December 17, 2009

ISU-ASS Presents U of Ariz. SEDS Space University Prize

On November 14, 2009, Strasbourg, France's International Space University (ISU), along with the American Astronautical Society (AAS), awarded the University of Arizona chapter of the Students for the Exploration of Space (SEDS) a cash prize for multidisciplinary extra curricular involvement of students interested in space and space exploration.  SEDS is an international student run group interested in space, space exploration and their development.  The SEDS chapter at the University of Arizona was awarded a $250 prize because "their membership had students from business, communications, psychology and philosophy," according to Steve Brody, ISU's Vice-President of North American Operations.

"At ISU, we maximize the potential of humanity to explore and develop space and to benefit our planet from the use of space," continued Brody.  ISU is a world leader in space education, offering a multi-disciplinary program for its international body of space students.  In a press release Brody was quoted as saying, "ISU embraces a diversity of training and opinion and the spirit of inclusivity as essential values in both the exploration of space and its utilization to serve the needs of our planet."

The award was given to Kyle Stephens, President of the University of Arizona SEDS chapter on the U of Ariz. Tucson campus.

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December 14, 2009

WISE Launched Today to Survey the Whole Sky

Engineers prepare the WISE satellite before it launched, which occurred this Saturday at Vandenburg AFB in California.  Photo Credit: NASA

The WISE satellite is now in polar orbit around the Earth ready to survey the Milky Way for a period of nine months.  The cyrogenically operating satellite will remain forever in twilight as it passes the north and south ends of the Earth.  It's goal is to find near earth objects (NEOs), such as asteroids, along with distant objects past our Sun.  It launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base, Monday December 14, 2009.

According to an Associate Research Scientist on the project, Bob McMillan, "I'm looking forward to unexpected finds from the detector."  Although the main goal of the project is to find NEOs, WISE has the potential to notice space objects, such as brown dwarf stars, unable to be seen by current space telescopes.  The newly launched mid-infrared telescope also has the potential to find brown dwarfs closer than the nearest known observable star Alpha Centauri.  "WISE could potentially find the first destination for an interstellar mission," continued McMillan.  McMillan believes work done by the WISE mission may let us find nearby brown dwarfs closer than Alpha Centauri with orbiting planet bodies.

Taking a survey of the night sky, the ten month NASA mission is a continuation of a previous mission of the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS).  "Each location of the sky is observed 8-12 times," said McMillan.  WISE will cover the sky 1 1/2 times, after nine months of observing.  The data accrued for the mission will later be online at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at Caltech, and "released to the whole scientific community."

The data from the mission will be extensive.  So much, that information had been obtained from the IRAS mission that it will continue to be investigated for some time.

One of the most difficult objects for WISE to detect will be NEOs that are visually dark.  The mid infrared telescope should be able to detect objects darker than coal orbiting the solar system.  Unfortunately, dark matter will be too dark to be detected by WISE, even though the telescope should be able to detect very distant galaxies.

To aid in the work of WISE, McMillan runs the Arizona-based SPACEWATCH, which will coordinate ground telescope work that will run concurrent with the WISE survey.  Through the WISE mission McMillan hopes it will be scientifically interesting, expanding our knowledge of the evolutionary history of small bodies in the solar system, WISE will potentially find a destination for future exploration, and the mission will locate potentially hazardous NEOs that could hit the Earth at some time.

Beside the University of Arizona's McMillan, working on WISE includes the Principal Investigator to the project, Dr. Edward L. Wright of UCLA, Dr. Peter Eisenhardt, a project scientist at NASA's JPL, and many other NASA scientist and engineers. 

"It's been great.  It's been very collegial.  Everyone's been very thorough," said McMillan about the history of the mission, "There should be a lot of good results coming up."--David Bullock

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December 11, 2009

UND's De Leon Awarded $742,000 NASA Grant for Moon/Mars Exploration

Two UND students work with Space Studies Research Associate Pablo De Leon on the school's new space suit for lunar exploration.  Previously, De Leon created a Martian space suit under another NASA grant.  Photo Credit: UND

After explaining that he "enjoys working with human spaceflight and being able to continue my passion," UND Space Studies Research Associate Pablo De Leon thanked guests at a reception for a $742,000 NASA EPSCOR Grant for "Integrated Strategies for the Human Exploration of the Moon and Mars," Wednesday, December 9, 2009.  The grant includes work on a lunar space suit, continuing space suit work done by De Leon with previous work focused on Mars suits.  NASA Headquarters approved the grant.

Next year, De Leon plans will continue working on the grant by going to the North Dakota Badlands again for testing this lunar prototype suit.  Invitations have also been made to test the suit at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah and in a Canadian Arctic station.  In addition, De Leon plans to use funding from the grant to construct an inflatable habitat and other new space equipment.  University of North Dakota students will definitely be a part of the project, but students throughout the North Dakotan higher education system will have the ability to participate.  "We should be able to fund many students through these three years," said De Leon at the reception about the grant.

Work on the advanced lunar space suit, given the name NDX-2, was done by Argentinian born De Leon, outside contractor Gary L. Harris, and UND students Lynn van Broock, Tyler Jacobson and Emily Chwialkowski.  The North Dakota Space Grant Consortium also continues to fund the project.

De Leon has a company that was a contender in the Ansari X PRIZE and administers classes at UND, which include the involvement of spaceflight simulators replicating the flights of SpaceShipOne and NASA's Space Shuttle.--David Bullock

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December 09, 2009

SpaceShipTwo Christened Virgin Spaceship Enterprise

Virgin Spaceship Enterprise - Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic


SpaceShipTwo, the first spaceship for commercial space flight, was christened Virgin Spaceship Enterprise by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson at the Mojave Air and Spaceport Dec. 7.

There is a long tradition of using the word Enterprise in the naming of some military and space vehicles. Since our first trek into space decades ago, the name represents the acknowledgement of the role future exploration, industrialization and human habitation of space will play in our society.

The unveiling began at night fall where patrons sported designer space jackets supplied by PUMA to protect them from the dessert cold. The celebration culminated with a viewing of the night sky using a special telescope that was supplied by Ron Dantowitz of the Clay Center Observatory in Brookline, Massachusetts.

This new venture is also supposed to be a big boom for job creation within the space industry. Over a thousand jobs are estimated to open in Virgin Galactic and with suppliers in California and New Mexico. According to, recent research has indicated that 12,500 jobs have already been created due to the emergence of new commercial space companies. Approximately 600 people are now working on activities relating to this project and that number is said to double during the peak of construction.

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson said he, his family and aerospace engineer Burt Rutan would be the first people to travel aboard the spacecraft, after numerous safety tests, of course. Branson is hopeful that they will be sending thousands of people into space in the next few years.

“We want this program to be a whole new beginning in the commercial era of space,” said Branson. --Sylvia Maye


December 07, 2009

Complete SpaceShipTwo Shown To Public Today

Sir Richard Branson with SpaceShipTwo Model - Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic


Virgin Galactic, a commercial company, is set to unveil SpaceShipTwo, the first spaceplane for private space travel, Monday December 7, 2009. You and your family can take a ride for the low price of $200,000 per passenger.

Yes, I said $200,000.

Okay, so that’s not really a low price but a 2.5 hour spaceflight that will allow a normal everyday person to experience six minutes of zero-gravity, may just be worth it.

Specifically, the way it works, travelers will be taken up in the ship on a carrier craft and then released for vertical take off. Rocket engines will then ignite, sending the crew 65 miles above Earth. The first test flights of the ship are scheduled for next year but passenger travel won’t commence until 2011 or 2012.
Modeled after aerospace engineer Burt Rutan’s prototype named SpaceShipOne, the ship already has some high flying fans ready for an ‘out of this world’ experience. Deposits have already been put down by 300 people, totaling a whooping $40 million.

Virgin Galactic has said it has put safety to the utmost importance and this attribute is outlined in the designs of its spacecrafts.

Jeff Greason, co-founder and chief executive of XCOR Aerospace, which offers tickets for a similar ride on its Lynx spacecraft, said, “we in the industry bear the burden of being as safe as we can reasonably achieve so that the industry is not unfairly tagged with a reputation of recklessness.” --Sylvia Maye



Space Ship Two Construction - Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic

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