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July 4

NASA's Hypersonic X-Vehicle Ready for Reflight

NASA has set this fall for the reflight of the experimental X-43A hypersonic flight demonstrator. Since the first flight of the craft failed in June 2001, an investigative board has completed its review of the mishap. Corrective steps have been taken to reduce risk for the upcoming test shot.

A NASA B-52 will carry aloft the X-43A/Pegasus launch vehicle combination for their release. The booster will accelerate the unpiloted 12-foot-long vehicle to seven times the speed of sound, or Mach 7.

The flight will demonstrate, for the first time, "air-breathing" engine technologies on an aircraft in flight. These technologies may lead to a cheaper way to get into space. NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia manages the overall program. The NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California manages the flight element.

NASA Langley spokesman, Keith Henry, told SPACE.com that the research vehicle test objectives and parameters for the second flight will be essentially the same as for the failed first flight. That is, streaking to Mach 7 after being unleashed from its B-52 carrier aircraft.

The X-43A reflight may be take place in the late October-early November time period. A more precise date is expected later this summer, Henry said.

-- Leonard David

July 2

Hawaii 40: Ed Lu Celebrates Big Birthday in Orbit

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Expedition Seven science officer Ed Lu reached a milestone in his life Tuesday, enjoying his 40th birthday flying high over Earth and receiving best wishes from flight controllers decked out in Hawaiian Aloha shirts.

"I can't think of a better place to be on your 40th birthday," said Lu, who considers Hawaii one of his home states and plans to get married in Maui upon his return to Earth.

To honor Lu on his special day, flight controllers in Houston and workers at NASA centers around the nation wore bright, flowery Hawaiian garb. It was one of the more obscure space firsts ever recorded, but officials did joke with Lu that it might become a new weekend tradition.

"You may have to skip the board shorts part and the flip flops," Lu quipped as he watched a live TV uplink to the space station showing the flight controllers gathered in their bright clothing.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe also offered birthday greetings, as did Hawaii's governor, Linda Lingle, who sent her best wishes too. She read a proclamation making Tuesday "Edward Tsang Lu Day."

Lu and station commander Yuri Malenchenko are due to return to Earth in early November.

-- Jim Banke

History of Flight Fact: The first flight of the Zeppelin, a "rigid" airship that was the first aircraft to use large metal structures occured on this day in 1900. In 1947 the first double-deck Boeing "Stratocrusier" is completed at the Boeing Airplane Company's Seattle plant. On July 2, 2002Steve Fossett, in the 180-foot-tall "Spirit of Freedom" balloon, circumnavigates the globe on his sixth try.

July 1

Potential Space Tourism High-Rollers to Get Red Carpet Treatment

Space Adventures is organizing a VIP event in London July 17, inviting well-heeled folks who can afford $20 million tourist hops into space via the Russian Soyuz.

On the invitee list there are British celebrities, businessmen, as well political figures, said Tereza Predescu, a spokeswoman for Space Adventures. The location of the event is not being made public.

"We hope that a British orbital client will come forward," Predescu told SPACE.com.

Eric Anderson, President of Space Adventures, said the gathering is part of the firm's proactive campaign to seek qualified candidates for Soyuz tourist flights. "We decided to organize an exclusive event in London that would cater to British individuals who have expressed interest in space flight. We are searching for the first British space tourist who will represent their country, already renown for its explorers," he said.

According to the British Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. web site, the welcome mat is being rolled out for such big shots as Richard Branson, head of Virgin Airlines, and Alex James, a guitarist for the rock group Blur.

-- Leonard David

History of Flight Facts: On this day in 1924, the U.S. Post Office Department opened its regular day-and-night air-mail service between New York and San Francisco. In 1931, the Winnie Mae became the lone aircraft to circumnavigate the world, piloted by Wiley Post and Harold Gatty. In 1933, the DC-1 prototype flew and in 1941, Jacqueline Cochran becomes the first woman to ferry the Lockheed Hudson bomber across the Atlantic.

Cubesats: On the Prowl for Earthquake Clues

Earthquake research from space received a boost thanks to a June 30 launch of a Eurockot launcher from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.

Eight scientific satellites were hurled into orbit, including QuakeSat, a triple "cubesat" craft. Stanford University and QuakeFinder, LLC of Palo Alto, California fabricated the tiny satellites, along with the California Polytechnic State University.

QuakeSat is a step forward in detecting extremely low-frequency (ELF) magnetic field fluctuations related to earthquakes from a spaceborne platform, said QuakeFinder's Jeannie Seelbach, President and Chief Executive Officer.

There are skeptics who question whether ELF signals exist on a regular basis prior to earthquakes, Seelbach told SPACE.com . However, there is compelling evidence collected in past years that precursor signals to large earthquakes may be detectable, she said.

"But there just aren't enough data samples to reach a conclusion at this point," Seelbach said. "We hope that our satellite will provide a significant source of data in its relatively short lifetime -- estimated to be 6 months -- to help resolve this issue," she added.

Seelbach points to another factor in QuakeFinder's launch. It demonstrated the ability to design, build and launch a satellite in 18 months using commercially available parts. "We hope that this will generate interestfrom others in using cubesats or other small satellites for research purposes," she said.

-- Leonard David

June 30

X Prize Contender to Carry Out Drop Tests

X Prize contender Starchaser Industries of the United Kingdom is to carry out manned drop tests of its three-seater capsule over the Arizona desert in July. The Nova mark 2 drop tests are slated to take place high above a Red Lake, Arizona drop zone between July 21 - 25, according to the rocket organization. The main purpose of the tests is to verify the capsule's parachute, navigation and landing systems. The capsule will be dropped at a height of 14,000 feet from a C-123K transport aircraft.

The group is pressing forward on its Project Thunderbird - a low cost multi-stage rocketship designed to carry people on short sub-orbital pleasure flights into space. For the purposes of the X Prize, and to claim a $10 million purse, there are three seats aboard Thunderbird with the ship to flown twice within a two-week period.

According to Starchaser Industries, its first "manned" flight is scheduled for October 2004.

-- Leonard David

June 26

Helios Prototype Lost During Checkout Flight

The remotely operated Helios Prototype aircraft, a proof-of-concept solar-electric flying wing designed to operate at extremely high altitudes for long duration, was destroyed when it crashed today during a checkout flight from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

There was no property damage or injuries on the ground resulting from the accident. The remotely piloted aircraft came down within the confines of the PMRF test range over the Pacific Ocean west of the facility. Cause of the mishap is not yet known.


Helios
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The solar-electric, propeller-driven aircraft had been flying under the guidance of ground-based mission controllers for AeroVironment, Inc., of Monrovia, Calif., the plane's builder and operator. The lightweight flying wing had taken off from PMRF at about 10:06 a.m. on a functional checkout flight and had been aloft for about 29 minutes over the PMRF test range when the mishap occurred. The mishap occurred during a shakedown mission in preparation for a long-endurance mission of almost two days that had been planned for next month.

The Helios Prototype set a world altitude record for winged aircraft of 96,863 feet during a flight from the Navy facility at Barking Sands, Kauai, in August 2001.

ISS Crew Snapshots Expedition of Long Ago

Some two hundred years separates two expeditions of exploration: one on the ground and another circling high above Earth.

The Expedition 7 crew now onboard the International Space Station (ISS) is involved in historical widow-watching. This image was snapped on June 13, 2003. It is among the first acquisitions of an ongoing effort to document from space dozens of historical sites along the Lewis and Clark Expedition's entire route.


Way out west ...
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In this near-vertical image of Omaha -- with a population estimated at more than three quarters of a million residents -- the city is situated on high ground to the west of the river while Eppley Airfield and the town of Council Bluffs are located on the floodplain.

The photograph was taken using a Kodak electronic still camera with a 180mm lens attached.

The Missouri River served as a vital waterway for transport of the epic Lewis and Clark Expedition. In the vicinity of Omaha, Nebraska, and Council Bluffs, Iowa, this mighty river snakes its way southward through a broad floodplain some two to eight miles wide and bordered by dissected bluffs.

In late July 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition paused to rest and repair their boats and planned the "first" Native American council (Council Bluff) with representatives of the Otoe Tribe.

"Such images bring geography and history to life. They will provide teachers and students with endless educational opportunities to study and learn about Earth," said Don Scott, a NASA Aerospace Education Specialist working out of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. "This is strong evidence of the importance of the space program to benefit education," he told SPACE.com.

-- Leonard David

June 25

SpaceX to Fly from Florida Space Authority Launch Pad

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Elon Musk, the Internet businessman who now heads up the commercial launch firm SpaceX, has reached an agreement with the Florida Space Authority to use complex 46 for launching his company's Falcon rocket.

The two-stage, liquid-fueled booster is intended to send smaller payloads into orbit at a cost of some $6 million per flight. Missions will be staged from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station pad the state of Florida jointly operates with the U.S. Navy.

"Elon Musk is a welcomed addition to Florida's aerospace industry," said Florida's Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings. "He is a pathfinder who is revitalizing an industry by breaking down the barriers in the commercial launch market."

SpaceX was created by Musk in 2002 to develop a family of launch vehicles that would significantly lower the cost of reliable access to space. He is the online entrepreneur behind such popular products as the PayPal online payment system and Zip2 software.

"Elon Musk is a space industry visionary," said Winston Scott, the former NASA astronaut who was recently appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush as the new executive director of the authority.  "He has proved his entrepreneurial spirit and success through his Internet business ventures."

The Florida Space Authority was established in 1989 to grow and maintain a healthy aerospace business sector in the Sunshine State.

Musk will be speaking July 8 on Florida's Space Coast during the monthly lunch meeting of the National Space Club Florida Committee. The event is open to the public. See http://www.nscfl.com for more information.

June 24

Dutchman may fly to ISS on Russian spacecraft after Spaniard

MOSCOW (Interfax) -- A draft contract for the flight of Andre Kuipers, a Dutch astronaut from the European Space Agency (ESA), to the International Space Station (ISS) has been approved, spokesman for the Russian Aviation and Space Agency Sergei Gorbunov told Interfax on Monday.

"The text of Kuipers's flight contract has been initialed and the technical chiefs of the projects have signed it. So far this is a tentative contract signing," he said.

"A full text of the contract [does exist] but there remain a number of questions that still have to be clarified, namely the scientific program of the flight needs to be determined," Gorbunov said.

A contract for the flight of another ESA astronaut, Pedro Duque, was signed at the end of May. Duque will fly to the ISS in October with crewmembers of Expedition Eight Alexander Kaleri and Michael Foale and return to Earth with Expedition Seven (Yuri Malenchenko and Ed Lu).

On the ISS, the ESA astronauts will perform preparatory operations for the receipt of the first European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). In addition to staging several scientific experiments, they will install equipment for docking the ATV with the station.

"The question of ESA astronauts participating in long-term expeditions has not been raised so far," Gorbunov said.

Commercial space flights bring additional financial resources to the Russian space program. Experts say Russia will be incapable of fulfilling its commitments to build the ISS without energetically advancing a new sphere of commercial operations - space tourism and commercial flights of ESA astronauts. Each flight of an ESA astronaut brings Russia some $12 million.

June 23

Micro-Satellites for ISS Make Their Debut

Make room on the International Space Station (ISS) for a trio of in-house satellites.

After five years of research, design and development, a milestone has been passed in the building of a Synchronized Position Hold, Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites project - or SPHERES for short.


Inside a SPHERE
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The SPHERES test-bed consists of three self-contained satellites, each with battery power, a cold gas propulsion system, and onboard communications and navigation equipment. The satellites autonomously navigate within a designated work area inside ISS by individually measuring their respective positions and attitudes in relation to one another and to the defined volume.

SPHERES is designed to support breakthrough research on complicated multiple-satellite operations, such as service and repair, formation flight, and distributed functionality, and for applications that include high-precision Earth observation, deep space astronomy, and telecommunications.

It's all music to the ears of Payload Systems Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm working on the concept. The firm delivers this week to NASA major space-rated elements of the SPHERES effort. Additional gear and software is to be provided to the space agency later this year.

The SPHERES project began in 1998 as a challenging student assignment in an experimental three-semester undergraduate design course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Students delving into the idea took to the air, testing hardware prototypes on the NASA KC-135 reduced gravity simulation aircraft.

SPHERES is currently targeted for delivery to the ISS by a space shuttle next year. To learn more go to http://www.payload.com.

-- Leonard David

History of Flight Fact: On this day in 1931, aviators Wiley Post and Harold Gatty took off from New York on the first round-the-world flight in a single-engine plane. Seven years later, in 1938, the Civil Aeronautics Authority was established.

June 22

The 25th Anniversary of the Discovery of Pluto's Moon Charon

On 22 June 1978, an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. was making routine measurements of photographic plates taken with the 1.55-meter (61-inch) Kaj Strand Astrometric Reflector at the USNO Flagstaff Station in Arizona. The purpose of these images was to refine the orbit of the far-flung planet Pluto to help compute a better ephemeris for this distant object.


Pluto's moon Charon
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Astronomer James W. Christy had noticed that a number of the images of Pluto appeared elongated, but images of background stars on the same plate did not. Other plates showed the planet as a tiny, round dot. Christy examined a number of Pluto images from the USNO archives, and he noticed the elongations again. Furthermore, the elongations appeared to change position with respect to the stars over time. After eliminating the possibility that the elongations were produced by plate defects and background stars, the only plausible explanation was that they were caused by a previously unknown moon orbiting Pluto at a distance of about 19,600 kilometers (12,100 miles) with a period of just over six days.

On 7 July 1978, the discovery was formally announced to the astronomical community and the world by the IAU Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams via IAU Circular 3241. The discovery received the provisional designation "1978 P 1"; Christy proposed the name "Charon", after the mythological ferryman who carried souls across the river Acheron, one of the five mythical rivers that surrounded Pluto's underworld.

Over the course of the next several years, another USNO astronomer, the late Robert S. Harrington, calculated that Pluto and its newly-found moon would undergo a series of mutual eclipses and occultations, beginning in early 1985. On 17 February 1985 the first successful observation of one of these transits was made at with the 0.9-meter (36-inch) reflector at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, within 40 minutes of Harrington's predicted time. The IAU Circular announcing these confirming observations was issued on 22 February 1985. With this confirmation, the new moon was officially named Charon.

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