Interview: Dennis Wingo, Author of Moonrush

Last week, Mark Mortimer reviewed Dennis Wingo’s new book, Moonrush – Improving Life on Earth with the Moon’s Resources, about the prospects of getting our future materials from space. Well, we had a few more questions for Wingo, about property rights, related projects here on Earth, and the possibility that we could wreck our environment so badly that getting into space is totally out of reach. Read on for this bonus interview with Dennis Wingo.

Da Vinci Project Pushes Back Launch

The da Vinci Project, a Canadian team of amateur rocket scientists, has pushed back the launch date of its Wildfire rocket. The Wildfire was originally scheduled to launch on October 2, which would put it only a few days after Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne makes its launch attempt to win the $10 million X-Prize. The delay was required because the team was still waiting on some key components that they needed to install in the suborbital rocket. It’s not known when they’ll make their launch attempt.

da Vinci Project Announces X Prize Attempt

The Canadian da Vinci Project has informed the Ansari X Prize of its plans to launch its Wild Fire rocket on October 2, 2004. This is the second team to announce a launch attempt, after Scaled Composite revealed they’ll be launching SpaceShipOne on September 29. Wild Fire will be carried to altitude in Saskatchewan on board a giant balloon; it will detach and then fly up to 100 km (62.5 miles). The team announced a new sponsor, Internet casino, which has provided cash in exchange for advertising.

The Race is On for the X Prize

Scaled Composites has announced that they will make an attempt win the $10 million X Prize with SpaceShipOne on September 30, 2004. In order to win the prize, the spacecraft will need to be carrying the equivalent of 3 people, reach an altitude of 100 km (62.5 miles), and then do it again by October 13th. SpaceShipOne will launch from the Mojave airport again, and Scaled Composites will attempt to complete a second flight within just 5 days. Designer Burt Rutan said that he’s fixed the problems that hampered the previous flight, so they shouldn’t be a factor.

Armadillo Completes Test Flight

All eyes will be on Mojave next week to see if Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne can reach 100km (62 miles) of altitude, but another team in Texas could be hot on their heels. Armadillo Aerospace’s John Carmack reported that a prototype of his team’s rocket completed a successful test flight this week. The rocket lifted off from the launch pad, flew to a height of 40 metres (131 feet), and then returned to within less than 0.3 metres (1 foot) of its starting position. Carmack isn’t sure his team will be able to meet the deadline to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize, but they may push to make an attempt if Rutan’s team fails.

X Prize Gets Investment and New Name

The privately funded X Prize received a helpful boost this week with a large investment from entrepreneurs Anousheh and Amir Ansari. The unspecified amount of money will be used to cover operation costs of the organization, including the insurance money that’s backing the $10 million prize. The name of the prize has been changed to the Ansari X Prize, to recognize their contribution. 26 teams have registered to win the prize, which expires on January 1, 2005, if nobody can send their privately-built spacecraft into suborbital flight.

Book Review: Lost in Space

Lost In Space, The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age by Greg Klerkx, is a book about space which could have easily been entitled “Space Dreamers versus the Establishment”. Of course there is no harm in dreaming and dreams are an essential part of being an abstract thinking human being. However, reality, like an extremely cold shower, can reduce dreams to a ghostly image trapped somewhere in the back of your mind. Greg Klerkx sees his dream of space, a defining element of our species, getting a thorough dousing from both big business and government – and he doesn’t like it.

ESA Tests Cargo Ship Tracking System

The European Space Agency has successfully tested a new tracking system that will allow its new automated cargo ship dock to the International Space Station. The “videometer” (VDM) is a device attached to the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) which uses eye-like sensors to track the position and orientation of the station to dock with it. The device was tested in a 600-metre long building, with the VDM guiding a simulated vehicle approaching a station mockup. It locked on at 313 metres and guided the simulated vehicle into dock perfectly on the first test.

Ulysses is Running Out of Power

The NASA/ESA Ulysses spacecraft’s power is starting to run down, and soon it won’t have enough to keep itself warm. When the spacecraft was first launched in 1990 to study the Sun, its reactor produced 285 watts of power, but now almost 14 years later, it’s down to 207 watts. If it gets too much lower, the spacecraft won’t be able to operate the heaters that keep the fuel flowing. Without this fuel, it won’t be able to orient its main antenna towards the Earth to transfer data.