower reaches.  Check out the latest new on the rover here.

Mars Rover 2020 Plans announced
This week a NASA Science Team outlined the goals for the next Rover to head to Mars, based on the same design as Curiosity the rover will look for signs of past life on Mars as well as collect samples for a possible future Sample Return mission.  Check out the press release here and more information is available here.

Ariane 6 News
This week European Ministers approved the start of preparatory activities for Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 launch vehicle.  For more information on the rocket design and goals check out the press release here.

NASA’s Polar Robotic Ranger
Rover succeeds in the harsh environment of Greenland a new NASA Rover passed a series of tests.  Known as GROVER for Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, it was designed by a team of students attending boot camps at Goddard.  Despite the harsh weather the rover performed well during the 5 weeks of testing.  For addition information check out the article here.

ISS Space Walk
This week Astronauts Christopher Cassidy and Luca Parmitano completed the 170th Space Walk devoted to station assembly and maintenance.  Chris was performing his four space walk while this was Luca’s first.  They were able to perform all the originally planned tasks for the walk as well as several get-ahead tasks.  Both will be suiting up again on Tuesday for another spacewalk.

Astronomer’s witness birth of Star
Scientists using the new ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) telescope in Chile witness the birth of a massive star approximately 10,000 light years from earth in a dark cloud core.  The star is 500 times the mass of our Sun and brighter making it one of the largest stars in our galaxy.  For more information check out the full article here.

Solar System Tail Viewed
Using the IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft scientists have been able to map out the structure of the tail that our solar system produces.  We have seen similar tails around other stars but until now have not been able to determine if our own star actually had one.  For more information check out the article here.

Future ISS Crew Members Announced
This week NASA and it’s International Partners in the space station announced three new crew members who will launch in June 2015 and make up part of the Expedition 44/45 crews aboard the station.  The three are NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Japanese Exploration Aerospace Agency (JAXA) astronaut Kimiya Yui and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.  For more information and the full bio’s for the crew members check out the article here.

Hubble Spots Blue Planet
Astronomers using the Hubble telescope have for the first time been able to determine the color of a planet orbiting an distance star.  The planet called HD 189733b if viewed up close would be a cobalt blue color similar to Earth when viewed from space.  However unlike Earth this is a Gas Giant that is orbiting very close to its star.  Check out the full article here.

Solar Tsunami used to measure Sun’s Magnetic Field
The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the Japanese Hinode spacecraft have been used to provide the first accurate estimates of the Sun’s magnetic field.  The Tsunami’s are created by massive explosions in the Sun’s atmosphere and by observing the effects of these they were able to determine that the Sun’s magnetic field is ten times weaker than a fridge magnet.  For more information check out the article here.

Dream Chaser News
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) have completed the initial tow tests of their Dream Chaser spacecraft which is in the running for Commercial Crew missions to the ISS.  The initial tests are designed to validate the performance of the craft and it’s equipment.  For futher information check out the article here.

Kickstarter Projects
It would seem that following the success of the ARKYD project on Kickstarter a number of others have started new projects for Space related missions.

VASIMR – Create Video of VASIMR missions
CAT – A Thruster for CubeSats
LunarSail – World First Lunar Sail Mission
Moon Spacecraft – Send your own Spacecraft to the Moon
And Finally
Here are some additional articles I found but haven’t summarized in the blog.