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The Space Gazette

Space for Everyone      -      December 2, 2001     -         Vol. 1 No.11

Activism * Space Science

Activists Keep Pluto
Mission Alive

Who says space activists don't make a difference? Certainly not the scientists and engineers now designing a spacecraft to go to the planet Pluto.

Despite opposition from NASA headquarters, Congress directed the agency to spend $30 million during 2002 for the Pluto project in the buget just passed.

The Planetary Society led a campaign to save the mission, which must begin soon or we lose an opportunity to study the planet for nearly a century. In 2016 the planet's atmosphere begins to freeze out as its orbit leads the planet farther from the sun.

Furthermore, to reach the outermost planet, the spacecraft needs a slingshot boost from the planet Jupiter. Orbital trajectory analysis indicates the launch needs to occur by 2006 to get the required boost. The flight will nevertheless take over a decade to reach Pluto.

Despite the urgency and the high priority placed on the mission by the space science community, the project was going to be canceled due to overruns in the Space Station.

Letters from many of the Planetary Society's 100,000 members and pleas from space scientists, however, apparently had a big impact on Congress and it specifically earmarked money for the project.

NASA has since then chosen the design team for the project. The spacecraft will also study the moon Charon and following the flyby it will proceed to the Kuiper Belt where comets originate. The group hopes to target a specific object there for the probe to pass.

Advanced Rocketry: * RLV CountdownRLV News

X-Prize Hunt Goes Nova

Launch of the Nova rocket
Launch of the Nova reusable rocket
on November 22, 2001.
Photo copyright: Starchaser Industries Ltd

The British rocketry group Starchaser Industries launched its largest rocket to date on November 22, 2001. The unmanned Nova, which stands 11m (37 feet) high and weighs 747kg (1643lb), rose to about 1,525 m. on the thrust of its solid rocket motors.

The capsule and booster separated and parachuted back to earth. Apparently the booster parachutes got entangled and there was some damage. However, the group reports that " the launch was 85% successful" in its goals of testing the launch control system, airframe, and other components. Two more flights are said to be planned.

The primary goal of the project is the development of the Thunderbird vehicle which aims to win the X-prize by taking a pilot and 2 passengers to 100km in altitude.

Steve Bennett, a lecturer at Salford University, leads the Starchaser project. Although part of the project is now commercialized, it welcomes public participation via membership in its Starchaser Club. Students at Salford also can obtain course credits working on the many aspects of the project.

There have been various criticisms over the past year or two of the project coming especially from other amateur rocketry groups in England. See, for example, the article Private rocket launch is 'suicidal' - BBC - June.27.01. These groups believe a more incremental approach is required before taking on the risk of piloted flights. The British MARS group, in fact, "successfully tested the most powerful rocket motor ever launched from the UK" the same week that the Nova flew: British experts claim rocket success - BBC - Nov.22.01

The launch and recovery of such a large vehicle as the Nova certainly adds considerable credibility to the Starchaser group's goals. Going the next step to the Thunderbird, though, will be a big one. For example, the propulsion system will require liquid fueled engines rather than a cluster of the relatively much simpler solid motors used on the Nova.

Mircorp Offers the Ultimate Grand Prize

Mircorp's efforts to develop a space tourism business got a boost from a recent agreement with an Asian media company to send TV game show winners to the International Space Station: MirCorp To Launch Game Show Winners Into Space in 2003 - Space.com - Nov.21.01 .

This follows on with similar arrangements with the German Space Commander program that plans to send game winners to space. (There was also a plan to create a Survivor style program on the US NBC network. First called Destination Mir, it became Destination Space after Mir was deorbited. However, the web site for this project has disappeared, indicating the project is most likely canceled.)

If the contestants are blocked by NASA from visiting the ISS, they will have to be satisfied with a few orbits in a Soyuz.

Eventually, Mircorp wants to build its own small station for such commercial ventures: MirCorp announces plans for private space station - Spaceflight Now - Sept.4.01

[December 5, 2001 - find more info about this project in the Space Tourism section.]

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Space Tourism:
    Token Space Travel

Send Something of
Yourself to the Moon

The startup company Transorbital plans to launch its TrailBlazer spacecraft in mid 2002 from Russian cosmodrome at Baikonur under contract with the Kosmotras space launch company .

The spacecraft will provide high-definition video during a flight to the Moon. There it will orbit the Moon and create a one-meter resolution map of the lunar surface. (The Apollo landing sites should be visible in these images.)

This first commercial venture to go to the Moon plans to obtain revenues from selling of the video rights to broadcasters and the lunar maps to NASA and other research organizations.

In addition, at the end of its mission it will crash into the Moon, carrying with it various items sent by paying customers.

At the TransOrbital web site, customers can purchase the transport of their personal messages to the Moon as well as the transportation of business cards, memorabilia, and small artifacts.

Transorbital, Inc. Begins Sale of Cargo for Transport to the Moon - Transorbital PR - Nov.26.01

For a deep space alternate destination for your space tokens, see the Team Encounter project. It will even send samples of your DNA to space.

[Edt.: Subsequent to this article, Transorbital was welcomed as a sponsor of HobbySpace.]

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