Canadian X-Prize Entrant Moves Closer to Spaceflight

A Canadian team competing to win the $10 million X-Prize announced that they had completed a major milestone on their entrant, the Canadian Arrow. The team performed a successful test burn of their prototype engine and believe it will now work in actual flight – a main engine test could happen as early as August. Twenty one teams from 5 countries are competing for the X-Prize, which will award $10 million to the first group able to launch a three-person rocket twice in two weeks to an altitude of 100 km.

Scramjet Prototype Has a Successful Flight

Image credit: University of Queensland

A new jet designed to travel more than 7 times the speed of sound has been successfully tested in the Australian desert. The prototype Hyshot engine is a scramjet; unlike a traditional chemical rocket which carries heavy liquid oxygen in gigantic fuel tanks, a scramjet pulls the oxygen it needs from the atmosphere. The engine was strapped to a traditional rocket and lifted up to an altitude of 300 km at which point the scramjet kicked in and accelerated it towards the Earth – hopefully reaching a speed of 8,600 km/hour before it crashed.

University of Queensland researchers say the launch of the HyShot experiment at the Woomera Prohibited Range today was successful.

?So far it has all gone to plan. The launch was a success, and we received data for the duration of the flight,? said HyShot program team leader Dr Allan Paull.

The aim of the experiment is to achieve the world`s first flight test of air-breathing supersonic ramjet engines, also known as scramjets. These engines could revolutionise the launch of small space payloads, such as communications satellites, by substantially lowering costs.

Today?s launch of a Terrier Orion Mk70 rocket fitted with a scramjet engine took place at 1135 local time (1205 AEST).

Dr Paull said although the signs so far have been positive, it is still too early to say the scramjet experiment has succeeded. The scramjet experiment took place within only the last few seconds of the flight, lasting almost 10 minutes.

?Hopefully we?ll be in a better position to make that assessment in the next couple of days, but at the moment I?m feeling confident,? he said.

?Nevertheless, even at this early stage we have achieved what no else has managed to do, helping put Australia at the forefront on this new technology.

?I would like to thank all consortium partners, in particular the Aircraft Research and Development Unit, Australian Defence (ARDU) and the Defence Science and Technology, Organisation (DSTO).?

Other consortium partners include Astrotech Space Operations, DTI and GASL, QinetiQ, NASA Langley Research Center, Seoul National University, the DLR (German Aerospace Center), NAL (National Aerospace lab. Japan), AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory, USA), Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI), Institute of Engineers Australia (IEAust), UniQuest and the Australian Department of Defence.

Australian firms, Alesi Technologies, NQEA, AECA, Luxfer Australia and Jet Air Cargo, and BAE Systems Australia are also involved.

Original Source: UQ News Release

Cassini Camera Working Fine Again

Image credit: NASA

Controllers for the Cassini spacecraft received some good news last week when the latest set of test images came through showing no distortion in its camera system. They became worried last year when haze appeared on the camera after it was heated briefly in a maintenance operation – the haze diffused 70% of the light reaching the camera. Controllers slowly heated and cooled the spacecraft several times, and now the distortion is down to 5%. Cassini will begin orbiting Saturn on July 1, 2004 and it will deliver the piggybacked Huygens probe into the atmosphere of Titan.

Now within two years of reaching Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft took test images of a star last week that reveal successful results from an extended warming treatment to remove haze that collected on a camera lens last year.

The quality of the new images is virtually the same as star images taken before the haze appeared. In the most recent treatment, the camera had been warmed to 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) for four weeks ending July 9. Four previous treatments at that temperature for varying lengths of time had already removed most of the haze. The camera usually operates at minus 90 C (minus 130 F), one of the temperatures at which test images were taken on July 9 of the star Spica.

“We’re happy with what we’re seeing now,” said Robert Mitchell, Cassini program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The team will decide in coming weeks whether to proceed with another warming treatment later this year.

Cassini’s narrow-angle camera worked flawlessly for several months before and after a December 2000 flyby of Jupiter. Haze appeared when the camera cooled back to its usual operating temperature after a routine-maintenance heating to 30 C (86F) in mid-2001. Lens hazing from engine exhaust or other sources is always a possibility on interplanetary spacecraft. Planners designed heaters for Cassini’s cameras to cope with just such a situation.

Before treatment, the haze diffused about 70 percent of light coming from a star, by one method of quantifying the problem. Now, the comparable diffusion is about 5 percent, Cassini engineers Charles Avis and Vance Haemmerle report. That’s within one percent of what was seen in images from before the hazing occurred, possibly within the range of statistical noise in the analysis. Comparison images are posted at

Additional information about Cassini-Huygens is online at

Cassini will begin orbiting Saturn on July 1, 2004, and release its piggybacked Huygens probe about six months later for descent through the thick atmosphere of the moon Titan. Cassini-Huygens is a cooperative mission of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release

Proton Rocket Lofts Russian Satellite

Image credit: ILS

A Russian Proton-K lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome Thursday, carrying a Kosmos 2392 satellite into an elliptical orbit. Although the satellite is believed to be an Arkon-class military satellite, space officials told the Russian press that it would also be used to collect data on the land and oceans.

A Proton launch vehicle successfully launched the Cosmos-3292 satellite today at 7:13 p.m. Moscow time. This was the fourth launch of a Proton this year, including two missions carried under International Launch Services.

The Cosmos-3292 satellite was launched within the framework of the Federal program and will provide remote sensing and environmental monitoring of the Earth.

Original Source: ILS News Release

NASA Could Have a Solution to Get Shuttle Flying Again

NASA announced on Friday that they’re very close to deciding how they’ll fix the tiny cracks discovered in fuel lines of the entire space shuttle fleet. If the plan is approved, workers could begin welding the cracks as early as next week. Although the cracks apparently formed quite a while ago, NASA engineers are concerned that bits of metal could break off from the fuel lines and cause catastrophic damage to the shuttle’s engines. If all goes well, the first shuttle could launch as early as September 26.

NASA Rules Out Asteroid Collision in 2019

Image credit: NASA

Astronomers announced earlier last week that they had found an asteroid that could strike the Earth in 2019. More astronomers brought their equipment to bear on Asteroid NT7, however, and were able to provide enough trajectory data that NASA has eliminated the possibility of a collision in 2019; although, 2060 could still be a possible impact year (astronomers will probably rule that out eventually too). The asteroid is 2km across, so if it does ever strike the planet, it could cause significant damage.

Asteroid 2002 NT7 currently heads the list on our IMPACT RISKS Page because of a low-probability Earth impact prediction for February 1, 2019. While this prediction is of scientific interest, the probability of impact is not large enough to warrant public concern.

Discovered on July 9, 2002 by the LINEAR team, asteroid 2002 nt7 is in an orbit, which is highly inclined with respect to the Earth’s orbit about the sun and in fact nearly intersects the orbit of the Earth. While the orbits of Earth and 2002NT7 are close to one another at one point in their respective orbits, that does not mean that the asteroid and Earth themselves will get close to one another. Just after an asteroid like 2003 qq47 is discovered, the limited number of observations available do not allow its trajectory to be tightly constrained and the object’s very uncertain future motion often allows a very low probability of an Earth impact at some future date. Just such a low probability impact has been identified for February 1, 2019 and a few subsequent dates. As additional observations of the asteroid are made in the coming months, and perhaps pre-discovery archival observations of this object are identified, the asteroid’s orbit will become more tightly constrained and the future motion of the asteroid will become better defined. By far the most likely scenario is that, with additional data, the possibility of an Earth impact will be eliminated.

This is an example of the type of scenario that we can expect as some types of near-Earth objects are discovered. For some objects, their uncertain initial orbits cannot be used to immediately rule out future very low-probability Earth impacts, but when additional observations are used to refine the initial orbit, these low-probability Earth impact possibilities will go away. Other recently discovered near-Earth asteroids will be added to the Risk page until their orbits are refined and they are then dropped off the list of closely watched objects. This is how the system is expected to work and any initial indication of a low-probability Earth impact followed by a removal of that event from our IMPACT RISKS tables should not be considered a mistake. It is a natural result of the on-going process of monitoring the motions of near-Earth objects.

Original Source: NASA News Release

Ferrari Paint will Fly to Mars

Image credit: ESA

In a silly publicity stunt, Ferrari engineers have decided to see just how fast their paint can go. When the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft launches in May/June 2003, it may be carrying a tiny glass ball painted with Ferrari’s signature red paint. When Mars Express arrives at the Red Planet in December, the whole spacecraft (including the paint) will endure tremendous heat as it aerobrakes in the planet’s atmosphere.

What is the fastest Ferrari’s distinctive red paint has ever travelled? Next year it will be 10800 km/h! Mars Express, to be launched in May/June 2003, the first European spacecraft to visit the Red Planet, will be speeding on its way accompanied by the very essence of Ferrari: a sample of its distinctive red paint.

Mars has always fascinated us here on Earth. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission, due to arrive at its destination by December 2003, aims to solve many of the planet’s age-old mysteries. It will ultimately be looking for the presence of water on Mars, but might also find evidence of life, both past and present. And, of course, it will be studying the red soil in depth.

Following the outstanding success of the Scuderia Ferrari with the victory of Michael Schumacher’s fifth Formula 1 driver championship title, the Ferrari team has agreed to fly the symbol of that success on the Mars Express mission. Ferrari’s high-tech red paint is recognised all over the world as being synonymous with the record-breaking marque.

When Mars Express is launched next May/June, the Ferrari red paint will be on board in a specially constructed glass globe measuring 2cm in diameter, designed to withstand the extremes of temperature it will encounter on its trip to Mars. The spacecraft will be launched on a Soyuz/Fregat launcher, reaching speeds of roughly 10800 kilometres per hour, nearly 10 times the speed of sound!

The paint is currently undergoing rigorous tests at ESA’s test centre in the Netherlands to discover how it will withstand space conditions on the journey. Once it has been officially “space-qualified”, it is due to be installed on the spacecraft at a formal ceremony in September.

Original Source: ESA News Release

NASA Scientists Calculate Space Highway

Image credit: NASA

NASA Astronomer Martin Lo has worked out what he believes is a series of low energy flight paths that spacecraft can take to minimize they fuel they need to move around our solar system. Each planet and moon have five points near them where gravity balances out, called Lagrange points – by networking them together, Lo has worked out paths which will use very little fuel to travel from planet to planet. The first spacecraft to take advantage his work will be NASA’s Genesis mission, which will collect solar particles and then return them back to Earth.

A “freeway” through the solar system resembling a vast array of virtual winding tunnels and conduits around the Sun and planets, as envisioned by an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., can slash the amount of fuel needed for future space missions.

Called the Interplanetary Superhighway, the system was conceived by Martin Lo, whose software was used to help design the flight path for NASA’s Genesis mission, which is currently using this “freeway in space” on its mission to collect solar wind particles for return to Earth.

Most missions are designed to take advantage of the way gravity pulls on a spacecraft when it swings by a body such as a planet or moon. Lo’s concept takes advantage of another factor, the Sun’s pull on the planets or a planet’s pull on its nearby moons. Forces from many directions nearly cancel each other out, leaving paths through the gravity fields in which spacecraft can travel.

Each planet and moon has five locations in space called Lagrange points, where one body’s gravity balances another’s. Spacecraft can orbit there while burning very little fuel. To find the Interplanetary Superhighway, Lo mapped some possible flight paths among the Lagrange points, varying the distance the spacecraft would go and how fast or slow it would travel. Like threads twisted together to form a rope, the possible flight paths formed tubes in space. Lo plans to map out these tubes for the whole solar system.

Lo’s research is based on theoretical work begun in the late nineteenth century by the French mathematician Henri Poincar?. In 1978, NASA’s International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 was the first mission to use low energy orbits around a Lagrange point. Later, using low energy paths between Earth and the Moon, controllers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., sent the spacecraft to the first encounter with a comet, Comet Giacobini-Zinner, in 1985.

In 1991, another method of analyzing low energy orbits was used by engineers from JPL and the Japanese Space Agency to enable the Japanese Hiten mission to reach the Moon. Inspired by this pioneering work and research conducted by scientists at the University of Barcelona, Lo conceived the theory of the Interplanetary Superhighway.

Lo and his colleagues have turned the underlying mathematics of the Interplanetary Superhighway into a tool for mission design called “LTool,” using models and algorithms developed at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. The new LTool was used by JPL engineers to redesign the flight path for the Genesis mission to adapt to a change in launch dates. Genesis launched in August 2001.

The flight path was designed for the spacecraft to leave Earth and travel to orbit the Lagrange point. After five loops around this Lagrange point, the spacecraft will fall out of orbit without any maneuvers and then pass by Earth to a Lagrange point on the opposite side of the planet. Finally, it will return to Earth’s upper atmosphere to drop off its samples of solar wind in the Utah desert.

“Genesis wouldn’t need to use any fuel at all in a perfect world,” Lo said. “But since we can’t control the many variables that occur throughout the mission, we have to make some corrections as Genesis completes its loops around a Lagrange point of Earth. The savings on the fuel translates into a better and cheaper mission.”

Lo added, “This concept does not guarantee easy access to every part of the solar system. However, I can envision a place where we might construct and service science platforms around one of the Moon’s Lagrange points. Since Lagrange points are landmarks for the Interplanetary Superhighway, we might be able to shunt spacecraft to and from such platforms.” A team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, working with the NASA Exploration Team, proposes to someday use the Interplanetary Superhighway for future human space missions.

“Lo’s work has led to breakthroughs in simplifying mission concepts for human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit,” said Doug Cooke, manager of Johnson’s Advanced Development Office. “These simplifications result in fewer space vehicles needed for a broad range of mission options.”

The work on the Interplanetary Superhighway for space mission design was nominated for a Discover Innovation Award by Discover magazine editors and an outside panel of experts.

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. For more information on the Genesis mission, visit the Internet at:

Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release

Lance Bass is About to Get His Day in Space

Singer Lance Bass from the band ‘N Sync has moved significantly closer to getting a trip to visit the International Space Station. Bass has been approved for flight by Russian doctors, so if he gets his training completed, he could launch to the station on board a Soyuz spacecraft sometime in the autumn. It’s believed that Bass has already secured the estimated $20 million cost from several sponsors, including RadioShack Corporation.

Russians Spacecraft Lands… Somewhere

After a successful launch on Friday, Russian space officials seem to have misplaced their Demonstrator-2 inflatable spacecraft. The spacecraft blasted from a Russian submarine into space on Friday atop a converted Volna SS-N-18 intercontinental ballistic missile. It then inflated to form a sail and returned to Earth somewhere near the Kamchatka Peninsula. Helicopters are still combining the area searching for remnants of the vehicle.