Aug 31, 2008

Greatest Space Ads - Part VI - Martians with Hewlett Packard Printers

This cheeky Hewlett Packard printer ad (in Hungarian) shows an entirely different story of planetary exploration. Perhaps there is life on Mars after all...

Previously in our Greatest Space Ads series:

Aug 30, 2008

Moon 2.0 Video - Japanese Version

We've made a Japanese subtitled version of the Google Lunar X PRIZE promotional video, Moon 2.0 - Join the Revolution.

See: Moon 2.0 in Japanese

Note, there is a small arrow on the bottom right corner of the YouTube viewer it enables/disables the subtitle captions (see How to Show YouTube Subtitles).

This is a brand new feature in YouTube.. let us know what you think about it.

If you want a translation in your language, send us an email at:

Aug 29, 2008

Poll - How much would you pay to have your name on the Moon?

ITAR and the GLXP - USA vs Rest of the World

Like almost all space technology activities, the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) stands to be substantially affected by the the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) of the United States Government's Department of State.

For a good discussion of the ITAR situation, see this article in the Economist.

In short, ITAR is a major headache for space companies in the US and for organisations in other countries that want to cooperate with the US on space activities. Space agencies such as the European Space Agency (ESA) consider ITAR one of the main design drivers for their missions, treating it with equal importance as mass and cost. In fact, numerous projects and studies are now developed to be "ITAR-free".

Efforts are underway in the US to reduce the administrative burden of ITAR and to remove some components from the ITAR list but so long as the funding for the US civilian and military space agencies continues to dwarf those of other countries, some form of ITAR will probably remain.

ITAR has profound implications for international efforts in the GLXP. Essentially it will be impossible for GLXP teams outside the US to use systems developed by US companies. This includes all the challenging systems needed for lunar landers and rovers such as propulsion systems, communications, radiation hardened electronics, navigation and control. If you are in any doubt that there are dual-use systems suitable for the GLXP, see our recent post on the Standard Missile Kill Vehicle.

GLXP teams based in the US (where most of them are) should not assume that the systems they develop for GLXP will ever be sold to customers in other countries. This is an important limiting factor on the sales projections in their business plans.

Also, any non-US team in the GLXP will need to aquire such systems from other countries or develop it themselves. This is a profound challenge since certain key technologies are almost completely absent outside the US. When it comes to lunar landing for example, the Russians are the only other ones with flight proven hardware.

It looks like ITAR is really is driving the GLXP to a situation of "USA vs the Rest of the World"..

Aug 28, 2008

Greatest Space Ads - Part V - Space Golf by Element 21

On the 22nd of November 2006 cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin hit a specially designed golf ball from the International Space Station as part of a promotion for the golf equipment manufacturer Element 21. This CBC news article explains many of the technical challenges and mishaps encountered before and during the stunt.

The price Element 21 paid the Russians to undertake the advertising stunt was not publicly disclosed, but considering the prices paid for other cosmonaut stunts (see our list of Greatest Space Ads below), it could have been over $1 million.

The NASA TV footage of the swing is shown in the video below. The woman's voice is an English translation of the comonauts Russian voices. Also audible on the voice loop is the less than enthusiastic clearance confirmation by the NASA controller "Houston is Rog I guess.."

But this was not the first golf swing in space. Back in 1971 astronaut Alan Shepard hit a number of golf balls on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission. Despite having to use only one arm for the swing due to the limited flexibility of his spacesuit , he was able to hit one of the balls between 180 to 365 meters according to an estimate he made after the event.

Previously in our Greatest Space Ads series:

Aug 25, 2008

ESA's View on Private Suborbital Spaceflights

In our blog post Government Support for Future Lunar Missions published in July, White Label Space agreed on the necessity of governments to show interest in privately funded space projects like lunar landers.

Now, the European Space Agency has communicated it's view on space tourism, a similar topic, underlining the difficult balance of contributing to activities with available experience on the one hand, while not interfering in competitive markets on the other hand. Below, a quotation of ESA's position on space tourism.
"ESA is taking a position of cautious interest and informed support, with the following guidelines:
  1. ESA should monitor the relevant technology activities and assess whether spin-ins and spin-offs could be envisaged for/from European space programmes.
  2. While avoiding interfering in the development of a fully competitive market, ESA should further reflect on possible partnership with European ventures or support actions, based on mutual interest and demonstrated technical and commercial maturity, without nevertheless exposing ESA to any liabilities related to business exploitation. To this end, legal schemes should be defined to allow for such activities, as allowed within the principles laid out in the ESA Convention.
  3. Provision of services by ESA in the domain of human spaceflight, in particular ‘astronaut training’, i.e. provision of expertise for developing dedicated training programmes and/or facilities for specific tourist flight opportunities, and ‘space medicine’, i.e. provision of expertise to develop dedicated medical preparation programmes of space tourists, should also be explored for mutual benefit, making available ESA’s competences under conditions to be defined.
  4. ESA should contribute in the development of a regulatory frame for space tourism in Europe, involving both civil aviation regulatory authorities and competent bodies from the EC, aiming also at a ‘more level playing field’ for all parties around the world, and supporting the interests of European industry.
  5. ESA should facilitate the free flow of ideas among all interested European parties, e.g. by establishing a platform for voluntary information exchange."
The full article Space Tourism as well as the complete ESA Bulletin (No. 13, August 2008) in which the article appeared can be downloaded for free from ESA's website.

Apollo Moon Landing: The biggest hoax ever?

Everybody knows that NASA landed crew on the Moon 6 times with the Apollo missions, at least it is what they claim …

In fact many people have doubts that the Apollo landings are real, citing several strange visual effects on the pictures and videos published by NASA. How can a flag fly if there is no wind on the Moon? How can Neil Armstrong be illuminuated by the sun if he is surrounded by shadow? Why do some pictures exhibit non-parallel shadows on the surface?

Can these effects be explained just by the different physics on the Moon, or can they only be explained by a giant hoax by NASA, never going to the moon but just recording it all in Hollywood?

In order to (maybe) answer those questions once and for all, the Mythbusters team will tackle those myths in their upcoming episode due to air on August 27. Here is the preview:

Let us know what you think about it!

The best way to finally prove it is for sure to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) Hertiage Bonus Prize by taking pictures of actual hardware and traces left behind by the previous missions such as those of the Apollo Program.

But wouldn't it be a pity if a GLXP team made it to on of the claimed landing sites only to find that they can't get the $5 million heritage bonus prize, because there is no heritage hardware there!

Aug 24, 2008

Greatest Space Ads - Part IV - Space Food Sticks

"To meet the demands of a long spaceflight, Space Food sticks had to be a compact, nutritious, high-energy food"

Recognizing the advertising potential of space exploration very early, Pillsbury released this TV advertisment about their new product, developed in cooperation with US Aerospace Research.

Never mind the 1960s cardboard set and that old fashioned voice over, this ad is a classic. It demonstrates perfectly the opportunties that space exploration efforts offers for brand-linkages.

What type of brand linkages will Google Lunar X PRIZE teams be able to expoit on their way to the Moon? If you think you have some good ideas, join our facebook group discussion and let us know.

Previously in our Greatest Space Ads series:

Aug 22, 2008

Needed: Open Software for Open Hardware

Currently engineering companies are forced to pay high prices for 3D mechanical design software. Although quality 3D CAD systems for feature-based mechanical design have been on the commercial market for many years, there is still no open software that provides even the basic functionality that an engineer would need to design 3D mechanical parts (trust me I've looked!). This surprises me since we have seen many great open source programs in other areas such as Open Office. In fact, many of the necessary libraries already exist. In particular, the powerful open source 3D geometry software OpenCASCADE can provide the basis for a fully featured mechanical design program.

In an attempt to overcome this situation I've written these specifications for a first prototype of an application which I call "Open3Design". Open3Design is intended to be used in collaborative projects where the design engineer wants to share the real "design intent" rather than just the geometric data (a major limitation in current products).

This is an itch I've wanted to scratch for a long time... I'm an engineer with some experience programming. Unfortunately, I reached a point where I didn't have the programming skills to go any further, or the energy and time needed to learn them. I waited more than 5 years for an open source product that met my needs... unfortunately, it still hasn't arrived. Therefore, I've decided to try and establish a new open source project myself by putting the problem out in the cloud.

The prototype of Open3Design described in my specifications supports just three simple types of solid modeling features. The specifications also include a simple Use Case to test the application. The idea is that once the basic architecture for the software exists, it can be extended with relative ease to provide any features that are desired. Ultimately, I'd like to see it used to design real hardware that reaches the Moon as part of the GLXP!

To create the prototype application, I'm looking for developers with the following:

  • Experience developing C++ classes and applications
  • Experience working with Integrated Development Environments for simple forms and controls.
  • Some experience with 3D graphics systems (or willingness to learn!)
  • A copy of the OpenCASCADE software (an open source available from
  • Willingness to read through documentation and examine the OpenCASCADE example applications in order to figure out how to link OpenCASCADE with the C++ classes developed for this project.

This might be a great one for the FREDNET GLXP team, or perhaps for an engineering or computer science student looking for an interesting final year project.

If you'd like to contribute to this project visit our Google Group and take a look at the specifications.

How Does Water Behave in Microgravity?

This excellent short video was taken by NASA astronaut Don Pettit on Expeidtion 6 to the International Space Station.

You've probably seen before the examples of liquids floating around in microgravity before, but these simple science experiments really take it to another level.

While watching you can imagine the possibilities for space art, and the challenges for on-orbit manufacturing using water or other liquids...

Credit to Ethan Ryan Siegel for publishing this video on his blog Starts With A Bang!.

Aug 21, 2008

GLXP Teams in the Making

We found a number of links to a number of groups, like us, with plans to enter the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) on the Space Prizes blog. Below is a brief summary of their plans.

Good luck to all you future team.. we hope to see you in the GLXP soon!

InterPlanetary Ventures - "InterPlanetary Ventures has formed an international team to compete in the Google Lunar X PRIZE .... The team includes organizations and individuals from many different countries, promoting international cooperation in space by working together in the development of a spherical robotic rover and an automated moonbase to complete the contest requirements. "

Organization for Scientific Investigation and Research (OSIR) - " an international non-governmental voluntary organization established for quest of science in true nature. It have members from over 150 countries all over the world... The O.S.I.R. is ready to sponsor fully along with providing complete technical aid to a team for Google Lunar X PRIZE under the banner of O.S.I.R. The O.S.I.R. will not only sponsor just the team but also complete building cost, transportation cost, testing cost, prototyping cost of the LUNAR LANDER robot... We have total 7 teams working on the project from different parts of the world. "

Reach for the Moon - Based in the University of Delft in the Netherlands, this group formed as part of a student project... "The Design Synthesis Exercise (DSE) is a design exercise performed at the end of the third year of the Bachelor degree of Aerospace Engineering at the Delft University of Technology. The project is performed by ten students during ten weeks, under guidance of one principal tutor and two coaches. During the project, the students are introduced to the process of designing towards the needs of external clients. "

Team Cringely - led by Robert Cringely, this group started a wiki-based effort to join the GLXP. Eventually they decided not to join. Their reasons are explained here.

Googlkhod - Originally called MosGIRD, this Russian group "is working on high-altitude liquid-fuelled rockets, with an eye towards development of commercial suborbital rockets and small orbital rockets in the coming years... Now we want to compete in Google Lunar X Prize. Russian Lunokhod was the first roving remote-controlled robot to land on another world. We sure that the first private rover on the Moon will be russian too."

GLXP - Is a (French language) site for the first contact point for French volunteers wanting to form a GLXP team.

Omega Envoy - is a project of Earthrise Space, Inc, "a not for profit organization founded by a group of students and proffesionals in Central Florida with the common goal of advancing private and commercial space exploration. The Omega Envoy project will involve competing in the GLXP, reaching out and hoping to maintain Florida's position as the global leader in the space industry."

Open Luna Foundation - "The Open Luna Foundation aims to return mankind to the moon through private enterprise. Initial goals focus on a stepped program of robotic missions coupled with extensive public relations and outreach. Following these purely robotic missions, a short series of manned missions will construct a small, approximately 6 person settlement based on a location scouted by the robotic missions."
Mission 1 will have "Google Lunar X PRIZE clone-like rovers, delivered by a single lander. The lander will "hop" around to deposit the rovers, similar to an upside down Pez-dispenser. "

Aug 20, 2008

Greatest Space Ads - Part III - Pepsi on MIR

In 1996, the cosmonauts Yuri Ivanovich Onufrienko and Yuri Vladimirovich Usachyov took video footage of a giant aluminum and nylon Pepsi can and a banner with the text, “Even in space . . . Pepsi is changing the script.”

Video footage of the can and banner was shot both inside and outside Mir space station but the commercial never aired because Pepsi later changed the design of the can. We did however found this photo in this article in The Advocate.

According to this BBC Article in 1999, and this Wall Street Journal Article PepsiCo paid $5 million for the advertising deal but we could find no further confirmation of that figure.

In fact, there are very few details about the advertising stunt on the internet, at least the Enlgish-speaking one, so a russian-speaking member of our White Label Space team checked the Russian-language internet to see what he could find... The conclusion is that sometimes it is very difficult to believe in western news or in any news...

Although the Russian journal News of cosmonautics reported Pepsi's claim of paying more than $1 million, it said that only $600 thousand was received by the RCS Energia - $100 thousand for the first video and $500 thousand for the second one (presumably outside the space station). Perhaps the consultants involved in the deal, International Space Enterprises and Entertainment Marketing & Communications International, took a large fraction of the fee paid by Pepsi.

For comparision, in 2006 the prices quoted for space adversting by the Russians are:
  • $100-200 thousand to put a logo on cosmonaut suit or to bring 1 kg to the station, or
  • $0.8-5.0 million for an activity outside the station.
As you can see, even after ten years after the event, the asking price is still no larger than $5 million.

Perhaps only a mission to the Moon could draw an advertising fee as high as $5 million. If it did, it would certainly cover some of the costs of a Google Lunar X PRIZE team!

Previously in our Greatest Space Ads series:

Aug 19, 2008

Where Shall I Land my GLXP Mission?

Camelot Crater. Photo Credit: NASA

If you are trying to decide where you should land your Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) rover on the surface of the Moon, maybe you'd like to keep some of these tips in mind.

The Moon's surface has two main types of terrian - "maria" which are relatively smooth, and "highland plains", which are rougher.

The 21 missions to date by Russia and the USA that successfully landed on the Moon all targetted maria regions except Apollo 17 which targeted a maria/highland boundary area, giving rise to the most dramatic close-up photos of the Moon's surface available, such as the above photo of Camelot Crater (linked from Google Moon).

Craters are the most important features that you need to consdier. They determine the boulders and slopes at your landing site. Craters come in all sizes and large craters can have central peaks, terraces and rims that are particularly troublesome. The areas near the rims of craters have the thickest regolith deposits and the largest boulders. Boulders tend to get smaller the further you are from the crater rim.

Over thousands an millions of years the surfaces of the Moon are gradually smoothed out by the constant bombardment of meteorites so older craters are less troublesome than newer ones. The distribution and age of the craters in your targetted GLXP landing site is something you will need to investigate.

If you are thinking of landing near the south pole to look for water and win the $5 million GLXP Bonus Prize, Beware!.. the surface there is more rugged than the rest of the Moon, consisting of ancient and heavily cratered highland terrian. This poses problems both for the lander and the rover.

To date, no machine has landed on the Moon using an automatic system to avoid hazards. Although, the Apollo missions had one of the finest landing systems ever created - the eyes, brains and hands of top aviators highly trained for that specific purpose. Unfortunatley, it is unlikely that GLXP teams will be able to afford that luxury.

Aug 18, 2008

MEMS for Spaceflight and Planetary Landings

Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, or MEMS for short, are a range of devices between 1 to 100 micrometers in size fabricated using modified semiconductor fabrication techniques, normally used to make electronics.

Accelerometers, gyroscopes, pressure sensors, optical switches - all these devices are used in spacecraft and are possible in MEMS technology.

We all know that launching things into space is very expensive, and lunar landers require a very low dry mass. So it's clear that shrinking the various sensors and controllers on spacecraft down to such microscopic sizes is an important enabler for low-cost missions. Unfortunately, MEMS do not have a lot of spaceflight heritage so the challenge for team in the Google Lunar X PRIZE will be determining which applications onboard the spacecraft can use MEMS with a low enough risk to the overall mission.

The good news is that some government-funded studies are already underway such is this NASA one and this ESA one. Hopefully the results of these studies will be communicated the public and the derived hardware will be available. Even if the MEMS components themselves will have a higher cost than the corresponding existing space-qualified devices, it is likely that the overall mission costs can still be reduced by their lower mass and smaller volume.

Aug 17, 2008

Buy your moon rocks here

Now just $7500 you can buy a gram of lunar regolith, returned from the Moon by Interorbital System... and you can do it all over the internet. See this page on the Interorbital site.

Now, it's certainly a good idea, but how are they going to do it? While the Soveit Union completed three lunar sample return missions back in the early seventies as part of the Luna Programme, one must agree that it is extremely difficult.

To collect samples on the Moon, launch a rocket back to Earth, re-enter the atmosphere and survive the landing. Even the Google Lunar X PRIZE mission to land on the Moon and drive a rover around is already far more challengining than anything achieved by privately funded space companies.

Good luck Interorbital but we suggest you don't offer a service guarantee ;)

Aug 15, 2008

Using Space Energy to Inspire a New Generation

What will it take to catch the attention of today's young generation and inspire them to follow and support future space exploration efforts? Can anything draw the current youth's attention away from the latest consumer electronics and popular culture?

These questions were pondered by Robert Reed II in this LUF Blog post. His conclusion seems to be that the concept of Space Solar Power is key.

If you've seen the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) promotional video Moon 2.0 Join the Revolution you will probably recall the segment explaining how in the future solar power satellites (screen shot right) could orbit the Earth, each providing enough clean renewable energy to power a city.

Certainly it is clear that the X-Prize Foundation and Google have identified this as a key inspirational point for the GLXP. Also, due to the lower Delta-V, the Moon is likely to be a more cost-effective source of the raw materials to build such satellite but first all the infrastructure needs to be established on the Moon.

Indeed, the concept of beaming energy sourced from the sun down to Earth has indeed already been the focus of many studies, some of which are summarised in the Wikipedia article. But there are still many questions:

  • Is space solar power the best way to inspire the current generation on the benefits of space exploration?
  • How will these far off visions be interpreted by people facing today's problems of rising fuel prices and global warming?
  • Should solar power satellites really be included in conversations about fossil fuel usage and energy efficient houses?
  • Considering the high costs of space missions, how are we going to pay the enormous costs of space solar power satellites and the infrastructure on the Moon to collect the raw materials?

We at White Label Space would like to hear your opinions about these issues. Please enter your comments at the bottom of this post.

To help you map out all the issues, you might like to watch this very informative session of the 2006 National Space Society and the International Space development Conference titled "Can Space Help Solve Earth's Energy Crisis?":

Aug 14, 2008

Greatest Space Ads - Part II - Pizza Hut on the ISS

In 2000, to promote the debut of its new logo, Pizza Hut paid about $1 million to put a 9m version of their new emblem on the side of the Russian Proton rocket that carried the International Space Station's Zvezda service module, one of the core modules of the Russian segment of the station. It was expected that around 500 million people would see the launch. Pizza Hut originally planned to use lasers to shine a giant logo on to the surface of the moon, but they started looking for an alternative promotional idea when they learnt that this was not technicallyl feasible due to the distance from the Earth. (see 30 September, 1999).

There were many legal and contractual problems with the deal (see, 12 June, 2000) but the logo, along with the Zvezda module, was finally launched on July 12, 2000. In the end, Khrunichev space centre got only $150,000 of the fee, the rest going to the consultants - Russian advertising company Planeta Zemlya (Planet Earth) and two US companies, Space Marketing Inc and Globus Space, who developed the public relations campaign (see SpaceDaily, 8 July, 2000).

As part of the same advertising campaign, Pizza Hut also launched a pizza to the ISS, which the Cosmonauts baked in their on-board oven. Pizza Hut announced the safe arrival of the pizza in May 2000 (see, 22 May, 2000). Presumably the pizza was delivered by the NASA Space Shuttle Flight STS-101, although NASA appears not to have publically acknowledged this fact. released this informative video about the pizza delivery ad:

Previously in our "Greatest Space Ads" section:

Aug 13, 2008

Plant Experiment on Lunar Lander

NASA scientists have suggested conducting plant growth experiments on the moon's surface prior to future human missions.

This might be good secondary payload on a Google Lunar X PRIZE mission, being a first experiment at In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) approaches on the moon. Although, it would take a special plant to survive approximately 2 weeks of darkness during a lunar night.

Considering the high delta-V needed to soft land on the moon, it's clear that future lunar bases will benefit greatly from any reduction in the delivered mass. Lunar regolith, or some of its components, might even provide some of the nutrients for plant growth, thus eliminating even more mass that needs to be delivered to future lunar bases.

Aug 12, 2008

100 years too early or too late?

On a more philosophical note, did you ever think that you were born in the wrong century? For me, the human race seems to be in somewhat of a transition period. Our generation was far too late for the great era of exploration when there were still undiscovered continents. Alternatively, our destiny to become a true space fearing race still seems an eon away. Armchair exploration has brought the universe to our desktop, but is it enough?

Image credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester
and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

Looking at how humans have progressed over the last millennium, there is a lot to be hopeful about. However, it has been almost 40 years since the first Apollo moon landing and we still have not scratched the surface. Launch costs are still high. Government agencies still dominate the space arena. Are we the generation that gets things moving and makes the change? I would like to think so. I have this great fridge magnet which I used to keep stuck to my cubicle wall (in the days when I still did the 9-5 cubicle thing, horrifying as it was).

It simply says this:
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
-- Mahatma Gandhi


Mr_Mental_Block, White Label Space Team

Self-Replicating Robots for Solar System Exploration

This fascinating article in Astrobiology Magazine explains a thought experiment about future exploration of another solar system. The author, Ray Villard, imagines a super-advanced spaceship that completes its 100+ year interstellar voyage and then deploys an armada of self-replicating robotic explorers.
Using the Artificial Intelligence onboard the mother ship, the exploration of the new solar system aims to find evidence of life, much like current-day space exploration here in our solar system.
Considering the rapid and accelerating advances in technologies underway now, perhaps this science fiction concept is closer to reality than we realize. Indeed, the RepRap Project is well on its way to creating the first ever self-replicating machine.
But one things for sure, such a mission is ever created, it will sure put a lot of space agency staff and industrial contractors in the space industry out of work since it will essentially do everything they do at almost zero cost!

Aug 11, 2008

Tohoku University Space Robotics Lab to Develop GLXP Rover

In our newest partnership, the Space Robotics Lab at Tohoku Univeristy Aerospace Engineering Department will work with us to design a rover for our Google Lunar X PRIZE mission. The Space Robotics lab is led by Professor Kazuya Yoshida and is one of the top robotics labs in Japan.

Its recent achievements include:

First eBay Launch Contract Executed

On Wednesday, 6th of August 2008 White Label Space conducted its first rocket launch as part of its campaign to develop a "White Label" space mission for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. In addition to providing a chance to test some advanced descent and landing technologies, the launch also proved the effectiveness of a business model based on using eBay to procure space launch services and space advertising services.

The launch was carried out under the expert supervision of Mr Ofer Lapid, student at the International Space University (ISU) Summer Session Program (SSP) currently underway in Barcelona, Spain.

Under the launch service agreement a logo of White Label Space was prominantly displayed on the exterior of the rocket (see photo). White Label Space paid, via eBay, a sum which shall remain undisclosed but is estimated in the medium-to-high tens of US dollars.

The rocket reached an apogee of at least 20m and returned safely to Earth, landing within the designated landing zone. Complete results of the post-flight investigation are not yet available but it is currently believed that stage separation successfully occured and the descent and landing system functioned nominally.

Aug 10, 2008

Journey to the center of the Earth ... and beyond!

Cave explorer Bill Stone talks about his journeys to the center of the earth, sending an autonomous robot to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and his plans of digging for lunar ice on the moon.

Aug 9, 2008

Greatest Space Ads - Part 1 - Heineken on Mars

This TV commercial for Heineken beer shows an example of what role the Dutch might play in future international planetary exploration missions.

Aug 8, 2008

What if Falcon 1 was Reviewed by NASA?

I didn't see this video of the recent Falcon 1 launch attempt until today. If you watch from about 2 minutes and 40 seconds, you can clearly see the two stages springing apart after the separation command and then the separated first stage pushing slowly back up against the second stage!

Man... how frustrating that must be for them!

But I have to admit, this is a great example of the differences between private and government funded space programs. If a government space agency like NASA was doing a review of the updated Falcon 1 configuration used for this flight (evolved Merlin 1C engine), it probably would have noticed the problem prior to the flight, and might have saved the mission. But at what cost? Having to satisfy every demand of a customer like NASA must add a huge cost to the development.

I guess this reflects the risk of a fully private development of a launcher (or any space system). It might take an extra mission to iron out all the bugs, but if you can save costs elsewhere, you can hopefully complete your development program at a lower overall cost.

Note that Falcon 9 on the other hand seems to have complete NASA oversight (see this Press Release about the Critical Design Review (CDR) for the Falcon 9/Dragon Mission), so one might expect that the Falcon 9 will suffer less failures.

Finally, compliments must go to SpaceX for showing the public their development setbacks in such an open, honest manner. It is a fine example for other developers of launchers or space hardware. Could you imagine the traditional government agencies providing such transparency on all their failures?

Aug 7, 2008

GLXP War Over the Moon Part II - Dr. Evil Laser

Well, as you saw in our earlier post, the Moon might be becoming the next target for military expansion.. but perhaps that should be no surprise given Dr. Evil's plans;

Perhaps the Google Lunar X PRIZE can do something to stop him!

7 Things NASA needs from Private Industry

After 50 years, NASA has quite the status within our common culture. They represent the pinnacle of technology and cutting edge research. And, for the most part, with good reason. They've put people on the Moon, they've helped build the International Space Station, an orbital laboratory 100 metres long in Space! But, how have they done this, you might ask? With enough phDs and slide-rules to sink the Titanic? Well, yes, but also with a very large wallet. And as you may have seen lately this is causing them some problems. With their current budget they've got to keep the Shuttle flying, support the ISS, develop a new rocket to get them back to the Moon and Mars. So, even with their deep wallets a pretty tall order, and that's where private industry can ride in on its white steed and save the day. So, here, we'd like to highlight the seven ways private industry can help NASA, the behemoth of the Space industry reach their noble goals of space exploration:
  1. SpaceX (
    Despite some recent problems, SpaceX and their Falcon rockets provide a breath of fresh air into the Launch Vehicle market. If they manage to get their heavy Falcon 9 rocket and their cool-sounding Dragon capsule working, then the world will have the first ever commercial human space flights to Orbit.
  2. Scaled Composites ( and Virgin Galactic (
    They've just unveiled Eve, the mothership of SpaceShipTwo. So, they're on their way to sending anyone (even Madonna) with a few bob spare into space, albeit sub-orbital.
  3. Servicing Telescopes
    The final Space Shuttle trip to Hubble launches this October. Then it's on its own. Which is really quite sad because Hubble represents one of the shining examples of how useful Human Spaceflight is. This could be a perfect example of a service a private company could give to NASA. If a company could send up a repair team to a satellite or a telescope for cheaper than launching a new one, the design of all future missions would be changed.
  4. Orbtial Life Extension
    And if human repairmen are a bit off in the distance, how about sending robots up to old satellites. That's the idea behind SSC's SMART OLEV
  5. Ground Stations
    And it's not just in space where NASA spends the big bucks. Keeping the huge antennas on earth operational costs too. That's where new networks like PrioraNET ( come in to play. Using private industry on a service basis should lead to better bigger ground stations, which helps everyone.
  6. Space Stations - Bigelo Aerospace (
    What is the one most expensive mission NASA's ever been involved with? The International Space Station. It's an amazing and massive orbital structure unlike we've ever seen before, but was it worth the cost? The guys at Bigelo are proving in orbit now that with inflatable structures they can do it for much cheaper and theoretically even bigger!
  7. Payload to the Moon!
    And of course, there's getting payload to the Moon! That's where the Google Lunar X PRIZE comes in to play!

Aug 6, 2008

European Logistics for NASA Lunar Base

NASA’s project to go back to the moon: Project Constellation, initiated in 2004 by President Bush's “Vision for Space exploration”, clearly stated exploration ambitions for the 20 upcoming years including:
  • Completion of the ISS by 2010
  • Retire and replace the Space Shuttle by respectively 2010 and 2014
  • Perform Lunar exploration mission both robotic (from 2008) and manned (from 2020)
  • Perform robotic and manned solar system exploration mission such as Mars and Near Earth Objects (NEO) such as Asteroids or Comets – (unspecified deadline)

One of the aspects less known about this law (because the “Vision for Space exploration” is actually defined under US law) is that in order to achieve those objectives, it calls for international cooperation. In this frame, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have been working jointly in order to develop an International Architecture for Lunar Exploration.

It is clear that NASA, with its capabilities, will be the only contributor on several segments of such an architecture, in particular the manned transportation segments. However, as the ESA-NASA study concluded, Europe could provide a Logistic Lander based on Europe's Ariane 5 Launch Vehicle.

The latest assessment shows that if such landers are produced by ESA with a frequency of 2 per year, it would double the available time for manned lunar surface operations in the first year of the plan (in comparison with from the 5th year with the existing plans).

This video produced by NASA shows how the cooperation could look:

It seems that the ESA-NASA joint work is still on going and that NASA is now also discussing possible cooperation with other international space agencies.

Lost in space

Did you know that you could be buried in space?

It is now possible to send a small capsule of cremated ashes of the deceased on board a satellite.
Today 150 people have been "buried" in this manner including famous persons such as Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek (space burried in 1997), James Doohan, Star Trek actor (more precisely Scotty) and Mercury/Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper (both on-board the last Falcon 1).

The American company Celestis commercializes this service on satellites in collaboration with SpaceX Falcon 1 while NASA have used it as tribute to outstanding scientists such as Eugene Schoemaker (Schoemaker-Levy comet co-discoverer) space buried on the Moon with the Lunar Prospector orbiter and Clyde Tombaugh (Discoverer of Pluto) space buried on-board the Pluto probe New Horizons.

Two contenders of the GLXP have signed agreements with Celestis (ie. Odyssey Moon Limited and Astrobotic Technology). A launch date "as soon as 2010" has been announced by the service provider as well as details on mass and price ranging from $10,000 for 1 gram of Ashes (for 1 person) to $30,000 for 14 grams of Ashes (for 2 persons).
It is not yet clear how these payloads will be positioned on the spacecraft, however one could imagine that the capsules could be packed into groups and used as ballast mass (what an honor that would be!).
In any case, it might just be one of those simple ideas bringing good money to the projects!

Aug 5, 2008

If Only SpaceX Checked Top Gear

YouTube link here

If only SpaceX had reviewed the catastrophic outcome of this flight attempt by the BBC automotive show Top Gear.. perhaps the loss of their Falcon 1 launcher could have been averted ;)

It was pretty sad news for a young a dynamic company such as SpaceX, however I guess the message of all that is, whether you are flying a SpaceX Falcon 1 or Top Gear Shuttle, stage separation is critical issue and potential single point failure.

So to the guys at SpaceX, no rocket has been developed without failures, keep up the good work and we are sure that you will soon succeed!

Aug 3, 2008

Explore Space in Second Life

Going to Space, apparently, is a hard task. The main reason is that the physical world has its own rules, and these cannot be bent or crossed.
As a result, sending something or someone to Outer Space requires a great deal of money, matter and sweat. Others found a simpler solution, although some might say they have cheated.

If you cannot visit Space, bring Space to you. Directly from the Second Life blog, is the story of a boy that wanted to built rockets, and ended up man building Space, the Second Life environment space.

Many people still consider Second Life a toy for computer geeks, a dating site, or just something wacky. When informed that Second Life has its own economy and circulating currency they get surprised. When they are told that people manage businesses in Second Life, make money, invest in virtual land and even use it to laundry money, they get mind boggled.

Whether you consider Second Life a time waster or a legitimate source of fun, the fact is that there are people that consider Second Life a very promising platform, for marketing, long distance collaboration and conference tool, or simple and plain advertisement.

As a sub set of the Internet, it is no surprise that the same passioned people that put online websites about Space and rockets also buy land and start islands dedicated to their passion. As an example, here are 10 activities to do in SL related to Space and our neighboring planets.

Not only individuals but also Space related organizations are starting to populate SL, like the NASA Ames Research Center:

Another list of must do's in SL: Visit a rocket museum, or the NASA Amphitheater, where you can hover over the amphitheater of see the video programming from NASA TV on the big screen.

Aug 1, 2008

Moon Walk Without Spacesuit

Just in case you were thinking of hitching a ride on our GLXP moon lander and you forgot to bring your spacesuit ...

Unlike in the movies, this NASA page explains that exposure to the vacuum of space does not cause your body to explode, but you would probably not enjoy the feeling of your tongue boiling or the asphixiation.

In fact, depending on your age, weight and other factors you could might survive many tens of seconds without permanent injury. Sounds like just enough time to grab a handfull of moon dust or try to see how high you can jump in the lunar gravity without that heavy spacesuit!