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Near-Space in a 400-Foot Diameter Balloon

A Spanish entrepreneur wants to give you a glimpse of the black expanse of space and the curvature of the earth from a most unusual vantage point — a balloon.

José Mariano López-Urdiales, the founder of zero2infinity, is offering what he calls the “near-space” experience of viewing the planet and the space beyond it from 36 km [22 miles] above the earth. He hopes to have the first passengers aloft in the near-space vehicle called a “bloon” — the company doesn’t appear to be big on capital letters — by the middle of this decade.

That altitude is a long ways from the height of more than 100 km promised by Virgin Galactic and others developing suborbital space tourism vehicles. But López-Urdiales argues the 100-km definition of space is somewhat arbitrary and the view from 36 km offers essentially the same viewing experience as higher altitudes. The bright sun is surrounded by a black sky. The curvature of the earth is clearly visible, highlighted by the electric blue of the atmosphere just above the horizon. López-Urdiales says people were enjoying this view long before there were rockets.

Bloon will carry passengers in a pod suspended beneath a large helium [...]

Five days in the CSS space hotel

Boarding the Soyuz rocket, seven hotel patrons will be asked to fork over £500,000 ($825,000) for the flight and another £100,000 ($165,000) for a five-night stay — who needs family road trips when you can vacation in space? Russian company Orbital Technologies announced plans to construct a Commercial Space Station (CSS) by 2016, offering guests an unforgettable vacation and kick-ass view of Earth below.

HL-20 Model for Personnel Launch System Research: A Lifting-Body Concept

For the past several years, NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., has been studying an enhanced lifting body candidate for manned orbital missions. This concept, designated the HL-20, has been designed for low operations cost, improved flight safety and conventional runway landings.

With increasing national interest in obtaining routine access to space, a number of Earth-to-orbit transportation systems are being studied. One, referred to as a Personnel Launch System (PLS), could utilize the HL-20 and an expendable launch system to provide manned access complementing the Space Shuttle.

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The HL-20 experimental aircraft mock-up at North Carolina State University. Credit: NASA

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The HL-20 mockup, shown here in front of the Langley hangar. Langley developed the technology for a small space vehicle which one day may be used to transport up to 10 astronauts and small cargo to and from low-Earth orbit during missions lasting up to three days. Credit: NASA

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The interior of the HL-20 mockup. Credit: NASA

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Artist’s concept of an HL-20 at a space station. Credit: NASA

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Langley volunteers, wearing flight suits and helmets, were put through a series of tests with the [...]

Commercial Crew Development

In the same way that Boeing helped launch commercial aviation decades ago, Boeing is working to develop what could become a true commercial space transportation system: a commercial service to take crew to the International Space Station and other destinations. Show here is an artist concept of Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft approaching the International Space Station.

ESA reentry vehicle on track for flight in 2013

Copyright ESA

ESA and Thales Alenia Space Italia announced an agreement today at the Paris Air & Space Show to begin building the IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle for its mission into space in 2013.

Europe’s ambition for a spacecraft to return autonomously from low orbit is a cornerstone for a wide range of space applications, including space transportation, exploration and robotic servicing of space infrastructure.

This goal will be achieved with IXV, which is the next step from the Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator flight of 1998. More manoeuvrable and able to make precise landings, IXV is the ‘intermediate’ element of Europe’s path to future developments with limited risks.

Launched into a suborbital trajectory on ESA’s small Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, IXV will return to Earth as if from a low-orbit mission, to test and qualify new European critical reentry technologies such as advanced ceramic and ablative thermal protection.

The 2 t lifting body will attain an altitude of around 450 km, allowing it to reach a velocity of 7.5 km/s on entering the atmosphere. It will collect a large amount of data during its hypersonic and supersonic flight, while it is being controlled by thrusters [...]

Countdown begins for China’s space station

Authorities in charge of the manned space program unveiled plans on Monday to build a 60-ton space station, made up of three capsules, and develop a cargo spaceship to transport supplies.

The China Manned Space Engineering Office said at a news conference that it also wants the public to get involved by suggesting names for the space station, due to completed around 2020.

According to documents provided by the office, the space station, weighing about 60 tons, is composed of a core module and two others where experiments will be conducted.

A cargo spaceship to transport supplies will also be developed.

The 18.1-meter-long core module, with a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters and a launch weight of 20 to 22 tons, will be launched first.

The two experiment modules will then blast off to dock with the core module. Each laboratory module is 14.4 meters long, with the same maximum diameter and launch weight of the core module.

“The 60-ton space station is rather small compared to the International Space Station (419 tons), and Russia’s Mir Space Station (137 tons) which served between 1996 and 2001,” said Pang Zhihao, a researcher and deputy editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine, Space [...]

Neighbouring volcanoes on Mars

Copyright ESA

ESA’s Mars Express has returned images of mist-capped volcanoes located in the northern hemisphere of the red planet. Long after volcanic activity ceased, the area was transformed by meteor impacts that deposited ejected material over the lower flanks of the volcanoes.

Permanent and transient features are on display in this newly released image of Mars. The image is derived from data acquired during three orbits of ESA’s Mars Express between 25 November 2004 and 22 June 2006. In that time, these dead volcanoes were not expected to change but, during the middle orbit, Mars Express captured icy clouds drifting past the summit of Ceraunius Tholus.

By the time Mars Express crossed again and took the final strip of data needed for this image, the clouds had long since dispersed and so there is a sharp line across them in the finished mosaic.

The Latin word “tholus” means a conical dome and the base of Ceraunius Tholus is 130 km across, while the peak rises 5.5 km above the surrounding plains. At its summit is a large caldera 25 km across. With similar morphology to its neighbour and lying 60 km to the north, Uranius Tholus is [...]

Leonardo attached to Space Station

Copyright ESA

After a flawless launch last Thursday and a textbook docking on Saturday, the Space Shuttle today delivered the European-built Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module to the International Space Station.

This final flight of Discovery marks the eighth and final trip of Leonardo to the orbiting complex. This visit will be longer: the module will be left attached to the Station as a permanent extension. Originally built to ferry cargo to and from the Station in the Shuttle cargo bay, Leonardo’s modifications include improved debris shielding and easier access by the crew to its internal equipment.

Leonardo flew into space for the first time in 2001, also on Discovery, as the first of three Multipurpose Logistics Modules built by the Italian space agency, ASI, under an agreement with NASA.

Its final cargo for the Station includes an experiment rack and a range of stowage facilities. Leonardo can also support microgravity research into fluid physics, materials science, biology and biotechnology.

Leonardo was removed from the Shuttle’s cargo bay using the Station’s robotic arm and mated to the Earth-facing port of the Unity node. Attachment was called complete at 16:05 CET.

Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth on 8 [...]

Europe’s ATV supply ship docks safely with Space Station

Copyright ESA

Eight days after launch, ESA’s latest Automated Transfer Vehicle, Johannes Kepler, completed a flawless rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station at 17:08 CET (16:08 GMT) to deliver essential supplies.

The approach and docking were achieved autonomously by its own computers, closely monitored by ESA and French space agency (CNES) teams at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, as well as the astronauts on the Station.

Although both ATV and the ISS orbit at 28 000 km/h, the relative speed during final approach remained below 7 cm/s and the accuracy within a few centimetres.

Johannes Kepler closed in on the ISS from behind in order to dock with Russia’s Zvezda module.

At close range, the 20-tonne unmanned spaceship computed its position through sensors pointed at laser reflectors on the Station to determine its distance and orientation relative to its target.

ATV’s docking probe was captured by the docking cone inside Zvezda’s aft end at 16:59 CET (15:59 GMT). The closure of hooks completed the docking sequence some nine minutes later.

“With this smooth docking, Johannes Kepler proves to be a great example of the wave of innovation ‘made in Europe’. We are more ready than [...]

New NASA Designs for a Reusable Manned Deep-Space Craft

Copyright NASA/HobbySpace

This tubular spacecraft could serve as a reusable vehicle for lunar and deep-space missions, holding a crew of six and enough supplies for a two-year expedition.

Dubbed Nautilus-X, for “Non-Atmospheric Universal Transport Intended for Lengthy United States eXploration,” this craft could be built in orbit and ready for space missions by 2020, according to a briefing by NASA’s Future In Space Operations group.

It would be assembled from expandable structures, such as the inflatable habitats proposed by Bigelow Aerospace. It would also contain a ring centrifuge to provide partial gravity, and radiation-mitigation systems that could include tanks of water or liquid hydrogen slush, reports the website HobbySpace.com.