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.

What are the Risks of Radiation for Humans in Space?

Human travelers to Mars face many challenges. One of the biggest unknowns is exactly what effect radiation from the Sun and cosmic rays will have on the human body for the 1,000 days a journey to Mars might take. If the risk turns out to be high, there are methods that could cut down the amount of radiation humans might receive on the journey. One method could be to build parts of the spacecraft out of plastic, which absorbs radiation 20% better than aluminum; liquid hydrogen, which would be needed for fuel absorbs cosmic rays 2.5 times better.

Scientific Equipment Headed to the Station

A Russian-built Progress spacecraft lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome today atop a Soyuz booster. Mission 13P is carrying a full load of supplies and scientific equipment and will reach the International Space Station within two days. The spaceship will deliver two dummies designed to measure the long-term effects of space radiation on the human body; one will be attached to the outside of the station to get a direct exposure. The station’s previous Progress ship was detached on Wednesday to make room.