Author Archives: Mike Davey

About Mike Davey

Mike Davey is a journalist who writes about space exploration, politics, and technology. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada with his wife and three children. He is also the editor of New Frontier News.

Private Company SpaceX Delivers First Payload to Orbit

razaksat-launch-youtube-linkPrivate company SpaceX has successfully delivered its first payload into orbit. It was the second successful launch for the company, which aims to reduce the cost of reaching orbit by a factor of ten.

The launch took place Monday from Omelek in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. The two-stage Falcon 1 rocket carried RazakSAT, a Malaysian satellite that will be used to monitor natural resources.

Later this year, SpaceX plans to make the maiden flight of its larger Falcon 9 vehicle, which has been tapped to carry cargo to the International Space Station starting in 2010.

NASA to Adopt “Space Internet” by 2011

An artist concept of an interplanetary internet system. Image credit: NASA/JPL

An artist concept of an interplanetary internet system. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Mike Massimino hit the news in May as the first to “Tweet” in space. He began “tweeting” under the name “Astro Mike” while training for the STS-125 mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Soon nearly 250,000 people were following his Twitter feed.

The reality is that Massimino probably wasn’t really “tweeting” at all, at least directly. Astronauts do not have internet access on board the shuttle. In fact, they’re typically limited to one or two opportunities each day to send an email. Believe it or not, Massimino may have been either sending his “tweets” via email, or by voice communication to NASA staff, who would then manually input them into Twitter.

However, NASA is currently planning to adopt technology that will help to change all that. Astronauts will be able to access social networking, Google, and the other resources that we groundhogs take for granted.

The Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) system, or “Space Internet,” has the potential to literally link worlds. The web uses Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), which requires computers to be constantly connected. Guess what? It turns out that’s really difficult to achieve in space.

There are a lot of factors that hinder constant data transmission. The distances involved present something of a formidable barrier, as do occasional solar storms and interference from satellites and other bodies.

DTN deals with these challenges by making sure that each node in the network (which could include the ISS, EPOXI, Mars landers, orbiters, and ground installations) stores everything it receives until it’s got the right conditions to pass the info along to the rest of the network.

Implementing the DTN system isn’t really about making sure astronauts have access to the latest images from lolcats. Nor, with mission schedules being what they are, do astronauts have enough spare time to make StumbleUpon necessary.

What is needed, however, is an automated communications technology that can help to simplify space command and control functions, such as power and life support. This is crucial for future, larger scale space development.

NASA, other agencies, and commercial interests have ambitious programs set to roll out over the next decade. A true multimode network will be needed for much of this to come to fruition.

Testing of the DTN is already well underway. NASA has used the system to send images to and from the EPOXI spacecraft, some 32 million kilometers from Earth, and the protocols were installed on the ISS in May.

Storms May Delay Endeavour Launch

After arriving at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare for space shuttle Endeavour's July 11 launch on the 29th assembly flight to the International Space Station, the STS-127 crew members pose for a final photo before leaving the Shuttle Landing Facility. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

After arriving at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare for space shuttle Endeavour's July 11 launch on the 29th assembly flight to the International Space Station, the STS-127 crew members pose for a final photo before leaving the Shuttle Landing Facility. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflet.

Stormy weather conditions may delay the launch of space shuttle Endeavour, currently scheduled for liftoff on Saturday, July 11. This comes on the heels of two delays last month caused by a hydrogen gas leak. A similar problem delayed the launch of space shuttle Discovery in March.

The 16-day mission will feature a number of  spacewalks intended to complete construction of the International Space Station’s “porch.” The new addition is officially known as Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility. It will be a platform attached to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory. The “porch” will allow for experiments to be exposed to the unique environment of outer space.

Endeavour’s crew members are Commander Mark Polansky, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Dave Wolf, Christopher Cassidy, Tom Marshburn, Tim Kopra and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Julie Payette.

Payette will join Robert Thirsk, also of the CSA. This marks the first time that two Canadian astronauts have been in space at the same time.

The shuttle-ISS combo will house a total of 13 crew members for the duration of the mission, a record number.

NASA aims to launch seven further shuttle missions before the aging fleet is finally retired in 2010.

Charles Bolden Reveals Vision for NASA at Senate Confirmation Hearing

Charles Bolden, President Obama's pick for NASA chief.

Charles Bolden, President Obama's nominee for NASA chief.

NASA’s immediate future will likely have an emphasis on Earth science, using the International Space Station for research and development, and making space exploration more of an entrepreneurial venture. Those were the main themes touched on during the Senate confirmation hearing of Charles Bolden, President Obama’s nominee for NASA chief.

When discussing space entrepreneurship, Bolden used the example of a friend who is using venture capital for research into a rocket engine that could take people to Mars in roughly 39 days. He also noted that government cannot fund everything that needs to be done in connection with space exploration and development.

Bolden was nominated for the position in May of 2009. A retired U.S. Marine Corps major general and former NASA astronaut who has flown on four shuttle missions, he also said that NASA needs to inspire a new generation to help replace an aging workforce.

“Floating in the windows of the Shuttle, speeding across its great desert at 4 – 5 miles per second, I saw the beauty of the Middle East, appearing peaceful and serene in spite of the Earthly reality of violence in the region,” said Bolden during his senate confirmation hearing.  “From my window perch, I viewed with sadness the majestic Amazon Rain Forest, considered by many to be the model of serenity and peace, yet devastated by deforestation, leaving the area and its people facing some of the greatest environmental challenges of our day. l now dream of a day when any American can launch into the vastness of outer space and see the magnificence and grandeur of our home planet, Earth, as I have been blessed to do. I’m convinced this will inspire them to be more concerned for our environment and to strive to put an end to man’s inhumanity to man.”