Amateur rocket to make its way into orbit

Proof that not all space projects need millions of dollars.

Who needs big companies and giant piles of money to take a trip into space?  Well, most people actually, but one group of folks operating out of Copenhagen is doing things a little differently.  They’ve decided to take their funding into the non-profit, public sector and rely on those who believe in their dream to help them along the way.

The group is called Copenhagen Suborbitals and they’re run by a brainy combination of a former NASA contractor and an engineer that builds submarines as a hobby.  All the money they use on the project comes from regular people donating and even their staff are groups of volunteer experts who want to see their rocket take flight.

The goal of Copenhagen Suborbitals is to send a small, one-man rocket to the edge of space and back.  It will only be a short, 15-minute ride, but it will mark a great moment in the world of small-scale private space exploration enterprise.  They’re not trying to do this in some effort to advance the space industry or even to get famous and land themselves a job with some big-name private space company.  They merely wish to change the way people see space flight in our time, as an obtainable, personal goal of every man that’s not relegated to the world of big business.

So far, they’ve managed four test launches with each near-miss helping to make their design better and better and not discouraging them from achieving complete success.  They’ve had to battle against public opinion along the way as well, with some people declaring that those involved are insane and others even accusing them of using the project as a front for money laundering.  But their persistence has paid off and the solid evidence is there to prove that.  More than half-a-million dollars has so far been thrown at the project and nearly 50 skilled volunteers have come onboard to lend their expertise.

This is, in my opinion, an amazing project and one that shows that space exploration is not some far away, expensive and seemingly unobtainable thing.  These few are giving inspiration to the world and they and others like them will likely become a crucial part of humanity’s future grasp as space.

Russia looking at the moon

An ambitious plan to explore and set up shop on the moon.

While the United States space program is busy with Mars, China is looking toward putting their own space station into orbit and private enterprises are trying to sell tickets to future space tourists, the country once known as a space exploration powerhouse is trying their hand at something a little different.  Russia is heading back to the moon.

This will be the country’s first visit to the dead satellite since 1973, though they’ll not be trying to imitate the U.S.’s success by having someone land there and hop about on the surface.  They’re only sending an unmanned craft at first with an exploration vehicle on board.  The Luna-Glob, as it is called, will execute the first of four planned missions, the goal of which is to eventually set up an operational robotic lunar base.

While awaiting that grand design, Russia will be using the vehicle to take samples of soil and rocks, sending the information back to Earth via satellite, similar to what’s being done with the Mars curiosity rover.  Eventually, they do hope to bring some actual samples back to study.  Learning more about the moon - its potential and the hazards that may stand in the way of their project - will move them closer to setting up the lunar station.

Russia has been looking rather unwell with regards to space exploration, but the government has just signed on with a $70 billion (U.S.) plan spanning the next eight years.  The first mission is planned for 2015 and, if that one should be successful, this former space-racer may once again find itself back on the playing field where space advancements are concerned.

Deodorant company sending people into space

A contest like no other; get a chance to take a ride on a space ship.

So you want to go to space but have no chance in hell of ever being able to afford it?  Well, do not despair, for one company, in an effort to massively boost their sales, is holding a contest where twenty-two lucky winners will be able to jump onboard a shuttle and take a ride into sub-orbit.  The company is AXE - the guys who make deodorant or body spray or something like that.  What they make is unimportant, of course, since it matters little what you smell like when you’re in freakin’ space.

They’re calling it the AXE Apollo Space Academy and, should you end up a winner, you’ll take a ride as the second on a two-man, sub-orbital craft built by XCOR Aerospace and driven by the folks at Space Expedition Curacao.  Considering that the normal price-tag of one of these journeys runs about $100,000, it’s a nice way to save some cash if you happen to be one of the lucky ones.

But luck isn’t’ everything when it comes to securing your place.  In order to win the contest, contestants must write an essay explaining why they happen to be the best people to take the flight.  From there, people will vote online to determine the best essays.  The chosen ones will take a trip to AXE Global Space Camp where a series of competitive events will weed out the best twenty-two.  The final winners will train for three days and then, when the tourism company begins sending its ships up in 2014, take their ride.

But the deadline fast approaches for this little venture.  If you want to take a shot at the free ticket, you’ve got to submit your entry by February 3rd.  Of course, don’t hold your breath on winning.  Even if you write the best essay in the world, you’ll likely be competing against a million or so other people.  Still, it might be a worth a try considering the sheer awesomeness of the prize.

NASA looking to wrangle up an asteroid?

The future of space mining and exploration may be defined by what we learn from giant space rocks.

So NASA is up to some interesting speculation lately following a study put together by the Keck Institute for Space Studies.  They’ve figured out that it may be possible to send an automated craft out into near-space and, by using a giant bag, grab up a small asteroid.  The prize would then be towed back and placed into orbit around the moon where it would be conveniently close enough for scientists to study.  All-in-all, if the project were to go through, it would take around 10 years for the entire process.

So what can be learned by wrangling an asteroid and bringing it home?  Researchers are hoping to understand more about how to prepare for the coming era of asteroid mining.  They also want to see if there’s anything within the asteroid that they could potentially use as resources, either for construction or in the refueling of spacecraft.  Their desire is to be able to use asteroids throughout space as either landing pads or fueling stations during longer exploration and mining missions.  They also want to see if studying the asteroid will provide any clues as to how we might fend off a rogue asteroid that threatens to collide into the Earth.

If the plan is approved, it will most likely start up sometime in the 2020s and will carry a not-so-modest price tag of more than two-and-a-half billion dollars.  Until then, they would be looking for a good candidate asteroid.  Since it’s still in the early developmental stages, there’s no telling whether NASA will really get around to it or not, but it would certainly be an interesting feat if they could pull it off.

Still, it brings to light the question of whether having floating rocks orbiting the moon is entirely safe.  If mining companies use this technique to make resource extracting easier, there could be all sorts of crazy stuff hanging around the moon.  We could very well pelt ourselves with an asteroid on accident.  But if successful, it could be a huge leap forward in our capacity as a species to get further into the depths of both known and unknown space.

New discovery confirms ice on Mercury

Everyone’s talking about Mars, but what about poor Mercury?

Mars has been hogging all the space news lately, what with the Curiosity roaming around on its surface and making discoveries that will change history itself.  But there are a few other planets in the solar system that need some love as well.  One of those is Mercury and scientists have found something that seems unlikely on this seriously hot celestial body - ice.


Though most of the planet’s surface is hot enough to melt lead, the poles of Mercury are a bit different.  Almost no sun reaches the poles and there are several craters where the temperature is much colder.  It’s estimated to get as low as -100 Fahrenheit, as a matter of fact.  Scientists already theorized that there might be ice down in those craters and by using some technology they confirmed it.

The NASA spacecraft Mercury Laser Altimeter has been hanging out in Mercury’s orbit for almost two years now, studying the planet.  When it shined some light into the craters there was a reflection, thus confirming the presence of ice.  The big mystery was not whether it was there or not, but more where that water may have come from.  So far, the best explanation involves the crashing of comets into the planet, bringing moisture from other places.  The water then evaporated and solidified once it reached the colder poles.

In addition to ice, they’ve detected the presence of organic materials.  Though the possibility of life on Mercury is almost nil, it is likely that this organic material came along with the ice, hitchhiking on a comet.

Scientists hope to use these new discoveries to obtain clues as to how life may have begun here on our own planet.  By studying the organic material on Mercury and that which may or may not have been found on Mars, we can possibly make huge jumps in our knowledge of the formation of life-bearing planets and the evolution of organic material from its smallest forms.  Hopefully that life on Mars rumor is true, though we’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

Mars Curiosity discovers an “earthshaking” mystery

Has evidence of life on Mars been found? NASA’s not telling us quite yet…

The latest news from the red planet and the Mars rover, Curiosity is that it has made a great discovery.  And though NASA refuses to release any information regarding this discovery until they can confirm it, there is much speculation.  The most popular bit of guesswork is that Curiosity stumbled upon the very thing it was sent there to discover - evidence of whether or not Mars supported life as some point.


Considering how excited the folks at NASA seem to be about the latest information coming back from the rover, it’s a distinct possibility that evidence of life is indeed the mystery they speak of.   The only information they’ve released is that the data in question was taken from soil samples.  Other than that, it’s a bit of scientists claiming that the discovery is “really interesting,” “…one for the history books” and “earthshaking.”

Being has how they need to double check their data in order to avoid putting their foots into their mouths, it will be a bit longer before they make any sort of official announcement about the details of the discovery.  So, we shall all have to wait until December to find out the truth of the matter.  Hopefully, they have all their analysis done by then, as they’ve already announced that they’ll be talking about their findings at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting that takes place from December 3rd to the 7th.

Until then, people will just have to guess at what the mystery is.  Though if it’s not the discovery of life, it better be pretty big, cause the hype caused by all the speculation is out of control at this point.  After this mystery is taken care of, scientists have plans to send Curiosity off on its next mission, testing out other bits of equipment on the rover and hopefully bringing even more useful and history-worthy data back to NASA and the planet Earth.

NASA’s Building a Fence for Space

A new project aimed at keeping away all that nasty space debris


Some of you may have read an earlier post of mine talking about the problems that NASA and other space agencies are having because of the massive amounts of debris circling the planet.  Well, it looks like they’ve got a solution together and may be able to at least track it, if not get rid of it altogether.  It’s called a “Space Fence” and it’s designed to monitor tens-of-thousands of pieces of debris and thus warn satellites and space stations when they might be in trouble.

The proposed project would be put together in Kwajalein Atoll and would have the capability to track more than 150,000 individual pieces of debris - even small pieces - as they make their way through low-Earth orbit.  This would potentially prevent the possibility of satellites and space stations getting smashed by this fast moving and very threatening obstacle.

It’s not a cheap project though.  Even with competing contracts, the estimated cost looks to be $2 billion minimum with some estimates ranging as high as $4 billion.  And this is just to set the thing up.  Operation costs over the years would add even more to that number.  But the savings in launch costs and replacing satellites could make up for that in no time, especially considering that more debris ends up in orbit every year.

The current system being used is run by the U.S. Air Force and was built way back in 1961, so we’re about due for an upgrade.  The new version is estimated to be at least 10 times more efficient than the old one, using the latest technology.  It will, however, take until around 2020 before it’s up and running, so space-bound craft will have to watch their step until then.  Still, it’s a good start until scientists can figure out a way to get that rubble out of our orbit for good.  And, of course, it is likely to end in even more technologies being developed that may help in other areas of space exploration. 

Even as we mess things up, we find ways to remedy the problems we cause.  Nothing will keep us from getting to the stars and I personally am glad I live in the era I do, able to watch it all taking place before my eyes.

UFO infestation on the China-India border?

Hundreds of incidents of UFO sightings still remain a mystery.

China has its fair share of problems, as can be expected from any country with the size and population that they have.  From the economy to corruption in politics to the situation in Tibet, there’s always something for the Chinese government to worry about.  Now it looks like they have a new problem - an infestation of UFOs on their border with India.

Apparently, glowing yellow spheres have been spotted by Indian border guards.  They rise into the air on the Chinese side, cruise around in the sky for about three to five hours, and then disappear.  These sightings have been made both at night and during the day, at both times the spheres appearing to glow.  Over 100 incidents of this phenomenon have been noted over the last three months.

Without an answer to the question of what they are, many people speculate as to their true nature.  Some suggested that they were Chinese drones or perhaps low-orbit satellites, but both these explanations have been dismissed.  Others say that perhaps China is experimenting with some sort of psychological warfare technique or that they are probes of some sort, testing Indian defenses.

To figure out the answer to the mystery, India made a few attempts at using technology.  They tried to scan the UFOs with radar and a spectrum analyzer.  Neither worked, which suggests that whatever the UFOs are, they’re not made of any sort of metal.  Some theorize that they are a balloon-based craft, thus explaining the lack of metal.

Of course, there are more exciting tales to be heard about the UFO origins.  Some say that there are alien camps located within the Himalayas and that the government knows all about them.  The Indian government has ties with these extra-terrestrials and is exchanging technology with them.  There have also been flying robot sightings in the area.  So maybe the robots or the aliens are the cause of the glowing spheres?

This UFO problem isn’t just a recent issue either.  For several years people have been seeing the spheres, but most reports have been ignored or dismissed as hallucinations.  Now that activity levels have risen, however, they can no longer be ignored.

No word from China yet on what’s going on, but likely they’ll have to spill the beans on this at some point or risk diplomatic relations with India.  Of course, if they actually are UFOs, neither side is going to be able to say much about what they are and where they came from, which leads to even more interesting possibilities for the future.

Space history being auctioned off for charity

One-of-a-kid pieces of America’s space program are up for grabs if you have the cash

Ever wanted to own a piece of space exploration history but just don’t know where to go to buy it?  Well, as it turns out, a group called Heritage is holding an auction to sell off some of the most important pieces of the United State’s space past in the name of charity.  Most of these items should probably be in a museum and, in fact, most things like this are, but these few pieces are available for the public to buy.

The list of what’s going to be on the auction block is pretty impressive.  Several important space missions are represented in one way or another at the auction, as are many of the astronauts that put their lives on the line to make it happen.  The Apollo 11, 14, 15 and 16 are just a few of the missions that have things to contribute.

There’s an original Apollo 14 mix tape up for sale - this is the actual tape that the astronauts were listening to while making their voyage.  There’s also a few flags, one American and one Mexican, both of which made journeys to the moon.  Some other items consist of freeze-dried food packets that were taken along (and managed to not get eaten), as well as several signed photos and manuscripts.  The prize of the collection is by far a lunar surface checklist that was worn by astronaut Dave Scott while he wandered around the moon.  Being that this item actually made it out of the ship and onto the moon’s surface, it is one of the rarest and most collectible of any space memorabilia.

These things are truly one-of-a-kind, however, so if you’re interested in bidding make sure you bring plenty of cash.  Many items are expected to go for at least $10,000 and the checklist is predicted to reach $250,000 or more.  Yeah, space collecting isn’t cheap by a long shot.  But if you happen to have the money, the auction is taking place on November 21st.  It’s a chance to own a piece of history and, given the rise in the space industry as of late, a huge potential to invest in something that will be priceless in the near future.

Clouds of debris slowly growing in Earth’s orbit

With each new piece of space junk, space missions become more and more in danger.

Just a few weeks ago, on October 16th, a Russian Briz-M rocket failed and exploded while in orbit.  While no one was on board and thus there were no casualties, the explosion of the rocket does present a problem as well as bringing to light a concern for organizations seeking to further the progress of space travel.  That problem is the growing cloud of space debris that is cluttering the orbit of the planet Earth.

Just one rocket left more than 500 fragments of itself floating around the planet.  While some of these may harmlessly pass into the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up upon reentry, most of the pieces will simply continue to circle.  Since they are moving at such a high speed, they are potential threats to not only the International Space Station, but any satellite or future space mission that has to fly through them.  One small piece, moving at high velocity, can cause major damage to the complicated machinery of space craft.

What most people aren’t aware of is the fact that there are hundreds of millions of tiny pieces of debris in orbit right now.  More than 22,000 of these pieces are around the size of a softball and another 500,000 are about marble-sized.  Even these small pieces are a danger.  While the ISS can maneuver out of the way when it sees a piece of debris coming, it still consumes expensive fuel and hastens the need for a mission to resupply it.

The concern all this raises is that of a continually growing cloud of rubble that could eventually cause all future space missions to have an increased risk of danger.  Satellites could be crippled, rockets punctured and space stations forced to do continual repairs.  Some of this can be remedied by advancing our technology and creating space craft that are more easily able to resist damage from debris, but the true impact of the space junk will not be known until we have to face it head-on as a major obstacle to future missions beyond our planet.