Keep an Eye on the Weather in Space

If you’re going to head into space, make sure you check the weather forecast – the space weather forecast. Just a week ago, a large sunspot blasted out an X-class solar flare, and sent a highly energetic cloud of protons our way. The Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field protect us on the planet, but it could be an emergency for people on the Moon. The Moon is totally exposed to solar flares, and an astronaut outside would have gotten very ill from radiation sickness. Future Moon explorers will watch the Sun’s behaviour carefully, probably staying indoors and behind shielding while big sunspots are pointed our way.

Book Review: Virtual LM

The lunar module brought two men from an orbit about our moon onto the moon’s surface and then back into the lunar orbit. Though fairly simple to describe, this craft encompassed many firsts and delved into realms never before experienced by humankind. Scott Sullivan, in his book ‘Virtual LM‘, unravels the technology of this spaceship and its constituent parts using hundreds of different visual plates. Not as complex or detailed as engineering schematics but smoothed and coloured for clarity and understanding, these views provide a vivid, easily comprehensible, in-depth perspective of this first true spacecraft for humankind.

Crew Begins Unloading Progress

An unmanned Progress cargo ship reached the International Space Station on Sunday, and the two-man crew got right to work unloading its cargo. Cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov and NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao had both cut their food consumption by 10% to stretch out supplies, and had each lost a few kg during the last month. The Progress ship is carrying 2.5 tonnes of supplies, including a 15kg (33 pound) gift package for each man.

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.